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Won the Tuck Essay Contest

The Tuck school of business recently organized a essay contest. The subject was: "How can Strategic Innovation be used for solving real world problems like corruption?". I won the first prize- a neat iPod, a signed copy of Prof. Vijay Govindarajan's new book (10 rules for strategic innovators: from ideas to execution), and an admission into Prof. VG's excellent session on Strategic Innovation. Let me thank the Tuck school for creating this opportunity; such systems which facilitate the flow of information and insight in the society play a key role in enhancing the innovation-capability of any region/country.

Quite a few people have asked for the essay- so I am putting the original submission right here, inline:

How can strategic innovation be applied to solve real world problems such as corruption?

-------------------------------------------- ANSWER BELOW---------------------------------------------

Let us look at Strategic Innovation not as a buzzword heard in corporate alleys, but as a broader means to achieve an all-encompassing end: Change. The need for Change is ubiquitous- from removal of poverty to limiting corruption, from improving performance of athletes to establishing new social institutions. The question is- why are we not already using the principles of Strategic Innovation to solve such real world problems? How can we do this in the future?

The answer lies pithily, again, in one simple word: Context. Strategic Innovation as a discipline has attained a certain maturity in the corporate world, but is in its nascence in other contexts. Applying strategic innovation in these new contexts, therefore, demands a re-look at the core and periphery of strategic innovation: in the frameworks used, in the principles applied and in the analyses adopted.

The late management expert Peter Drucker gave the best analysis of the special considerations for using innovation in public service projects [1]. According to him:

- The key inhibitor for innovation in such areas is effort-orientation.

- The biggest challenge, therefore, in using strategic innovation for such areas is having a focus on results.

Besides <span>Mr.</span> Drucker’s advice on result-orientation, another crucial question to answer is: where do we look for the potential for Innovation? From the strategic innovation perspective, there are two such areas in issues like corruption and poverty [2]:

  1. New Solutions to Known problems: In such cases, the innovation would lie in finding new ways of solving problems which have precedents in other contexts. For instance, the known problem of supply chain management is solved innovatively by the Tiffin suppliers in Mumbai, overcoming many of the contextual problems [3].
  2. New Solutions to Unknown problems, which are generally not found elsewhere and we don’t have precedents for them. A number of approaches to removing poverty are of this nature. We don’t know what to do in such cases, and so we have little knowledge about how it is to be done. The analysis has to start from a step back, by defining the problem first.

With this in mind, the approach to solving real world problems like corruption is given in Exhibit 2. The key steps in the process are:

  1. Understand the context and generate context-specific insights
  2. Modify Strategic Innovation frameworks and principles
  3. Piloting and feedback, and repeat steps 1 and 2 if necessary
  4. Full scale managed execution of Strategic Innovation

[1] Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter F. Drucker (pp 179), HarperBusiness, Copyright © 1985 by Peter F. Drucker.

[2] The third possibility, that is a known problem and a known solution which would work in this context, becomes a management issue. For instance, if we know that the police dept. can remove 40% of the corruption simply by making sure its existing processes are managed properly, that does not constitute innovation.

[3] see, for example,

This post first appeared on Amit Sharma's Extreme Innovation, please read the originial post: here

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Won the Tuck Essay Contest


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