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Innovating for India

A unique executive education program shows the power of the consortium model to foster innovation in India and beyond.

Vijay Govindarajan, the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business, has been studying innovation for decades, and it's given him a knack for creating profound but simple theories.

Take his "three-box" theory of innovation. In the first box are all the activities a company must do to manage the present. The second box is about selectively pruning away the past to make room for new growth. And the third box is about "creating the future."

The third box is where Indian companies need to be now, Govindarajan says. The Indian economy grew aggressively from 1990 to 2010, mostly by providing outsourcing and cost control. But the world is a different place today. "I think the efficiency game is over," he says. "If Indian companies want to be really competitive globally, they have to innovate."

If you talk to executives at Indian companies, you learn that Govindarajan's innovation imperative for India is spot-on. These executives know their companies need to make dramatic shifts in their thinking and culture to be competitive in the economy of the future, and they are using expertise from Govindarajan and other professors in Tuck's new Innovation Leadership Consortium (ILC) to help them get there.

The ILC is a unique program for a select number of noncompeting companies that combines the best qualities of open-enrollment and custom executive education models. By offering the benefits of a diverse group of participants, along with the chance to collaborate on the design of the program, a consortium model of executive education is an effective way to inject fresh ideas, skills, and perspectives into executives in a wide range of areas.

To recruit firms for the program, Tuck set up a half-day workshop in Mumbai with senior HR representatives. "We put a 'strawman proposal' on the table for discussion," says Phil Barta, associate director of executive education and director of custom programs, "and the companies came back and asked, 'How can we best integrate additional faculty and executive perspectives?' We worked with them to revise the design. That's something we'd regularly do in a custom program. We partner with the client very closely to shape the learning initiative."

All four companies that attended the workshop agreed to take part in the consortium: HSBC, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Johnson & Johnson India, and Mahindra & Mahindra. The companies selected executives from a range of departments, including insurance, branding, strategic planning, client management, R&D, and compliance. The program would take place over the course of three one-week modules during 2012 and 2013.

The ILC is directed by two distinguished Tuck faculty: Govindarajan and Praveen K. Kopalle, a professor of marketing. The program includes sessions taught by innovation and leadership experts, including professors Chris Trimble, Alva Taylor, Pino Audia, Ron Adner, and Robert R. Halperin.

The first module, which took place at Tuck in April of 2012, gave participants the important innovation concepts that would be the foundation for future learning. It included sessions such as "Strategy is Innovation," "Strategy Under Uncertainty," "Organizing and Planning for Disciplined Innovation," among others. "The team came back very, very impressed," says Tushar Murdeshwar, the head of marketing for Johnson & Johnson's Indian consumer products division. "The feedback was so positive that the management board will really be able to identify broad projects we can begin working on right away."

Module 2, held in Hyderabad in October, shifted the focus from the classroom to the field, with its theme of "Consumer-Centric Innovation." And Kopalle was the perfect faculty member to direct this block of learning, having spent the first half of his life in India and returned to the country for the past five years as a visiting scholar at the Indian School of Business at Hyderabad. Consumer-centric innovation "is how to design products and services by examining the customer first," he says. "You put on the hat of the anthropologist and watch consumers in their natural habitat to try to understand their pain points."

This concept is brought to life with the action learning projects, during which each company delves into an innovation challenge it wants to surmount and then fleshes out the solution with faculty and their peers. Mahindra & Mahindra offers a good example. Best known as an automobile manufacturer, the company joined the consortium because it has made innovation one of its strategic imperatives. One part of its action learning project is to design a scooter specifically for Indian women. During the course of the project, company executives identified the target market and spoke with women in their homes and work environments.

The third module—"Leading Innovation Into Action"— rounds out the action learning projects and offers participants the chance to interact with successful Indian innovators. Govindarajan will moderate a panel of innovators that includes a lead developer of the Tata Nano (the $2,000 car), a representative of an Indian cardiac hospital that does $2,000 open-heart surgery, and an executive from the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, which delivers millions of hot lunches everyday in Mumbai with almost zero mistakes. Govindarajan will also moderate a panel of CEOs from the same companies.

Even though participants have only completed two modules as of this publication date, the impacts of the consortium are already becoming clear. Yes, action learning projects are giving the companies dynamic information to put into use immediately, but the program as a whole is teaching something more lasting and resilient: the habits of conceptualizing, testing, and tinkering. And it is giving companies insights into the types of organizational structures that will foster creativity.
TCS is seeing "that the innovation engine and the current performance engine need to be driven by two different sets of people," says Himanshu Saxena, the head of strategic alignment and leadership management For Johnson & Johnson, Murdeshwar says the exposure to different companies and the consortium's principles has broadened participants' idea of what is possible: "People who would have been more risk averse in smaller units are now more open to risk taking."

Ultimately, Govindarajan hopes, the impact won't be felt in these companies alone. For someone who grew up near an Indian slum, any work in India must also be for India—so that businesses not only serve the "bottom of the pyramid" but also help the less fortunate move up. "If this program can influence 100 executives over a 10-year period to make good decisions and innovate, that will contribute to India's growth," Govindarajan says. "That's my larger ambition."