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Innovation – An imperative for survival of organizations!

There is a famous quote – ‘The only thing predictable about life is its unpredictability’. The Covid 19 impact is the most interesting and relevant example of the same. Even the best of minds cannot claim to have planned for the same. Especially from the point of view of the businesses and economy!
As per the Deloitte article (https://www2.deloitte.com/in/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/following-up-on-the-immediat-economic-response.html) the rampant spread of COVID-19 across borders and geographies has severely impacted almost the whole world and triggered significant downside risks to the overall global economic outlook. Due to the lockdown announced by the Indian Government, the Indian economy has also slowed over the last few months. For most businesses, the slowdown has been in the form of supply disruptions, a fall in consumption demand, and increased stress on the banking and financial sectors. However, like the Great Depression (1929), the dot-com bubble bust (1997- 2000), and the 2008 financial crash did in the past, the Covid-19 is changing the way the world works.

Many businesses are changing gears fast and can sustain and survive better than others. They are using innovation and design thinking to adapt to unprecedented times. Organizations, especially in the e-commerce, digital education and related, entertainment, wellness, FMCG industries have adapted to the customer need, the market environment, and its challenges, and have found little green shoots.

As per the Financial Express article dated 19th May 2020, the e-commerce firms that are doing well, are those that found innovative process solutions to the disruption of supply chain due to prohibitions in terms of deliveries across various regions. Amazon and other e-commerce majors tied-up with local kiranas or neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores to fulfil the market demand. Recently launched online store JioMart by Reliance Industries, which went live on WhatsApp in select locations in Mumbai and other locations claims to have tied up with millions of kirana stores. Paytm Mall, meanwhile, announced tie-ups with over 10,000 neighbourhood stores to scale up its grocery delivery services around the country. (reference article dated 6th June in TOI). Similarly, an organization like HUL which has been operating in Indian markets for over 80 years with over 35 successful brands, chose to re-plan their innovations, adapt to the “emerging demand patterns in the short term and prepare for any lasting changes in consumer behaviour.”

New age organizations were faster to innovate due to the sheer nature of their inception and culture. For example- Cultfit, owned by the founder of Myntra, Mukesh Bansal adapted fast to the market realities. They used the market conditions to increase trials of their digital platform of Curefit, further monetizing it to create relevant revenue streams. Lenskart integrated store inventory with Google to ensure that consumers could access products even before they come to the store by just searching on Google or could fix appointments to minimize out of home time. Useful innovations provided solutions to many challenges faced by different organizations during these hard times.

Historically too, it has been observed that the changing economic environment, socio-cultural changes, technological changes, digitalization, caused a profound effect on organizations’ growth. Many world-famous companies like Yahoo, Nokia , Kodak , Xerox, and many others are a patch of what they were earlier, revenues and market share, while some companies no longer exist. Legendary companies like American Motors and AT&T, which were part of the Fortune 500 list have been replaced. In India too, many large corporate organizations have lost their market shares due to the inability to adapt and grab opportunities thrown by the changing markets. A case for example in India would be Meru Cabs. While they were one of the first companies that entered early in the organized Indian Cab Markets, entry of Ola and Uber in the cab market displaced their market share and revenue. Similarly, brands like Airtel, Hyundai, who were strong market leaders in the late nineties and early twenties are now trying to adapt to the dynamic nature of the market to sustain and grow. On the other hand, new companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google are prominent in the list of Fortune 500 companies. India has also seen young companies becoming Unicorns – Ola, Quikr, Snapdeal, Nykaa, and 30 others in the last 10 years. A particularly important contributor to these organizations’ reasons for the growth has been their culture of innovation. All these organizations have systematically created an environment to ensure innovation – in product and processes …. Thereby equipping them to perform better even during the trough periods in the economy.

Different organizations have adopted different corporate entrepreneurship models to ensure they invigorate their growth, through innovation. There are organizations like Google, which encourages all employees to have an interest in innovation and motivate them to create new ideas and products to grow business. Employees in Google are allowed to use 20% of the time to think of new ideas, sell their ideas internally to get more team members to work on the idea, to fine-tune their concept and reach till the development of a prototype (i.e a sample model of the final product/concept to be built, created with the objective of testing the idea in the market). Employees, teams can also approach the management for funding the idea. Further, these employee/teams get financially rewarded if the innovation reaches the market and gets acceptance from the customers. At any point in time, Google supports approx. 100 projects with 70% of the projects supporting Google’s core business, 20% representing emerging businesses, and 10% focusing on experimental ideas. (Google case study – Source – MIT Sloan Business Review). This ensures a consistent flow of disruptive innovation.

