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Survival of the fittest

December 22, 2014

Vinod Kumar   

Former Managing Director and Group CEO Tata Communications

“We believe the process of innovation begins with curiosity and a desire to learn”

I’m often asked: how does a company like ours not only survive, but grow, in today’s fast-paced technology environment? My answer: we have to constantly invent and innovate.

Across the industry, there are constantly new challengers offering new modes of communication from start-ups to next generation companies. We believe the process of innovation begins with curiosity and a desire to learn, and that is the culture we are striving to foster as we look to 2015 and beyond.

Enabling the workforce

There is plenty we can learn from start-ups, and we’ve taken some of those learnings on board with our internal innovation ventures. Our programme, Moonwalks, is all about exploring completely new industries and new subjects. We have five Moonwalks currently underway.

The whole idea is to get people to be comfortable with something they know nothing about. This is what fuels innovation, entering into the unknown and learning to cope with new challenges. Out of these challenges come new solutions, new ideas and new opportunities.

Shape the Future is another programme to identify business opportunities that will ultimately add to the top line. We invite employees to submit ideas that have the potential to become a $200-million business within 10 years and touch billions of people. After selecting the best ones, the coaching programme begins.

In the first round we had about 100 odd ideas of which six were selected by an internal team. The implementation teams underwent a grooming-coaching programme which culminated with a week in Silicon Valley where they met many entrepreneurs and immersed themselves in the whole start-up environment. Two ideas were chosen this year to be funded, and my goal is to have ten incubations going on within two years.

Three rules for success

Our ingenuity comes from three things: firstly, organisational structure. By nature, we are a distributed organisation with no geographical centre of power. The structure is global and this definitely helps.

Secondly, the leadership team spends a lot of time with our customers and vendors. We invest time and resource into scanning the environment for opportunities and watching out for threats.

Finally, we try to set up self-directed teams as much as possible. We let the mission and vision of the organisation drive behaviour, rather than what the boss says or what the key result area dictates.

As we look forward to 2015, innovation remains top of my agenda. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels, as in our industry you can never let up in your quest for staying ahead of the competition.

What are your goals for the New Year? Do you have a vision for instilling innovation in your organisation? Please share your views in the comments below.