Jul-Sep 2011

Igniting the Spirit of Innovation

The Biocon Cell for Innovation Management (BCIM) at the Indian School of Business (ISB) organised a two-day conference on the role of educators in encouraging innovation among the youth in India. This event brought together experts including Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Innovation Council, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon Ltd., Mohan Rao, Director, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) and Sanjay Correa, Vice President and Managing Director, GE India Technology Centre.

How can we encourage the youth to innovate? Experts from the government, industry and the academia debated, presented papers and discussed in panels about the issues that prevented the youth from innovating and ideating.“The Indian system provides examination, not education. We must change that,” asserted Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, encapsulating the essence of the conference.

The experts came down heavily on the state of the education in the country. It was felt that the schools did not encourage students to question or think about what they have been taught. To ignite the spirit of innovation, it is imperative to give students the freedom and latitude to explore and develop their ideas. The education system has fulfilled the first requirement of the industry, which is to develop skills. However, it now needs to focus on inventiveness.

According to Mohan Rao, “Innovation is not just ideas. The final product stemming from these ideas should also be developed.” Indians have made many discoveries but have not translated these into innovative products. Citing the example of Jagadish Chandra Bose, he stated that though Bose was first to detect radio signals, the final product was invented by scientists from the West.
The experts felt that it is necessary for India to create an experimental culture, where people are not afraid to take risks even if that entails failure. “It is only in countries like India, where you can fail cheap, that you can encourage innovators to do things differently,” noted Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.

The panel noted that Indians abroad have succeeded because of the opportunities available to them, while there were fewer avenues available within the country for individuals with potential. The industry must work with universities to increase students’ exposure and ensure that they explore ideas.

In addition to that, academics in India must develop good case studies on Indian companies, from which relevant insights can be drawn for the emerging markets. This is necessary as all big case studies are usually developed in leading institutions abroad and thus, feature mainly companies in the West.

However, academic institutions are not the only ones that need to change. The crucial role that society can play in developing an inventive frame of mind was also discussed. According to Sanjay Correa, “It all depends on how open a society is to maverick ideas. If you see society punishing someone who has dared to try something new, you are less likely to do anything innovative yourself,” he said.

The conference ended on an optimistic note, as Correa succinctly put it, “I am certain the best days are ahead for India and innovation.”

Nina Mehta, PGP Class of 2012, compiled this report for ISBInsight.

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