Linklog: Indian Product Innovation? Why Don’t We See Much?

From The Limitations of Jugaad by Radhika Chaada

Think of the R&D labs in India for Microsoft, Adobe, GE, or any other Western company. They are considered among the best within their parent companies – but only for solving pre-determined problems. The problems themselves are conceptualised and defined in the West.

When I spoke to Anand Chhatpar, CEO, BrainReactions, this is what he had to say. “The people in Bangalore used the same Dell Inspiron computers, the same broadband Internet connections, the same Microsoft Windows platform PCs, the same programming languages and databases used in Silicon Valley, but the people in the US were making multi-billion dollar Google, while the people in India were still testing office applications and doing grunt-work for American companies. Why? One of the investors, one of the scientists and a large number of employees in Google are Indians, the technology is the same, so why was Google not developed in India? In fact, almost 40 per cent of Silicon Valley start-ups have been formed by Indian entrepreneurs. Why then were the entrepreneurs in India still doing work on contract in the service sector and not innovating products for the world?” And he added that while globally, India was being heralded as a software powerhouse, he did not have a single programme on his computer that was made by an Indian company.

Fair enough. I used to ask myself the same questions. After spending most of the past two years in India, I see a lot of hope. Here is why:

  1. I visit several engineering and management institutes to give talks on Technology Trends, Entrepreneurship and I find a lot of students eager to start and looking for  guidance.
  2. Indian government is doing a lot with Innovation Fund. They give grants and are hard at work in setting up Incubation Centers. One of my recent talks involved Incubation 2.0.
  3. Informal startup communities are gaining traction. These include Chennai Open Coffee Club with over 1500 participants and similar coffee clubs in Bangalore, Pune and other places.
  4. The silos of professional societies like TiE local chapters, Nasscome Emerge Community and the informal startup communities are slowly inter-connecting.
  5. We are still a long way from producing a Google or Microsoft. But the product culture seems to be improving –  an encouraging sign.
  6. A band of us evangelize product innovation, point to social media as a lowering the entry barrier into global entrepreneurship and working to provide as much support as we can.
  7. Zoho is a beacon. I hope to see more companies following their lead.

Posted via email from Dorai’s LinkLog

Three Courses Every Engineering Institution Should Consider Adding

In addition to teaching core engineering subjects, I think we need to add three (may be optional) courses.

1. Entrepreneurship
2. Learning and Thinking
3. Innovation

The idea is to give students an appreciation of what entrepreneurship is all about. Students joining smaller start-ups learn every thing faster in the first few years (though may not make as much money).

We take both learning and thinking for granted. The best training we can give students is the ability to understand how they learn and think. We can include several aspects of thinking including critical thinking, later thinking, thinking about thinking etc. Learning to learn is taught implicitly (by just forcing them to learn a lot). Increasing awareness of learning styles, multiple intelligence will help students realize several ways to accelerate their learning.

Innovation is taking ideas and realizing an implementation (the joy of doing). Most of the labs I see repeat some standard set of problems. Why not let the students do a bit of exploration and research in problems they are interested in solving and innovate in identifying and solving problems?

Posted via email from Dorai’s posterous

LinkLog: Internet – A Resource for Going Green

From Why Internet is an Innovation – our Best Resource for Going Green by Courtney Webster

As an entirely online resource, the Internet can be used to share information across the world, without ever having to waste natural resources. Online bank statements reduce corporate mailings, while websites like www.photobucket.com allow us to share our pictures without making eco-costly prints. When shopping online, using credit cards and online order confirmation, we save the paper and ink that would other wise be used to print cash and receipts, and without making the trip to the store, we’re reducing our carbon footprint in the process.

There are several businesses that can do this, especially ones with mostly knowledge workers. Courtney points out Project Nvokh, a fascinating effort in going green.

A HeroCamp?

I attended a BarCamp at Chennai last week. I forgot to turn off alerts to the barcamp pbwik and keep getting notifications of new barcamps  I got one on (Super)HeroCamp and it piqued my curiosity. It is one of the more innovative BarCamps I have seen in a while. Here is an excerpt titled “Smaller Ideas” from the page:

The smaller ideas
1. What would it look like if we brought the structure of BarCamp into schools? What about a social network for students, teachers and parents where parents could make sure they could keep up with their kids’ curriculum, teachers could understand a little more about a student’s home situation and students could communicate more on the level that they understand? HeroCampSchoolNet
2. What if we provide local communities with an easy (Ning?) way to create a cross-generational learning network. Schools could tap into locals with expertise, and locals could tap the youth and creativity of students. The retired biologist down the street could help students create and maintain a sustainable organic garden, and students could learn about globalization and teach local businesses how to survive. HeroCampCommunityNet

I am always amazed at the innovative ways tools are used. The concept of BarCamp itself is an innvoative idea. Hosting camp announcements on a public wiki is another. The way the concept of BarCamp is being used builds upon both these. Hats off to people who innovate at every level. This is definitely one of my sources of inspirtation.

