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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Innovation can be taught... 01-04

Innovation can be taught 

Dean of Stanford Graduate Business School, Garth Saloner's mission has been to foster entrepreneurship across developing countries, which he believes will solve many of their global challenges. To achieve this, he has been promoting managers to become engines of growth for their economies. THE WEEK caught up with Saloner to find out how innovation can be taught.

Why innovation, why India?

I think 'why India' is obvious. It is a rapidly growing economy. Why innovation? I have been coming to India for the last couple of years and I can see a shift in Indian business. Eight years ago, the conversation was about finding ways to match the emerging economies or how to meet their needs at a lower cost or more efficiently. Today, Indian businesses have become full-fledged and competitive. But, to be a global player, innovation is important. That is what we are targeting, and it is consistent with our own DNA as a business school. 

How can innovation be taught?

Innovation can be taught [smiles], and we have learnt how to do that. Innovation requires three elements. First, you have to recognise the problem, and that needs analytical thinking. Business schools have been pretty good at that. Second, you have to come up with a solution, which is partly analytical and partly creative. I think business schools don't see themselves as teaching creativity. But, we have developed processes for creative thinking and on how to teach creative thinking. The third element is implementation, which is the biggest part of innovation. That is how you teach innovation, creativity and personal leadership.

When we think of innovation, it usually means putting two things together and coming up with a third one, something like jugaad. What is your take on this?

I agree with you, but it is completely natural. The first thing you ask yourself as a young entrepreneur is 'what can I do with an idea that has worked elsewhere?'. It's happening in China. When I visit my alumni in China, I see the Facebook of China, YouTube of China. As people get used to innovation, there is a new idea that pops up, which takes advantage of the special characteristics in an environment. Soon, it will come to India. And there will be things that will happen here and people in Silicon Valley are going to say: I wish I had thought that. 

How do you create an eco-system for entrepreneurs to flourish?

The eco-system question is a hard one. I get visitors from a company or a government saying they want to build a Silicon Valley. It is not one thing that you can do, it is a whole collection. At Stanford, we promote the transition of ideas from the university into commerce. A lot of universities say they do the research and somebody else will worry about the commercialisation. We believe that the ideas go with the people and it is an important part of the eco-system. We did not say: here is an idea for a search engine, write a paper and let someone else commercialise it. Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] took it up and started the company [Google]. Most ventures in the US are started with friends' and family money; this is lacking in India.

What can management schools do to encourage entrepreneurship?

Those who graduate from business schools also need to get job experience, for which they need to be back in the industry. While working in a company, they need to think, here is a market opportunity and then the person has to go out and try it. I think this is a marathon, not a sprint. You come to us with some experience and we give you the education. You get more experience, you develop the entrepreneurial DNA, and start your business down the road.

Get idea

Stanford Graduate School of Business has launched the first online innovation and entrepreneurship certificate programme and a Stanford Ignite programme in Bangalore. It is an eight-week, part-time certificate programme for innovators on how to commercialise their ideas. They will be tutored by the MBA faculty from Stanford.

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