On Sunday, January 6, Dr. Vijay Govindarajan (popularly known as VG), the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and one of the world’s leading experts on corporate strategy and innovation gave an animated and enthralling lecture on “Reverse Innovation” to an audience of nearly 200 people at the MYRA School of Business. This lecture was held immediately after the launch of MYRA’s Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Business Innovations which aims to create a world-class platform for entrepreneurs, academic researchers, students, policy-makers, NGOs, and corporations to collaborate on issues of sustainability and corporate responsibility. “Reverse Innovation” was the inaugural lecture of the MYRA Distinguished Lecture Series.
|VG, author of the worldwide bestseller Reverse Innovation, spoke on corporate strategy, emerging markets, and sustainability with close relevance drawn to the Indian context.
||Throughout his lecture, VG used examples from the healthcare and housing sectors to illustrated how Reverse Innovation – the idea that innovations should first be developed in and for emerging markets before spreading to the rest of the world – will dramatically change business and society.
||VG started off describing a typical electrocardiogram machine that costs around $50,000 in the United States with each scan amounting close to $100. He argued that the extreme cost, heavy weight, and reliance on electricity makes this a highly impractical and “useless” machine for Indians.
|This led VG (Professor in Residence at General Electric) to work with GE Healthcare to design a machine that costs just $500 – and only 10 cents per scan. This innovation is battery powered and weighs less than a can a Coca Cola, thus making it an extremely portable and cost-effective solution. The success of this innovation in rural India, he opined, has prompted healthcare professionals in the USA and around the world to take a new look at medical equipment design.
||His next example showcased how Dr. Devi Shetty performs open-heart surgeries for $2000 at Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore as opposed to the $50,000 needed in the United States, simply by using innovative approaches and reducing unnecessary costs. He noted that despite the significantly lesser price, the quality was actually much higher. He explained, “surgery needs to be of higher quality in India – because Indians typically have weaker hearts and the risk of post-operative complications from heavy air pollution is greater.”
||Through this example he stressed to the audience that that, “Reverse Innovation is not about lowering costs. It is about delivering a lot more quality at more reasonable price points. It is about doing more – with a lot less.” It is about achieving cost reduction along with increasing features. It is about coming up with ingenious solutions to problems on hand. It is about changing the mindset and thinking from an entirely different and fresh perspective. It is a whole new way of strategizing for the product development.
|Another example came from Dr. Therdchai Jivacate, a Thai physician who creates artificial legs from recycled yogurt containers at just $30, which are more durable and robust than the $20,000 artificial legs available in the US. “While the $30 options may seem to be of poorer quality – they are in fact much better as they are designed to withstand unpaved roads, cross-legged sitting customs, agricultural labor, and other stresses of Thailand’s environment – and are even strong enough to support an elephant!”
||VG also spoke on Reverse Innovation in Housing and the need to create affordable solutions for the 75 million homeless people in the world. He described the “$300 house,” a concept he popularized through an article in the Harvard Business Review and explained that housing issues cannot be solved by taking American design approaches and stripping features to make them affordable for the developing world. “It’s about designing it from scratch to fit the needs of the developing world.”
||“Applying the American dominant logic simply does not work. Companies shouldn’t ask ‘how can we possibly fit our products into the global market?’ but rather ‘how can our products help and be useful in the global market?’. Developed nations, established firms, and the next generation of leaders and innovators must be just as curious about needs and opportunities in the developing world as they area bout those in their own background
|To demonstrate the danger in “applying the dominant American logic,” he spoke of Kellogg’s efforts to sell cornflakes and other sugary cereals in India. In spite of aggressive marketing campaigns, Indian’s simply did not buy the cereals. Prof. Govindarajan pointed out that Indian’s like their breakfasts hot, and pouring hot milk on cornflakes would inevitably lead to an unappetizing soggy mush. The Indian consumer simply will not buy into the idea of pouring cold milk on breakfast cereal!”
||VG concluded on a light-hearted note, referring to typical South Indian movies where heroes like Rajinikanth would always find unexpected and imaginative ways of rescuing their heroines from the villain, stating, “if India has to excel in innovation, we have to produce more Rajinikanths!” He went on to say, ““the need to Reverse Innovate has never been stronger” and he opined that this is going to define how corporations innovate, impact and eventually survive in the coming decades.”
||VG had called for a drastic change in mindset which required big corporations to create novel, affordable, and useful solutions for the world’s poor. To thunderous applause, Kantharaj Urs felicitated VG in the traditional Mysore Peta (Peta is a Kannada word which means Turban in English) is the traditional indigenous attire worn by the erstwhile Kings of Mysore, called the Wadiyars (1399 to 1947), of the Kingdom of Mysore. MYRA actually uses a custom made and colourful variety generally used by Urs Clan modeled a bit on the special Signature Peta worn by the late Yuvaraja of Mysore)
|Prior to the lecture, VG mingled with Mysoreans in MYRA’s Poseidon Courtyad. The Reverse Innovation lecture was held in the Athena Auditorium and drew an audience of nearly 200 people from academia and industry
||After the event, high-tea was served at the South Entrance to the campus and offered an opportunity for attendees to reflect upon the lecture and network with each other.
||VG signed copies of Reverse Innovation for attendees after his talk. Pictured here are Nikhil Nair of SELCO, Moumita Sen Sharma of ISHA Foundation, and Jay Pullar of Pramati Technologies (and MYRA Governing Board member).
Click here to view the acclaimed Mobius Strip invitation to the event.