Saturday, December 28, 2013

Innovation in India: Where do we stand at the end of 2013?

As the new year approaches, its customary to review the year that has passed. Here is my take on where we stand on innovation at the end of 2013.

Positive Highlights of the Indian Innovation scenario in 2013

Innovation in the public/strategic sectors took two important strides. The first was the successful launch of the mission to Mars (Mangalyaan) which demonstrated India’s ability to undertake complex scientific and technological projects at low cost. The second was the initial operational clearance for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft by the Indian Air Force.

The emergence of a new generation of Indian technology companies like Vigyanlabs, winner of the Nasscom Innovation Award in the Technological Innovation category for 2013 was another positive development. Vigyanlabs solves an important problem (high consumption of power by data centres) with a system solution that is backed by a US patent.

Some of the most important innovations took place in the political sphere. Two new entities demonstrated the potential for such innovation. The success of a young political party, the Aam Aadmi party, in the Delhi elections demonstrated the value of a grassroots approach to politics backed by creative use of the social media. In Bangalore, the Bangalore Political Action Committee B.PAC seeks to be a catalyst for “good politics” by supporting candidates with a clean record. B.PAC also trains aspiring politicians.

Another timely organizational innovation was the launch of the Indian Software Product Industry Round Table (iSPIRT), a think tank devoted to the promotion of India as a power in the software product industry. Two initiatives of iSPIRT – one to connect Indian product companies with the requirements of India’s large small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, and the other to create a vibrant market for acquisition of software product companies (“M& A Connect”) have shown the potential of efforts to close the gaps that hinder the emergence of a vibrant product ecosystem [Disclosure: I am associated with iSPIRT as a member of its Founders’ Circle.]

Market-driven innovation efforts by large multinational companies such as Renault (with the Duster) and Gillette (with the Guard) showed that some MNCs are coming to grips with what it takes to innovate for the Indian market. Yet, the overall MNC innovation scenario in India was mixed with some companies scaling down their efforts to use India as a base for emerging market innovation.

The Indian Industrial Innovation Scenario

2013 was a decidedly mixed year for industrial innovation in India. One of the mainstays of Indian industrial innovation, the transportation sector, had a poor year. Despite several efforts, Tata Motors was unable to revive the fortunes of the Nano, and sales remained muted. Mahindra’s earlier success in the SUV market with products like the Scorpio and XUV 500 was eclipsed by determined efforts by MNC automotive companies (Renault with the Duster, and Ford with Ecosport). By all reports, the initial results of Mahindra’s acquisition of Reva (India’s pioneering electric vehicle company) have not been great either with their first post-acquisition product, the E20 seeing only moderate success. Neither Tata nor Mahindra had successful launches during the year. In contrast, MNCs had several successful launches including Honda’s Amaze and the SUVs mentioned above.

Zydus Cadila successfully completed trials for what may become India’s first new chemical entity to reach the market. But the Indian pharmaceutical industry faced several setbacks as prominent companies came under the scanner of American and European regulators, and big names including Ranbaxy and Wockhardt faced regulatory action. Since, their ongoing operations in the bulk drugs (APIs) and generics space provide the cash to fund their innovation efforts, any setback to these businesses could have a long-term negative impact on the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

Traditional Indian business groups have begun to realize the importance of a more structured approach to innovation, but are struggling to evolve appropriate processes to do so. My co-author, Vinay Dabholkar and I received enquiries from such companies in different sectors, but few of them translated into specific assignments.

The Innovation Ecosystem

Reflecting India’s overall struggles with enhancing innovation output, India slipped two positions on the Insead/WIPO Global Innovation Index in 2013. India’s biggest weaknesses are in the institutional environment, and in higher education and R&D.

