Innovation : A review

Anand Laishram
Anyone who has been paying attention to the news, especially business news, or tech news, whether in the form of newspapers or online articles or videos etc., will have heard the term “innovation” being used quite frequently.
Even if one is not really an innovation manager or an academic studying innovation, even if one is just a casual consumer of news, they are likely to have a few common ideas about what innovation is or what the term connotes.
Commonly, innovation is associated with novelty, with imaginative new products/ trends that draw everyone’s attention, that could turn entire industries upside down, the innovative iPhone that unleashed the smartphone revolution and brought the computing power of a supercomputer into a device that fits into one’s pocket.
Innovation conjures mental images of scientists working in sophisticated labs or engineers working with sophisticated machines, developing something never seen before. Innovation makes people think of the lone genius, working away quietly in a lab or a garage, who finally comes up with something totally new and possibly revolutionary.
The idea of innovation can inspire people, especially young students, who may want to create an impact or develop that revolutionary drug or come up with the next Google (Alphabet) or Facebook (Meta).
The same idea can also intimidate people, and can seem like a distant dream, especially for those from the emerging parts of the world.
This article is an attempt to clarify the concept of innovation, what it really means, how it can be achieved. It will also attempt to dispel some of the myths surrounding the concept.
This article is for everyone in Manipur who is running a business or wants to run a business. It is for the students who want to study business or go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathe- matics). It is for those who want to see Manipur do better, economically and otherwise, because innovation and economic develop- ment are strongly correlated.
Therefore, let’s start by understanding what the concept means. And to do that, we need to consider another related, but different concept, that being “invention.”
Invention is what most people seem to conflate innovation with. Invention refers to the creation of a new technology or a new scientific process or principle.
Innovation, on the other hand, refers to the successful commercialization of that new technology/scientific process/principle. This can take place through the development of a new product that solves certain problems for consumers, or a new production process that allows existing products to be made in a more efficient manner, thereby allowing more people to buy and access those products.
Innovation can also take the form of new business models/new ways of doing business, enabled by new technologies.
An example would be Uber. Taxis and taxi service companies existed before Uber arrived. But new technologies and the widespread use of smartphones, allowed a new way of doing business, wherein people could take a ride in a car owned by another person (not necessarily a full-time professional taxi driver) through the use of an app on their smartphone. Passengers could get a taxi ride at drastically lower prices while owners could put their cars to productive use.  Uber, the company, became the largest provider of taxi services in the world, in a very short period, without the need to buy and own fleets upon fleets of cars.
Or Airbnb, which became the largest hospitality service company in the world, not by building hotels and making them available to customers, but by leveraging new technologies and taking advantage of the ubiquity of smartphones, to instead allow customers to stay in empty rooms in other people’s houses.
Innovation can be radical, meaning a new development that is a massive change compared to what existed before. For example, the first Apple iPhone was a drastic shift away from all the phones that came before.
Innovation can also be incremental. For example, each new generation of the iPhone compared to the existing one.
In terms of economic returns, incremental innova- tions are just as, if not more, important than the radical innovations that dominate headlines and draw massive media coverage.
However, innovation doesn’t always have to be new to the world. It can also be new to the company or new to the local economy.
And therein lies the key lesson for the readers in Manipur.
Innovation doesn’t have to be only of the new-to-the-world type that can only be achieved in places like the Silicon Valley.
Innovation can also be in the local context, through the development of products that weren’t available before in the local market or the use of new machines/technologies/ processes that weren’t used before.
Why is that important?
Innovation, or more precisely, technical change, accounts for a major percentage of productivity growth, seen in the world, since the first Industrial Revolution. This was demonstrated by the Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow.
Innovation of the product type can help businesses solve the problems faced by the people of Manipur more satisfactorily. By developing products/processes that are more customised to the requirements of the people in Manipur.
Innovation of the process type can help businesses make their offerings more affordable and accessible for the customers in Manipur.
Innovation of the business model type, can help businesses solve problems for customers in new ways, based on the opportunities & constraints available in Manipur. An example would be the clever use of WhatsApp messaging and Google Maps by restaurants to serve customers directly.
We need businesses to be more innovative if we are to keep growing. The world is changing rapidly, at speeds even humans can’t keep up with today.
Manipuri businesses need to keep up or risk falling behind. Manipur produces a significant number of STEM students, has many people working in tech companies or doing cutting edge research. Manipur has promising enterprises and ambitious entrepreneurs.
If we adopt the mindset and culture of innovation, of coming up with new products to solve problems in unique ways or solve problems never solved before, if we adopt newer practices & newer technologies, invest in more advanced machines/ equipment, if we develop new business models that will allow meeting the needs of customers in better ways, faster, more affordable, simpler, more accessible etc. and if we keep this going, we will keep growing as a State. Today we contribute a tiny percentage to India’s GDP, but we have the tools and the people to grow a lot more.