When Will Indian Innovation Come Of Age?

The Forbes list of the Worlds Ten Most Innovative Companies has some surprises. There are four Asian companies -1 from China, one from South Korea and two from India. The most obvious names like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter were missing.

The number one company is Salesforce.com, largely unheard of in India. It has taken customer relationship management to another orbit with its cloud-based, digital savvy lightening platform. This helps clients wire up their sales force with their customers in one continuous infinite loop, building a long-term relationship. India’s IT heavyweights could learn a trick or two from it. The market cap of salesforce.com per employee is $2 mill, while India’s largest IT company brings in less than a tenth of it, per employee. Not surprisingly, with the burgeoning artificial intelligence tools and big data analytics, the labour arbitrage- oriented IT model of India is floundering. At number 2 is Tesla, a company that is eagerly watched by people the world over. When the automotive world was going hybrid, Tesla bets heavily on electric- designing cars that people would desire and could afford. In less than 15 years, it has overtaken the market cap of the Big Two- Ford and GM. The world watches eagerly at the innovations in solar through innovative ‘daytime warehousing’ for ‘night time use’. Tesla wants to solve the world’s energy problems within a lifetime.

Amazon at number 3 is no surprise. Amazon Prime and your very personal digital Jeeves- Alexa- are two secular innovations in a heavily polarised world.

A company that solved the need for a lower-rinse washing powder in a water scarce country that provided us with an intelligent deodorant that activates itself on contact with sweat that solved the need for an ice cream that will melt slowly and has lower calories, Hindustan Unilever is at No. 7.

What do you call a company whose mantra is to reinvent itself constantly, to reimagine its business model and its customers? Asian Paints, from a paints company to a coating giant, from a product company to a service and solutions provider, from a brick-and-mortar behemoth to a nimble click-and-order firm, Asian Paints has made the shift with aplomb.

The top 10 innovative companies are both old and new. Almost all of them are relatively large companies. Why has the size and space not cramped their appetite for disruptive innovation?

Much of this innovation DNA trickles top down, take Amazon. It has a simple process – all business leaders submit a one-page memo every month on one innovation they would like to pursue, with two key ingredients: an answer to the question “Does the innovation offer what customers want and will it give to them fast enough when they need it?” and a list of likely FAQS from the consumers that helps imagine what their experience could be like when they come in contact with it. The best ones are selected, and experimental funds are released.

India’s presence in the list is inspiring at a time when at least three Indian industries are facing a threat: the entertainment industry from video streaming: the IT industry from the blast of robotics, artificial intelligence and big data analytics; and the pharmaceutical industry from the twin problems of consolidation and shrinking health budgets.

In the pharma and tech industries, most leaders in CXO roles believe they are innovative. There is widespread confidence, perhaps even arrogance that since the two industries combined have created the value of over $250 billion in less than three decades; they must be high on innovation.

Some are now beginning to realise that there is a fundamental difference between being innovative and being an innovator. When an Italian racing car company takes Indian motor repair men from Dharavi to see how ‘battle weary hands, rolling in sweat, with minimalist tools’ fare in ‘time-crunched situations’ that company is being innovative in testing a frugal approach to troubleshooting. But when a tech company tests a computer on wheels to offer newer ways to travel, it is disrupting an entire industry. That is being an innovator. An innovator creates intellectual property for a need no one knows exists.

Indian industry, to graduate to being an innovator, requires some non-negotiables:

Sequester innovation teams. Create focus. The payoff from the focus is far, far greater than the savings from frugality and fungibility. Bring best in class talent and align incentives to optimise ‘kill fast, kill cheap’ enterprise outcomes. Ensure diversity in talent, without compromising merit, fight biases.

This article originally appeared in Business Standard.

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A Disease Called Myth

Real life is the fertile hub of startling insights. Picture this scenario straight from life.

