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A journey of 3 decades | Understanding Innovation | Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan | Director IIM Bangalore

Prof.Rishikesha T. Krishnan is an author, columnist and professor of management who focuses on strategy, innovation, and education. He is listed in the Thinkers50 India list of most influential management thinkers from India. 

From 1996-2013, Prof. Krishnan worked at IIM Bangalore, where he held the Jamuna Raghavan Chair in Entrepreneurship from 2007 to 2010. After serving a five-year stint from January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2018, as the Director of IIM Indore, he returned to IIM Bangalore and is currently Professor of Strategy there. He was educated at IIT Kanpur, Stanford University and IIM Ahmedabad.

Prof. Krishnan’s book 8 Steps to Innovation: Going from Jugaad to Excellence (co-authored with Vinay Dabholkar) won the Best Book Award for 2013-14 from the Indian Society for Training & Development. His earlier book From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation: The Challenge for India proposed a blueprint for how India can enhance its innovation output. 

Inkpothub: You are very popular in innovation space, I want to know: ‘what is innovation’ is in your own words?

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: Innovation is usually driven by some challenge or problem and that problem or challenge have simple readymade solutions. So you have to find some new ways of solving it that’s where creativity and coming up with new ideas becomes important but usually coming up with new ideas is not enough. You have to experiment, you have to validate it and you have to make sure that it actually solves the problem. So there is a lot of work which comes in execution and then ultimately it has to benefit somebody.

To cut the story short: Innovation have four components.

  1. problem,
  2. idea,
  3. execution
  4. benefit or validation of that.

So these four have to come together. That’s when we call something as innovation.

Inkpothub: Tell us about your books.

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: I have two books.

One book came in 2010 and second in 2013. In 2010, I wrote a book called From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation. It was focused on what are the policy measures which are required to make India a more innovative country.

The other book which was published in 2013, 8 Steps to Innovation: Going from Jugaad to Excellence. This book is focused on 8 steps to make Jugaad a systematic innovation.  It a more systematic process.

Inkpothub: Jugaad and Frugal: How these two words are different?

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: In the innovation space there is a lot of confusion about these terms. Innovation itself is a word which is used by many people in different ways. Jugaad is normally equated to what is called creative improvisation. Usually refers to innovation in constraints (resource constraints). The only challenge with the term jugaad is that it also has some negative meanings associated with it so in India many times we call Jugaad something which is a quick fix or somehow getting the jobs done without worrying about laws and rules and all that stuff.

On the other hand, the term Frugal innovation means:  removing nonessential features from products and services to reduce the complexity and their costs.

It is a better term to use because it refers to doing innovations with less resources, with results that are also very economical for the user.

Inkpothub: How has been the research in innovation space evolved so far after your books?And how publications are being happening in this particular domain of innovation and particularly to frugal innovation?

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: I have been working on innovation in one way or another since my PhD days and during my research I was focusing on different aspects of innovation which were essentially looking at how government research laboratories commercialize the innovation to earn the resources for the lab and make the lab more self-sufficient.

When I was doing my thesis, I also read a lot of literature on the National System of Innovation which refers to the broad policies, the national culture, and the institutional framework. I read a very impactful book written by Prof. Richard Nelson at Columbia University which looked at innovation systems in different countries. However, the book did not have any chapter of India.

I was curious to know: Why India and Indian innovations were not ever covered as it’s a book that compared innovation systems across the country.  

Once I finished my thesis and I joined IIM Bangalore as a faculty member then I realized that the students were not really interested so much in R&D and research laboratories but they were very interested in innovations in business context.

My colleague Prof. Ganesh Prabhu and I realized that the one area of innovation which was of great interest, both to students and to companies was New Product Development. We did some research and wrote papers on new product development in India.  In 1997, we also started doing MDPs and offered a PGP elective on new product development.

As we started working a lot with companies/ corporates, we started realizing that innovations in companies are not only about products. It’s also about processes and business models.

So my interest in innovation domain broadened. I started slowly to figure out about Indian innovation and ecosystem. In this direction, I presented a paper ‘Developing Country Innovation System under Liberalization in India’ in an international conference in brazil in 2003. That became the starting point for looking at the innovation at the country level.

In the meantime, Ganesh and I extended the earlier work on new product development to look at software works, because Bangalore is a hub of software so obviously software products were a natural extension of our interest. We wrote a paper, one version of that came in a journal and other in an edited volume. So this was another development in the space of innovation.

I kept on working to develop the idea of ‘how to understand the broader context of innovation’. I had a lot of material and this is no longer just a paper, it has to be written into a book. Meanwhile, in 2008, I got a chance to spend a couple of months in US. I focused on the structure of the book. I came back to India, completed the book.

