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In No Way Innovation!

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

“When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”.

- Attributed to Jack Welch

2020 is breaking traditional mindsets. You are witnessing things you couldn’t have imagined and the shock value for literally any event has drastically reduced. I won't be as surprised to spot a UFO flying over my head as I would’ve last year. Fantasy apart, consumer behaviour and demands are also changing at a rapid pace. The expectations from products and services have never been so high and innovation in every possible domain, be it services or products has taken a new leap.

Tesla believes they don’t manufacture cars but upgradable smart-mobiles. Their USP is not in being just electric but being ‘different’ (reminds you of a certain bitten fruit brand). The ‘difference’ which may not be defined by a superlative of speed, power and style but in personalization, customization and uniqueness. The ‘ON’ brand of shoes, which take pride in their ‘Swiss Engineering’ advertise their product like how any new technology product would do. Both these brands have one thing in common – they do not slot their products in a specific category. Numerous other brands latch on to the ever-changing consumer experience journey a little faster than what their competing brands do and this is the single biggest difference which sets them apart and makes them attain cult status.

Last few months have been devastating for the economy affecting the purchasing power of people. Plans have rescheduled, investments have halted and Liquid cash has become the need of the hour. We can all witness the impact on industries like Auto, Real Estate, Luxury brands and other high-value items. They sure are a distressing time, but not without a silver lining of innovating more exclusive, personalized and customized products the consumer will demand when this phase is over. The surge in new and used car buying is an initial indicator of times to come.

Global events and crisis command the power to create sudden shifts in product demands and the introduction of new categories in a very short span. The sales of Dishwashers rose exponentially in China during bouts of swine-flu and other such food-habit inducing diseases in the last decade. Today we can see the same in India. The product which was once often confused with a washing machine in the stores is now stock out for nearly 2 months. The air purifiers similarly found their way to homes during the pollution crisis of the last few years to an extent that they were selling on a premium.

Most manufacturers and corporates today tend to react to such situations in a mildly tactical way. Take an example of the Automotive Industry. The creation of virtual showrooms overnight and expecting consumers to be onboarded in a similar timespan was there for all to see. Discussions between interdepartmental teams and orders from the top weighed more than what the consumers wanted. The understaffed, overworked, Creatively Outsourced operational teams found themselves replacing the mighty Atlas and churned out half-baked solutions to satisfy the marketing dynamics and PR points. It is always a task to find talking points when you do not have easy and relevant solutions which solve a consumer problem. Not a single manufacturer stood out doing things differently which again brought them all on the same level and failed to create a differentiation despite a fantastic opportunity provided in terms of crisis and changing consumer journey.

Radical solutions are most difficult to adapt to the existing systems and processes or are too expensive given the budget slashings which are normal in any crisis. I may be too ambitious to cite an example of a radical solution here but will try. The ongoing BLM protests have sparked a global outrage with everyone adopting hashtags, players taking knees and media time provided to raise the awareness and demand action. All these acts are not radical but a must-do if you have to be seen as an organization which embraces contemporary culture and calls out wrongdoings. The radical action is Naomi Osaka pulling out of Semi-finals of a tennis tournament, Lakers and Clippers refusing to play their NBA games till the voices are heard. These are the radical actions which change the narrative. I am not saying what others are doing is any less but simply not sufficient to change things dramatically.

Innovation is the most abused word by corporates. The very term ‘Innovation’ means something which does not comply with the standard rules and takes birth in chaos. But chaos has no place in big organizations whose very existence is dependent on processes and systems. Innovation breeds in Greenhouses where different or no rules and learning from failures are key ingredients. But not everyone needs to be Innovative, It’s a choice. The problem lies when you push for innovation without compromising on your set processes and rules. This not only creates tremendous pressure within the system but by the time you end up implementing your innovation, it becomes a norm. Street food has a distinct outlandish taste to it because of the sheer dynamics involved which are difficult to recreate in a 5-star kitchen.

In a world where everyone and everything has enough buyers and sellers, it should be easier to decide if you want to follow the norms, keep up with the world, offer discounts, stay in a line and be a profitable mediocre (which is not a bad choice) or break the rules, lead the world, accept failures, run in a zig-zag and strike gold. But to demand the best of both worlds without creating the chaos within is like jogging on a downhill slope!

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