Showing posts with label Innovation. Show all posts
It should be practically possible to build a web application / extension to twitter which will tentatively classify tweets and display them to users in say a newspaper like layout. Thereafter it should also allow users to suggest changes to the classification if they think this is not a correct classification.
Google simply lets its engineers spend 20% time on their projects - thereafter it monitors these projects based on simple rules - like no of users, or no of CPU cycles saved - depending upon the objective of the project.If a project is doing well - then the engineer may be given more resources (which includes more than 20% of his own time and more engineers, plus technical resources like servers and stuff) to the project. If the project is doing bad then it may not receive these benefits, but there are NO PENALTIES.
Like IKEA, a giant Swedish furniture-maker, Kunskapsskolan gets its customers to do much of the work themselves. The vital tool, though, is not an Allen key but the Kunskapsporten ("Knowledge Portal"), a website containing the entire syllabus. Youngsters spend 15 minutes each week with a tutor, reviewing the past week's progress and agreeing on goals and a timetable for the next one. This will include classes and lectures, but also a great deal of independent or small-group study. The Kunskapsporten allows each student to work at his own level, and spend less or more time on each subject, depending on his strengths and weakness. Each subject is divided into 35 steps. Students who reach step 25 graduate with a pass; those who make it to step 30 or 35 gain, respectively, a merit or distinction.
Again like IKEA, no money is wasted on fancy surroundings. Kunskapsskolan Enskede, a school for 11- to 16-year-olds in a suburb of Stockholm, is a former office block into which classrooms, open-study spaces and two small lecture-theatres have been squeezed (pictured). It is pleasant, but basic and rather bare. It rents fields nearby for football and basketball, and, like other schools in the chain, sends pupils away to one of two specially built facilities for a week each term for home economics, woodwork and art, rather than providing costly, little-used facilities in the school.Teachers update and add new material to the website during school holidays and get just seven weeks off each year, roughly the same as the average Swedish office worker. "We don't want teachers preparing lessons during term-time," says Per Ledin, the company's boss. "Instead we steal that preparation time, and use it so they can spend more time with students."
Each child's progress is reported each week in a logbook, and parents can follow what is being studied on the website. And the braver among them will be keen on the expectation that the children take responsibility for their own progress. "Our aim is that by the time students finish school, they can set their own learning goals," says Christian Wetell, head teacher at Kunskapsskolan Enskede.
After Mohammad Yunus received his Nobel for microcredit - so many people have thought of starting up a micro-finance institution - its a simple idea, with minimal risk (if you know how to manage money) and what's more it in line with social justice.
But as I have discussed with some of you - no point entering a field unless you can bring in some innovation to it - could be technology, process or scale. And boy! there could not be a better example than this to illustrate my point ... Kiva!
Source: Kiva: Improving People's LivesKiva is a splendid example of what I mean by technology and process innovation - they changed the process of micro-financing and also brought in technology to enable it. Just when everyone was thinking that micro-finance itself is a big enough innovation, here comes a startup which shows what more can be done.
Like a social networking site, Kiva posts profiles of potential borrowers. Lenders then peruse the profiles and make loans to people whom they find appealing.
Once a lender makes a loan, Kiva sends the money to a microfinance institution, or MFI, in the borrower's home country. The MFI disburses the funds and works with the borrower to ensure timely repayment. In the language of the banking industry, the MFI services the loan.
[Kiva] won't take just any potential borrower in the developing world; a boot maker in Bolivia can't post his information directly on the site. Kiva only takes borrowers brought to it by MFIs that it has carefully vetted, and it will suspend loans to MFIs whose borrowers have high levels of delinquent loans or whose operations seem shaky.
Some other popular forms of process innovation can be found in India's BPO industry where processes have been broken down and converted into streamlined workflows enabling them to be offshored and being done by people far away from the heart of their operations. The third kind of innovation - scale innovation - is epitomized by Chinese manufacturers - the way they have demonstrated how adding scale to production can lead to reduction in its costs. There are others like Wall Mart who have shown us how scale can mean productivity.
My point - unless you bring in some kind of innovation - you become another "also ran" player in the market and competition with more experience or with innovation will beat you hands down. Unless you have some idea about what "difference you can make" - don't become an "also ran" in the market. And conversely, if you should startup - think hard about what kind of innovation you can bring in.
I rest my case - reactions are welcome!
However, while the story might start there, it doesn't quite end, so many 'in-progress' ventures never make it to fruition and of those which do, few survive. Why? My personal answer is - we are all too fixated with making money and too less with making a difference.
