“The Best Failed Idea”–A Lesson From Ratan Tata’s Internal Contest at Tata Group

Ratan Tata has started an annual contest in Tata Group that will reward the best failed idea in the company. Given that Ratan Tata is nearing his term as chairman of Tata Group, his aim is to foster frugal innovation in the company and the “Best Failed Idea” contest is a step towards that.

“To spark innovation, the prize is intended to communicate how important trying and failing can be” [source]

“Even if the Nano proves disappointing, frugal innovation looks promising overall. Tata Motors is making small trucks that are replacing three-wheelers. TCS has co-produced a cheap water filter, the Swach, using ingredients such as rice husks. Tata Steel has made a prototype of a $500 house that can be bought in a shop. The hotel company is building $20-a-night billets for India’s army of commercial travellers.” [source]

In essence, rewarding failure and building a culture of try-frugally-and-fail-fast is the motto behind this contest.

Tata Pixel–The Next Generation “Zero Turn” Car
Tata Pixel–The Next Generation “Zero Turn” Car

Move beyond those AC offices and come closer to animal sheds of startup farms and you will still see a lot of startup founders not promoting the culture of ‘frugal innovation’ in the company. In fact, many entrepreneurs tend to go slow on the experimentation part and do not empower employees to experiment on their own (though publicly they love to talk about innovation culture).

Some of the startups I know have faced exodus in the last few months, owing to founder being passionately obstinate (a.k.a. arrogant) about the idea and has stopped listening to suggestions from others. This inhibits employees to not question founder’s blinded focus and a smart employee worth his curiosity eventually quits (read: The Curious Employee & Seeds of Innovation).

Being passionate is different from being obsessed (i.e. not open to suggestions) and that’s where involving employees play an important role. Companies like Tata Group need to foster innovation in order to stay competitive, but as far as startups are concerned, they don’t have much of a choice.The option of frugal innovation, led by smart employees is the only leverage startups have and should be exploited to the max.

The question is how many entrepreneurs enjoy being questioned? How do you control how much to let go of?

What’s your take?

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