Learning Agility

I stumbled into IdeaCast from HBR a couple of weeks ago. First of all I love the title “IdeaCast”. You can’t pass up a pod-cast series with such a title. Like Knowledge@Wharton podcasts, this is an invaluable source of information. One of the pod-casts I listened to recently is about the Changing Role of Leaders. In this podcast Marshall Goldsmith talks about five of the new traits of a Future Leaders. Then Marshall goes on to add another (saying that he got it from one of the readers who commented on his blog post). He calls it Learning Agility.

The term appealed to me and I immediately Googled it and found this link.

It describes the common traits of learning agile people.

  • They are critical thinkers who examine problems carefully and make fresh connections with relative ease.
  • They know themselves well, leverage their strengths effectively and know how to compensate for their weaknesses.
  • They like to experiment and are comfortable with the discomfort that comes from change.
  • They deliver results in first-time situations through team-building and personal drive.

The author identifies a set of related characteristics, agile people may have:

  • Mental Agility -Ability to separate action from strategy and vision
  • Results Agility – Personal drive and presence
  • People Agility – Ability to build teams which includes Conflict Agility

I think Learning Agility is an important trait, for companies – especially startups. Most of the founders have it. A bigger challenge is to make it an essential ingredient of the startup culture.

Resources: Technology Podcasts and Videos

I am always on the lookout for good podcasts to listen to. Here is an opportunity to listen to thought leaders in the tech industry.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Interviews with Innovators by Jon Udel from ITConversations Network. ITConversations also hosts some interesting podcasts on Social Innovation and other interesting topics.

Talking with Talis is one of my more recent discoveries. In their own words, it is:

conversations with thought-leaders at the interface between Web 2.0, Libraries, and the Semantic Web…

Inside Silicon Valley from PodTech News is another one of my favorites. I became aware of PodTech when Robert Scoble moved there from Microsoft.

ScobleShow is another one of my favorite ones. Since Scoble is no longer at PodTech, I wonder whether this series will continue.

Channel 10 is a great source that covers products and innovations at Microsoft.  I have watched some really grate videos and podcasts there.

Google Engineering Edu and other Google tech talk videos is one of the best sources of technology information. Google often invites thought leaders, developers, language designers to their campus. They make these videos available free.

A talk a day is my motto. A technology or Science podcast or an audiobook is a great companion when I take my walks or sweat it out on my treadmill.

Innovation Propagation

Democracy was probably one of the greatest innovations in the world. How did it propagate? For a visualization of this story visit March of Democracy. While you are there explore other maps too.

Where has democracy dominated and where has it retreated? This map gives us a visual ballet of democracy’s march across history as the most popular form of government. From the first ancient republics to the rise of self-governing nations, see the history of democracy: 4,000 years in 90 seconds…!

This is a great and a very powerful way to track how a certain event or movement propagates around the globe. This is also a great way to teach history. Moving from the video, to the meta problem it solves, we can think of a tool to track propagation of innovation and other events. Many examples come to mind:

  1. Historic events – spread of religions, spreading of culture, propagation of ideas. These and many others originate in one or two places and spread globally over a period of time.
  2. This may also be a great tool for teaching economics, history and diffusion of various other types of innovation.
  3. I would love to see a map of the way Mathematics or Science spread.

With the advent of internet, ideas spread through packets. Bloggers, definitely are catalysts for propagating information and ideas. Hopefully, we can trace the spread at a more granular level and understand why certain ideas spread and why others dont.

Links: Emerging Technologies and Innovation

I enjoy reading about how technology enables innovative solutions. Here are a list of some interesting links

E-textiles to Monitor Your Health 

Virginia Tech (VT) researchers have been busy developing efficient e-textiles — electronic textiles and clothing with embedded wires and sensors — for six years now. Their computerized clothing can monitor your movements, sensing if you’re walking, running, standing, or sitting down.

Bridge Traffic Powers Its Monitoring Sensors

Researchers at Clarkson University, NY, have developed wireless bridge sensors which work without batteries. Instead, they are powered by the vibrations caused by passing traffic. This is good news for all the people in charge of maintaining bridges, who will no longer to have to replace batteries installed in hard-to-access locations.

Self-powered Nanowires

Many research teams around the world are building nanodevices of some kind. But these very small devices need very small sources of power to be fully functional. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have shown that a single nanowire can produce power by harvesting mechanical energy from its environment. ‘Made of piezoelectric material, the nanowire generates a voltage when mechanically deformed.’