Daman [fictional] works for a bank as a financial consultant, he interacts with clients day in day out and sees how he is solving their problems using a bit of Google and a bit of Bloomberg. And the next thing he realises is that, he doesn't need his company - why not join hands with his Jijaji who runs a software company, get the software which his company uses made in-house and start his own consulting business.
Or Prashant [again fictional] who works as a Project Manager with Some-Soft IT Services Ltd [fictional again!] has this incredible relationship with the manager at the client's place. So he figures out that he could take away a pie of his company's business if only he could set up a team of 5 professionals to handle 'x' process.
Accepted, that these are and have been the ways in which so many companies have started. Accepted that not every company is a Microsoft or Apple to keep churning life-changing products every 5 years. But my point - what is the difference between you working for a 'MNC-or-Top-IT-Firm', earning a fat paycheck and doing some work against you becoming a boss and doing the same work earning probably one half times that money as dividend from your company?
Is it just about being your own boss, earning ESOPS instead of paychecks? Or was entrepreneurship all about changing the way business is done! Some Rant and some answers in the next post!
I found a very pertinent quote from - Raman Roy, Considered Father of Indian BPO, Founder Spectramind (now Wipro BPO) and Quatrro.
"I’m not trying to say we weren’t trying to make money—that was a driver as well. But that was not the main driver. It was the idea of creating something new in India, and the ability to say that we contributed to its creation. That is why partnering with Wipro was a movement in the right direction. There were some things we could do as a start-up – but this business requires deep pockets."Source: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=798
"I get asked a lot why Apple's customers are so loyal. It's not because they belong to the Church of Mac! That's ridiculous.
It's because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, 'Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!' And then three months later you try to do something you hadn't tried before, and it works, and you think 'Hey, they thought of that, too.' And then six months later it happens again. There's almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. And you have it with an iPod."
I would say the same for Google and Microsoft. As much as we may ridicule these companies for being (or trying to become) monopolies - the truth is we all use their products because they come up with stuff that works!!
There isn't another spreadsheet tool that's as easy yet as versatile as Excel, one cannot make presentations any better than in Microsoft Powerpoint. Similarly, there isn't a search engine better than Google, and a web based email client better than GMail. No one offers you the flexibility of Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and nothing is easier to use than Google Chat. The list will go on and on ... but you get the point.
Part of the reason why these companies can come up with the best of the tools and features is that they employ best of the people. S Somasegar, Corporate VP, Microsoft Corp said in an interview
"The people at Microsoft [are] the smartest I had ever met in my life. And soon I realized that it was a great place to work in because you can thrive and learn and grow." Google too makes extra efforts in attracting the best programming and mathematical talent of the world to itself [link].
By hiring the best people they are able to harness the pool of the best ideas, best problems and and more importantly the best solutions. 37 signals writes:- "A great way to build software is to start out by solving your own problems. You'll be the target audience and you'll know what's important and what's not. That gives you a great head start on delivering a breakout product.
The key here is understanding that you're not alone. If you're having this problem, it's likely hundreds of thousands of others are in the same boat. There's your market."
Just take the example of the a feature Google released today -
Embarrassment-reducing new message notifications: Ever replied to a message only to find out that someone sent a better, smarter reply right before you? Now, if someone sends a reply while you're in the middle of reading a conversation (or replying to it), you'll get a notification that a new message has arrived. Click "update conversation" to see what you've missed.
This is a uniquee feature, solves a very pertinent problem faced by people using email. Unless someone out there within the Google Team thought this up (or after getting such idea from a user - came up with a solution in time), the feature would not have come out.
Ewing Marion puts it best - "Creating Great Companies: It's All About People"
I wrote this text exactly 2 years ago as the first few words on this blog. And the next two years were quite action-packed - Summers, MastishK, Prerana, Ethics Committee, Placements, KPMG, Travelogues .... this blog revolved around all this. I have meanwhile changed a lot - my lifestyle, beliefs, language ... and I have added a lot many friends along the way - Good friends? No. Great friends.
Looking back, one realizes how much education and companionship can change the course of one's life. While MBA taught me how to think big - it was friends who helped me cement the belief. It was like curing a cement plaster - the end result has been that my growth path has changed. When I started this blog, I had a plan to start-up an enterprize immediately after my MBA - however small it might be. Today, the idea is quite different, I have realized that the force of the impact is as important as the direction. It is important to start at a scale large enough so as to create at least an impulse if not a wave; just a blip, which gets ignored, makes little sense. Then again, whatever you do should justify your education and intellect; it should be something that brings about a difference in the world.
I got a chance to visit and understand operations of a few software companies. The first impression I got was that most Indian cos are doing backoffice and maintenance related work. While the volume of this work might be huge, it doesn't create as great a value. Brand India is still known for low cost and 'just ok' quality - should we be calling this a good brand value in the market.