The latest available R&D statistics (pertaining to 2009-10, released on September 2013) show that India’s R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP is static at around 0.88% since 2005-06. But, there are two important changes to note. The sectors accounting for the largest proportion of industrial R&D spending – pharma and transportation – continue to be the largest, but their share has come down to 27.7% and 14% respectively from 45% and 17% respectively earlier. This is a positive development as it shows other sectors increasing their R&D spend faster. The other interesting development is that private sector industry now accounts for 28.9% of all R&D expenditure and the entire industrial sector (private + public sector) for more than 34%.

One piece of good news is that the proposed Inclusive Innovation Fund has taken a step forward with an in-principle approval of the first tranche of funding. But the operational details still seem some distance away. It looks unlikely that the Fund will be put in place before the next general elections, and it remains to be seen whether the next government will see it through to fruition.

During the year, the Department of Scientific & Industrial Research re-jigged its schemes for supporting R&D by industry. New schemes include “Patent Acquisition and Collaborative Research and Technology Development” (PACE) and “Promoting Innovation in Individuals, Start-ups and MSMEs” (PRISM). As far as I can make out, the PRISM scheme is not too different from the TePP programme that was quite popular earlier. The PACE programme provides loans for companies to acquire patented technologies and then work on them further. In the past, the common problems of government support schemes included processing time, centralization in Delhi and inadequate scale. Let’s hope the government is able to address such issues this time.

Another useful development is the incorporation of innovation into the Results Framework with which the Performance Management Division of the Government of India measures the performance of government ministries and departments. This will hopefully result in a greater focus on innovation in the government.


2013 wasn’t a great year for innovation in India. Industrial innovation, in particular, seems to be at the crossroads. I hope that a focus on innovation will return once we have a new government in place later this year. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dr. Devi Shetty and Narayana Hrudayalaya: Revolutionising Cardiac Care

Dr. Devi Shetty enjoys a special place in the health care sector in India. At a young age, he made a reputation for himself as an outstanding heart surgeon at Bangalore’s Manipal Hospital. But he is now better known for his determination to create an alternate model of healthcare more suited to the needs of India.

Action is worth more than a thousand words. Over the last decade or more, Dr. Devi Shetty has created the Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH) complex in Bangalore to experiment with, and scale up, new ideas in health management. I have seen him on television a few times, but I had the first opportunity to hear him speak on innovation at the PDMA annual conference held at IIT Madras on December 16.

There are some core principles of how to reduce the cost of healthcare that have emerged from the experience of low-cost health pioneers like Aravind Eye Hospital. These include leveraging economies of scale, and disaggregating the entire surgical process so as to focus the doctor’s time on those steps that require the doctor’s expert intervention. But cardiac care seems to be too complex and risky to apply such principles. Or, is it?

I was curious to see what Dr. Devi Shetty would have to say….

[The following paragraphs are based on Dr. Devi Shetty’s talk]

Why India needs a different model of healthcare

On the one hand, the government spends only 1.1% of India’s GDP on healthcare, and 80% of national health bills are paid “out of pocket” by patients. On the other, the country has the capacity to do only 120,000 heart surgeries a year though there may be a medical need for upto 2 million. These are some of the hard facts of the healthcare sector in India.

But, India can do better. We have the largest number of doctors, the largest number of nurses and the largest number of US FDA-approved drug units outside the US.

Dr. Shetty and NH are not content with talking about such problems. They have proactively tried to address them. Some examples of what they have been able to do, and what they hope will be possible in the future:

Affordable Cardiac Surgeries

NH has been able to bring down the cost of heart surgery to the equivalent of USD 1,400 to 1,500. But their target is to bring this down to $800. This is thanks to scale – NH already does 30 heart surgeries per day and performs the largest number of kids’ heart surgeries in the world with children from 70+ countries being treated at NH.

NH is pioneering speciality hospitals that can be built at low cost. The idea is to build very functional hospitals rather than 5-star hospitals with marble floors and central air-conditioning. NH is partnering with India’s leading construction and engineering company, Larsen & Toubro, to pioneer this concept. The target is to build a 300 bed hospital for USD 6 million in 6 months. Their first effort in this direction cost USD 7 million and took 8.5 months to build at Mysore.

