Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bilcare and AP Organics win CII Industrial Innovation Awards

Awards and recognition play an important role in encouraging innovation. The government has been giving awards for several years now, but with a focus on technological innovation. While these government awards were decided by eminent juries, they lacked an in-depth assessment process. But, in areas like quality (think of the Malcolm Baldridge or equivalent awards), an important part of the selection process is the in-depth assessment carried out by qualified assessors. So, when CII decided, after several years of internal debate, to institute industrial innovation awards this year, such an assessment became an integral part of the process.

Having been on innovation award juries before, I have found that the challenge is to balance creativity, outcomes, and potential future impact. It’s sometimes difficult to compare a very simple idea with huge potential impact with a novel yet complex technological concept  that could appear ahead of its time today but revolutionise the industry later. Not surprisingly, such debates were an important part of the deliberations of the jury for the CII Industrial Innovation awards that were announced a few days ago. A highlight of the jury was its international composition and the enthusiastic participation of some members who had flown thousands of miles to be a part of the process.

Knowing my penchant for writing on interesting innovations I have seen, one of my co-jury members started teasing me during the presentations that he “didn’t want to see all the confidential details splashed on my blog.” I have taken his caution to heart and all the information given here is based on what is available in the public domain!

I will restrict my comments to the two winners in the manufacturing category. The applications for services innovation tend to be dominated by IT, and I rarely see eye-catching ideas in this domain.

This Year’s Winners – Manufacturing

Bilcare, a Pune-based packaging solutions company won an award for what it calls nonclonableID ™ technologies. These are used to prevent counterfeiting and provide a validation of the originality of products across a variety of industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to automobile components. In India, the government has been particularly interested in these solutions because of rampant counterfeiting and tampering. The Blicare solution creates a unique material fingerprint for each product or component passing through a supply chain and provides an end-to-end solution of verification and validation.

AP Organics, a Sangrur-based company, is a leading producer of rice bran oil under the Ricela brandname. The company’s distinctiveness is based on the patented physical refining process it has pioneered that preserves important ingredients such as Oryzanol which has anti-cholesterol properties. Today, the company has also effectively backward integrated, and through its decentralized sourcing and processing, is able to source rice bran from multiple centres across the country and use it before its short shelf life is over.

What’s Common to Both

The cases of both Bilcare and AP Organics underline the importance of working on the “right” problems.
Counterfeiting and duplication erodes the brand value of companies and poses significant losses to customers. It can be extremely dangerous too in products like drugs. And counterfeiters are becoming more sophisticated, so solutions have to become better too.

Not only is large import of edible oils a macroeconomic problem for India, heart disease is becoming an important lifestyle hazard. Yet, the Indian palate is unlikely to change in a hurry. Domestic production of “good” oils is therefore a priority.

Both of these are good examples of the “pain-wave-waste” criteria for problem selection that Vinay Dabholkar has stressed in our 8 Steps to Innovation.

The Importance of End-to-End Innovation

Both Bilcare and AP Organics show that end-to-end innovation has become necessary in many product categories. Of the two, AP Organics appears to have been commercially more successful, possibly because it is easier for it to manage the entire process. The Bilcare technology itself looks to be sound, but involves system-level implementation which is not always easy.

Both Bilcare and AP Organics have shown the value of their innovation in international markets though exports and international usage.

Both innovations have taken time to mature. In fact, Bilcare’s technology is still not ubiquitous even though some customers like a Japanese automotive component manufacturer have established its utility.


I was both somewhat intrigued and saddened by the relative absence of Indian pharmaceutical companies in the final shortlist. While my fellow jury members were quick to explain this away by recalling the industry’s focus on generics, pharma is even today India’s most R&D intensive industry. And, not so long ago, we had several Indian firms undertaking courageous drug discovery programmes. I hope this is just a blip and that we will see many Indian pharma firms intensifying their efforts to discover new drugs or drug discovery systems in the years ahead.


