How To Harness Innovation In Business: Q&A With Innovation Leader Ravi Chhatpar

[This was originally posted on Ideate]

When building a business ‘innovation’ is spoken about as something you need apply – and in many instances – it refers to the use of technology. Ravi Chhatpar, one of the speakers at the TEDx event in Johannesburg , speaks to Mongezi Mtati about inspiration and focus, and how to harness innovation in your business.

Ravi’s experience spans clients across industries including BBC, Cox, ETS, GE, Microsoft, Prudential, and Virgin Mobile. Ravi has also authored publications for the Harvard Business Review and the Design Management Institute. Ahead of his presentation at TEDx Johannesburg, Mongezi asked Ravi to share some of his insights about innovation in and for business.

 

Q: We hear a lot about innovation and it seems like an ever moving target, how do you describe it?

Ravi Chhatpar: Innovation means different things to different people. It’s tempting to point to a new technology or breakout business success as signs of innovation, but it’s more important to define innovation from the human perspective. It must lead to a change in behaviour, typically because this behavioural change is creating new forms of value for the user or consumer. If your new product (or service, experience, business) is able to get people to behave in new ways, to be motivated to do things differently, then you have successfully created a solution to a deeply felt and poorly met need. It means this solution is creating value – both tangible and intangible – for the user or consumer. This is real innovation. Whether a new technology is involved or whether the business scales is an ancillary point.

 

Q: When working towards building something new or different, how do you do it without aiming to be different and instead build something useful?

Ravi Chhatpar: Innovation is not about being new or different, just for the sake of being new or different. It must be fundamentally centred around an unmet human need. The final form of the solution may be truly new or it may resemble what’s come before, as long as it meets the unmet need. While we tend to gravitate to things that seem very new, in reality innovation is always inspired by what’s come before. We learn from competitors, from what we see in other countries, from what we see in other industries, from what 2-person startups and mega-corporations are doing. Mashing-up, remixing and experimenting with what’s out there already often inspires the new.

 

Q: Some have said the next Facebook will be from Africa, do you agree? Why?

Ravi Chhatpar: I don’t think “the next Facebook” should be Africa’s innovation aspiration. Africa presents some very complex challenges that require specialized solutions that are difficult to scale. But if we find ways to scale localized solutions across markets, then we’ve truly created groundbreaking innovation. Take the oft-cited example of Kenya’s M-Pesa which is not directly replicable for a variety of reasons anywhere else. Other countries are experimenting with mobile payment solutions with varying degrees of success – some resemble M-Pesa – and some are very different. More successes will prompt more experimentation which will spread across markets. A continent with high mobile payments penetration, more than the developed world – even if it looks and feels and acts different in different countries – would be much more impressive to me than a single African Facebook.

 

Q: Without giving away too much, what will you be speaking on at the forthcoming TEDx Johannesburg?

Ravi Chhatpar: I’ll be talking about inspiration, which is such a fundamental component of the innovation process. Of course, inspiration is a massive topic in and of itself, so I’ll be focusing on a particular slice of it. That’s all I’ll say for now.

 

Q: How do you stay ahead of your last great idea?

Ravi Chhatpar: I like to switch industry and focus regularly. While it’s true that experience in one domain is valuable, thinking about the same problem space over extended periods of time will trade off expertise for freshness. Switching industries or focus areas provides a fresh start. Eventually, your mind starts looking for opportunities to cross-apply and cross-pollinate insights. How can a behavioural insight from a healthcare context be relevant to a financial context? This helps minimize creative fatigue.

 

Q: If it’s true that innovating is a mindset that be cultivated, where do we start in developing that mindset?

