Making Innovation Happen: Lessons from the Innovation Head of Tata Group

by Ravi Arora

Fostering innovations by inducing foresight ‘Making innovations happen’ is a story of two young managers – Paul and Jiao, the main protagonists of the book. They have been tasked with driving innovations in their respective companies, but in their day-to-day lives with their firms, they seem to generate more unanswerable questions about the innovation conundrum. In their search of a solution, they stumble upon a new framework, called the ‘Innovation Foresight’ program (or the IF program) that ensures equal focus on innovation and short term stock market performance.

This framework, enables an objective way of measuring and improving the following key capabilities that are necessary for innovations:

1. The company’s capability to generate accurate foresights about future innovations

2. The company’s capability to identify targets for ‘innovations’, ‘fast catch-up’ and ‘catch-up’

3. The company’s capability to plan and deploy resources to achieve its innovation plan.

The book explains the IF program in details and also makes a compelling argument for the need to modify the compensation of CEOs, the leadership team and the board by introducing a measure of ‘long-term performance achieved primarily through innovation’.

The book introduces new concepts like ‘Prescience error’, ‘Obstinacy error’, ‘adrift projects’ and suggests how these can be combined with innovation-led business performance to assess this compensation. The book also offers quite a few deep insights into various aspects of innovations. It explains the subtle factors (called ‘drags’) that drive the behavior of employees toward not sharing out-of-the-box ideas. It also explores ‘democratization of innovation’ — a term and concept that is often thrown around rather loosely in conversations and means different things to different people.

The book explains some novel ways for how best to drive ‘adrift projects’ (projects without a business case) and use ‘soft measures’ to democratize innovations. Over the last two decades, a lot of research has been conducted on the subject of innovation. Several academicians have proposed valuable frameworks and lessons for corporations to stimulate and execute innovations. While these frameworks and concepts are very valuable, most companies do not ever reach the stage at which they can actually leverage them.

The companies often falter on innovation due to the following common fears:

 Am I missing a great idea?

 Will I miss my short term targets?

 Is the strength of my innovation portfolio good?

 Will I succeed or fail?

 Will I be able to cannibalize existing products, processes, business models and infrastructure?

The IF program along with several out-of-box pragmatic ideas discussed in the book seem to be a panacea for all the above fears. The managers or CEO will no more be blamed or fired for missed innovation opportunities!  They will be able to make innovations happen.

image credit: wikimedia

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Ravi Arora is a Vice President at Tata Sons and is responsible for facilitating Innovation, Knowledge Management and Benchmarking programs. He is also responsible for facilitating Performance Excellence in a few Tata companies using the Tata Business Excellence Model. Ravi has been leading the innovation program at Tata Sons. He has partnered with Tata companies on their innovation programs and has created a few corporate programs to support companies in building a better ecosystem for innovation.  Follow him @raviarora

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