Implementing an Innovation Process

I came across this nice blog on Innovation Process Framework, by Jeffrey Philips (via Innovation Weblog)

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The blog is a nice read and tries to outline a framework for Repeatable Innovation. Towards the end Jeffrey appeals to the readers to provide feedback.

If you care to, please comment or provide your feedback. I think if we practitioners, consultants and interested bystanders can create a consistent vision for the future of innovation and the tools and processes necessary for success, we can help our clients and business partners become more successful.

I have been experimenting with a few tools and some ad-hoc processes for innovation (in small product groups). So let me start out with a few tools and see how we can start putting together, elements of this framework.

You can start with any simple content management system (Drupal, Plone, Dotnet Nuke or even a Wikimedia engine).  It is also possible to use commercial portal products like Sharepoint, BEA or IBM portal servers. Let us see how we can go about building a prototype of the tools required to bootstrap your Innovation Process based on the framwork described by Jeffrey.

1. Trend Spotting

You can use several products that exist in the marketplace to track trends. The tools I list here provide you information to detect trends. Here is a list.

  • Google Alerts- A service to receive alerts based on certain keywords
  • InfoMinder - Our product to track specific web pages for changes (you can optionally specify filters) and receive notification. Unlike Google or alerts, InfoMinder is specific to the pages you want to track.
  • Digg, delicious, Techmeme, reddit or any of your favorite social bookmarking service (you can look for specific trends or retrieve information using tags)
  • Technorati or Google Blog Search tools
  • Tag Clouds (many of the services mentioned above provide tag clouds that tell you the more popular trends) or you can create your own tag clouds.
  • Google Trends – A product from Google that allows you to see trends based on searches
  • A set of high level Text Mining and Tech mining tools ( a subject that deserves almost a blog of its own)

A combination of these services and other customer serivces, can be used to perform trend capture. You need to figure out a way to make sense of trends from these different pieces of information (Trend Spotting). Fortunately many of these tools provide RSS streams or APIs. You can easily integrate them with several content management systems.

2. Generate Ideas

You can set up a workflow where people with the role of Generators, look at the captured trend information, combine it with other sources and generate ideas. These can be either stored in any relational database like MySQL, Postgres SQL.

3. Capture additional Information
In the system, Ideas are just a specific type of document with certain metadata like creator, date of creation, source of idea, description etc. It will be nice to add the capability for anyone to tag ideas. Based on tags and other criteria, ideas can be routed to Evaluators.

4. Evaluate Ideas
The evaluators can add comments, additional tags, classify the ideas to be further researched and send them back into the system. With each iteration, the circle widens. Ideas are further validated, combined with others or split into multiple ideas and put back into the system. Since Ideas trigger ideas, this process of combining and splitting will work well.

5. Develop and Launch

Stakeholders are found, prototypes built, ideas developed and launched as products/services.Your content management system can be used as a record keeper in this phase. In every step of the process from ideation to launch, it may be worth engaging small communities of users. Connecting to social tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn may be a good way to build and grow these communities.

6. Workflow/Process Automation

This is functionality built into several content management systems. Ideas can move from one stage to another (nascent, researched, validated etc.)

7. Idea Archetypes

One of the important aspects of the design of Idea Archetype is the progressive addition of information. Some ideas are listed here:

  • State – specifies the current stage of the idea. As it goes through the system, the state of the idea keeps changing
  • Strength – an indicator of the strength of the idea. As ideas float through the system and gather support, the strength can be progressively increased. Support increases this value and opposition decreases this value.
  • Next Steps – For each idea there can be a sequence of steps which can be started by the creator of the idea and collaboratively edited by others. For example, the legal department may add a patent search as a next step

8. Process Maps

Argument maps, Concept maps and other mapping tools can be loosely integrated (most of them export data in XML, JSON or CSV  format).

9. IdeaLogs

Ideas can also be published in blogs (private if they are meant for a small internal groups). Many portal products or content mangement systems come with their own blog software. You can also integrate some of the popular blogging software like WordPress.

10. Wikis as Collaborative Knowledge Bases

Wikis can be used as a knowledge bases to share, collaboratively edit and archive ideas. Wikis are alternative to idea archetypes,  mentioned earlier. Many of the wikis now provide templates for creating structured pages.

Any portal framework that supports content management, custom content types, workflow, collaboration, authentication can be used to jump start the Innovation Process in an organization. It is easy to bootstrap an innovation process using this framework and existing tools in a few weeks.

The best approach is to start with something as simple as a portal, set up some simple workflows, use a single page with extensible metadata as a basis for collaboration.

Update

Pretty much everything I described here can be done using many other portal frameworks, as well. One of recent favorites is Drupal especially since it has started providing support for RDF ( core language  for the semantic web as well). You can also custom build this framework using web frameworks like Rails(Ruby), Django(Python).