Dare to Make a Difference

· Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership

Dare to Make a Difference 

NS Rajan

Less than a decade ago, the world of business had written off Apple. But the late Steve Jobs scripted a phoenix-like return when he transformed the music, telecom and movie industries with a series of game-changing inventions. He took Apple from a networth of around $5 billion a decade ago to an astounding $180 billion. Jobs, interestingly, revered Gandhi as his hero, and paid a tribute with the iconic “Think Different” campaign.

In my view, creativity is a competence, innovation is a process, and invention is the outcome. In the organisational context, creativity of different levels would be inherent in the available human capital pool. When you create conditions that are conducive, through an ecosystem that nurtures innovation, you are enabling the organisation to invent new ways of working, creating markets, and newer ways of delighting customers, thus enabling differentiation — the very life-blood of an organisation.

Leadership can make all the difference. The Medici family of Florence in the 15th century provided patronage to a host of poets, painters, sculptors and philosophers, like Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Galileo. The coming together of such diverse minds gave birth to the Renaissance, one of the most creative periods in history. In the world of business today, Apple, 3M, Nokia, P&G, Google, or Bharti Airtel, Reliance, Tata Motors and ITC are icons of innovation, where the leadership makes resource commitments, unleashes the creativity of its people, and encourages them to fail till they succeed.

When an enterprise ignores innovation, it is likely to confront the cynical version of the three laws of Thermodynamics: 1) you can’t win 2) you can’t break even and 3) you can’t get out of the game. Even 3M, which brought us the humble Post-It, learnt the hard way when ‘six sigma’ was introduced by the new CEO. Known to register among the highest number of patents, 3M suddenly found its patents halved. Kodak invested a fortune in bettering its chemical-based film, and lost sight of the next big thing, digital photography.

Innovation cannot be straitjacketed into yielding efficiencies; it needs to be nourished and, when the time is right, transitioned to the market. Leaders have to be ambidextrous, running operations on the one hand and ensuring that the organisation keeps innovating, on the other. What is invested in, must go through a reality check to safeguard the interests of the stakeholders. Good ideas follow smart people; it is the role of leadership to ensure that innovation takes centre stage in organisational strategy, becoming a way of life.

An innovation ecosystem embedded in the DNA of an organisation fosters a workplace that allows us to question status quo, challenge assumptions, encourage contrarian thinking, ensure a free flow of ideas, and engage with others to gain new perspectives. Leaders must have “the will to do and the soul to dare”, as Walter Scott would say, to make innovation a key driver of the organisation. Let us “think different.”



( The Soul to Dare_Los Angeles : I was fortunate to have been in the right place to capture the moment, which signifies to me the ascent of man and his deep desire to fly. These gentle hills in the backdrop are across the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, a scientific and cultural icon  committed to  “inspiring the future, one imagination at a time”, from where this picture was frozen in time…NS Rajan)

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