Interview as published in Huffington Post.

I had an opportunity to have a deep dive discussion on the topic of innovation with Sridhar DP who is the founder and CEO of ienabler. Specifically, we focused on striking the right balance between creative freedom and execution discipline.

First, a quick intro about Sridhar-

Sridhar has been active in the field of Strategy & Innovation for the past 20 years and has worked across diversified industries in solving a variety of business problems with epitomized nuances across the globe. One significant point that he has come across while consulting with clients is the lack of a structured approach to Innovation-led Growth (ILG). He further adds that “for this magic to happen – striking a right balance b/w creative freedom vs execution discipline” is important.

Moving on to the Q&A about the above-mentioned topic.

Rajesh Setty: Why is striking a balance between creative freedom and execution discipline important?

Sridhar DP: Growth is imperative for organizations to succeed.

But, what kind of growth?

Is it efficiency or profitability or productivity growth?

Whatever be the area of focus on the growth factor, the point to ponder is most of the traditional growth strategies like adding capacities, managing cost structures, process automation, lean six- sigma have reached their threshold.

Also, these strategies are copied and organizations lose their unfair advantage quickly. So, business requires a new concept to breakout. This is where Innovation-led growth (ILG) becomes inevitable in the given current dynamics of the economy.

But, are businesses designed to adapt this?

The answer is No.

The paradox with Innovation- led growth is in two fold terrain,

On one hand, we need creative freedom. For example, “Generate new ideas and spot new opportunities” that requires free thinking and non-linear approach.

On the other hand, we need execution discipline. For Instance,”Product fitment, feasibility and viability” that requires structured approach.

In evaluating the above workings, most businesses are built for execution discipline and some on creative work. In today’s business context, organizations need both to succeed and not either one.

In the absence of such a balance, the data show that success rate and return on Innovation investment is abysmally low for New Product /Service/Process. Most critical questions are asked post product or launch process. So, in order to address this, striking a right balance at Individual level, Managerial level and at the leadership level is critical for the businesses to be relevant for future growth.

To quote Peter Drucker, “the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two-and only two-basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest is costed”. Among these, two functions, Innovation will be highly effective when organization builds their own capabilities.

Rajesh Setty: What are the key challenges in balancing creative freedom and execution discipline?

Sridhar DP: There are few important key challenges in striking the balance between creative freedom & execution discipline.

First, in general, the leadership and organization as a whole have not been designed to strike this right balance. Some of it could also be traced back to the linear education system, our upbringing and the ecosystem in which we operate.

Second, the rigid structures in some established organizations are set up in such a way that the only R&D is meant to develop new products leaving other departments to be busy in their routine.

Third, the myth that is created in people’s mind that they belong to a certain thinking pattern like the right or left brain also decelerates the performance of employees. Most breakthroughs happen in the fulcrum. There must be some structure around this non-linear process

To enable an agile structure, Innovation-led Growth (ILG) has to be all-pervasive. This would allow:

A Marketing and Sales Manager to think beyond his role and capacity to create value,
Operations staff to think of a new process rather than just working on improvisation, or
Someone in the organization about a new or adjacent business.
The disruptions around the business world are happening in terms of market change, new technology adoption, changing customer demographics and their expectations, We need to adapt to the Agile structure. iEnabler‘s offerings would help in addressing these key challenges in totalitarian, by working with the leadership team with a repertoire of time-tested innovation led growth framework, patent-pending innovation enablement software and lots of whiteboards.

Rajesh Setty: How to strike the right balance?

DP Sridhar: A structured process to manage non-linear journey to innovation is important to ensure growth.

An ineffective quick fix model that most organizations would follow, is to run idea contests, hackathons, or simple idea voting systems. This might trigger some enthusiasm in the workforce, but will not add value to the growth roadmap unless this becomes part of organization’s DNA. So, In other words, Innovation should not be reduced to a vision statement, but to be demonstrated by uncompromising meticulous continuous action.

Here are 6 pillars that organizations should consider for striking the right balance:

1. Empowerment
An organization needs to generate creativity and drive innovation to gain competitive advantage. The best way to do this is to empower teams with the right tools, the right processes and right techniques.

2. Enablement
Enable employees to adopt an “entrepreneurial mindset” to showcase their ideas. This will allow them to propel innovation and show initiative to facilitate successful workplace revival and an opportunity to re-energize individual and organic organizational growth.

3. Effectiveness
Effectiveness isn’t just a trait of an idea, but more importantly, it’s a holistic approach that embraces many touch points and transcendent themes to solve a problem.

4. Evaluation
Evaluating Innovation-led growth initiatives is something that very few organizations have understood. Most of them use the traditional criterion method that works against the constructive collaboration. It is prudent to have a constructive and collaborative approach that enhances the quality of an idea or an opportunity to the fullest potential.

5. Engagement
The most important part of any business idea is to maintain traction, and that requires engagement which can draw the right audience. An Innovation-led growth process should help businesses to create a meaningful engagement with the audience, be it internal or external.

6. Efficiency
Efficiency is the result of all the other Es coherently and cohesively coming together to function in a synchronous manner. There must be proven techniques defined as part of the business process. It will improve the efficiency of generating new business concepts at a faster rate continuously.