Ravi Chhatpar: What’s really needed is a deep cultivation of both right and left-brain thinking from an early a stage as possible. More importantly, this cultivation needs to be done in a way that doesn’t make the distinction between the two sides, to encourage a truly interdisciplinary approach. The creative side needs to be complemented with the analytical, the thinking needs to be complemented by the doing. Increasingly these divisions of labor that we see in our (older) generation is being replaced by younger talents who come up with ideas and make them real, who brainstorm wildly then sketch concepts and then write business plans, who experiment and prototype and assess results analytically. This is absolutely the right direction. Education should support this as early as possible.

Catch Ravi Chhatpar at the forthcoming TEDx Johannesburg on 15 August and find out more about his insights and findings.

Letting go of passion projects that turn into monsters

Did you ever start something that was exciting at first, something you thought ‘well this is it’? That something, that project, then started eating away at your time. Or, you just downright avoid it because you’ve inadvertently fed it with expectations that turned it into an obese monster that foams at the mouth for more.

That is what I have been experiencing lately. I avoided writing on this blog because everything had to be perfect. The stars needed to align and inspiration? Well….when the stars align inspiration comes by default. In another post I wrote about how overrated inspiration is vs. being consistent. Raise your hand if you find it hard to take your own advice.

Let go

Letting go of the monstrous expectations we have of ourselves and the “projects” we dream up is akin to losing a great friendship that no longer serves its purpose. In the long term, you later realize that it was the best decision you ever made.

A friend recently posted something on Facebook about giving yourself permission to walk away from things that creep you out. Walking away seems simple enough, the challenge is walking away from the things you started. The ideas you breathed in to. Those are near impossible to let go of, but we should.

Be the villain

In Batman, we know who the hero is and the villain is the guy who reeks havoc on Gotham City. Bane, my favourite character in The Dark Knight Rises, is not Batman and in the end you want the hero to win.

What if the hero and the villain are both the same person? What happens when you have to cut ties with that small community project down the road, which helps cute little kids when your fledgling business suffers because of the time you spend there? The roles have suddenly changed, Bane is no longer someone external. It’s your turn to be Batman and save the day, but that might mean you may soon be unable to make a living.

Slay your monsters and get to work

Instead of my writing being the fun pastime it once was, it became a painstaking chore that had to be perfect every time. The more things compete for limited time, the less likely we are to do the ones we are not passionate about.

In ‘Do The Work’, Steven Pressfield talks about the resistance and refers to it as all the things we experience which prevent us from producing our art. That resistance for me was perfecting every post, it’s not putting something out there ‘til everything is perfect. That was my monster and I’m going out to slay it every single day going forward.

Do The Work is a book that shows you what resistance is and how to overcome it. Read a quick review here and go slay those dragons.

What are your monsters? What resistance are you grappling with and how are you dealing with it to keep your passion projects alive? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Inspiration is overrated: Be consistent

Many moons ago, when I started my first blog, the idea was to write about anything entrepreneurial I stumbled upon. That ranged from local innovative businesses, to starting a monthly business networking talk called the Netweb Event and later NetwebTV.

The idea behind these concepts was to work on every single one consistently whether I had earth-shattering ideas, or not. They were started as concepts that one could say were borne out of inspiration. They weren’t, in and of, themselves a guarantee that I would be inspired every week.

Simon says: Do It

Some of the top bloggers, authors, entrepreneurs, artists and speakers I follow have a simple formula and that is ‘Do It’. They all advise people to do it, and do it daily. Do it consistently.

So whether you are an entrepreneur, artist or a writer, the only way to summon more inspiration quicker is to stay on course. It seems we are all waiting for that one moment the clouds will part, and suddenly out nowhere we will take the world by storm.

Wikipedia describes inspiration as: Creative inspiration, sudden creativity when a new invention is created.

Enter consistency

The idea of doing something daily, or as often as possible, ensures that you (a) get better every time and (b) you get more innovative ideas to improve yourself at it. That enough to summon more inspiration, more often.

In my experience, you are more likely to get an earth shattering idea when you do something regularly. When I wrote daily, the ideas came more as and when I wrote more.

How do you summon inspiration? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Image by: photosteve101