My intellectual agenda addresses this question: How to innovate to solve the world’s toughest challenges? Out of the earth’s population, about 2 billion can afford good products whereas the remaining 5 billion are poor and therefore are nonconsumers. Innovating to solve the problems of the 5 billion poor represents a big opportunity for corporations. However, this also presents some of the hardest technical challenges for humanity, where we cannot simply adapt solutions used in wealthy markets. We have to innovate anew. The constraints posed by serving the poor will push innovations towards high-performance low-cost products that have the potential to transform everyone’s life – including customers in rich countries.
My passion for this topic was formed at a very early age. Growing up in India, I realized that India has too many problems but the country has too few resources; the only way India can hope to solve its problems is through innovation. I therefore committed my professional career to research how to make innovations happen. In the first phase of my career, my work was targeted at innovations for America. More recently, I’ve turned attention to the innovation challenges in emerging markets, thanks to an appointment at General Electric in 2008 as their first Professor in Residence and Chief Innovation Consultant. I worked with GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt to write “How GE Is Disrupting Itself,” the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article that pioneered the concept of reverse innovation – any innovation that is adopted first in the developing world. HBR picked reverse innovation as one of the Great Moments in Management in the Last Century.
Building on the foundations of reverse innovation, I am currently involved in three research projects that are focused on applying the best practice management thinking to solve complex and wicked social problems:
VG and Chris Trimble reveal a bold discovery with far-reaching implications in REVERSE INNOVATION: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere (Harvard Business Review Press; April 10, 2012; Foreword by Indra Nooyi): innovation flows uphill and its future lies in emerging markets.
Most global companies recognize that emerging markets have become today's last source of growth. But all they do is modify and export products that they developed in their home country. To capitalize on the full potential of emerging markets, they must head in the opposite direction - by innovating specifically for and in developing countries to create breakthroughs that will be adopted next at home and around the globe.
Today's poor countries are being tapped for breakthrough innovations that can unlock new markets in the rich world, and can even help solve its societal problems such as high cost - and poor access - to healthcare.
The book originated in 2008, when VG was chosen by CEO Jeffrey Immelt to advise GE on innovation as their first Professor-in-Residence and Chief Innovation Consultant. In these pages are an inside account of how reverse innovation is transforming GE's strategy, and secen additional in-depth case studies based on original interviews with senior leaders. They include:
As these examples show, the biggest hurdles to reverse innovation are not scientific, technical, or budgetary. they ae managerial and organizational, and with the right mindset and tools can be overcome by any manager. Better yet, the evidence shows that companies can earn the same or even better margins and return on investment for a low-cost product designed for China or India than for a higher cost current product at home. The result is a win-win at home and abroad.
"Govindarajan and Trimble offer a framework for the next phase of globalization."
- Jeffrey R. Immelt, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer , General Electric
"Reverse Innovation is a playbook for leaders who want to unlock growth in emerging markets."
- Robert A. McDonald, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Procter & Gamble Company