Another way of reducing cost is to reduce staffing. NH has developed, in collaboration with Stanford University, a 4 hour training curriculum to help the spouse of a patient take care of him after he is released from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Low Cost, but with no compromise on quality

Indian hospitals typically use linen gowns and drapes for surgery. But, globally, special surgical disposable gowns and drapes are the norm. Existing companies were willing to supply these at Rs. 5,000 per surgery against the Rs. 2,000 that NH was willing to pay. NH encouraged a local entrepreneur to take up the manufacture of these surgical essentials. Today, Amaryllis manufactures these using locally available labour and supplies them at Rs. 850 to 900 per surgery. The company is in the process of getting international quality certification that will enable it to export these as well. [Readers familiar with the Aravind Eye Hospital story would remember that Aravind did something similar in the case of intro-ocular lenses.]

In the tradition of the partha system of accounting practiced by traditional business groups in India, NH tracks every penny. Using Oracle and SAP on the cloud, the hospital compiles a daily profit and loss statement that is available by 4 pm the next day. Using a medical analogy, Dr. Devi Shetty calls this “using accounting as a diagnostic tool rather than for performing a post mortem.” I am sure the pioneers of the balanced scorecard, Kaplan and Norton, would love this characterization.

Very much like Aravind Eye Hospital, the focus is on cutting costs but not sacrificing quality in any way. One in every two hundred patients in a US hospital is killed due to errors or medical negligence. NH is developing software-based patient management in an effort to use IT to avoid this in their hospitals. NH is also developing and using simulators to train nurses for critical care facilities.

Policy and Regulatory Intervention

But Dr. Shetty is not content with improving the care within his hospitals. He is actively involved in policy and regulatory changes that will advance his vision of good quality, low-cost healthcare.

Dr. Shetty conceptualized the Yeshaswini Microhealth Insurance programme that is today a Government of Karnataka initiative to provide low cost medical insurance to farmers in the state. They pay a monthly insurance premium that is as low as Rs. 5.

Dr. Shetty is fighting what he calls “pre-conceived notions of who can do what in surgery” which add to costs but not quality. He questions the wisdom of requiring a nurse with a BSc degree to hand over instruments during a surgery, pointing to a painting made by elephants in Thailand!

Going Beyond

With the belief that doctors who come from a deprived background are more likely to change the rules, he is running a programme called Udayer Pathey in which 2,000 kids from rural West Bengal are being mentored through their schooling in the hope that they will be able to qualify for admission to medical college.

Since women are more likely to use their earnings for the welfare of the family, NH consciously tries to employ women wherever it can. At one time, 90% of their employees were women.


In his answer to a question from one of the participants, Dr. Shetty said there is no need for special inspiration to pursue his work – the fact that one woman dies every 10 minutes while giving birth to a child is inspiration enough. But for the rest of us who attended his talk, Dr. Devi Shetty should be a good inspiration to pursue affordable modes of solving Indian problems. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Organizational ingenuity or systematic innovation: What is relevant in India?

“Organizational ingenuity or systematic innovation: What is relevant in the present Indian economic context?” – this was the  subject of a thought-provoking panel discussion I attended on December 14 at the third Indian Academy of Management (IAM) conference at IIM Ahmedabad.

About the IAM

IAM is the Indian affiliate of the Academy of Management (AoM) – a forum that brings together leading scholars in management covering areas such as Organizational Behaviour, Human Resource Management and Strategy. The AoM brings together thousands of scholars in its annual conferences held every August in North America and publishes some of the leading journals in the field. The IAM has been in existence only for the last 5-6 years, and this was the third IAM (biennial) conference. IAM is gathering momentum with a record number of participants at this year’s conference expertly put together by Professor Neharika Vohra and her team at IIM Ahmedabad. Good to see research picking up steam in India!!

