How collective ingenuity is changing the world

Innovation strategist Navi Radjou discusses how innovation in the engineering space is moving away from big proprietary labs, why India and the emerging markets are the next big thing, and what leaders can do to manage these different themes

Founding Fuel

By: Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi

Earlier this year Navi Radjou, co-author of Jugaad Innovation, curated a unique exhibition called Wave in Mumbai, in conjunction with BNP Paribas. The exhibition explored five major currents of collective ingenuity: co-creation, the sharing economy, the maker movement, the inclusive economy and the circular economy.

In a conversation on the sidelines of the exhibition, Radjou discusses how organizations are increasingly multi-cultural in geographical as well as generational terms, how the rise of asset-light community labs is disrupting the way innovation happens, and the leadership challenges in this new world.

Part 1: New leadership challenges and the rise of asset light innovation

Different cultures co-exist within large firms. In this new world leaders will need to create a purposeful vision that allows people to collectively move towards a shared goal.

This is how Radjou explains it: In India, the average age of engineers is, let’s say 29, while the average age in the headquarters (in the West) is 47. The engineers want to “get it done in one week”; those in the headquarters want to test it several times first. One culture is young and dynamic, and the other is conservative and risk-averse. So leaders need to create a sense of larger purpose that transcends this as well as the “I am French, you are Indian, he is American.” 

Like the lean startup in the software world, in the hardware world too, a new paradigm of innovation is emerging. Community labs are popping up where people can innovate on a shoestring. That is disruptive because it is lowering the barriers and costs of innovation.

Part 2: Innovation and co-creation in the government

In this section Radjou talks about how the US government came up with a unique model to help solve local problems. President Barack Obama brought in several people to practice open governance with the concept of open data—making government data available to others so they can build on top of that.

There are two ideas at play here: first, adopting and replicating the viable solutions that already exist. Second, recognizing that those sitting in Washington DC don’t have all the answers. The Obama administration’s stance is: “You tell us what help you need and we will help you co-create the solution, but we don’t have a template that we can send to you.”

Part 3: Why India is the next big market

The interest in India is becoming almost a matter of survival. Now that mature markets are not doing so well, more companies recognize that while they can’t make money overnight in India, they need to make a long-term investment here—not just in money, but in building leadership and talent in India.

This shift in perspective is happening because of India’s changed image and the view that this is the next trillion dollar market. That is why Amazon is investing so heavily to gain a foothold.

Having said that, in practice, only maybe 10% of Fortune 500 companies have made the dramatic shift and are taking India and emerging markets seriously. Radjou measures that by where they locate the senior leadership—90% are still in HQs. That is “schizophrenic”, because 90% growth is going to come from emerging markets.

He says India should also look at becoming a host for an event along the lines of the World Economic Forum. We need to shift the narrative and say there's a brave new world emerging that is defined by scarcity etc and that's why India is the credible place to host such an event.


Virtuoso features conversations with a cross-section of veteran entrepreneurs, business strategists and thought leaders from India and abroad

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