Let’s hope that the new CII Industrial Innovation Awards grow from strength-to-strength and become highly coveted awards in the years ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Visit to Ashoka and other musings on higher education

Last week, I finally made it to the campus of Ashoka University in the Rajiv Gandhi Educational Area near Sonepat on the outskirts of Delhi. Ashoka has been the obsession of my good friend Pramath Sinha for the last few years, but I was unable to make it to the formal inauguration of the university some months ago.

The Ashoka campus is well-positioned near the highway and catches the eye with its elegant tall buildings. It doesn’t have a huge campus, but it should be quite functional and user-friendly yet aesthetic once it is completed. I have been arguing for some time that, given the pressure on land and the difficulties in acquiring it, even our government-supported institutions need to change their concept and “go vertical” – the current norm for a new IIM is 200 acres of land which is increasingly difficult find. Private universities like Ashoka are already showing how this can be done.

Young India Fellowship

Ashoka had a soft launch through the Young India Fellowship (YIF) programme that is now in its fourth avatar. YIF is doing liberal arts in reverse – it offers a one year post-graduate diploma in liberal arts to students from a variety of professional backgrounds.

I taught a course on “Introduction to Business” to the first YIF cohort. The business course is one of the few compromises that YIF makes to the marketplace – while many of the YIF fellows have gone on to higher studies at impressive schools in the west, one of the big questions that YIF has to confront is “What next?” YIF has an impressive Experiential Learning Module (ELM) that gives the fellows exposure to an organization, often through a business-related project, but that’s not enough to place the YIF fellows. Hence the business course and other related workshops.

Thursday morning @YIF

I enjoyed a vigorous one hour interaction with the current YIF fellows on the topic “Can India become an Innovation Powerhouse?” The grassroot innovation movement appears to have caught the imagination of many of our young students, for some of the fellows felt that India doesn’t do well on global innovation surveys because our strength lies in our traditional localized innovation rather than the modern technological innovation that is measured by most such surveys. They didn’t say this explicitly but appeared to be suggesting that if only the government were to help these and other young innovators with mentorship and incubation support, the Indian innovation scenario would change. Is this true? Well, several organizations have jumped on to the incubation bandwagon now, so we’ll know in a few years how well this works.

FICCI Higher Education Summit

Universities like Ashoka represent the brave new frontier of Indian higher education. But, as C. Rajkumar, Vice Chancellor of OP Jindal Global University, said in a panel at the FICCI Higher Education Summit (HES) in which I participated last week, starting a private university that aspires for high standards and quality is not for the faint-hearted. I felt a sense of déjà vu at the HES – I think this is the third one I am attending an HES over the last decade – as many of the issues for discussion have remained the same over time.

Though policy makers have been talking for some years now about the importance of focusing on quality and not quantity alone, we don’t seem to have figured out how to do this on a sustained basis. The public institutions are ahead on this but are struggling to break into the top 200. There are clearly some private institutions with definite ideas on how to do things differently and how to offer high quality in a challenging environment, but our regulatory structures seem to adopt a “one size fits all” approach for all private institutions.

I am not for a moment saying that everyone starting a higher education institution has noble intentions, and, yes, there is a need to protect students from being cheated or exploited.  But, it appears that we have not achieved the right balance if good private institutions feel constrained, and institutions like the Indian School of Business (ISB) and the School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) continue to be outside the regulatory domain. Luckily, our HRD minister has just announced that the government is working on a New Education Policy, and I hope this will address these concerns.

HES Panel on Leadership

At the HES, the chair of our panel, Mohandas Pai, asked us a couple of interesting questions. One centered around how three major changes (globalization, technology and inter-generational shifts) are likely to affect higher education and what our universities are doing about this. While I am not completely clear about the impact of globalization, I am quite convinced that we have to change the way we teach if we have to adapt to new technology and the way young students of today learn. The process has to be much more interactive and real-time, technology has to come into the classroom, and we have to befriend rather than fight social media and the mobile phone. But, we as faculty are the biggest barrier to make this happen, because we are wedded to our identity as teachers lecturing in a classroom.

