Published: 30th January 2019
We need a culture of research, financial support won't do: Biz guru Vijay Govindarajan on #HikeResearchFellowship
Dr Vijay Govindarajan is the Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. We spoke to him about reverse innovation, #HikeResearchFellowship and more
Putting money into research isn't enough. What we need is a culture that fosters it, said Dr Vijay Govindarajan, popularly known to his students and others as VG, is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on strategy and innovation. VG, who is an NYT and WSJ Best Selling author, is the Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Prior to joining the faculty at Tuck, he was on the faculties of Harvard Business School, INSEAD (Fontainebleau) and the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad, India). VG was present at the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai recently for a distinguished thought leadership series when we got to have a quick chat with the management thinker.
Excerpts from a highly-knowledgable conversation:
How do you think reverse innovation will help developing countries like India?
Reverse innovation is a very powerful concept really for countries like India. Because what it states is that innovation doesn't necessarily have to begin from rich countries like the US and come to a poor country like India, it can go in reverse. The reason this is a powerful innovation is if you think about Aravind Eye Care, ultra low-cost cataract surgery is needed in the country because India has a resource shortage. We have very few doctors but a lot of patients, therefore, we have to create low-cost, good quality business models and create it in such a way that it can also be applicable. So, I say reverse innovation is the way by which we can unlock the complete potential in a country like India.
Given your expertise — you have studied at Harvard and have been part of the faculty at IIM-Ahmedabad — what do you think is lacking in Indian business schools?
I think if I look at student quality, IIM-Ahmedabad is more difficult to get into than Harvard Business School frankly, because the number of seats is very small, students sitting for the entrance is way more and the quality is much higher. Speaking of IIMs, even IITs, where they are found lacking is in the area of research. There is really no research focus among the faculty and if there is no research you don't create new knowledge. For instance, this reverse innovation is a concept that I pioneered by studying 10 companies in India. And why should I come all the way from the US to study companies in the country when these Indian business school faculties are sitting right here. If I were to make a recommendation then I would really say that we need to focus on research.
Researchers have been protesting for over six months now, demanding a hike in their stipend. Do you think a raise is going to help?
I think financial support is one part of it, definitely, it is an enabler but more than that we need to create a culture for research. There are seminars organised, it is part of the reward system, for promotions, it should count and if we can create the ecosystem for it then financial support will also come in handy. That alone will not suffice. Look at the US, why there is so much research is because we have so many seminars, we have companies working closely with business schools. We need to create that culture here in India.
Reverse innovation is the way: Dr Vijay Govindarajan says we have to create low-cost, good quality business models which are applicable too
You have been a teacher yourself and you have been named a management thinker. What would you say is your role as an educator?
I think of myself as someone who creates an impact. My purpose and mission is to impact a broader spectrum. That's the reason I wake up in the morning every day. If I don't create an impact in the broader world, I will quit whatever I am doing. Therefore, I don't even call myself a professor, I am in the impact business. When I teach a class, work with a company, write a book — that is my mission. The way I look at my own self is if I am impacting the broader world, I keep doing it.
You are working on a project where they're designing a $300 house. How do you think India’s housing problem can be solved?
In 2010, I wrote a Harvard Business Review article (with Christian Sarkar) challenging architects, engineers, and businesses to design a $300 house for the poor by rethinking the concept of a house and come up with out-of-the-box ideas. I did not intend to lead such an effort but my effort was to encourage experts to take up this challenge. India badly needs ultra low-cost houses and the Government should provide the incentives for entrepreneurs to use their creativity to solve this wicked social problem.
Which Indian companies would you say that you find their innovation exciting?
I think Mahindra & Mahindra Limited is what I would put on top. They are a traditional manufacturing company which has done some remarkable things when it comes to innovation. Whether it is agricultural tractors, Scorpio or other SUVs, they came up with wonderful designs. If I were to pick one, this company would be it.