A 6-year-old Indian boy in an urban metropolis was diagnosed with mild persistent asthma and had been started on daily inhaled corticosteroid. At a follow-up visit in 2 months, his symptoms had worsened and the dose of the corticosteroid was increased.

During a home visit required by the research protocol, the research team noted that there were a significant number of incense candles and sticks burning in the living room, a place where the child spent most of his time. At a subsequent clinic visit, it was suggested to the mother that the incense burning may be the primary cause for the poor control of asthma. The mother responded in agreement that she was aware that this could be the problem. However, since it was her mother-in-law’s practice and something she could not oppose due to her cultural upbringing, she was expected to comply.

Cut to another story where an Indian mother expressed outright denial when given a diagnosis of asthma in their child. The acceptance of the diagnosis of asthma results in the acknowledgement by the parent that their child carries a chronic illness resulting in an “imperfect “child. Certain other beliefs attribute the cause of asthma to ‘lack of love’ from a mother!

Watch how belief further mutates into bizarre myths. Asthma is usually seen as a serious disease, which leads to death, a belief propagated by the Bollywood cultural movies and stories in which the Asian Indians are used to seeing the major actors clutching their chests while looking for their asthma inhalers and succumbing to their illness. Since the respiratory symptoms of asthma have usually been portrayed as life-threatening which often take the life of the person with the disease, a barrier in the acceptance of the diagnosis and the treatment of this disease is inherently prevalent.

More stories populate the diverse panorama of India’s socio-religious ethos. Spiritual healers are often used to do special prayers and create special magical concoctions, which are given to the child for their well-being and treatment of the chronic illness. Belief in horoscopes and their effects are well-accepted factors that can influence the child’s health. Horoscopes are evaluated by specialists to determine the chronicity of the illness and for prediction of improvements in those conditions. Special articles of religious significance are given to the child to wear. Removal of these articles even if required by medical professionals is considered inauspicious to the point where it may aggravate the symptoms of the disease and distance the provider from the family of the illness.

Home remedies, such as tea, hot water, walking, ginger and turmeric, are perceived to provide relief in asthma.

Clearly, there is a cultural/folk cognition of asthma -the disease that permeates all areas of life manifesting in cultural barriers and also affecting other aspects of the social fabric like matrimonial alliance!

The increasing diversity of the nation brings opportunities and challenges for healthcare providers, healthcare systems, and policymakers to create and deliver culturally competent services. Cultural competence is defined as the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients. A culturally competent healthcare system can help improve health outcomes and quality of care and can contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities. Today strategies skewered to move the health care system towards these goals include providing relevant training on cultural competence and cross-cultural issues to health professionals and creating policies that reduce diagnostic and cultural barriers to patient care.

At Cipla, we rose to the challenge by plunging into a ‘barrier-breaking campaign that attacks the root of the disease- ignorance that is currently rampant in fatal quantities. Berok Zindagi is a multi-channel communication arsenal that is aimed at eliminating the myths and reinstating the fact that asthma need not come in your way.

Because after all, cultural competence and therapeutic competence really go hand in hand.

Hopefully one day, blessed amulets and fish stuffed down the throat will give way to inhalation as an integral part of an asthmatic’s life.

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Campus To Corporate

This is the time of the year when graduates from technical and business schools join organizations across India. Often referred to as Graduate Engineering Trainees, Management Trainees, Post Graduate Trainees etc., this is a key transition that these youngsters are going through in their lives.

While they are taking a plunge into the world of work from the world of academia, learning is hardly over. While learning will be a life-long process, considering the nature of the transition, their learning over the initial few months at work will be both intense and immense. They need to learn about the organization, its culture and practices, the industry and the sector, the domain and skills associated with it, tools and processes that are followed as well as skills associated with work and personal effectiveness.

Here are some pointers on how they can learn the maximum and handle this transition effectively. Let me start with certain mindsets that they need to bring in.