Our institutional metrics also need to change. I recall one faculty member asking whether faculty should get the same credit for conducting a simulation-based course as for teaching a regular lecture-based course. Clearly, as long as we measure faculty workload by the hours they lecture in the classroom, it’s going to be difficult for faculty to adopt more interactive methods. 

Another interesting discussion was on leadership. The provost of Carleton University in Canada spoke about a partnership with Sheffield University in the UK to prepare their senior faculty for leadership positions. This prompted Mohan to ask whether we should have the equivalent of an MBA in leadership for university professors.

While this received a sharp negative response from some on the panel and in the audience, the spirit of what Mohan Pai said is worth considering. After all, our professors are not necessarily born leaders, and they are often pitchforked into academic administrative and leadership positions without any prior experience or training. Some IIMs are already running such courses for technical institutions under the umbrella of the TEQUIP programme, and we need to see how well these have worked.


Achieving higher quality in higher education is not an easy task. But with sustained and focused effort, this is achievable over a ten-year timeframe. A supportive policy environment, capable leadership and faculty who are willing to adapt to the changing learning environment will be essential ingredients to make this happen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

DVR Seshadri on Innovation in Teaching - Part 2 - ALM

This is the second part of Prof. DVR Seshadri's piece on innovation in teaching, and focuses on the Active Learning Methodology (ALM). The first part appeared last week.

Active Learning Methodology or ALM

ALM focuses on participative learning. In this method, participants discuss the class topic in groups and present their learnings to the class in the form of a chart or mind-map. The faculty/instructor plays the role of the facilitator and ensures that the learnings are consolidated and summarised.

In a typical class using ALM, participants are divided into groups of three to four each. Each group is asked to discuss the session topic within their respective groups. The step-by-step instructions by the faculty ensure that the discussions proceed sequentially. The following are the steps (instructions) by the faculty/instructor.
1.      Members of the group list out their observations, and write them down in their notebooks. Each member of the group is asked to carry out the exercise individually.

2.      Next, the group members are asked to discuss, share and compare their notes, and prepare a consolidated list of observations. The consolidated list would include all observations of the members in the group.
3.      In the next step, each member of the group is asked to prepare mind-maps, or diagrammatic representation of their observations. The mind-map should make use of simple symbols such as ovals, rectangles, bubbles, triangles, etc., to present the observations of the participants. However in drawing the mind maps, the instructor gives certain rules as follows:

·         The main theme should be at the centre of the diagram
·         The sub-themes should be drawn in the periphery
·         Levels of observations should be clearly distinguished.
(For instance, the oval shape may depict only level 1, rectangles could be used only for level 2, bubbles could be used to depict only level 3, and triangle could be used to depict level 4. Further the levels could be distinguished by thickness of the lines, different colours, etc.)

The diagram should consist of only key words. No sentences are allowed.

A simplified example of a mind-map is shown below, presenting the observations which could be drawn for a typical bus stand. 

The main theme (Level 1 represented by Oval) is the bus stand. The sub theme at level 2 (represented by rectangles) includes shops, buses and passengers. The observations about the buses are further divided into north bound and south bound buses (level 3 represented by bubbles). The observations about the passengers are further divided into ladies and gents (level 3 represented by bubbles). Further observations about the gents passengers are subdivided as old or young passengers (level 4 represented by triangles).

1.      In the last step of this exercise, each of the group members is asked to prepare a set of questions, for which the answers are available in the diagram, or the points consolidated by each group. The instructor encourages the students to prepare any number of questions that they could together come up with.

Each group is then asked to make a 2-minute presentation, about their observations to the entire class. Each subsequent group, making the presentation, can only add to the observations made by the previous group, and cannot repeat any of the points made by the earlier groups.
As a final step, any one group asks questions to any of the other groups. The questions are such that the answers are available in the mind-map as well as in the consolidated observations made by the groups.

The following section provides a summary of the structure of the pedagogy, and the sequence of the steps that can be followed, for a typical classroom session. 

