February 23, 2010

Birth & Growth of Innovation in India

Innovation does not happen at an instance in time, it's an ongoing activity. Like how an egg is carefully incubated under the warmth extended by the hen's body, innovation needs that initial hand holding. This essentially comes from the innovators themselves. And like how the chicken sees the daylight outside of the egg shell, innovative ideas also see the daylight. Like how the chicken is carefully nurtured by the hen, the idea needs to be nurtured by the innovator.

End of the day, it's all the same - Innovation is not an elusive something. It is something that is bound to happen. It's the law of nature. The chicken or mankind all are good examples of innovation - we are unique with a set of different and unique qualities. Try to look at innovation this way, and you will get rid of that fear inducing question - "Can I innovate? Can I also be an entrepreneur?" clouding your thoughts.

That said, here is the next big mythical question "Is India only an Outsourcing hub? Why aren't there many Indian companies with great products?" I've read many such articles in the internet, especially in the last one year, where authors have expressed this feeling. Lately I also read Sramana Mitra's (@sramana) article on Forbes and her blog post sometime back.

Firstly I'd like to point out that innovation is not necessarily related to creating great products. India has had a high innovation quotient all along - even creating great service outsourcing companies need innovation. I'd rather prefer to call the bunch of body-shopping IT companies as the ones who've given a bad name to outsourcing in India. Unfortunately, these companies do continue to survive even in these testing times!

On the products side, in my opinion, below are some of the critical factors that have affected the birth of product innovation.

Factors affecting the birth of product innovation -
  1. The Indian education system - At large, these continue to teach courses that nourish bookish thinking rather than out-of-the-box thinking
  2. Indian colleges & universities - These continue to advertise as "100% placement"
  3. The Indian upbringing - We still continue to coax our kids to take the safer route. The risk-taking attitude is seldom seen here. I also agree with Sramana Mitra's thoughts on the effects of "colonization" in India - it's very true.
  4. Lack of quality talent - I've faced this - haven't been able to find high quality talent who would work for a early stage startup. They eventually run away when they get an offer from Cognizants and the TCSes of the world
  5. Intellectual Property (IP) rights - Inability to truly protect IP has been a big challenge for those daring entrepreneurs to hire talent. The young and talented ones sign any non-disclosure agreements without consciously abiding by them
  6. Lack of early stage seed fund - Because of the above challenges, early stage entrepreneurs will have to compete with the Cognizants and the TCSes to pay competitive salaries, which warrant sizable capital. Unfortunately, seed fund is still tough in this part of the world
These are larger level issues that we'll need to collectively answer. First realize that you need to start by cleaning the ship deck before becoming the captain of the ship. Stop drooling over fat salaries and start taking risks right from the beginning. Take a baby step, crawl and then start to walk. You will fall, but don't give up. Remember this is the start of your marathon dream!
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