Creating an innovation ecosystem

30th July 2019 BUSINESS STANDARD Although the group had showcased somany examples ofinnovations over thelastcentury, the prevailing perception internally and externally in 2005,...


R. Gopalakrishnan*

Although the group had showcased so many examples of innovations over the last century, the prevailing perception internally and externally in 2005, was that the group wasnotinnovativeand had not done enough work towards innovation. At that time, [ was entrusted with the responsibility of exploring how the organizational culture of innovation could be improved.

Whether the Tata group’slack of innovativeness was just aperception or had some objective basis was a moot point. To support the Tata companiesin their respective journeys of innovation, the Tata Group Innovation Forum(TGIF) was set upin 2007 under myleadership. TGIFcomprised of CEOs/CXOs and Innovation Champions from different Tata companies. TGIFmetevery quarter to review and intensify its efforts towards creating an innovation ecosystem. The Forum’s objective was set as: ‘To encourage, inspire and help create aculture, which would foster innovation in the companies.’ To achieve this goal, the forum devised a three-pronged charter—encourage Tata ompanies to create an environment that supported innovation, advise Tata companies on improving innovation capability, and create a group-wide community of innovation evangelists.

TGIF focused on developing new concepts and tools that would help companies measure their innovativeness as well as handlerelated culture and leadership matters. It focused on establishing processes to generateand execute innovative ideas and created a Rewards and Recognition system for innovation. Tata Quality Management Services (TQMS,later renamed as Tata Business Excellence Group) was chosen as the implementation arm of TGIF. A five member team, led by Arora, was appointed to facilitate the TGIF discussions and implement the action items identified during these discussions. The innovation team was absolved of all other activities of TQRMS. (The main role of TQMS was to drive the Tata Business Excellence program in Tata companies.) TGIFencouraged, nurturedand executed ideas centrally and in Tata companies.

The Forumintroduced a number of initiatives that would build capabilities, enhance the culture of innovation and inspire managers, for example: Demystifying innovation TGIF regularly invited academicians like Prof. Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School, Prof. Henry Chesbrough from University of California at Berkeley, Prof. Julian Birkinshaw from London Business School, Prof. William Ouchi, University ofCalifornia at Los Angeles and innovation experts like DrJames Canton, CEQ and Chairman,Institute for Global Futures, San Franciscoand Langdon Morris, Partner at Innovation Labs, Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT— Israel), IDEO, Mckinsey to conduct workshops that would help Tata companies understand the concept of innovation, to introduce new concepts and tools,and to stimulate innovative thinking among managers. These programmes significantly enhanced the knowledge base on innovation within the group. In addition, the Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC), with the help of internationally renowned experts, continuously built capability in group companies.

The Forum organized several innovation learning missions in some of the most innovative companiesin the world for managers. These missions were introduced to help group companies understand the practises followed by innovative companies in countries like the US, Japan and Israel. To ensure a positive and major change within the group, knowledge gained throughthese
visits was shared in detail within the group. TMITC regularly organized programmes to disseminate information and knowledge meant to institutionalize a culture of innovation within the Tata companies. Some of the executive leadership programmes organized by TMTC, with the help of Harvard and Michiganuniversities, had a special focuson innovation.

In addition, TMTC regularly published and circulated research outcomes on innovation. Encouraging innovation Early on, TGIF realized that the best wayto encourage innovation was to create stories and recognize people who wereresponsible behind the scenes. Thisled tothe institutionalization of innovation awards called Tata InnoVista, which was rebranded in 2007 after the initial launch of Tata Innovation Day the previous year. This programme had multiple objectives: to recount all the previous innovations of Tata companies and use the storiesto instill self-confidence among Tata managers, in order to trigger new ideas in different situations; to recognize innovators and encourage innovations in companies; to build a culture of appropriate risk taking; and to
shareandlearn the leversused by companies to identify and execute innovation projects.

Teams from all the Tata companies could participate in the regional rounds of InnoVista, held in seven regions— New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, London, New Jersey and Singapore. The projects at these centres were reviewed by both Tata and non-Tata jurors. The winners were invited to participate in the finalsin Mumbai. The finalists werejudgedbya panel of non-Tata jurors, including accomplished personalities like Dr R.A. Mashelkar, former Director General ofthe Council of Scientific and Industrial Research; (CSIR) Dr K Kasturirangan, former Chairman ofthe Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO); Arun Maira, Member ofthe Planning Commission, and Kiran Karnik, former Chief, Nasscom.

The winners received awards from the Tata Sons Group Chairman. Participation in Tata InnoVista grew rapidly over the years—the 101 entries in 2006 had shot up to 2800 in 2015. In 2010, TGIF launched Tata Ideas, a crowd-sourcing platform that could be the ideation hub for all Tata companies. Through this platform, Tata employees could share, collaborate, predict and implement innovative ideas. People could then share, vote,like, betand commenton ideas before the decision to select or reject them was taken. The platform allowed Tata leadersto list out their challenges. This was perhaps one of the first IT applications that cut across many Tata companies in which transactions (around ideas) were done. By 2017, this system was being used by twelve Tata companies for creative problem solving. The success of Tata Ideasled to the beginning of a new experiment, ‘Challenges worth Solving (CWS), in which a few Tata companies listed out difficult challenges twicea year toseek creative solutions. It was observed that 58per centoftheideasreceived to solve achallenge were from the company that listed the challenge.

This number was reduced to30 per cent for CWS. For CWS, the best ideas received a special award during the TataInnoVista awards ceremony. Another platform, Implement Ideas (earlier known as InnoCompass), was created to ensure that the winningideas were implemented and their status was visible to relevant people. This was a lean stage-gate process which allowed every idea to define its stage and gate, and allowed the leader of the team to define separate teams for every stage. Additionally, it enabled the company to capture the rich knowledge that was generated during project implementation. This tool also presented the innovation portfolioor the innovation dashboard to the company or the business unit in question, which could be used to take proactive steps to strengthen it. Workshops, based on the concepts of Prof. Clayton Christensen, were conducted under the title of ‘InnoMultiplier’. These workshops helped the company identify innovation opportunities and challenges. The well-known concept of‘jobs to be done’ was extensively used in this workshop to identify opportunities. The participants were exposed to several other tool sand were taken through ethnographic immersive exercises to observe and listen to customers. The opportunities identified through the InnoMultiplier exercise were added to the Innovation portfolio. Those identified through the workshops were broken down into smaller challenges. Some of these challenges were thrown open on the Tata Idea splat form for others to Solve.