The ALM has been successfully implemented in more than 12,500 schools in the state of Tamilnadu, India. Initially developed by The Krishnamurthy Foundation of India and then implemented on a very large scale in schools in Tamil Nadu by Shri M.P. VijayaKumar IAS (Retd.), ALM has met with widespread acclaim and success. Mr. Vijaykumar is now engaged in promoting the ALM for undergraduate engineering courses in India.

Over the last two years, I have adapted this methodology in management education, using it in my MBA classes as well as in executive education programs. This methodology has been received with great enthusiasm by participants. They provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on the methodology and went on to suggest that all the sessions henceforth should be conducted using this method. I have shared this experience with several of my faculty colleagues at IIM Bangalore, who evinced keen interest in it. Some of them have started to use it in their executive education program teaching.

Alternative teaching methodologies

The above discussion throws some light on the fact that teaching has to be necessarily a participative process for it to be accepted as a learning tool by the students. That teaching needs to be reinvented has gained wide acceptance among teachers around the world.  In many business schools in USA and elsewhere, there is growing focus on alternative teaching approaches that engage students fully in the learning process. The ‘Flipped Model’, which is a variant of ALM has gained considerable traction in US business schools.
Reinventing teaching through innovation has become an urgent need in case of both executive education and long duration programs such as MBA and executive MBA since participants often come with considerable work experience, and consequently do not have the attention span or the inclination to sit through long lectures and other faculty-centric sessions.

Primarily, ALM focuses on addressing the question, “How do students learn?”, “What do students expect from an educational institute?”, “What do teachers want students to be?”, etc. ALM focuses on several objectives that teachers using this methodology seek to achieve. These include:

1. The students should think and act independently.
2. The students should be able to solve problems creatively and flexibly.
3. There should be democracy in the classroom: Students should appreciate that they should wait for their opportunity to voice their views.
4. Through small group discussions that precede sharing within the larger group, a lot of refinement of ideas takes place, thus greatly enhancing the learning for everyone.
5. In a typical teacher-centric model, there are bright students who learn, while a significant chunk of the class is left out and over a period of time, this group becomes disinterested in the subject. In ALM, the endeavour is to get every student upto speed and invite every student to be part of the learning process.

ALM enables participants to develop ‘Higher Order Thinking Skills’ (HOTS). These include developing deep understanding, analysis, synthesis and judgement. ALM promotes Higher Order Thinking Skills.

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)
(Source: “Higher Order Thinking Skills”, by F.J. King, Ludwika Goodson, and Faranak Rohani, Educational Services Program, (Centre for Advancement of Learning and Assessment),
      According to these researchers, “Higher order thinking skills include critical, logical, reflective, meta-cognitive and creative thinking. They are activated when individuals encounter unfamiliar problems, uncertainties, questions, or dilemmas. Successful application of the skills result in explanations, decisions, performances, and products that are valid within the context of available knowledge and experience and that promote continued growth in these and other intellectual skills. Higher order thinking skills are grounded in lower order skills such as simple application and analysis, and cognitive strategies and are linked to prior knowledge of subject matter content.”

      Appropriate teaching strategies and learning environments facilitate the growth of higher order thinking skills. In addition, student persistence, self-monitoring, and open-minded, flexible attitudes are vital ingredients to develop higher order thinking skills. Although different researchers use different frameworks to describe higher order thinking skills and how they are acquired, all frameworks are in general agreement with regard to the conditions under which these skills develop in students.


In my 15 years of experience as a teacher, I have been fortunate to have intelligent and talented students. I have greatly gained from my interactions with them. This has only been possible because of my approach to teaching as a fun activity, where I constantly ask myself one question: ‘How can I maximize the learning for the students and make the course a truly transformational experience, while being fun-filled.’ One of the first instructions I give to my participants is “Sit back and enjoy, let’s have fun, and learn in the process as well”. This approach as forced me to constantly innovate in the teaching methodology, and I am now convinced that ALM is the direction to take.