Instead, if we have innovative products , we will have brands. Innovations sell for their content not cost, they can fetch high premium. Even an innovation that aims to bring down cost, sells because it adds value, not because it is cheap. [I should clarify that not all that Indian Cos do is maintenance/ backoffice - there is some innovative work as well going on.]
So, from there came a realization that unless I have an innovative idea - its better to continue in a job. From a pragmatic point of view - a job saves a lot of hassle of organizational set-up as it provides you with a readymade infrastructure. Secondly, working for an established organization gives you a chance to contribute to small innovations in the way the world works. In a small set-up you might end up just re-inventing the wheel.
So, if you don't have an innovation that has potential to bring about a change, don't start-up; wait for that innovation. At the same time, if you have an idea that is radical and disruptive, you should immediately jump out of a job and start on your own. Intrapreneurship involves even more hassles of cutting through organizational red-tape; and hence in my opinion is a wastage of time and effort.
In essence, till you have just a bit to contribute, organisations offer you a useful platform to project the same. But if you have something big, the same platform becomes a bureaucratic red-tape.
... anyway, today marks the second anniversary of this blog - and it is great to know that this blog has a small but regular readership. As I had said in my first post, writing is a hobby and a passion and so is this blog now. Keep visiting this space ...
As I argued in the previous post, without innovation, it is not possible to reach the echelons of global trade and difficult to oust competition. Going further, not just international competition, even domestic trade and indigenous industry is unlikely to prosper without innovation. Any new innovation, fuels a chain of many other parallel mini-innovations to be done around the central theme. For example, the 1-lakh-small-car by Tata Motors requires new initiatives in each of its ancillaries – from upholstery makers to tire makers. On the other hand, how much internal business does an Oracle implementation in the U.S. generate back home in India?
One could argue that this is actually a difference between a software and manufacturing business. Hence to clarify – consider a new product developed and launched in the Indian markets by an Indian company. This would generate jobs for consultants, developers and marketing personnel alike. In the present day set-up all these jobs would get generated only when SAP AG injects new innovations in its product. Thus we are still dependent on factors outside this country for speedy development.
Finally, apart from the economic sense that innovation makes – it in general also helps build a positive national sentiment and helps further spur entrepreneurship. This requires that innovation not be mere slogans and statements given from boardrooms but translate to actual acts of novelty on ground. In words of Rahul Bajaj –
[Innovation] means you have to do things differently, and not just for the sake of being different. It has to be in a very relevant, purposeful and productive and beneficial way… It is very easy to talk about innovation, it is very hard to do and we set up a simple framework for ourselves. We liked the definition of “Innovation is nothing but invention plus insight”.
Epilogue: When I started this series, the plan was to fill in a lot of numbers to support the hypothesis which would have made it less ‘Gas’ and more meat. Unfortunately I haven’t found enough time and hence I am posting this gassed version rather than delaying further.
Of late, I have got tired of the incessant chant in politico-industrial circles – knowledge superpower India, emerging India, global positioning etc. Some have already placed India on the highest pedestal in the IT industry while others are modest enough to just lay claims over the top position by 2010/2020.
While it is true that, Indian companies with their Global Delivery Model, low-cost-highly-educated workforce and strong process orientation, are sure taking on the IBMs and Accentures of the world right from the front – but they are far from snatching the turf from these global majors. More so India poses no threat to American domination as yet and neither is its model disruptive enough to oust every American firm from the market.
For one, while Indian companies may be the preferred partners in implementing world renowned software packages or doing the back-office jobs, they are still squarely dependent on their partners like SAP, Siebel and IBM (itself) for innovating newer packages or add-ons to implement. This excerpt from Nandan Nilekani’s interview summarizes the general philosophy of the Indian Software Industry-
So if you take a long view of this game, it's just part of the process. They're going to happen whether you like it or not. In fact, the guys who are going to win are the ones who say, "It's going to happen anyway; let's figure out how we can take advantage of it."
There is no harm in taking advantage of the situation and making hay while the sun shines, but one should not ignore the value of innovation. While back-office may be giving us the much needed bucks, we must not re-invest them solely into creating bigger BPO campuses, but invest them into funding innovation. Again I differ slightly from Nandan when he says
For us it's about hiring and growth and building a brand; for them it's about restructuring the work force and I think, frankly, I wouldn't want to do that job because it's very painful, whereas this is exciting.
It is great to have a recruitment process which ensures that you grow in numbers and quality alike but continuous restructuring is also something that India Inc must look at. Infosys and Wipro are not as new as the yesterday startup that they will not have their share of pains. Kaizen as the Japanese would put it – is a way of life in the ever changing world.
To be continued …