In Conversation with Innovation Evangelist: Pavan Soni

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Pavan Soni, an Innovation Evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion, has consulted with various industry giants on innovation and creativity. Pavan started his career being funneled into an engineering degree from MBM, Jodhpur followed by an MBA in Industrial Engineering from NITIE, Mumbai. However, he was to break out of the tired Indian trope of Engineering+MBA leading to a cushy 7-figure job.

The watershed moment was during his 6-month internship at Titan, where he was first introduced to the concept and ideals of Innovation Management.

“Like most things in life, this happened by accident”

says Pavan. What started as a passing interest born out idle intrigue, soon materialized as a feasible career opportunity with widespread industry application for Pavan.

This epiphany paved the path to the next milestone in his career, as a role at Wipro, where Pavan as responsible for Creativity, Innovation and Internet Marketing for the giant. For 6 years Pavan honed business processes there with his unique approach to using ideas of innovation management for solving everyday problems, otherwise solved using conventional frameworks.

Post this, he decided to go above and beyond with innovation management. After Wipro, Pavan was inducted into the Ph.D. program of IIM Bangalore with a focus on innovation management, a program so prestigious, that it’s rolling barely crosses the single figure mark every year.

After having gained mastery in the still nascent and largely unheard of the domain, Pavan is now an innovation consultant looking to grow businesses with his unique set of skills.

The terms commonplace usage in the abstract does nothing to deter this innovation management professional from its industrial impact and it’s tangible application to everyday business practices.

Jumping right into our conversation with Pavan

Hi Pavan, pardon me for asking this of you. But for the benefit of everyone reading and myself included, can you tell us what exactly you mean when you say “Innovation Management”? With its abstract usage being such a commonplace phenomenon, we’d like to get your perspective on it?

Pavan: Hi! That’s completely fine. I believe, to most,

“Innovation Management is an oxymoron”

They believe that while productivity, quality, HR and other such fields can be managed, Innovation is something that remains deceptive. To understand what Innovation Management means, you first need to understand what Innovation in itself stands for.

“Innovation is the process of taking a new idea to commercialization”

The concept of innovation is agnostic to the origin of the idea in itself and it’s execution. Innovation is all pervasive.

That’s a good starting point, Pavan. You talk about Innovation as if it’s a process? Is there a kind of hierarchical structure to the thing, as is imposed on the other management fields you mentioned, quality, productivity, and HR?

Pavan: Yes, most definitely! Its commonplace usage in the abstract doesn’t serve to dilute the structure of innovation. Talking about the structure, there are two core functions to Managing Innovation. The Core Functions and The Support Functions.

Core Functions comprise of
Idea generation
Filtering Ideas
Formulating Risk and Return profiles of every Idea
Execution of validated Ideas
Feedback on the Ideas
Iterating and Improving on the projects

Support Functions comprise of
Human Capability Development
Competence Development
Financial Analysis
Go-to-Market Functions

What I am trying to advocate is that you need to ensure that this is a very high level of mechanism that

“Adds Method To This Madness”

Only then will firms be able to manage Innovation in a systematic manner.

Are these some of the principles that you picked up during your Ph.D.?

Pavan: No, this formed the crux of my job at Wipro.

Alright then, could you give us an overview of your Ph.D. then? It’s highly unconventional, isn’t it?

Pavan: Yes, it sure is. To give you a quick lowdown on my Ph.D. It was about how firms operating out of emerging economies build innovation capabilities. Consequently, my research was based on Innovation Capability Creation. Under the purview of my Ph.D., I studied a bunch of Indian firms, product innovations, the role of leadership and routine formation. This is broadly what we dealt with during my Ph.D.

Hmmm. Moving on, an aspect I found very interesting was the fact that you chose to pursue a PhD., a research-based degree from an IIM, a school renowned for its students business acumen. Essentially, how did it feel to be an academic in a business school?

Pavan: That’s a great question. My choice of school was largely out of what I wanted to do with my life. However the school might posture its students, it’s unfair to compare the two. The outcome of a Ph.D. program is a life of research and academia. Whereas, the outcome of a Business Management program is, more often than not, a career in Management Consulting, Finance or Marketing. Not to mention the difference in intake of students of the two programs.

400 for the PGDM against a meagre 1–2 for the PhD

In my case, I was reasonably sure of my interest in the domain.

“I was not running away from the corporate mundane, my intense passion led me down this path.”

Phew, that’s something! What would you say is your biggest gain out of the Ph.D. program?

Pavan: There are 3 things that come to mind, on my reasons for taking the program up in the first place and how it helped me out.

Vocabulary: I got hold of a decent number of management constructs, economics, sociology and psychology. I am not claiming knowledge of the same, more, I am aware of their existence and what they stand for, than having a in-depth of their fields.

Network: Over the last 5 years spent on campus, I have met people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. A network, that I am now able to leverage.

Legitimacy: Legitimacy is critical when it comes to dealing in nascent sectors, companies and economies. There is a lot of ambiguity in such cases. Hence, having the backing of the IIM Brand and a PhD. on top of it brings much needed legitimacy. With your legitimacy untarnished, people will be much more sincere in their interactions with you.

That offers some great insights, Pavan, thank you. With a steady influx of startups sprouting up every day, what view do you take on innovation on startups?

Pavan: I fail to see startups as the Pioneers of Innovation. Now hold your horses there, before you bring out the fire and brimstone. What I mean to say is, that it doesn’t take innovation to start a new business.

Entrepreneurs optimize, tweak and in some cases, downright plagiarize existing business models to sprout a company under the guise of the new business. Take the number of startups or new companies coming up in Bangalore for instance. You will notice throngs of such enterprises in every space to look at, from food-tech to healthcare. But only a few survive and that is where innovation finds its place.

“It doesn’t take innovation to start a company. Innovation means survival. It means making profits and scaling companies from the ground up. That is true phase where innovation blossoms”

And thus you end up becoming unique, someone who is difficult to copy, and thus always remaining a moving target.

Pavan currently serves as an Innovation Consultant to firms looking to weave innovation into their business processes.

If you want to regaled by Pavan on what a day in his life entails or to map out a career trajectory along his lines, you can get on a TapChief Call with him here → view profile.