Finally, I wrote my first book which came out in 2010.

Jugaad Innovation

But many people in the cooperate sector said ‘the book is irreverent to them’ because it captures macro understanding viz. policy issues, ecosystem, etc. And it is of no use at the individual or corporate level.

“Why don’t you write something which is useful to us?”

Then I happened to meet Vinay Dabholkar. He was the consultant in innovation space and he was also very interested in looking at this question of how can companies build innovation capabilities rather than looking at the national level, how can companies bid. So we started in 2010 (soon after my earlier book came out) and wrote 8 Steps to Innovation. The book got published in 2013.

In the meantime, India has become quite famous for all these frugal innovations. I started focusing a little bit on frugal innovation itself.

8 Steps to Innovation

One of my doctoral students Pavan Soni (at IIM Bangalore) was quite interested in innovation space. So we wrote a paper in 2014 titled ‘Frugal Innovation: aligning theory, practice, and public policy’.

Find the paper: Research Paper

Soni, P., & Krishnan, R. T. (2014). Frugal innovation: aligning theory, practice, and public policy. Journal of Indian Business Research.

This paper has become highly accepted and cited paper because we looked at some of the core definitional issues in frugal innovations.

Inkpothub: Many companies are nowadays building on data. How companies should adapt to artificial intelligence and machine learning

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: We have to look at all these different technologies and approaches which have come as part of the digital revolution together. We look at the four basic types of innovations: product, process, customer experience, and business model. The scope for all of these four has increased exponentially.

If you take AI, ML, IoT, the open API’s between various IT systems, you start looking at all of these things together because they have together changed the nature of innovation.

The first few products which became digital product were those which could be inherited digitalized like book music, movie. All of these, the products could be converted into digital ones.

But now thanks to IoT and other technologies, even something like appliance can become connected to a digital system. So as a result of that there is a huge explosion in the kind of innovation you can do in the entire digital space.

Now coming specifically to AI and ML, these are transforming products and they are also changing processes. If you look at the process side it’s very clear that these technologies are improving automation and essentially they are improving efficiency. Why it is important because the history of innovation is really focused on improving efficiency. For example, If you go back to the industrial revolution all the efforts when people started using steam power, they use electrical energy. Everything was focused on how to increase productivity. So clearly approaches like AI and ML have inherent abilities to make processes more efficient and accurate.

Inkpothub: What is your message to young/ potential scholars who are pursuing/ looking for Ph.D. in management.

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: I started my Ph.D. in 1991, so now it’s about close to 3 decades. I find that there is almost a natural progression over time so the questions and the problems that I was interested in at that time, many of those interests have slightly morphed into related areas abut there is a lot of interconnection between the things I have done. The advantage of the interconnection is that I can keep building on what I have done already and also have a pretty good in-depth knowledge of all these different interconnected things that helps me in my teaching, pursuing new questions. So the other thing is you also get recognized a little bit expert in that area which is also good because then you can connect better with organizations.

People come to you, they seek your help, your collection of data becomes easier, your ability to influence people also improves. So I keep encouraging people that you take one area. Take moderately broad kind of an area, start somewhere, dig into that and finish.

There is a lot of value in being ‘focused’ and ‘committed’ to one area and then within that area, going into different questions that are of interest.

Then once you have finished your Ph.D., you can start slowly moving a little bit into the adjacent kind of questions and areas.

Scholars much look for different avenues for communicating their research, sometimes  journals are the best place. But sometimes you need to look at other ways of publishing like blogs, books or magazines.

I just give one example:

Many years back when I was starting my work on product development I came across some work done by two professors at Harvard Business School. They had done the study of product development in US companies and I don’t remember their exact number but let’s say they have done 20 cases roughly. From that collection of 20 cases, first, they published all the cases separately in the Harvard Business School case series. They wrote three different books at three different audiences. They wrote one book which was on text and cases for students, the other book which was more focused on top management and the third book for the lower-level managers in the company. Then they also wrote articles in Harvard Business School.  

So I have also tried to evaluate that a little bit. We have articles, books, cases and research articles published in journals. We have also created some videos. I think there is a lot of scope for doing that. And if you are a good scholar you should really look for how can you really take your idea and apply them in different contexts.

Inkpothub: What are your future research domains/ aspirations wherein you are trying to explore?

Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan: My current exploration is on some new projects.

  1. to write a book focused on frugal innovations. I have a manuscript which is almost ready but what has happened is some of it was written a few years back so it needs updating.
  2. to understand the phenomena about ‘how is a digital transformation happening, how is it changing the nature of innovation and the management of innovation’.

I have already written a couple of articles on innovation transformation. So these are the two things I am looking on. One is frugal and the other one is digital. And then, of course, the connection between them.

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