Doing the same as before will not help us to cross the chasm

Updated: Feb 12 2009, 06:35am hrs
The global financial crisis has underlined the fact that innovation can no longer be restricted to the vertical structures of R&D laboratories and universities. Countries have to look beyond the number of patents registered or percentage of GDP spending on R&D and look at how innovation can bring in a significant change in peoples life.

Soumitra Dutta, Dean of External Relations, Roland Berger Professor of Business and Technology, INSEAD is an authority on all aspects of knowledge management, with a long-time focus on how to drive business innovation through information technology. He is the chairman of the European Commissions panel on innovation in the ICT and is an expert on off-shoring and outsourcing strategies, with specialisation on India and China. Professor Dutta in an exclusive interview with fes Saikat Neogi underlines the role of innovation in reviving the economy, academic-industry interface and the emergence of digital economy. Excerpts:

Whats your prescription for surviving the global economic slowdown

My prescription is to be bold in strategy, rigorous in execution, to continue to innovate and to never lose your moral compass between what is right and what is clearly wrong.

What is the role of innovation in reviving the economy

Innovation is the best way to grow in an economy which is slowing down. Innovation is the only way to revive the economydoing the same as before will not help us to cross the chasm.

India is gradually slipping on the innovation index. What should be done to move up the index

India has done very well but it could and should do better. Areas of improvement include investments in human capital at all levels, infrastructure upgrades in key sectors and geographies and a drive to make life easy for business by reducing bureaucratic barriers.

We have been hearing about public-private partnership, academic-industry interface, co-creation etc. Are these genuine vehicles for innovation Or, is there increased role for government and industry now

Innovation has become a horizontal phenomenon crossing various segments of society and blurring boundaries between public and private industry. No one entity can do it alone. Therefore collaboration across organisations, be it public-private, academic-industry, user-organisation etc are all important for facilitating innovation. There is certainly an increased role for government today given that government ownership and participation in industry has increased in many developed economies. How this will play out, i.e., whether the increased role of government will continue, remains to be seen.

Do you think the lack of skill sets in corporate India is affecting innovation How can the industry link up with universities and institutions for innovation

Lack of skills in corporate India is definitely affecting innovation. Without appropriate skills, Indian industry cannot innovate in the areas in which it needs to be globally competitive. Innovation is a global game today and availability of skills is essential. Industry and universities need to collaborate closely in leading edge research. This is an area of weakness in India where universities are not sufficiently research oriented. There needs to be a voice for industry in setting and supporting the research agenda of professors and students in universities.

We see too many pilots and new models in India, but not many get scaled up or become widely prevalent. Why

To some degree this is normal. Not all pilots and new models succeed. The tricky part in successful innovation is not just having the right ideas but in deciding how to best bring the ideas to fruition for the right markets. A lot of experimentation is part of the process and so one should not get surprised or disappointed if many pilots do not get scaled up or widely adopted. But each one of these pilots and new models provides opportunities for learning and they should not be lost.

Are we focusing sufficiently on adoption

Yes, for some segments of the market. I think that we are not adequately focusing on the creation and adoption of innovative products and services for the less fortunate segments of society - the so-called bottom of the pyramid.

Which sectors offer the best potential for innovation and how do we compare with the US, Europe or China

All sectors provide good potential for innovation. However, sectors that are closely linked to information and communications technology are prone to rapid innovation cycles.

With the collapse of global financial and banking giants, what kind of innovation will the financial institutions have to do to prosper and regain public confidence

They will have to first regain public trustthis is not a question of innovation but of getting ones moral compass set back on target. It must be mentioned that there are many other financial institutions, such as those in microfinance, who are continuing to innovate with new models of financing for the less well-served markets of our population.

Similarly, what are the new big opportunities on the Internetbe it social networking, web journalism or healthcare

I have just published a new book, Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom (Wiley 2008). It talks about how social networking is transforming our lives, both private and professional. I think that there will always be new innovations associated with the Internet. The Internet is also changing its focus and impactit started out as a publishing medium, then moved to a transaction medium and now it is emerging as a social medium. It will keep on evolving and creating new avenues for innovation.

During the slowdown, when even business as usual is a big challenge, what can motivate people to focus on innovation

Is there really a choice if one wishes to continue to prosper in times of slowdown If you want to continue to maintain your position or hopefully grow, and emerge stronger after the slowdown, you dont really have a choice but to continue to innovate.