Teaching methodologies across the country are in need of massive overhaul. Given that students these days have access to lot more information than in the generation gone by, communicate extensively with each other, etc., the tried and tested teacher-centric methodologies are now well beyond their sell date. However, the task of innovating teaching is an arduous one. It becomes even more difficult with rigid, archaic teaching pedagogies and stifling syllabuses that characterize most universities, which are followed more as a ritual, rather than with the objective of maximizing learning. Over the centuries, India as a centre of learning has always demonstrated vibrancy. It is time that the teaching fraternity continues to innovate on learning pedagogies to ensure that the intellect of the students is harnessed to the hilt to create truly world-class learning institutions. Incidentally such transformation is necessary if we are to move towards the vision painted by our new Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, best captured by his three S’s: ‘Skill, Speed and Scale.’ 

[My thanks to DVR for sharing this valuable perspective with us.]

Saturday, November 1, 2014

DVR Seshadri on Innovation in Teaching Pedagogy - Part 1

[This post is written by DVR Seshadri, Adjunct Professor at IIM Bangalore. He has been a mentor to hundreds of students across institutions during the last decade and a half. DVR has been constantly striving to improve his teaching effectiveness and this post is based on some of his experiments in the last few years.]

Teaching, as a noble profession, has always remained close to the heart to most teachers. However, in recent years, the methodology of teaching, or pedagogy, has been severely questioned, in India as well as in other universities around the world, especially in business schools.  In a well written article, “Those who can’t, teach” (The Economist, February 2014), Schumpeter questions the objectives of the business schools in the US, and whether the faculty in business schools are interested in teaching at all. The teachers are urged to extensively engage in research and publications and as a consequence pay little attention to the process of teaching. Schumpeter also believes that the herd mentality of following higher ranked business schools have led the lower ranked business schools to focus on attracting talented students, rather than providing high quality teaching per se. As the costs of education rise, Schumpeter warns of growing competition to teaching from MOOCs, or Mass Oriented Online Courses, which provide identical course content taught in business schools, at very low price to the students.

A significant proportion of teachers treat teaching with discomfort and some consternation. As a consequence, some of them tend to belittle teaching. They take recourse to proclaiming that teaching is inferior to research. Such implicit caste hierarchy in many business schools does little to alleviate an already grave situation relating to the efficacy of teaching and learning.

At heart I am a teacher and have always approached it with a spirit of fun, rather than considering it to be a strenuous task. True, there is hard work required, but the joy of imparting knowledge, and being able to make a positive difference to the lives of my students, continues to motivate me. It is in this background that I would like to reflect on some much needed innovation in teaching in institutions imparting business education.

Teaching as a transformative experience for the participants

In a well written book, “Education for Judgment” (‘Education for Judgement: The artistry of discussion leadership’, by ‘C Roland Christensen, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet, Harvard Business School, 1991), teachers at the Harvard Business School reveal critical issues that teachers need to resolve. The book provides some important guidelines that teachers can follow to improve teaching. Stressing on the need for teaching to be a transformational experience for students (as opposed to downloading content from the teacher to the taught), the book provides good advice to focus on the ‘learning experience’ as against the ‘teaching experience’. In the following chart, I have attempted to present the ideas of the book in a form of a simple flow diagram. 

Acquisition and application of knowledge: Undoubtedly, the classroom is a forum for the participants to acquire knowledge. They should also be directed towards productively applying such knowledge. This responsibility falls squarely on the teacher. Often teachers in their anxiety to ‘give more’ to the participants indulge in expansive coverage under significant time constraints, without paying adequate attention to enabling the participants an opportunity to apply the knowledge. The importance of application orientation in business schools cannot be over-emphasised. If a teacher can motivate participants to think about issues such as ‘Where does the knowledge emanate from?’, ‘What does the knowledge actually consist of?’, ‘How is the knowledge actually represented in the human mind?’, ‘How can this knowledge be applied in practice?’ etc., she sets in motion a self-perpetuating learning ecosystem in each participant. In this context, it is important for the teacher to make participants think through the inter-connectivity of knowledge gained from various courses. This is often given short shrift when courses are taught virtually in silos.

