Sharing Sticky Knowledge

What do we really know about innovation? We style ourselves innovation consultants, but what is the specific nature of our expertise?

We held a workshop at the CKS innovation lab in Delhi earlier this week to generate provisional answers to this large question. We asked senior members of our innovation team to write out on post its particular examples of knowledge or skill or other capabilities and insights that were resident within our organization.

A wide variety of responses were received, and these ranged from highly formalized forms of knowledge, including academic and professional disciplines in which team members had been trained, to entirely informal and residual kinds of knowledge, which gave innovation experts a kind of gut or feel for how an innovation process was going to work out, and whether it was on track or not. In the middle were a variety of different kinds of skills, more or less tangible or abstract. There were also value systems and elements of a shared worldview, something we chose to call a ‘learned philosophy of action.’

At CKS we have developed formal training tools to address many of these tangible and ephemeral forms of knowledge, so as to try and provide a window into the way we work for new recruits. Sometimes these training tools have even been requested and used by clients. In many cases, however, we find that the training tool is fully understood only after the learner has been through the innovation process it seeks to provide knowledge about.

While some kinds of knowledge can be easily transferred to others, there are types of knowledge that are inherently sticky — that is to say, knowledge that is inherently ingrained within one’s own lived experience and therefore nearly impossible to share. Therefore, any type of training program for innovation would necessarily need to be composed of an array of different modules and activities, with the correct balance of theoretical grounding and practical application of that theory. This is the kind of immersive approach to innovation training that we are now in the process of developing.

PM: Innovation in India Should Focus on Needs of Poor


Today, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, gave a speech on the need for innovation and creativity for solving the great social challenges of India, especially those faced by the poorest citizens of our country. PM Singh, whilst officially releasing a report of the Innovation Council of India, spoke of how we in India “have made innovations in areas such as space technology, atomic energy and automobiles. But innovation in our country has focused mostly on the needs of the rich and not adequately on solving problems of the poor.”

PM Singh went on to give a few examples of innovation efforts in service delivery and rights-based programs and services in India, and highlighted how it is only through breakthrough innovations that we can hope to solve our great social challenges.

The PM’s speech was followed by a short talk by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who announced that the government would provide Rs 100 crore for the India Innovation Fund, to be focused on supporting low-cost innovations.

Read the news article here

Design!publiC Panel Discussion 5: Planning and Policy for Innovation

18:26 Reto: I feel that there is a need for an international consensus and forum for innovation so that we can learn from each other.

18:19 Dilini: Most countries talk about GDP, but in Bhutan the premise of government is promote happiness (Gross National Happiness). What about making societies happier? Can we design and innovate to make people happier?

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Grand Challenge Breakout Session: Toilets and Sanitation for All

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The Challenge and Context

As of 2009, 74 percent of rural India still did not have or use toilets. This has implications first on health, hygiene and well-being, and then on issues of safety, convenience and privacy. The Indian government introduced the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 1999, with the aim to eradicate open defecation practices by 2017. As a part of this program, the government offers subsidies to villagers interested in building private toilets. Additionally, the TSC focuses on women and children and now has mandated that all members of local government build and use toilets in order to bring about behavioral change in the villagers. However, there is a great challenge with the translation of these policy measures into actual implementation and wide adoption of the program. The aim of this session is to brainstorm on possible solutions to this gap in implementation and to identify ways in which innovation can contribute to this effort.

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Design!publiC Panel Discussion 4: The Theory and Practice of Innovation

15:06 M.P. Ranjan talks about how good design or good innovation is not necessarily about money – it is a matter of thinking about solutions, with passion, empathy, responsibility and commitment. Gives an example of good design in the Daily Dump project by Srishti professor and designer.

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Design!publiC Panel Discussion 3: The Challenge of Start-up Innovation

12:59 Participant: In India, all over, there are so many entrepreneurs. What is interesting is that in India, at forums like this, you don’t see these kinds of entrepreneurs asking for money. Rather, you see startups asking for money.

12:55 Aditya M.: A lot of startups are not thinking about, or even aware of, the fact that they could be working for the public interest, working towards solving some of our grand challenges.

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Design!publiC Panel Discussion 2: Is Innovation in Public and Social Sectors Possible?