On the other hand, there are organizations like Samsung, Cargill, and ITC that follow a focused approach to corporate entrepreneurship and ensure innovations continue to grow and expand the markets. For example, the ITC Research and Development Centre has played a crucial role in sustaining a competitive advantage for the company. Its mandate is to go beyond supporting its existing products and services and create innovations that not only meet but anticipate consumer needs. Many Indian Information Technology firms like TCS, Wipro, and Infosys as well as pharma companies follow this model of the innovation to create products and services that are ahead of the markets.
Each organization identifies and adopts its own model of innovation depending on the type of innovation it is targeting – be it a routine innovation versus radical innovation versus disruptive innovation versus architectural innovation. However, to be successful in its endeavour to invigorate or re-invigorate, each organization needs to build its strategy, internal systems, and the right kind of culture for innovation.

To summarize, as the speed of change and uncertainty in the business environment increases, no organization can afford to be complacent on innovation. And the words of Peter Drucker ‘Innovate or Die’ hold even truer today.

Do share any other interesting examples of process or product innovations that have been adopted recently

Campus Venture – a win win situation.

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, just 2 years into his college education. This business that made him a millionaire by the age of 26 years. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in his second year at Harvard. Steve Jobs conceptualized Apple Computers after dropping out of college ….. Back home Ritesh Agarwal, founder of Oyo Rooms  –started his first venture Oravel Stays Pvt. Ltd in college. A number of the leading entrepreneurs launched their start-ups in college days, and many of these had to drop out of their education to achieve what they planned.  They had the entrepreneurial spirit, the innovative idea, but not a supportive ecosystem. They had to choose – to complete their education or work towards their dream

However today the times have changed. Now a budding entrepreneur doesn’t need to choose one over the other. Now is a great time to be a student who wants to start her own business while studying. Some interesting reasons why a student should start her own venture while she is still studying in a university.

Collaborative Environment – A successful start-ups are often backed by founders working together from diverse background to create radical innovations. A university offers an unmatched platform for students to interact, ideate and collaborate with students across different streams,   which often results in the development of innovative business ideas /solutions.

Campus Resources – Universities are creating an extremely supportive ecosystem to encourage students who want to start their venture. In the current scenario, they are willing to help students with free infrastructure, in terms of space to operate from, wi-fi, electricity cost, etc. which dramatically reduces the fixed cost of running the start-up. More often than not, the universities are also connected to their alumni and venture capital funds, who are willing to give a window of opportunity to the budding entrepreneurs to showcase their business ideas and generate funds

Additionally, in Indian, if an Atal Incubation Center (AIC) or Atal Innovation Community Center (AICC) has been created in the said educational institutions, the students also get innumerable other advantages including

Ø  access to sectoral experts for mentoring

Ø  support in business planning and development,

Ø  seed funding from the University’s AIC or AICC on a case-to-case basis

Ø  access to an ecosystem that increases the success rate of the start-up

Ø  access to financial and tax consultants for regulatory compliances, IPR attorneys and such professionals

Captive Customer Base– Universities have a young, large population and offer a captive audience for any budding entrepreneurship to test market an innovative product or service. Herein the start-up doesn’t need to spend money to reach customers to validate their minimum viable product or service. Trials are fast, feedbacks are honest and the customers are forgiving. In addition to the above, the university campus offers a more accepting micro-market, wherein a start-up gets another chance.

Faculty Guidance – It is only a campus venture (a start-up incubated in the university) that has the advantage of getting guidance from professionals across multiple –functions. It is one place where faculty members with multiple skillsets are always available to guide the students across functions, whether it is creating a business plan or a low –cost marketing plan to launch the product. Niche industry experiences, multi-domain knowledge of faculty members is easily accessible to the students, putting them on a steep learning curve and guiding them till they are ready to move out on their own.

Young, energetic, enthusiastic interns – Start-ups need all hands on board, and yet they have limited paying power. At their university, student entrepreneurs get the chance to invite their peers to work as interns with them. This allows the peers to get valuable experience of working in a start-up, while the campus venture get interns for helping them.