 Backdrop to the Panel

While creativity and innovation have tended to hyped up in recent years and associated with “larger-than-life” figures like Steve Jobs, it’s good to see parallel efforts to recognize less demonstrative but perhaps no less important forms of change. One manifestation of this has been the interest in bricolage. [Wikipedia].

In the Indian context, bricolage has been popular in the form of jugaad, loosely translated as “creative improvisation” which stresses solving problems within resource constraints. All of us in India are familiar with such Jugaad solutions as the washing machine adapted to make large quantities of lassi or the truck knocked together using local materials on Indian farms.

 Organizational Ingenuity

But, I wasn’t familiar with the notion of organizational ingenuity till Rangapriya Kannan Narasimhan (Priya) from the University of San Diego invited me to be a part of this IAM panel. The panel itself appears to have been sparked off by a “Call for Papers” for a special issue of Organization Studies by Joe Lampel and Israel Drori a couple of years ago.

 Organizational ingenuity refers to the phenomenon of managers trying to solve problems under organizational constraints of lack of resources or authority. Organizational ingenuity is a creative response to organizational barriers and is thus closely related to organizational change.

Is this new?

Interest in these non-formal processes of change is not new. One of the most insightful writers on organizations, Karl Weick, wrote a paper titled “Improvisation as a Mindset for Organizational Analysis” in the journal Organization Science 15 years ago where he investigated the pre-conditions required for organizational improvisation to happen, drawing an analogy from improvisation in jazz music. [As an aside, it’s not clear to me why we need another concept in the form of organizational ingenuity – how is it different from improvisation?]

More recently, Radjou, Prabhu and Ahuja focused on the problem of large organizations getting too bureaucratic and slow, and urged companies to adopt more informal and intrapreneurial processes such as “Jugaad innovation.”

The Panel on Organizational Ingenuity vs Systematic Innovation

Unfortunately, Israel Drori couldn’t make it to the panel. Priya introduced his ideas on organizational ingenuity and then asked me to speak. I made the following key points:

  • India doesn’t do well on global innovation surveys. One of the main reasons for this is that Indian organizations have demonstrated a limited capacity to innovate on a consistent basis.
  • While in the context of a large MNC, the barrier to innovation may be overly-restrictive processes and delays caused by multiple layers of decision-making, Indian firms suffer from a different problem – they tend to use ad hoc innovation processes such as Jugaad rather than structured processes that could facilitate a smoother and more consistent stream of innovation.
  • I gave several examples of Indian organizations – Bajaj, Titan, Aravind Eye Hospital – to explain how such systematic innovation processes help Indian organizations meet the needs of Indian users effectively.
  • I ended by pointing out that multinationals are beginning to get their act together by using their more structured innovation processes to address specific needs of the Indian market (e.g. Gillette).
  • I concluded by saying that Indian companies could potentially lose out if they don’t quickly embrace a new paradigm of innovation.

Pushkar Jha’s Perspective on the Role of Ingenuity

Newcastle University Professor Pushkar Jha brought a different lens to look at the ingenuity vs. systematic innovation debate. Using poverty alleviation programmes as his context, he made several interesting points. The lack of success of poverty alleviation programmes is not due to lack of resources alone. The beneficiaries may be willing to engage with such programmes but may lack the ability to do so. This ability constraint could be cultural, but there could be other reasons too.  

Pushkar is evolving a framework to understand when ingenuity is likely to lead, and when systematic innovation is likely to be predominant. He argued that systematic innovation requires a stable environment and more stringent pre-conditions. His focus is on the role of what he calls “boundary spanning related resourcing constraints” which seems to refer to the costs and difficulties of coordination across organizational boundaries.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Pushkar’s thought process reminded me strongly of the debates we have seen in the “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” movement. The emphasis of BoP 2.0 on co-creation with the community and embeddedness of solutions is intended to address the ability challenge that Pushkar refers to. In fact, the BoP 2.0 paradigm pays a lot of attention to training and education of the beneficiary community as an intergral part of greater acceptance and diffusion of new solutions.