12:03 Harsh: Theoretically, there is an independent advisory body to the government called the Planning Commission. But once we’ve heard everyone, and money is given, there is still the question of how that money is being spent.

12:01 Sneha: What is the process for this prioritization?

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Design!publiC Panel Discussion 1: Innovation and the Indian Corporation

11:02 Samar ends with a last word about the “hot new” mousetrap in Bangalore – simply a sticky pad. No bad Karma involved.

11:00 Harish Bijoor answers saying that Indian corporations are not innovative or risk-taking, but Indian society is.

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The Dark Side of Innovation

Is Innovation inherently unsustainable?

Over at the World Policy Institute, Greg Lindsay writes about the unintended consequences of innovation — specifically, of frugal and user-driven innovations. Lindsay takes the example of the 1 lakh rupee (approximately $2500) Tata Nano car, widely proclaimed as proof of India’s innovation capabilities, to demonstrate the “Jevons Paradox,” the neverending rise in consumption resulting first from technological breakthroughs and then from the subsequently introduced cheaper and more efficient versions of those breakthroughs.

Doing more with less is the essence of innovation, but the so-called “Jevons Paradox” means we do more with less—and then more.

This is what we call progress — a burst in productivity around a new innovation, trickling down as its costs fall and it achieves widespread adoption. We implicitly assume unsustainable consumption occurs at the top, not the bottom — in the form of a gas-guzzling SUV, not the Nano. But the Jevons Paradox suggests the opposite is true. If so Prahalad’s mantra that the biggest gains come in the smallest packages only threatens to make the problem worse.

He also goes on to talk about the similarly unsustainable consequences of user-driven innovation, and even of breakthrough innovations like the iPhone or iPad.

“Finding sustainable solutions isn’t about discovering new, ever-more disruptive ideas,” argues Jens Martin Skibsted, founder of the Danish design firm Skibsted Ideation. “It requires the opposite, something very un-American: standardization, slowness, and centralization.” Standards are necessary for any cradle-to-cradle recycling scheme or other forms of infinitely replenishable consumption—but they are the enemy of competitive differentiation. Well-designed products may last longer, but the corporate obsession with speed-to-market has shortened their lifecycles to the point where a growing number are obsolete before they even hit the shelf.

So what is the answer, then? Are we condemned to a future of ever-increasing relentless consumption in the face of environmental collapse? Or can we direct our process of innovation in a more ethical and sustainable fashion, and as India enters its “Decade of Innovation,” can we hope to avoid some of the unintended consequences of innovation?

How Shall We Understand the Public Interest?

By Aditya Dev Sood

Panchayat meeting on Village Sanitation in Khera village, Budaun District, UP

At the Design Public Conclave, we are concerned to explore how Innovation serves or is related to the Public Interest. In order to address that large question, however, we must first consider what we might mean by this high-minded term. And to do, we first ask, what is the Public?

On account our Socialist past, and our nearly extinct figuration as a ‘developing’ society, one still commonly encounters references to the ‘sectors of society,’ organized as (i) the Government (ii) the Public Sector (iii) the Social Sector and (iv) the Private Sector. Whereas, prior to liberalization (i) and (ii) were seen to operate more or less indistinguishably from one another, their roles now appear to be diverging, with the role of Government having to do more and more with the creation and regulation of markets, while the Public Sector is either privatized or else outsources all its core functions and operations to the Private Sector.

While representatives of each of these sectors may operate in ways which it claims are in the Public Interest, the ways in which they make these claims are varied. Moreover, in each case, it is difficult for anyone to articulate how the interests of the particular bureaucracy or organizational or financial-communications network is actually aligned with the putative Public Good. The collective interests of society, when described as the vector sum of all the diversely oriented forces operating upon and within it appears as a static quantity, which can easily be reduced — through corruption, inefficiency, venality, cupidity, and the concomitant destruction of value — but which cannot easily be increased except in so far as a functioning service-providing entity continues to operate with its own enlightened self-interest in mind. Thus do we once again derive, through a metaphor of vector integration, Adam Smith’s famous Invisible Hand, whereby private ambitions are channeled towards the larger aims of society.

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