Innovation toolkit? Yes that is what Rekha Shetty comes up with in her latest book that deconstructs corporate governance and success. Divya Kumar speaks to the author
Rekha Shetty’s seventh book, Innovation Secrets of Indian CEOs will be launched in the city on Friday. She has two more books ready to be published. And yet another — titled Happy Street — that she’s “already finished writing.”
Super productive? You bet. The Chennai-based author has spent nearly 20 years as an innovation consultant for corporates, and she believes in spreading the message about the importance of innovation and creativity, and of creating a happy, positive ‘field’ in companies and in life in general.
“I want to make innovation concepts easily accessible in bite-sized pieces for the general public,” says Shetty over coffee. Her work is largely inspired by that of the late George M. Prince, a pioneer in the field of creativity and invention. “Prince’s work is based on creating a positive space, because spontaneity comes when you’re pleased with your life,” she says. “Innovation is painful; you have to cut across, even destroy existing systems. If your company isn’t a happy place, you’ll be less likely to stick your neck out to innovate.”
The concept of ‘happiness’ features as strongly as ‘innovation’ in her previous books — The Happiness Quotient, Innovate Happily, and more. Shetty stumbled upon this area of study quite by accident in the 80s, when she was briefly enrolled as a PhD student at IIT-M (she completed her doctorate later from Madras University). She chose creativity and innovation as the subject of her term paper for her Organisational Behaviour class, and discovered the work of Prince — she was hooked. Working at United Insurance and Apollo Hospitals in the 80s and early 90s, she began to conduct her own half-day creativity ‘laboratories’ applying the principles she’d studied.
Meanwhile, in her typical go-getting style, she got in touch with Prince, and was invited first to visit his company Synectics’ headquarters in Boston, and later to its branch in the U.K., where she spent some time watching his consultants work with blue-chip companies. Back in Chennai, she was part of a Saturday CEO club of sorts, meeting with six or seven mid-level CEOs every week to discuss innovation strategies and problem solving.
By 1993, she was convinced that innovation was the key to recreating companies. And so the idea of founding Farstar, her innovation consulting firm, was born. Her husband and she quit their jobs, even though her sons were still in college. “People had a good laugh,” she says. “My father said, ‘no one will pay for this!’ and my husband said, ‘we’ll try it for a year’.”
It’s now been 20 years, and Shetty says she can’t think of herself doing anything else. But those initial years were tough. “They talk to the ‘dark night of the innovator’; well, you also have the ‘dark night of the innovation consultant’!” she laughs.
Her breakthrough came, she says, when she came up with the idea of the ‘innovation toolkit’, 47 thinking ‘tools’ or techniques that could guarantee innovation in a company. Isn’t the idea of ‘guaranteed creativity’ counterintuitive? “No,’ she says emphatically, “that is the mistake people make. Unless innovation is available on demand, it’s of no use to companies or countries. Brainstorming and generating one idea once in a while isn’t enough.”
Today, her toolkit has been streamlined into ‘Innovation Initiative’ programmes for corporates, which attempt to reach everyone from the chairman to the last person on the shop floor. “Otherwise just a couple of people at the top generate ideas and everyone else has to follow. I want to try to turn spectators into participants. Imagine 1,000 people fired up with enthusiasm.” In her personal life too, she applies the same principles — try new things, spread positivity (she’s turning her street in Anna Nagar into a ‘hub of happiness’, hence her upcoming book Happy Street), and always, always come up with new solutions.