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Special Columns
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri
A.Sandeep Editor's Desk
A.Sandeep
From The Editorial-in-Chief's Desk

A.Sandeep
Editor, 4Ps B&M
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The Mother of all Innovations – Exnovation©
Why companies need to master the art of not innovating. In other words, the art of exnovation – the opposite of innovation
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Good morning world. The mother of all anti-thesis theorems is here. Well, umm, it was already there since the past few years. Actually it was in 1996 when I conjured up this term called exnovation – which I defined as the opposite of innovation – and presumed that I had arrived on the global management scene; well, had not I finally created a better mousetrap? 15 years later, I see that the term exnovation is still known to almost zero individuals on this plant (‘cept me of course), and where known has taken up definitions that I never intended – and of course, nobody’s beaten their way up to my door yet. And that’s when I decided to give it one more try – define the term appropriately so that organisations realize the need to necessarily incorporate exnovation as a critical process within organisational structures.

I accept, in the present times, nothing excites corporate junkies more than the concept of innovation. Who in heavens would care about exnovation for god’s sake?! Would you wish your company to come out tops on the World’s Most Innovative Companies’ lists or would you wish to be the numero uno on the exnovation charter – in other words, the world’s topmost ‘non-innovating’ company? One doesn’t need to think too deeply to get the answer to that. Frankly, the term exnovation was perhaps doomed from its very definition.

And reasonably too. Iconic CEOs have grown in fame because of being innovative. How many CEOs would you know of in the world who are worshipped because they exnovated? The answer might surprise you. Quite a few. And to understand this dichotomy, you’d have to first understand the correct definition of exnovation. Exnovation does not actually mean propagating a philosophy of not innovating within the organisation. Exnovation in reality means that once a process has been tested, modulated and finally super-efficiently mastered and bested within the innovative circles of any organisation, there should be a critical system that ensures that when this process is replicated across the various offices of the organisation, the process is not changed but is implemented in exactly the same manner in which it was made super-efficient; in other words, no smart alec within the organisation should be allowed to tamper with the already super-efficient process. In other words, the responsibilty of innovation should be the mandate of specialised innovation units/teams within an organisation and should ‘not’ be encouraged to each and every individual within the organisation.

The logic is that not every individual is competent at innovating – yet, everybody wishes to innovate, which is what can create a doomsday scenario within any organisation. Think the case of two call centers, where credit card customers call when they wish to complain about their lost cards. Imagine one call center, where all employees are trained by exnovation managers to follow tried and tested responses and processes; imagine the other call center, where each employee is allowed independence in innovatively deciding how to respond to the calling customer’s lost card issue. Any guesses on which call center would ensure better productivity and customer satisfaction? Clearly, the one practising exnovation. And that, my dear CEOs, is the responsibility of the Exnovation units within an organisation – units staffed with managers and supervisors whose sole job it is to ensure that best practice processes and structures are followed to the tee and not tampered with within the organisation by individuals or teams without a formal mandate. Call them what you may – but any manager responsible for ensuring replication and mirror implementation of any efficient process is an exnovation manager.

 
And it’s a fact that CEOs and companies have thrived practising this management philosophy of exnovation. The last time this $421.85 billion- a-year topline earning company allowed each and every was much before its stock became a market-commodity on NYSE (on October 1, 1970). Till date, its “Save money. Live better” concept is based on standard processes, followed to the hilt and marginally improved over the years, to deliver maximum productivity and efficiencies. What gives this company’s operations the push? Leveraging tested economies of scale (a process that economists have discussed over decades), sourcing materials from lowprice suppliers (simply put – common sense), using a well tested satellitebased IT system for logistics (a technology that was invented in the late 1950s; today, the company’s vehicles make about 120,000 daily trips to and/ or from its 135 distribution centers spread across 38 states in US alone, a count equal to the average number of vehicles that use the Lincoln Tunnel per day in New York City) and smarter financial and inventory management called ‘float’ (the firm pays suppliers in 90 days, but plans its stocks so that it gets sold within 7 days).

The company is #1 on the Fortune list: Walmart (2011; it has occupied the pole position in the Fortune 500 Rankings for the eight time in ten years!). For that matter, recall the last time you heard of an innovation from Walmart. “After I came in as CEO, I looked at the world post-9/11 and realised that over the next 10 or 20 years, there just was not going to be much tailwind. It would be a more global market, it would be more driven by innovation. We have to change the company to become more innovation driven – in order to deal with this environment. It’s the right thing for investors.” Wise words from a wise CEO, spoken in the American summer of 2006, it seems.

This protagonist was appointed the CEO of a large conglomerate on September 7, 2001 [which he refers to as “the company”]. When he took over the mantle, the company having been led by his “strictly process-oriented” predecessor, had grown to become a $415 billion giant (m-cap). So how has his “innovation-driven-change” focus worked for his investors and shareholders [to whom he wanted to do right]? Ten years have gone by, and under him, the company has lost 58% of its value! And while America Inc. has become more profitable in the past decade, this company’s bottomline has actually gone drier by 14.91%. The first thing this innovation-lover of a CEO did when he took over control of this company was increase the company’s R&D budget by a billion dollars more and spend another $100 million in renovation of the company’s New York innovation centre. Well, loving innovation is not wrong. What is wrong is in forgetting that the best innovated products, processes and structures should not be tampered with!

In other words, Geoffrey Immelt forgot exnovation, which his predecessor Jack Welch had mastered. Yes, I’m talking about GE. Immelt, later in an HBR paper titled, “Growth as a process”, confessed, “I knew if I could define a process and set the right metrics, this company could go 100 miles an hour in the right direction. It took time though, to understand growth as a process. If I had worked that wheelshaped ‘execute-for-growth-process’ diagram in 2001, I would have started with it. But in reality, you get these things by wallowing in them a while. Jack was a great teacher in this regard. I would see him wallow in something like Six Sigma.” But this is not to say that Jack Welch was against innovation – in fact, he loved it; but he ensured that not everybody in the organisation was allowed to do that. Immelt’s paper does state that “under Jack Welch, GE’s managers applied their imaginations relentlessly to the task of making work more efficient. Welch created a formidable toolkit and mindset to maintain bottomline discipline.”

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