At Mindtree, we have been researching for a few years, on whether it’s possible to teach innovation. Is it an inborn faculty, or a teachable skill? We studied wide array of concepts that are easily available – Lateral Thinking and deBono, Mind Maps and Buzan, TRIZ, Christensen, and lots of others – and we seem to have found some answers.
I firmly believe today that thinking is a teachable skill, and wonder why it is not taught in school and college. I discovered it is taught in schools or colleges in many countries, just that we don’t see it in India. 2008 was a landmark year in that sense for a few of us at Mindtree. Prakasan Kappoth who has made inspiring innovation as his sole objective in life, and some more of my colleagues (Harsha, Krishnan, Dr Raghunath) have been trying to share our knowledge with students, so they get motivated early on in life.
In our desire to make a foolproof, sustainable plan, we decided to talk and educate the teachers first. We thought even if one teacher gets interested, (s)he will be inspired to learn more and teach the students. It was like finding a teacher who will teach you to catch fish. We tried this at a premier engineering institution. It didn’t work! The teachers said the students won’t be interested, they’d say it won’t help them get a job. We tried to convince them when we recruit, we do get impressed if students project themselves as innovative, but the teachers weren’t convinced.
We had to change the approach – we decided to get to the students directly, does not matter if we cannot sustain, let’s do it anyway; this has worked so far. That’s Learning #5 for the year. Go and market directly to your target audience. Let it work first, then think of scale. In others words, avoid the intermediary in the beginning; first show it works and gather a momentum.Talking of teachers, I must mention one outstanding teacher I interacted with closely this year, Prof. Mihir Ravel. Prof. Mihir got his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, and worked in the semiconductor industry in the US for a long time before getting into teaching. He was in India as a visiting professor with a lofty vision – that of creating one million silicon designers. He has conceived a learning platform where electronics engineers can do projects on VLSI, DSP or embedded software. The platform is affordable, and easy to work on – so we could see this as a self-learning kit, too (with some guidance). He tried to sell the concept in different forums – from government to industry forums. It didn’t work. Now we have a different approach. Projects on this platform are being sponsored by Prof Sadagopan (Director, IIIT Bangalore, well known, and respected professor), and he is selling the concept to attract student projects. I do feel this is an approach destined to succeed. Show and tell works better than just logically trying to convince. People get influenced when someone they know brings a message. It probably also enforces the power of networks.