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BW Businessworld

Analysis: Ignite The Genius Within

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Muruganantham had no education,  no wealth, no comfort, no safety, nothing, yet he is able to spin a web of wonder and bring excellent personal hygiene for women... how?’

And  why not? If curiosity is whetted and nurtured, it does drive innovation. But then most of us are curious about something or the other yet we are not compelled to pursue answers. Curiosity needs conviction combined with zeal or passion, to produce success. And passion is not the prerogative of the educated or well off alone! Each one of us harbours a passion sometimes openly and many times secretly. The leaders in any field whether it is the art, science, sports, politics or business invariably are there because they pursued their passion instead of letting it die within. Muruga too harboured a burning desire to create a solution, which could effectively address the female hygiene issue that he saw around him.

How do you identify where your interest lies or what you are passionate about? That is the challenge that most of us face. The path of discovering your passion is dotted with unpredictability. Your varied experiences and exposure - both pleasant and unpleasant, are what eventually lead you to the right path.

In a structured society or a corporate work environment, there is a huge premium placed on certainty: parents want to know what kind of a life their children would lead, schools want to be sure that they are producing kids for the right colleges, students want to know what their start salaries are going to be, Wall Street wants to know ­­­— to the second decimal — how much the company would make next quarter; investors want to know where the project is headed or they are ready to pull the plug.

But wherever and whenever we have been willing to let go of this strong desire to “fix” the future, unbelievable innovations have happened. Remember Google’s 20 per cent time and well before that 3M’s 15 per cent time, when employees could work on their pet projects? 3M’s corporate brochure proclaims that allowing its employees to tinker around for part of their time has resulted in Scotch Brand Tapes, Post-it Notes, Scotchgard Fabric Protector, automobile window treatment films, multilayer optical films and silicon adhesive systems for transdermal drug delivery. Google’s experience is equally spectacular with Gmail, Google News; Google’s auto complete system and AdSense, all coming from the unstructured time. People left loose to pursue their interests often do wonders! Muruga is a standing proof of this doctrine. Unfettered thinking produces innovation even in the absence of education and capital.

Muruga is likely just one of million Indians with a bee in the bonnet. If many do nothing about such bees, it is because they have been led to believe that they cannot succeed unless they arm themselves with the right education from brand name schools and the right professional network that will open doors and access to capital. I would argue that these eventually make us risk averse, as we get more and more comfortable in our cocooned world. Muruga did not have any of the necessary external tools. All he had was ideas from within his mind. He had no great expectations to meet. He turned this adversity to his advantage by giving his ideas a free rein; By taking the risks that “better off” folks find hard to take.

Did the product come first or the willing consumer? Transformational innovations like Muruga‘s do not succeed unless there is a change in the mind set of people on how they see the problem. Deep-rooted habits do not die easily. And this is where the intensity of his passion carried the day. Muruga was able to make women see the folly of their unhygienic ways. He was able to get the attention of women because he was drawing their attention to their health - something nobody had done until then. He also empowered them by enabling women to produce and sell at low margins using his machine. Muruga had co-opted the women folk to lift up their lot by themselves. Muruga finally succeeded when many others who had tried their hand in the same market never made it because they never focused on changing the poor women’s thinking. True leadership is all about changing the way people think.  

The writer is CEO of AnuPartha, a global executive search firm focused on transformational leaders. Follow her @anupartha

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 25-08-2014)