Leadership for Disruptive Innovation: How to be the catalyst for organizational innovation

Salil Parekh, Member of the Group Management Board and CEO, Application Services One, Capgemini

  • Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Auto
  • Pravin Rao, Chief Operating Officer, Infosys
  • Aditya Ghosh, President and Executive Director, Interglobe Aviation Ltd.

Leadership for Disruptive Innovation

Rajiv Bajaj

His spiel commenced on a jocular note. Before coming to the Leadership Forum, quizzically, he seemed to ruminate, “what Leadership in biz innovation” was really about?

Rajiv Bajaj said that after having spent 2 decades to get a fix on what innovation is, here at a NASSCOM conference he is required to speak on disruptive innovation – this, much to the mirth of the participants. Interestingly, coming from a man who has built an empire himself. Obviously, he did a lot many things different to be where he is. Then again, such is the nature of the topic under deliberation.

After completion of studies and returning to India in 1990, the notion that crossed his mind was that the world had moved to JIT, then it gravitated towards core competencies, TQM, Lean Manufacturing and other trends that were to follow suit. Even before he had time to absorb it all in, overwhelmingly, there were more…seven habits, more habits, six sigma. At the end of it all, Mr. Bajaj realised that it was a mere extension, if not juxtaposition of his student life…Essentially, he went on to say, and in lighter vein, that there was so much disruption in his work life, that he be considered and allowed to address less on disruption, and stick to “plain simple” innovation. This elicited an uproarious round of laughter.

In these times, it may be worthwhile to tarry awhile and pay heed to what Al Ries, the Marketing Guru said in “The Origin Of Brands.” One principle that stands the test of time is: The vast majority of these new products and services don’t stand a chance of becoming big brands because they were introduced to serve a market, than to create a market.

It can translate into, “different” and “better” are not the same. Engineers are trained to make just a better product. But customers buy what is different.

Marketing Warfare, the seminal work introduces the concept of strategic squares, and Rahul Bajaj explained the principles from his organisation’s standpoint. The four squares are: Defensive Marketing Warfare, applicable to market leaders; Offensive Marketing Warfare is for # 2; Flanking Marketing Warfare is for smaller companies and Guerilla Marketing Warfare is for local and regional companies.

Carl Jung once said, “The true leader is always led. A true leader is led by logic and sense, and not misdirected.”

How should one strategise a brand’s growth? He explained this idea through, what he calls as Horizons. 3 in all. Three Horizons. The first, has 5 levels based on incremental growth that the brand seeks. At Level 1, where growth sought after is 10%, then its best to keep it at a me-too approach. In Level 2, if growth sought after is 10 – 20% it is apt to adopt a Defense Strategy where the focus is on building a better product. At Level 3, if growth sought after is 20 – 33%, to be impactful, a Flanking Strategy is advised where the idea is to differentiate. At Level 4, if growth envisaged is 33 – 50 % one can only adopt an Offensive Strategy where the clear path lies in building opposite characteristics for the brand. And before one moves to the second horizon, finally at Level 5 of the first horizon, it should be a Guerilla Strategy where the stress is on building a unique product altogether. But, if ambition overrides and growth is expected to exceed 100 % then it has to be an Inorganic Strategy. This is the second horizon. In the third and final horizon, it is a Discontinuous Strategy, where growth is well over 100%.

Kept it short, crisp and witty! That seemed to be his final rejoinder.

Pravin Rao, Chief Operating Officer, Infosys

Pravin Rao Rao started by giving examples of companies like Airbnb, Ola Cabs which are essentially software businesses, yet being in very different industry verticals and serving a varied consumer base. Once again, the power of differentiation.

At Infosys, innovation has several dimensions which he went on to explain.

  • Innovation from a co-creation standpoint. Where client is the valuable “other.”
  • Innovation for value realization
    • Ideas which translate into value realization, the framework that came about is now famously called, ‘The Infosys Innovation Pillars’
  • Value Ninja – A team of specialists to solve the trickiest of business problems
  • Accelerate Edge – Industry-leading business platforms to accelerate value realization
  • Startups – Working with start-ups to bring cutting-edge solutions with scale and speed
  • Living Labs – Creating environments which bring together relevant skills to achieve impact via rapid innovation cycles
  • Next gen innovators – Enhancing the creative confidence of every employee to co-innovate with clients
  • A recent idea is called ‘Design thinking.’ It aids in identifying the problem. Simply because, if one is talking of disruption, then it’s really about being ready with a solution to a problem, that doesn’t exist. Or is not seemingly evident.
  • As Alan Kiev famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Aditya Ghosh, President and Executive Director, Interglobe Aviation Ltd.

Innovation is riddled with myths. The most common one being, innovation happens in buildings where coat-attired lab-scientists are working on a certain technology that must be very complex. In reality, the idea of innovation may be lot simpler when seen from a different perspective. For instance, it is also innovative thinking, when someone places incline planes in a manner that it transforms into a boarding ramp for Indigo passengers. An example from our daily lives, simple in approach yet having the potent to make a significant difference in customer delight.

His business, as he humbly says is about a plain old boring biz of flying airlines, but they strive to do it slightly differently and keep scouting for 1bn $ ideas which will take the company to a completely different level.

For building a culture of innovation

Its important to know that its ok to make a mistake. In reality, it is easy for senior folks to say this, but the real test is when the junior-most supervisor is dealing with a new frontline employee, who worked with all his heart, and yet it goes wrong. What is the supervisor’s reaction? Does the supervisor say it’s ok? Or does he seek 10 approvals and wait for his superiors to say – know what I checked it, its ok! Employees need to be empowered on this aspect as well, across levels.

The secret sauce, if any, lies in consistency. Be passionately consistent and go about doing what needs to be done. Innovation is happening at the background. One does not necessarily go on proving the differentiator bit all the time.

He cited the McDonalds / Dominos example. The focus of McDonalds is never to sell a burger or that of Dominos to sell a pizza. This is what makes them so “freaking successful.”

At Indigo, there was clearly an obsession with simplicity, the economy class service etc. It is more imp to know what not to do, than try and do the next most innovative thing.


If doing one thing and sticking to it is what you suggest, then why did Ambassador fail?

Aditya: Let’s look at the Usain Bolt analogy. He makes a record of being the fastest man on planet earth. After that, he runs every 100 mt race more innovatively in order to be faster than himself, even faster and eventually to remain the fastest man on planet earth. Perhaps some very successful products eventually stop being ahead of themselves and some others plays catch-up, only to sound the death knell.

Learnings for IT from disruptive innovation?

Rajiv Bajaj: B. K. S. Iyengar taught me yoga…I asked him what is yoga? He said yoga is alignment…of legs with hands, hands with overall body, body with mind…and mind with the higher cosmos. What is management then I thought? – It is also alignment…If we keep them focused on achieving one goal…That is what management is. So simple, yet profound.

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