By Saket Suman 

New Delhi, Jan 30:

India has done much to create innovative business models and processes but needs to increasingly focus on social issues like health, education and sanitation, says Kiran Karnik, widely recognised for promoting Brand India, especially by showcasing India’s technological strength to the world, adding that the key lies in finding long-term solutions.

“We have seen great progress in innovative business models and processes, especially in technology-related areas. We need to focus more on the social areas, where innovation is direly needed: education, health and sanitation, in particular,” Karnik, a former Nasscom president, told IANS in an interview.

“Innovations in urban management including water, sanitation, public transport and housing are also necessary as urbanisation accelerates and with the expected huge growth in cities in the coming decades,” added Karnik, who served for two decades in ISRO followed by a decade at the Discovery TV channel.

At the same time, he noted that much of the focus is on immediate problems.

“This is not a bad thing, but we do need to focus on long-run issues too. Investment in R&D and institutional support structures are necessary for this. Both the government and the private sector need to invest far more in research. Also, useful institutional mechanisms like the National Innovation Council need to be revived,” said Karnik, who has served on many key and high level government committees, including the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and the National Innovation Council, and these days is mostly involved with educational and civil-society organisations.

“Despite our innate innovative DNA (where else do you see the scale of diversity+adversity that you see in India?), we have not witnessed too many innovations in India. However, this is fast changing, as societal norms change. Today, young people are more willing to follow their passions, to take risks and to confront possible failure — all necessary ingredients for an innovative society. This is aided by easier availability of capital, mentorship and guidance, as well as the opportunities to begin innovative ventures with little cash and much intellectual capital,” added Karnik.

His latest book “Crooked Minds” (Rupa/Rs 395/206 pp) looks at the idea of innovation, its relevance for companies in today’s day and age, whether innovation leads to concrete benefits or not, and why it is necessary for organisations, governments and even individuals to constantly innovate.

Putting forward his mantra for the success of Indian start-ups like their global counterparts, Karnik said: “We need to do a lot to make our environment (beginning with school education) more innovation-friendly. This includes both the broader societal environment as well as within organisations.”

Karnik is fascinated by Indian jugaad, which finds sufficient mention in his book. Yet, jugaad and innovation are not the same.

“Innovation is something that marks a radical departure: essentially, something very new or different. Importantly, it provides a better (cheaper/quicker/higher-quality) solution to an existing or potential problem, or opens up altogether new dimensions. Yet, this has meaning only if it is sustainable, viable and scaleable. It is these elements that differentiate innovation from jugaad or improvisation, which are often non-scalable, band-aid solutions.

“The mantra of more (good) for less (resources) for more (people), or MLM is not necessarily the same as jugaad. MLM gives rise to such innovations as low-cost portable ECG and ultra-sound machines; process innovation for heart operations or eye-care. These and many other examples are way beyond the mere improvisation which jugaad implies. Jugaad requires an innovative and creative mind, but is only a forerunner of true innovation — a small first step, one might say,” he said.

Karnik quipped that adversity and necessity stimulate innovation.

“Many factors stimulate innovation. Undoubtedly, necessity (“the mother of invention”) is a major one — often brought about by adversity. Diversity is, to me, another major driver.

“For, diversity of any kind (be it gender, race, caste, culture, language, economic status, etc.) accustoms us to differences (in cuisine, dress, appearance, etc.) and, therefore, “different” thinking too becomes more acceptable and is not trampled upon or shut out,” he said.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])