What’s common to Napster, Lagaan, Amul’s Rs 20 pizza and Google?
Napster changed the rules of the game and forced the music industry to think about the Internet as a distribution medium. Even though it may or not survive as a company, its legacy will remain. Aamir Khan’s Lagaan, a period film, did many things differently – it was a period film, the shooting was done in a single stretch of 6 months, it featured a cricket match for over an hour, its length was nearly 45 minutes more than the norm of 3 hours for Hindi movies and it even featured English dialogues and a mixed English-Hindi song. Amul’s price point for pizza is remarkable. Google launched a search engine just when everyone thought the game was over; today, it’s the gold standard and expects to reach profitability shortly.
Each is a result of Innovation, of thinking out of the box, of being different. The easy thing to do in business (and in life) is to take the easier approach, of doing what others are doing, of following the standard path.
Being innovative means having a strong belief in what one is doing and of willing to go against the consensus opinion.
Innovation is also about being to able to risks, being entrepreneurial in one’s thinking, of being able to change the rules of the game.
In the challenging times that exist today, it is easy to say No to innovation and to stick to the conventional knitting. While one is trying to please the investors and markets, the simple and seemingly obvious approach is to cut back on new projects and focus on what generates the money in the near-term. Why worry about long-term vision and planning when one is not sure about short-term survival?
It is at times like these that one is truly tested. Yes, the business has to tide over the immediate challenges because otherwise there is no future to look forward to. At the same time, can one think differently – precisely because many others are not? The opportunities of tomorrow do not go away in times of like this; competition does. New doors can only open if one is prepared to close some doors. To borrow a phrase from a CNN program, it is time for Business Unusual.