I am a part of the whole – unlike student days wherein what one does impacts just their performance (my poor scores may not impact anyone else), in an organization, one is always a part of the larger ecosystem, a team. If I don’t do my bit, it is going to impact others’ performance as well. That is a big responsibility that one needs to be aware of always.

I am observed and assessed all the time – there are no periodical or term-end assessments to determine one’s knowledge and skill. Rather, one is observed on a continuous basis and impressions are formed. And all this will feed into evaluation. And it’s not just knowledge and skill, but more importantly behaviour – whether you are on time for meetings, how and what you speak etc that gets observed. In a way, every day is an assessment day

I am an equal employee – there is no teacher and student; the trainee is as much responsible as a very seasoned employee and needs to take the effort and initiative. One cannot wait for instructions and directions always

These mindsets can set the right context after which they can do the following to actively learn.

Pull learning – Unlike in college, learning will not be pushed always through a standard curriculum, sessions etc. One needs to set his / her own agenda – a personal learning plan – and leverage resources. For eg. one may want to start by learning about the industry and check for all possible online and offline resources that can help with that. Like everyone else they need to own their learning and get into a self-learning mode

Learn on-the-job – this is the most potent source of learning. As per the well-known 70:20:10 model, 70% learning happens on the job. However, this does not happen automatically just because one is at the job. One should plan it, seek it and consolidate it. At the start of the day, the youngster (and everyone else as well) should plan not just the activities but the learning aligned to it. And then seek that actively, through experience and more importantly through interactions. For eg. assuming the trainee is present along with the manager in a negotiation with a vendor, a 5 – 10 minutes discussion post that with the manager saying why did you do this, what model were you following, share a little more etc would help.

Reflection and consolidation at the end of the day would be very important to crystallize and sustain the learning. To quote John Dewey,

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

An online journal can be a good aid to jot down one’s reflections.

Seek a mentor – Mentor at this stage can be a huge developmental support. Mentor can be from within the organization or outside – a professor from one’s college, a senior from the institute etc. The mentor will not just act as a sounding board but can share perspectives and guide the trainee. I recollect my initial days as a school counsellor post college, when I used to travel from one end of the city to the other to interact with my mentor, who was couple of years my senior. Her guidance helped me in a big way to succeed in my initial years.

Form a PLN – PLN or a Personal Learning Network is another powerful source of learning. This enables Social Learning through sharing and collaboration amongst peers. Any online social collaboration platform can be the medium for this. While digital interactions are very much a part of our lives, the core purpose of a PLN would be sharing around learning. PLNs can be formed within the organization, say all trainees from a batch as well as outside, PLN of one’s batchmates across different organizations. Through external PLNs, I have often found that trainees are a very good source of information about external practices.

Gain the maximum out of formal training – One cannot ignore formal training. Starting with the induction / on-boarding programme that they would be a part of, trainees should take maximum advantage of all formal learning opportunities that the organization provides. This would include leveraging online learning platforms that many organizations provide.

Do not be limited by micro learning – Micro learning is the in thing. Byte-sized, short modules is what everyone, not just youngsters, favour. While micro learning has its value, I am of the strong view that it cannot replace mega learning. While micro learning can drive breadth, it is mega learning that will drive depth. One needs to understand and appreciate the value of mega learning and leverage it accordingly.

While the trainees need to own this, one cannot undermine the role of line managers and HR. They need to act as enablers and facilitators and sensitize and support trainees in the learning journey.

Let me end this with a quote by Henry Ford –

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young”

Let us keep learning and stay young forever!!

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How Cipla’s Self-Learning And Continuous Learning Approach Is A Game-Changer

Learnability is the biggest skill one can possess in the hyper-dynamic times that we exist in. There is a need for people to quickly learn and unlearn, and re-invent themselves if they seek to survive in the professional arena. At the same time, owing to how automation and technology are changing the nature of jobs, even organisations need to focus on continuously adding to the knowledge and skills of their people to stop them from becoming redundant. Gone are the days when learning and development were seen as a cost burden. It has now become essential for businesses that seek to sustain and grow in the existing volatile business scenario.

