Thursday, July 17, 2014

Innovation leadership - the Hamsa way

I have been in the game of leading innovation for nearly a decade now. I have been trying to understand how to choose the right innovation to pursue at the right time and take it to the right market. If I make a mistake on any one of the three, all my effort goes down the drain. To succeed in this complex role, I derive inspiration from the Hamsa bird. The unique traits of this bird is described in the most ancient Indian texts - the Vedas and the Upanishads. I will tell you more about Hamsa after we discuss the three challenges that I faced.
I am always on the look out for people with new ideas - I need to be good at identifying the most promising innovators (across functions and geographies). I avoid the classic mistake of trying to identify the most promising ideas. I find that all ideas are equally weak to begin with - the promise of the idea grows in strength only during the incubation Phase. I would not dare to judge an idea before it gets a chance to be incubated. What makes one idea succeed while many others get killed is determined by the quality of interaction that I have with the innovator during the incubation phase. I need to be good at identifying those few innovators with the right traits amongst many others who may be better at selling their ideas.
I also keep scouting for new technologies round the clock - i need to quickly assess the feasibility and the disruptive potential of these technologies when there is minimum data. I need to spot the most promising technologies amongst all the breakthroughs in additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), alternative fuels, energy storage materials, smart sensors - there is seemingly no end to this list. I need to know enough about each of these technologies to choose the right one amongst the many hypes (refer to Mastering The Hype Cycle by Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino).
I constanly seek new business opportunities and my success depends on my ability to focus on those few things that create value versus multitude of other things that do not create value. I need to do a good job of separating the most promising value creation opportunities from the rest of the crowd. I was in an innovation workshop the other day where a voice of customer survey revealed that what we thought was #1 customer requirement was actually # 6 ! I need correct and unbiased customer and market insights to drive innovation.
My success in these three dimensions depends on my ability to separate the few promising persons or technologies or business opportunites amongst the million other distractions. I was truly flabbergasted by the complexity of this task and that's when I looked at the Hamsa bird. Legend has it that the Hamsa can even separate the milk from the water. I wondered how and then I gathered two revealing facts from the ancient texts
(a) Hamsa represents knowledge - true knowledge. You would see Hamsa depicted along with Saraswathi (the goddess of knowledge).
(b) Hamsa stays aloof - though it is in water it keeps itself dry.
The innovation leader should strive to seek true knowledge of the innovator, the technology and the business opportunity. He should understand the innovator - what he is good at, what he is passionate about, what motivates him and what derails him. He also needs to understand the technology - is it really novel, is it feasible, is it differentiable etc. He needs to understand the business opportunity - is it real, is it profitable, is it the right time and place.
The innovation leader should stay aloof - he should not be distracted by the smart idea sellers, the hype around new technologies and the crazy rush towards new opportunities. Superficial knowledge can bias the leader to certain persons, technologies or opportunities. It is very important that he is impartial and balanced in his approach.
If you want to be successfull in leading innovation, strive for true knowledge and stay unbiased (aloof) like the Hamsa bird.

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