news Saturday, July 18, 2015 - 05:30
  Risk is what brought us out of the caves. Curiosity and the capacity to survive and thrive (innovation) is what ensured that we progress and grow. Whoever understands innovation, must understand risk. The two are inseparable. The taking of risk in all its dimensions – human to begin with and financial as a corollary – was absent from Mr. Narayana Murthy’s address at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore earlier this week. Founder of Infosys and now its Chief Mentor, he berated India and Indians for not placing a single innovation in the global market for 60 years. He is right. He belongs inside the problem, not outside especially as he proposed no solutions. The issue is an important one for India as the country hopes to usher in a period of economic growth, attract investments and best practices as part of its Make in India work. Indians are not risk-takers. Neither are the Swiss. So how is one to explain that a country of seven million people has ten global brands and is a world leader in innovation while India’s 1.2 billion people have not given the world a run for its money? This writer is not a fan of the run-of-the-mill rankings (best colleges etc.), but every now and then comes along an assessment that makes you sit up and read. A case in point is the 2014 Global innovation Index (GII) that surveyed 143 countries across regions and economic potential. It places Switzerland as the world’s leading innovator and India as the 76th with a good potential in its region. The study by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Cornell University and INSEAD is based on 81 indicators and stoutly places the individual at the cross-section of research, funding, technology and national ambition. The role of people and their capacities to mentor and build teams is viewed as primordial. Other indicators that stand out on the innovation curve include the number of patents granted (not deposed), the political environment, the robustness of the go-to-market strategy and an understanding of human factors that underline why some countries (and companies) succeed and others stagnate and fail. “In particular, the top 25 countries in the GII consistently score high in most indicators and have strengths in areas such as innovation infrastructure including information and communication technologies; business sophistication such as knowledge workers, innovation linkages and knowledge absorption; and innovation outputs such as creative goods and services and online creativity,” the study says. Imagination is deemed to be more important than intelligence – something that Albert Einstein had said in the last century – and which finds value in the report almost 100 years later. Talent retention, mobilization of skilled labour and highly educated people are all part of this human capital innovation upon which progress depends. None of the above is possible in isolation. We speak about creating an environment where talent can be nurtured but do not set aside resources. We brandish phrases like eco-systems, enabling environments and nurturing innovation like words pulled hurriedly from a dictionary. Our best minds are supposed to go to the country’s premier institutions, but the synergy fails to produce top class goods and services. Brain drain, the scourge of the sixties and seventies is still a reality and conditions are not created to retain talent and allow them to thrive, take risks, fail, get up and try again.  The next Google is not gong to come from India – it will most likely come from the United States of America (USA) where neither failure nor risk is shunned nor shamed. I follow three projects with keen interest. One is the development of the human heart with stem cells at Stanford University in California and the other is the Human Brain Project at Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Switzerland. My knowledge is very limited, but my curiosity is immense. I watch the resource mobilsation these projects achieve, I see how scientists and researchers from around the world want to be part o these teams. I also follow the Solar Impulse of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg as they navigate their bird around the world on solar cells. Their plane is not meant for commercial use but the attraction – human financial and technological - it has generated speaks to the basic human urge for risk and innovation. It is a gross misnomer to think innovation is only about science and technology, an error that we in India commonly make. Let us take the case of the now indispensable sticky tape Velcro. It is so commonplace that the word is now a verb – Velcro this, Velcro that. It all started in 1948 when a Swiss mountaineer and his dog went walking in the mountains. He found that burrs – open sac seeds that travel on others to disseminate – stuck to dog fur. Curiosity followed a difficulty and Velcro was born. Innovation is a process, it is teamwork, it is individual vision, it is intellectual stamina, it is financial power, it is ambition and it is pride. The Swiss are generally good at all of this. In addition, they are humble.  We have a long way to go, and if we all pull together we can get there. When the Human Brain project succeeds, we all succeed. When Solar Impulse succeeds, the human spirit soars. Together as a people and a nation is the thought innovation that must happen in India. We also must accept that not everyone is or can be a leader – that is the process innovation that has to happen in our minds. The rest will follow. Read full GII report here Read Velcro story here    

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