 Systematic innovation in companies can be traced back to the German dye industry in the 19th century. This suggests that systematic innovation grew in the west much before the more stable environment we see today. In fact, I wonder what dimensions of stability are relevant here.

Is it possible that systematic innovation is a function of time and maturity and not the environment alone? Or is there a cultural element to it? Sociologists seem to inherently distrustful of cultural theories….

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The LCA Tejas Milestone: Cause for Celebration, but also Food for Thought

On December 20, Defence Minister AK Anthony will preside over an important milestone in the evolution of India’s technological capabilities – the induction of Tejas, the indigenously-developed Light Combat Aircraft into the Indian Air Force. Though the Tejas has not yet received Final Operational Clearance from the Air Force (that is expected sometime next year), the Initial Operational Clearance now granted will allow for the first few aircraft to be handed over to the Air Force, and for Air Force (rather than test) pilots to be trained on the aircraft.

Tejas has undergone 2,400 test flights since 2001, but 450 in the last year alone. The doubling of test flights came after Defence Minister AK Anthony threw his weight behind quick induction of the aircraft into the Air Force and set a deadline for completion of testing. Prior to that, according to press reports, the ADA/DRDO were being very cautious, worried that an accident would irretrievably set back the programme. There were also coordination and resourcing issues.

The Importance of Rapid Test Cycles

The Tejas experience underlines the importance of quick and rapid test cycles. However powerful computer simulations may be, testing in real conditions is where, as they say, the rubber meets the road. Faster trials mean quicker learning and faster development. In an earlier post, I commented on the challenges inherent in developing complex technological products like fighter aircraft and tanks in India and this was one of the points I mentioned: inadequate number and frequency of experimentation and testing cycles.  I identified five other reasons why we struggle in these projects: (1) overly-exacting specifications; (2) lack of clarity regarding what local development means; (3) lack of technological competence in advanced technologies; (4) design/development and production gaps; and (5) lack of tacit knowledge.

Fear of Failure & The Importance of Champions

But the fear of failure indicated by the ADA/DRDO points to another reality that is often hinted at: pro-import lobbies within the Air Force and the political establishment are ready to do all they can to prevent the emergence of local competition, and would therefore jump on any failure to try to close a project. So, unless local development has a champion at the highest level, it’s difficult for programme managers to mobilise the confidence and resources needed to make advanced technology work. (If you read 8 Steps toInnovation, you’ll remember the pivotal role that George Fernandes played in making the Konkan Railway a reality).

More “Fundamental” Issues

A recent letter from Dr. Satish Chandra to Current Science raises another interesting set of issues. Dr. Satish Chandra heads the Structures division at the National Aerospace Laboratories here in Bangalore. In this capacity, he has been a key player in NAL’s efforts to design and develop new aircraft. NAL has had some success. The two-seater Hansa demonstrated NAL’s capability to take a development project almost all the way to the market (“almost” because Hansa is yet to be commercialized). The Saras Light Transport aircraft flew, but has struggled with weight problems and appears to have lacked the resources and support to go through the rapid improvement cycles that are required to make its “weight loss programme” successful. NAL has been the crusader to develop an Indian 70-seater aircraft, but the programme is yet to get a complete buy-in from policy makers.

In Satish’s letter to Current Science, he stresses that the views expressed are in his personal capacity but they are no doubt based on his experience at NAL! He makes the following key points: Given the current stage of economic development of India, and our national priorities, should we be focusing on basic science research or on technology development to solve our myriad problems? He alludes to a caste system in the scientific establishment where anything applied is seen as not rigorous, and where higher levels of abstraction are equated with higher intrinsic value. He points out that our current structures and processes are inimical to advanced technology development.

Reflections on Dr Satish Chandra’s Letter

Reading Satish’s letter, I was reminded of an interesting book evocatively titled Smash Innovation by Gopichand Katragadda, who currently heads the Jack Welch Technology Centre of General Electric in Bangalore. Gopi points out how India has suffered from a division between hand and mind since historical times. In From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation, I argued that the tendency to put brainwork on a higher pedestal than physical work has come in the way of industrial innovation.

