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How I do it: innovation

July 4, 2016

Vinod Kumar   

Former Managing Director and Group CEO Tata Communications

If you’ve read any of my blog posts before you’ll know that one of the things I am passionate about and spend a great deal of time thinking about is innovation. We’re recognised for the quality of our innovation, and our collective determination to foster and encourage real creative thought at Tata Communications. We’ve launched initiatives and competitions, and we regularly look outside our own organisation for inspiration.

And that’s got me thinking. To my mind the most important element in kindling innovation is creating a culture of curiosity. That curiosity, or passion for learning, is not something we can force. It comes from an endemic need to challenge the norms and to explore the unknown. You can prompt innovation with an initiative but to sustain a culture of innovation you first need to subtly establish a culture of curiosity.

That’s a risky thing to many businesses because if you are going to truly allow your teams to be curious then you also have to accept that much of the time that curiosity may lead to dead ends. And that’s ok. For innovation to flourish there have to be failures along the way, and those missteps, while sometimes seeming fatal in themselves, often lead to real invention in the end.  But without doubt, every pursuit that stems from curiosity, creates new synapses in the brain and emboldens the soul to be adventurous.

Sustaining that culture is a challenge in itself – after all you cannot achieve spontaneous thinking with process and regulation. Big business tends to find a method of working that suits it at a particular point in time and then stick to it for the long-term, forgetting that the world moves on and that nowadays the world moves at a startling pace. Business leaders need to be prepared to break the practices that seem to work and allow for a more entrepreneurial, risk taking approach to the day to day. Only then can they be said to be encouraging curiosity and innovation.

We’ve been focusing on creating that culture here for some time, with initiatives such as our Moonwalks initiative. Moonwalks are an exciting way we are exploring (and I use the word ‘explore’ deliberately) to find a way to kindle the spirit of learning and to instigate curiosity throughout the organisation. The idea of Moonwalks is simple: we pick a set of topics in areas where there is a lot of change taking place, where technology and business models are rapidly evolving and where there’s an opportunity for industries to be created or disrupted. Then we identify a group of people within the company to put their brains together and explore what’s happening in the topic and produce a report for the organisation. The idea of Moonwalks is to make us curious as an organisation, to identify areas of interest, to learn about it through a creative process, to share the findings with the organisation – all 8,000 of us.

The goal here is to create a framework that reminds us of the importance of innovation while offering our teams the freedom to be curious and challenge themselves. It is similar to the approach we’ve taken in conjunction with Formula One Management and the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One™ team to create a series of technology challenges under the banner of the F1® Connectivity Innovation Prize. For this year’s competition, we are asking fans worldwide to harness their technical know-how and passion for F1® racing to see how virtual and augmented reality technologies could take fan engagement and teamwork in the sport to the next level.

So how do I personally keep my passion for innovation alive? For me inspiration comes from the teams around me and the clients we work with. Formula 1® is just one example of an organisation using collaboration, connectivity, data and passion to deliver the unexpected to their own customers and partners. When you have people like that in your world, how can you help but be curious?

How do you continue to innovate? Leave your comments below. 

 

Tata Communications was the Official Connectivity Provider of Formula 1® between 2012 and 2019. Tata Communications was also the Official Managed Connectivity Supplier to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, and Official Digital Transformation Partner to ROKiT Williams Racing until the end of the 2019 season.