A Win-Win Situation– University students normally have limited responsibilities during education, in terms of the need for a stable monthly income to support a family. Hence their risk is limited. If the start-up launched by them becomes successful, it gives them unmatched financial rewards and recognition. However, even in the failure of their start-up, they win. Launching their start-up gives them an unmatched advantage offering them valuable, holistic learnings and experience of managing a business. The practical experience gives them an edge during the campus placement process, wherein they are the preferred choice by most recruiters.

LEARN, APPLY AND MOVE CLOSER TO YOUR CAREER GOAL!

Traditionally, after completing the undergraduate program, students have three options – to join their family business, go for higher studies or take employment. Whether it is for getting a job or admission in a higher education institution, the students have to go through a selection process. After clearing the initial elimination rounds of written tests and group discussions a student moves into space wherein the individual has to sell themselves.

It is also a well-acknowledged fact selection panels of education institutions or reputed corporates traditionally recruit incumbents who have great communication skills, technical skills and a good attitude (meaning qualities like being proactive, having a positive attitude,  solution providers rather than problem creator, people management skills and similar skills ). While the students’ qualification, classroom-based or MOOC Certifications shows what technical learnings they have acquired, it is the application of the same and demonstration of life skills that interests and are normally being evaluated by the selection panels.

I am detailing a few activities which can be used to add depth to the students’ resumes as well as help them learn skills that selectors are normally seeking and move them closer to achieving their career goals.

Organizing a community activity/event – Most of us live in residential communities. Organizing a social/ cultural event for the benefit of the other members of our community helps us showcase our initiative, our organizing ability and our ability to influence people and get their support. The community activities that can be chosen by students could include

o    Organizing a free health checkup for residents of a locality by connecting with a reputed hospital and your local resident welfare organization / Blood Donation Camp ( Red Cross),

o    Organizing Diwali Mela  / Christmas Gala / An Entertainment night / Children’s Day Activity / Children Painting competition to encourage art and

o   Coordinating with Municipality or local governing bodies ( residential welfare association)for providing better facilities at your residential area  – installing Garden Gyms / Better club facilities / Water Harvesting Initiatives/creating a volunteering group to provide support to the elderly population in the vicinity

Volunteering for a cause – For a student, it is critical to identify a social cause one is passionate about. Whether it is saving the environment, or educating the children or caring for animals, it is important to have the conviction to improve the plight of another.  Connecting with an NGO related to the cause and participating in their multiple activities, allows the incumbent to highlight her willingness to contribute towards society’s wellbeing. Showcasing the same in one’s resume and interview exhibits empathy, ability to work for a team/cause, enthusiasm for one’s belief, which is qualities well appreciated by any selection panel. Additionally, the content ( photographs and videos) from these add value to the digital footprint for a lifetime. For example, if a student chooses to become a member of IILM University NGO-Club – Yuva Goonj , and helps in teaching the children in the nearby slums, it demonstrates that the student is a responsible member of the society, believes in contributing towards the development of others and is willing to take extra responsibility.  These are laudable qualities that are appreciated in any institution.

Internships on a part-time and full-time basis – Internships and other experiential learning opportunities are the final keys to maximizing the value of students’ college degrees. It is a well-accepted fact that securing employment after one’s degree is dependent on how well one has built experience during the period of education. Employers expect students to have experience before applying to minimize training needs.   On another hand, to get admissions into good educations institutions for further studies, it is critical the student has a good understanding of the concepts taught, which is again dependent on application.

In view of the above, in addition to doing mandatory internships to earn credits, it is always advisable for students to take on short projects on a part-time basis through the terms of their courses. These projects need not be with big brands, but with be start-ups who are hungry for hardworking and enthusiastic manpower and are willing to teach. Some of these projects could be in space of

–          Content creation

–          Market research

–          Sales promotion

–          Book Keep

–          Updating records

–          Lead generation

–          And many more

Each of these activities teaches generic skillset as well as function-specific skillsets that always impress the interviewer.

Needless to add, all the above avenues are in addition to the certifications the student has earned, and the extra-curriculum activities a student has participated in. So adding such new experiences can help the student fulfill their career aspirations!

IILM University’s students teach underprivileged children.

Do share your feedback on :

What are the other relevant initiatives one can undertake to make one’s resume more impactful?

Do such initiatives add to your life skills and also help you understand your interests better?