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Leadership Lessons from 2008 – Go and Market directly to Your Target Audience

Posted on: 23 February '09

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.

  • Kalyan, Ah, nothing succeeds like the sweetness of success. I bet this is already happening; MindTree Minds are given a structured simulation where they can innovate and be judged by their batchmates. Time to percolate ideas is critical. So many of our simulations are too time-bound. Those who need to sleep on an idea are not given the space to do it, but when they are, it is amazing what they can come come up with. My two cents…

  • Sandeep Sharma

    In my view, this page (blog) is a knowledge centre for each one of us. We are fortunate to listen to the view of visionaries and industry leaders. And that is free of cost. My request is to post something related to IT services issue. Most of the companies in their respective sectors can sell, even local companies are very good if we see their sales figures. However, unfortunately, very few of them are able to provide the level of service their customers deserve. Internet and broadband service providers are the biggest defaulters in this category.
    Second aspect is earning from service and that too from open source sector. One may wonder how can business in open source be a profitable venture? Open source is freeware in most sense (though the definition of open source is not free software every time). But even if we speak on earning on freeware open source applications then ? Here I am talking about service. We can earn from the service and support (AMCs, installations, commissioning, patches, removing bugs, upgrades, contracts etc.) on sold or downloaded open source softwares by the clients.

  • Wow. I am addicted to the Gardener’s blog. Perchance I happened to type the url of MindTree’s home page and stumbled upon the fact that other MindTree Minds blog as well and it is open to the public.
    Thinking is perhaps not taught in school, because schools with forty or more students per class are ill equipped to pay attention to thinking minds. Imagine a dozen or more young hands shooting up and asking questions. Would the massive curriculum then ever end? Sad, but true.
    Also I think that television and computer games do not teach how to imagine and think. I am glad I was a kid in an era when the television was in its nascent stages – black and white TV, there were no computer games and reading books was the favourite passtime, other than team games. Books help kids imagine and think.
    Kalyan, you seem to club thinking and innovation together. Yes, innovation is backed by thinking, but all thinking does not lead to innovation.
    If a thinking culture is to be created, it is also vital that the energies do not spill out in all directions and exhaust both the person, his team and his organisation.
    I am sure I will not understand most of the posts written by you and other prolific MindTree minds, since I do not have an IT background, but I do hope these blogs remain open to the public and I will pay a visit off and on.
    Best regards,

  • Daniel

    I’ve read the article and wondered if there’s any inforation available about teaching innovation to students?
    Could you send me a curriculum, a method of approach,…?
    Thank you!