(An excerpt from NANOVATION Chapter 25 / pg 393)
Sunil Sinha is excited about Innovista, a competition within the Tata Group companies designed to stimulate, support, and institutionalize innovation.
“It was very important for us to bring the innovators to the forefront as heroes and make them role models.” Sinha said, “We wanted to showcase innovation and send a message to people that common people can innovate.”
Awards for the competition focus on three categories of innovation:
• Promising Innovations: those that have been successfully implemented;
• The Leading Edge: those that are in the idea stage; and
• Dare to Try: those that teach us what doesn’t work.
The “Dare to Try” award is given to projects that have failed—ambitious projects that could not be completed because of certain impediments in the process. They might not have worked due to certain cultural issues, deficiencies in technology, or possibly an inability to commercialize the idea.
The whole idea behind “Dare to Try” is to encourage a culture of risk-taking.
We encouraged people,” Sinha explained. “We said, ‘come on and share, we want to learn from you.’ But to our great horror, we found that in the first year, after so much cajoling and encouraging people, after telling them, ‘you will not lose your pay and bonus’ only three projects were registered from all over our India operations.”
Teaching people to stick their necks out runs counter to deeply entrenched conventions in almost every country and culture. You really have to train people to understand you’re serious..
“Dare to Try” wasn’t the only award that had a modest beginning; the whole Innovista program got off to a slow start. In a company with 350,000 employees and a global footprint, only 100 projects were submitted for the other two award categories.
Sinha remembered the disappointment, “Only 100 projects! That told us where we were in terms of innovation.”
So TGIF took it as a challenge and started to strengthen its communication with all of the Group companies. Sinha and colleagues hit the road and talked to people. They engaged CEOs in discussions about the future of the Tata Group. They echoed Ratan Tata’s call for a culture of innovation. And, they asked various Group companies how they could make the Innovista process better.
Eventually, a lot of recommendations started to bubble up and, gradually, the project started growing. Last year Innovista registered 1,700 entries. The number of participating companies increased from 33 to 62, and the number of “Dare to Try” submissions went from three to 150.
Sinha appears to be most proud of the “Dare to Try” awards.
“We were not comfortable talking about failures,” he says. “Too much of our culture was about good news. Our meetings were designed to talk about good news. Now, the whole paradigm is changing. People are passionately telling us what has failed and more importantly, what they have learned about why it failed.”
Sinha told us that “Dare to Try” has another important benefit: when senior managers see a high-potential project that didn’t make it, they get behind it, revive it, and help make it successful.