The lack of a strong industrial research culture in India may have led to the misperception that applied research lacks rigour. But good products and technologies have to work in a wide variety of use situations and conditions, and have to be robust and consistent in their performance. This involves extensive simulation and testing. Cost considerations lead to pressures for continuous improvement in materials and reduction in weight. Industrial research and development, particularly in high technology areas is very challenging indeed!
From what I have seen in my own life from watching two industrial researchers (my father and my wife) at close quarters, I am completely convinced that creating good high technology products is every bit as rigorous and demanding as basic research.

The Way to Go

I continue to believe that one of the problems with the commercialization of Indian industrial research and development (at least in the public sector) is the separation of research and design from production and sale. The LCA, for example, was designed by ADA, but will be manufactured by HAL. Technology and product development under the roof of an industrial enterprise is likely to bring in a stronger user perspective, and commercial considerations would hasten testing and development. New models of development would also emerge.

Consider Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft company. It started pretty much like a design bureau, and then went on to manufacture aircraft under licence. But it broke away from that paradigm to become one of the world leaders in Regional jets, and in the process developed new models of sharing risk with key suppliers. As I told a conference of HR heads of Defence Public Sector Units in Bangalore last week, my dream is that Indian defence technology companies follow the Embraer path and become leaders in their respective domains.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Beyond Jugaad: A Monthly Column in Businessline

I just completed a year of writing a monthly column titled Beyond Jugaad in The Hindu Businessline. I enjoyed writing this column covering a wide variety of topics in the broad area of strategy and innovation. Here is a bird's eye view of the columns I wrote during 2013 with links to all of them.

Mass Movement Needed for Better Governance (December 2013) Link

The Five Myths of Frugal Innovation (November 2013) Link

Will Air Asia and Tata –SIA Succeed? (October 2013) Link

What does it take for MNCs to succeed in India? (September 2013) Link

Does India need Innovation? (August 2013) Link

India continues to grapple with the challenges of new drug development (July 2013) Link

Ranbaxy: The Fall of an Icon (June 2013) Link

Getting Value out of Innovation (May 2013) Link

Indian Companies need to embrace Open Innovation (April 2013) Link

For Tech Innovators, Internationalisation is key to survival (March 2013) Link

Making ‘In India for India’ Work (February 2013) Link

Indian Firms need to find own pivots to overcome competition (January 2013) Link 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

MadRat Games: Combining Learning and Fun

We in India have a strange relationship with our own languages. We enjoy telling visitors about their diversity and richness (I must have shown an Indian currency note which lists all the constitution-recognised languages dozens of times), but the typical middle class, urban Indian uses English as the stepping stone to success. 

While most people in “our” generation at least learnt our own languages (even if we don’t read and write in them every day), today’s kids have often grown up with English alone. I remember reading a fascinating article by Ramachandra Guha some years ago where he predicted the end of the bilingual scholar. We can see that happening before our eyes.

But I don’t think everyone is happy about that. I was recently in Pune, and met an old friend Jayaram Chengalur who works at the National Centre for Radio Astronomy. Jayaram has taken the courageous step of educating his kids in a Marathi medium school. (By the way Jayaram’s “mother tongue” is Malayalam, but his wife is from Maharashtra, and living in Pune, they decided to let their kids soak in the Marathi language.) I am sure there are several others who are keen to retain some Indian linguistic heritage.

Most people would not, I imagine, be willing to go so far as to emulate what Jayaram has done. But, they would be happy to encourage their kids to learn one or more Indian languages if there were fun ways of doing so. That’s why I was delighted to get introduced to MadRat Games through its co-founder Madhumita Halder.

MadRat Games

Madhumita and I were co-speakers at a recent event organized by the FICCI Ladies Organisation  (FLO) at Hyderabad. Madhumita and I are at the centre of the picture below.

