Innovation – The Winning Way

~ Harsh Mariwala (Chairman Marico Ltd., Founder ASCENT Foundation)

In today’s competitive environment one has to go on differentiating and being unique on a perpetual basis. Hence innovation is not quest for ‘something’ unique but a continuous process. Founders have to drive a culture which is innovative and which throws up innovation through a process and not just by chance or by some individual thinking about innovation.

Innovation is the top responsibility of top management.

• Senior management can get a lot of ideas of what is happening in the environment because you are exposed to new ideas when travelling, when attending conferences & certain fairs, etc.

• You need to go on searching for discontinuity that is happening in the environment. Discontinuity gives you good opportunities for differentiation of doing something unique.

• A founder’s role is very much to get the outside world in, and share that with the team.

• Many times we may have some information about something that you picked up. And it may occur to somebody else that we can do something differentiated with what you shared.

• Innovation doesn’t happen in individual minds. Most innovations happen through dialogues.

• Innovation requires very unstructured discussions. E.g. You can discuss trends once in a while when you go on a road trip or once in a fair this is what I saw, and then somebody takes that and comes up with an innovation. It could occur to somebody after 6 months also, so keep sharing.

• You have to encourage dialogues within the organisation. It is very important that there is a cross- fertilization of thoughts as it may lead to emergence of ideas.

• For a large organisation you can have portals also asking individuals to throw up ideas, because capturing ideas is the first. And then you filter those ideas. And then after filtering think of the ‘how’ part of implementing shortlisted ideas.

• It’s a very detailed process of using your culture to identify ideas and to distil your ideas and then to work on those ideas, to arrive at a proposition which is unique.

• And innovation is not just for new products. It can be for old products, it could be for existing products, it could be in a process. You can have lot of innovations in the process also.

• And then a founder’s top responsibility is to go on reinforcing innovation on a perpetual basis as if it is a value.

• Innovation is a value. So what do we do? We expect all our top team to get the outside in, so we have innovation workshops for each brand. Each brand will have outside facilitators.

E.g. for creating a culture of innovation at Marico, we call not only our own brand team, but some other brand managers who are with us, we call advertising agencies because we treat them as partners. We call our market research agencies; and we’ll call our thought leaders. In the hair care division, we call some salon specialist, we’ll call dermatologists, all meet in a huddle for one or two days. They will ideate and come up with their ideas on say hair care. And then you have their ideas, you start distilling and you have proposition. It takes a long time. By then you brief the R&D. R&D is also a part of the process, including interactions with consumers.

We publicize internally the innovations because it is important to reinforce innovations.

• For big innovation projects don’t keep escape buttons – over commit yourself.

• Persistence is important. When you actually launch innovations, it may not go as per your plan. You have to be persistent.

• Go on tracking how the innovation is succeeding in the market place.