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Monday, Aug 26, 2019

How to Innovate: Review of Crooked Minds by Kiran Karnik

Kiran Karnik stresses that education is key to creating an innovative society

books Updated: Apr 07, 2017 20:38 IST
Sujoy Gupta
Sujoy Gupta
Hindustan Times
Driving innovation: US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (R) and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (L) get out of a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California.
Driving innovation: US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (R) and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (L) get out of a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California. (Getty Images)

The alphabet i, ninth of 26 from a to z, shot into italicized fame when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, in April 2010.

Since then, i has blossomed into the capital letter I. Significantly, instead of being merely a catchy prefix linked to products, I leads the English language today in spelling extraordinarily important concepts. Innovation, the theme of this thought-provoking book written by self-confessed “un-intellectual” Kiran Karnik, is one of these concepts.

In the first paragraph, Karnik concedes the point that buzzwords usually have short lives. The rest of the book tells us why “innovation” is an exception: “Its longevity and appeal are probably indicative of it having real substance, rather than being the flavour of the month.”

I agree for two reasons. First, the application of the concept has spread well beyond corporate effort to break glass ceilings in product and service designs – Google’s driverless cars and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are splendid contemporary examples. Second, the appeal of innovation has crashed through the lead-lined, almost impenetrable tall wall that hampers entry of new ideas into echelons of government. Surprise! This includes the government of India!


However, even techno-savvy Indian citizens are not quite aware that India has declared 2010-2020 as the ‘Decade of Innovation’. To take this agenda forward, the Union government at its highest level is developing a national strategy on innovation with a focus on an Indian model of inclusive growth. The idea is to create an indigenous blueprint of development suited to Indian needs and challenges.

To do so a National Innovation Council (NIC) has been created with State Innovation Councils (SICs) in every state and union territory. (Uttarakhand and West Bengal don’t figure in this list yet.) There’s more, 24 sectoral councils have been set up with respective nodal ministries responsible for mapping innovation prospects in their domains. I guess bureaucrats are working hard to “innovate” a hydra-headed monster as coordinator between so many – over 50! – councils, but let that be.

Against this not-so-encouraging pro-innovation climate, Karnik’s subtitle – Creating an Innovative Society italics mine) – makes good sense. So too does the tantalizingly provocative title. The adjective “crooked” doesn’t mean “rascally” but “deviant from conventionally defined modes”. It makes sense because Indians’ Innovation Quotient is provenly high. Karnik furnishes proof: Indian immigrants comprise the leading company founding group in Silicon Valley. They founded 13.4 per cent of Silicon Valley’s start ups and an “astonishing” 6.5 per cent of those nationwide in the United States. “This is particularly surprising,” Karnik notes, “because Indian immigrants constitute less than 1 per cent of the US population.”

Karnik painstakingly explains why and how leadership in innovative technology has rapidly emerged as a vital component diminishing the role of ownership of capital as measure of wealth and power of individuals and countries alike. “Technological know-how, guarded by intellectual property rights, is itself a tradable commodity of high value,” says Karnik.

Kiran Karnik
Kiran Karnik ( Courtesy Rupa & Co )

With this perspective, it is but natural that country after country is now on the innovation bandwagon. As cited above, so is India. Where does India stand in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)’s widely respected Global Innovation Index (GII) in 2016? At number 66, India trails each fellow member in BRICS: Brazil (64), Russia (62), China (35) and South Africa (58). Asian countries Japan (22), South Korea (18), Malaysia (12) as well as Gulf nations Saudi Arabia (42), UAE 38), Qatar (48) and Kuwait (50) are way ahead of India. (For the record, Switzerland is number 1 among 142 WIPO members.)

Read more: Entrepreneurship Simplified: From IDEA to IPO by Soota, Gopalan: Making ideas work

Clearly, in education lies the key to bootstrap India into the league of innovative nations. Karnik is even-tempered in his comments and analyses of successive Union governments irrespective of political hue failing to spend the targeted 6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as annual expenditure on education. Reading about national shortcomings leaves discerning, patriotic Indians gnashing teeth in despair.

Sujoy Gupta is a corporate biographer and corporate historian.

First Published: Apr 07, 2017 20:30 IST

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