MadRat Games is a company that makes board games, some of which have been adapted to the mobile phone and tablet. Their flagship game is Aksharit, a Scrabble-type word-building game, originally designed for Hindi, but now available in a number of other Indian languages.

Being designed in Indian languages, MadRat games not only offer the opportunity for urban English-speaking kids to connect with India’s rich linguistic heritage but also for kids from different linguistic backgrounds to have fun in their own local languages.

Aksharit is also available in a mobile version on the Symbian platform. (That doesn’t seem to be the right platform now, I hope they are adapting it to the current popular platforms).

Aksharit’s design goes back almost a decade to a project undertaken by MadRat co-founder Manuj Dhariwal as a B.Des. student at IIT Guwahati in 2004. Manuj’s brother Rajat (the third co-founder) and Madhumita were classmates in Computer Science at IIT Bombay. While Rajat did his Masters at CMU, and Madhimita worked for an animation company, both wanted to work in a more creative environment and joined the Rishi Valley School as teachers. [As an aside, the Krishnamurti Foundation of India (KFI) Schools have provided such a haven to many such youngsters over the years. I hope someone will one day document the contribution of the KFI schools to school education in India.]

The Rishi Valley experience brought home to Madhumita and Rajat how important it is to focus on the “how” of learning rather than the “what” of learning. Learning can (and should) be fun. This is particularly important while teaching kids. Several organizations have responded to this need (in India I can think of Akshara Foundation, Pratham Books, the Agastya Foundation…). After four years at Rishi Valley, they decided to join forces with Manuj to make Aksharit a commercial product. MadRat Games was born.

Distinctive Features of MadRat Games

There are several things I liked about MadRat Games:

  • They have created a wide range of games in a short time, at attractive price points;
  • They have a range of games rated for different age groups as per international practice;
  • They have used a wide variety of distribution modes, online stores being one of their most important channels;
  • They have been quite business-savvy in riding waves (remember the “Pain Wave Waste” framework of 8 Steps to Innovation). E.g. they have a whole set of games centered on the popular Indian cartoon character Chhota Bheem;
  • They focus on fun and learning at the same time;
  • They seem to be able to transcend technologies and platforms, though they remain predominantly a board game company.

Madhumita gave a practical demonstration of their understanding of how kids learn when she conducted a short workshop for the FLO members during our session. In this, she took them through the process of doing simple experiments with paper that could explain some basic science concepts. Quite impressive!

The Next Generation of Indian Entrepreneurs

A few weeks ago, I attended the Bangalore launch of Reimagining India, the new book compiled by McKinsey & Company to urge the world not to give up on India just yet. At the launch event, InMobi founder (and former McKinsey consultant!) Naveen Tewari outlined his vision for how entrepreneurship is the force that will transform India. In From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation, I argued that we need a new generation of (tech-savvy) entrepreneurs to put innovation in India on a new trajectory. While there certainly has been a groundswell in favour of entrepreneurship in recent years, I keep wondering whether Indian entrepreneurship fulfil our aspirations and dreams.

An important challenge for Indian entrepreneurs and innovators is to take advantage of their familiarity with the local context. Language is one important aspect of that context. It’s useful to remember that many prominent Chinese companies (including giants like Lenovo) started off by addressing China-specific needs like Mandarin word-processors and DTP systems. I am glad to see MadRat Games exploiting such an advantage.

While much is made (often justifiably) of the importance of creating a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem, I continue to believe that we underestimate the importance of our entrepreneurs having the right stimuli and experiences. In an earlier post, I wrote about how Steve Jobs was very much a product of his growing up experiences. I wonder whether MadRat Games would be the same if Madhumita and Rajat had not chosen to spend four years in the prime of life teaching young kids at Rishi Valley. We really must find a way of giving our youngsters a wide variety of experiences that will trigger their imagination in ways that reading and formal education will never be able to do.