Usable Knowledge: Knowledge when given a context is easier to impart and understand. In this regard, the faculty’s focus on application of knowledge is infinitely more valuable than just imparting knowledge. This ensures that the participants are able to use the knowledge in problem solving and relate it to contemporary business issues that they are likely to come across in their professional lives.

Constructing the learning experience:  An important responsibility of the teacher is to create the right atmosphere for learning. The teacher is likely to face several dilemmas in this regard. For instance, should he to focus allowing participants to come up with divergent questions or should he work towards obtaining closure and convergence in the classroom discussions? Should he focus on soliciting the right answers and cut out all other discussions or allow discussions as they emerge, regardless of their being right or wrong answers, wherein the participants ultimately figure out by themselves the fallacy inherent in faulty lines of discussion? Here the dilemma is on correcting the answers of the students or allowing them to hone their reasoning abilities. While there are no right answers to any of these questions, it is fair to state that the teacher has immense influence on the quality of the classroom experience. What is important is that the teacher uses knowledge as an instrument for learning rather than for display of his knowledge. Most participants are inveterate learners, and if the teacher is able to create the right learning experience, participants learn far more quickly. More importantly, they learn from each other and it behooves the teacher to facilitate such peer learning as well. In many intensely competitive classroom environments, unfortunately this opportunity is not sufficiently leveraged.  

Creating communities of interest: The teacher can have a huge influence on the participants in getting them involved and to generate genuine interest for the subject. A community of interest is created when the participants enable each other and organise and communicate content amoung themselves. Participants are then fully empowered and learning becomes a transformational experience.

As shown by the diagram above, the cycle of activities is iterative. If implemented well, it leads to a virtuous cycle of superior learning for the participants as well as for the teacher. 

Methodology of teaching - Pedagogy

While it is difficult to be prescriptive about which form of pedagogy is best suited for the classroom, it is fair to say that some of the teaching techniques have worn out their utility as effective pedagogies. In this regard, it is time that the curriculum and worn out pedagogies are reviewed and changed for the benefit of the participants.  

In April 2014, I was invited by the Indian Institute of Management, Indore to take a few sessions on innovative teaching methodologies as part of the institute’s Faculty Development Program. Participants comprised of 33 teachers from various management schools. I conducted four sessions, one each for instruction oriented teaching, traditional lecture based pedagogy, case study pedagogy, and one using Active Learning Methodology. The participants were then asked to give their feedback on the teaching method they felt was best suited to ensure superior learning.

In their feedback, 72% of the participants mentioned that Active Learning Methodology or ALM was best suited for superior learning. 9% suggested case study based pedagogy, 9% suggested that a judicious mix of all the four pedagogies be used, while 6% did not give a clear response. Interestingly, only 3% suggested that traditional lecture based teaching method was useful as a superior learning tool.

Participants mentioned that the traditional lecture based pedagogy was still useful to cover the syllabus within the time available for teaching the course. They felt that traditional forms of teaching were still relevant because they help to teach concepts within the prescribed constraints of time, which is a major factor that they have to reckon with, especially in the university system. Many of the teachers also said that given the proliferation of business schools in the country, the quality and motivation of participants was also a major factor that they had to grapple with.

On the other hand, teachers of the workshop who favoured ALM mentioned that it facilitates a self-learning approach and helps to develop different perspectives on the subject being taught. They believed that the ALM method enabled high level of participation among the learners. It was more meaningful and result oriented vis-à-vis conventional teaching methods which were much more instructor-centric teaching approaches. ALM invoked critical thinking and enhanced the thought process of the participants. The participants see value in learning the topic, and hence the learning becomes relevant. More importantly, ALM helps to improve the attention span of the participants, with their active involvement and allowing them to think ‘out-of-the-box’. A word of caution from the participants (in their feedback) was that ALM was time consuming and that sufficient preparation was needed by the instructor to ensure that the classroom discussions are kept on track.

[To be concluded in the next post which will focus on the ALM pedagogy.]