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The Innovator’s Code

This is one of the articles appearing in the book " The Innovator's Code and other thoughts on Work & Life". The article explores the contradictory and opposing forces involved in the process of Innovation. Balancing engineering with humanities, imagination with practicality, process with ingenuity, and creativity with convention, innovators navigate the uneven canvas of possibilities with competence and intuition.

When we think about Innovation, we start imagining some great technological breakthroughs and complex technology and an eccentric, absent-minded, technical genius in the middle of it all – the inventor. We cannot be further from the truth, in the modern era, of organizational Innovation. All innovation activities are team-oriented. Another observation is that when humanities combine with technology, it results in super successful products.

Ford Model T was the car that built USA. A leading candidate for disruptive Innovation. It changed the way people used to travel and overnight America was transformed from an agrarian giant to an industrial one. “Division of Labor” which was at the heart of its famous assembly line, is more of an Economic Concept than Engineering. Fast forward some years and come to the story of Cirque du Soleil, the largest theatrical producer in the world that combines stories from around the world with breathtaking and super creative performances. Another case of Disruptive Innovation, riding on the back of humanities, that changed the way circus or any other theatrical production was perceived.

The list will be incomplete without the mention of this well known technology giant that disrupted the music market with the launch of its iPod.  Steve Jobs was greatly interested in calligraphy, philosophy, art, design and literature. He had a developed sense of aesthetics because of this exposure. He used this influence to create beautiful and intuitive products that were gem of designs. This is well acknowledged and documented. Another great innovator of all times, Leonardo DaVinci, was an accomplished artist. First computer programmer, Lady Ada Lovelace, was daughter of the great romantic poet Lord Byron.  Looks like all disruptive technology have evolved on the backdrop of Humanities.

This is perhaps because the study of arts amplify our sensitivities, which when combined with technical acumen, gives us that winning combination.

 Now, let’s examine the role of Humans. By definition, when a product is commercially successful in the market, we call the product an Innovative product. Innovation is an “effect” (outcome) not a cause. In order to get the correct effect, we need to put in the right “cause” (effort).In most of the organizations, this causal relationship somehow takes a back seat. They invest disproportionately on the paraphernalia surrounding the “outcome” and then wonder why they are not able to come up with innovative products.

PEOPLE are the most important element in the chain of successful Innovation. And the “quality of idea” they generate is the beginning in this exciting journey. Quality of ideation is determined by many factors. The important ones are: the right mix of people involved, their orientation and awareness of the context of product evolution, understanding of the present state of the technology and an insight as to what future holds- in terms of technology and consumer preference.

Equally important task is to shape these ideas into prototypes and integrate this into the product. Multidisciplinary team with width as well as depth is required for evaluation and implementation. In the process, organization becomes nimble and versatile in technology. Associated team members develop an insight into the complexity of product development and emerge wiser towards the technology and the process.  

Companies, who want to ride the wave of Digital Change, are the ones who need to strengthen their Innovation process from people’s perspective. Convergence of technology, networked product, high rate of obsolescence and emergence of new technology, all warrant high learnability and an ability to work in multidisciplinary and cross functional team. Technical team need to keep upgrading themselves constantly.  Unless, a robust innovation process (repeatable, scalable, people centric with in-built corrective mechanism) is defined, countering this complexity is difficult. 

Good leaders look beyond technology to foster innovation. They focus on intuitive and seamless design, connect market trends, study evolving user needs, explore new business models – supported by technology. This helps to create a culture of innovation that impacts performance and orientation to product development by sensitizing employees to user experience. Technology plays the role of the enabler.

Is your organization moving beyond technology and focusing on the bigger picture? Do the leaders realize that it is the people and their sensitivity that will shape the products  ?  

Capacity for change and Organizational Excellence is a consequence of having a mentally agile team capable of thinking on their feet with a hunger for success. Team members with exposure to humanities add on to the process by virtue of their increased sensitivities. A people-centric robust process to achieving product/service differentiation will make the difference. Leaders who can look at the bigger picture, appreciate this concept, and bring the variables together would be the ones to lead their organizations into the future. They are the visionaries who would be joining the dots !!

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