Importance of mental models in Innovation

My own discussion at Barcamp was centered around Innovation in large IT services firms such as TCS. A bulk of the audience had exposure to IT Services but almost no one believed that there was any innovation in the large IT Services firms.

It was a free flowing discussion where I wanted to hear as much from the audience as to leave them with something worthwhile. We spent a lot of time talking about how mental models inhibit or foster innovation.

We asked ourselves questions like what exactly is IT Services? Are the lines as dictated by conventional wisdom really hard lines on the ground or mere simplifying mental assumptions that need to be questioned from time to time? Does innovation start by challenging conventional wisdom?

I firmly believe that one has to continually probe at the received wisdom of the day to really see what new can be done. At the same time, one has to respect the received wisdom because its established for a good reason. Let’s take an example: Google is an example of business service enabled by strong IT. Is there something to be learnt for IT Services companies? At the first blush no, because the ad-driven revenue model is far out from current business. Not core competence as some would say. But does the basic concept of providing service to one party using strong IT and collecting money from a third depending upon the quality of service extendable to IT Services? At TCS, the answer has been yes!

Case in point: MCA21 project of government of India where TCS is directly responible for provision of service to customers and collects money from the government. The money collected depends upon the quality of service just as the ad revenue depends upon click through in Google’s model. And this is not the first time this was done. A precusrsor to this with a slightly different model was APonline which provides citizen services on behalf of Govt of AP. APOnline is 80% owned by TCS.

Bottomline: Conventional wisdom challenged but in a more realistic way which is closer to the core business. No hard and fast rules but the best way is to try and learn.

Mobile Mondays & BarCamps

I’ve blogged earlier about Mobile Mondays and BarCamps in India. I believe that such unconference mode forums are key to building Indian Innovation ecosystem.

The premise is quite simple. Upto a few months back the biggest obstacle to building an Indian Innovation Ecosystem was lack of serious risk capital in India. Sure VCs have been around for some time but most were busy doing late stage or pre-IPO deals. By some estimates, less than 5% of the PE money that got invested in India was into early stage deals. This is fixed given several funds such as IDG, Helion etc have announced $ 100 M+ funds for early stage investments in India. Helion partner Sanjeev Agrawal was recently in news for 3 deals he’s about to close soon! So money is a problem of the past.

Now the problem is the lack of a ecosystem platforms; forums where different people can meet and gain from each other. Ideas seldom make money on their own. Great ideas in fact are good ideas built on top of other good ideas. Similarly, a single person seldom is responsible for a success. More often than not, its a team that wins. All these meeting of ideas and people are possible only if good forums exist. TiE has been doing a good job in this respect for some time. But more is needed to build a momentum and to attract aspiring innovators. IMHO, Barcamps and Mobile Mondays can play that role.

Its nice to be able to back up opinion with action and I’ve been able to do that for some extent. Today both Mobile Monday Bangalore and Mobile Monday Hyderabad were held with TCS sponsorship. The last MoMo Bangalore and MoMo Mumbai were both sponsored by TCS. Next up is Barcamp Bangalore where close to 300 people have already registered for 200 seats! Again, we are happy to extend support. Next up are Barcamps Delhi and Pune. Both will be supported by TCS.

Hope to meet more interesting people and have rich conversations all through December.