Cipla has been transforming its approach towards learning through focused efforts by its learning and development arm, Cipla University. In line with its philosophy of continuous learning, Cipla University believes in offering best-in-class training while promoting continuous learning that would enable all its associates as well as the organization on the whole Learn-Excel-Grow in a regular manner. This would not just lead to performance excellence in the present, but more importantly make individuals and the organization, future ready as well.

Hemalakshmi Raju, head- learning and development, Cipla says, “It’s not knowledge but a continuous learning approach that provides a competitive advantage.”

Raju shares that the organisation observed that there was a hunger for learning, and people needed guidance to be more efficient at what they do. More so, as the sales representatives in the pharmaceutical industry are mostly on the field and spend a significant amount of time, on-the-go. In addition, they have to deal with people who are way more qualified than them — the doctors. Even more challenging is the fact that their interaction window is limited to a few minutes versus the wait time that may be an hour or more.

It’s not knowledge but a continuous learning approach that provides a competitive advantage.

“Keeping all these challenges in mind, we realised that the field force required learning on the go such that they have anytime, anywhere access to relevant content. We launched mobile learning for the field force, a year ago. It allows them to utilise their wait time for learning, along with constant self-assessment on the same,” Raju explains.

The Company follows the 70:20:10 principle for its learning initiatives, and focuses majorly on continuous learning and self-learning. It has a unique programme called ‘Keep educating yourself’, under which it has provided its people access to a set of curated MOOCs. ‘My learning challenge’ is another unique initiative, that was organized sometime back, wherein employees could enroll themselves, pick a topic of their choice and spend at least half an hour every day, for ten days, learning the same.

Raju shares that over 250 people had enrolled for this programme across the globe, of which the best 10 were selected as learning champions. “The idea behind all these initiatives has been to inculcate in our people a habit of learning on their own,” Raju opines.

Cipla recently organised a learning expo at its office in Mumbai, with an aim to encourage self-learning and learning on the go. The event attempted to sensitise people and orient them to utilise various tools for self-learning through gamification.

Raju shares that the buy-in from the top management towards these digital learning efforts is extremely high and Cipla’s CEO, Umang Vohra and group chief people officer, Prabir Jha are strong proponents and ambassadors of the same

Looking ahead, Cipla is planning to organise social-learning drives, through digital platforms. It will include strong peer-to-peer learning through ‘tag and learn’ initiatives.

“Learning is not just about individual capability building but organisational capacity building” is a strong perspective held by Jha and Raju feels that Learning On the Go will be a key lever in bringing this alive.

This article originally appeared in HR Katha.

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Innoventia – Search For Disruptive Innovation in Healthcare

Keeping up with Cipla’s innovation-driven credo, happy to share one of our big initiatives towards the same. Check out Innoventia.Cipla.Com to participate & reinvent the way we deliver healthcare.

I take this opportunity to also write my thoughts on why an initiative like Innoventia is much needed in our times.

They say when data is tortured enough, it will confess to anything! This couldn’t ring truer than now- when ‘sharing’ has become a way of life, thanks to the digital takeover of our lives. Everything is under the impact of the fastest moving phenomenon in recent times: CHANGE. In fact, change is the new technology, permeating everything, especially healthcare.


We are already witnessing applications for blockchain and more uses for AI, especially in diagnosis. Analytics has become the new buzzword. In the broad sweep of AI’s current worldly ambitions, machine learning healthcare applications seem to top the list for funding. Clearly, healthcare is no longer about the passive delivery of diagnostics, drugs and infrastructure. Guess why?

Along with the diseases, patients are changing too – across the spectrum of understanding, knowledge, and management of diseases given the emerging technology canvas.

So what’s next? Innovation is the only answer – to tide this wave of life-altering times to transform the delivery of care.

Therefore, is it healthcare or tech care? A question that will perhaps be answered through the lens of innovation.

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