Home » Design Stories » Unlocking an Innovation toolkit for India

Unlocking an Innovation toolkit for India

By : Amit Krishn Gulati

‘Innovation’ is a much used and abused term and applied to every small incremental feature or evolutionary design tweak that we come up with. Revolutionary innovation is a more elusive thing and needs a lot of sustained commitment to get people and systems deliver on a regular basis. 

Compelling innovation is any new method or idea that is substantially transformative in every way…technology, use, appeal, endurance, reach, value and scalability! 

There is an established myth that you need outsiders such as management consultants, ‘rock-star’designers, executive coaches and the like to kick-start innovation within organisations. Though these professionals may help initiate or catalyze the process by bringing in a fresh perspective, a lasting competency to innovate needs to emerge from within. Ultimately, innovation practices are not knee-jerk responses to crises but an established way of doing things across the board and for the long-term.

Some of the key attributes of an innovation-ecosystem are articulated here:


Innovation only comes to those who really want it bad enough and those who get to the core of what’s preventing great ideas from emerging. Very often the root cause of poor outcomes lies beyond R&D departments; in corporate policies, investment priorities, fear of failure, poorly designed incentives and organizational structures. An honest assessment of what’s stifling new ideas is a great place to begin. Defining a common purpose and setting achievable goals help define intent and future trajectory.


Taking inspiration from “The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins” by Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, and Luke Rendell of the University of St Andrews, Scotland, we can extend the five distinctive features of ‘Culture’ to defining what sustains a creative environment:

1) A characteristic Technology or the ability to assimilate new technology seamlessly 

2) Teaching and Learning to ensure that essential skills are fostered and perpetuated as a matter of course

3) A Moral component, a unique way of doing things and a clear understanding of what is the “right” thing to do 

4) An acquired, not innate, distinction between insiders and outsiders which creates a sense of belonging and      fosters Teamwork and Collaboration

5) A cumulative Character that builds up over time. 

These attributes together allow individuals in a group to do things that they would not be able to achieve by themselves. Innovative teams are no different. Ultimately innovation is born out of a culture that fosters questioning and reinvention; a culture that is free of command & control structures that can potentially obstruct the diffusion of challenging thoughts; an open and inclusive culture that puts a premium on disruptive ideas that may potentially threaten the status quo. Failure is seen as an important stepping stone to eventual success and ideas are developed tenaciously and tested iteratively.

A Human Perspective

Empathizing with end users, understanding their problems, their dreams, their aspirations and translating this awareness into new opportunities to create. Designing products and services around the needs (including unarticulated or unmet ones) of people is at the core of most great ideas. 


The quest for the most ‘essential’ and cost effective solutions can open up a new world of possibilities. New materials and new manufacturing processes can help achieve the most elegant outcomes where complexity is either minimized or in many cases concealed from the end user’s viewpoint. 


The looming environmental catastrophe is another opportunity to reinvent. India has a culture of thrift, repair, reuse and recycling which can be deployed to see every kind of waste as a valuable resource and design opportunity. We need to question established patterns of consumption that have led to the crisis in the first place and look at more sustainable approaches that better suit our situation – This can catalyze some amazing ideas.

Our Context

Indians have always managed to do more with less with the application of creativity – At the same time we continue to grapple with the challenges of extreme poverty, inequality and a large number of unaddressed needs – With the right motivation all these can be seen as a massive opportunity to create inspired business models and new products to serve the masses, and in the process , generate, distribute and share wealth in a responsible and equitable manner. Interestingly, innovations born out of the crucible of our chaotic context riddled with such demanding contradictions and resource constraints can be powerful, uniquely robust and very often, globally relevant. 


New Delhi
10 June 2016

Amit Krishn Gulati

Founder & Director, Incubis
Consultants (India) PL