Innovating Universities in India


One of the pillars of India’s new Innovation Strategy is Education

During a recent trip to India I was struck by the eagerness and willingness to innovate the rigid university sector and university education. The challenge is humbling in such a billion people country. It is sometimes easy to forget that the extremely well-educated and cosmopolitan Indians we typically meet at various places in the world are the products of a handful of extreme elite institutions, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) or their counter parts in Management (IIM). This is the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg of education in India.

The challenge to gradually improve both quality and quantity of education is immense. In fact, one of the five “innovation pillars” of the national Indian innovation strategy 2010-2020 is Human Capital & Tools, which includes higher education. Building on their ancient traditions, including the pioneering universities  Nalanda and Takshshila, the newly revised innovation strategy sets out to rally the collective resources of more than 1 billion people to rapidly improve India  in all aspects of innovations (more about this strategy and the other pillars in another post).

The specific governmental initiatives to boost the quality and quantity of education in India includes the following key actions:

  • Expansion, Excellence, Equity & Access
  • Higher Education Council for  Regulatory Reforms
  • National Mission on Vocational Education
  • More IITs, IIMs, Colleges, Schools  & investments
  • 16 New National Universities & Multidisciplinary Ed
  • 14 New Innovation Universities
  • More students in Maths, Science &PhD
  • Distance learning & Technology in Education
  • Open course ware, Course wise credit, New models
  • Private & Foreign partnerships

When I asked officials where they had been inspired to move ahead they listed the US, UK, Israel and Finland.  Judging from interacting with some of the leaders involved in implementing this program I am convinced these actions will have a tremendously positive effect. The Chinese challenge is of course similar, but with a totally different governance approach.

The featured story of the October-issue of the Asia’s largest magazine on this topic,  Asian Educator, is Education & Innovation. The challenge is summarized on the cover page: Innovation is necessary in the education sector where decade-old methods in curricula and teaching continue to be used. The entire systems needs revamp to meet future challenges. In this issue a number of people – including me – offer their views and suggestion for how to make this happen. The interview is here: Asian Educator Oct 2011 page 26 and Asian Educator Oct 2011 page 27

What about our own backyard? Where is the eagerness and willingness to innovate our university sector and university education?

Or, perhaps you think there is no need..? Dream on.

Danish Design 2020


The future of Danish design is to integrate it with innovation

Design is an important brick in the tricky jig-saw puzzle about how to rejuvenate the Danish economy.

The country is well known for its design traditions, beautifully designed products and its thriving design industry. In the 1990s Denmark was among the first countries in the world to adopt a design policies (=1st generation) but since then other countries have caught-up and even launched design policies emphasizing the dissemination of knowledge on how to use design and how to create better-functioning markets for design services (= 2nd generation policy).  The UK, Netherlands, Korea, Singapore and Finland are just a few examples. If Denmark is to maintain its strong design identity, and if it is to become better at harnessing the innovative capabilities of design, these design policies need to be updated (= 3rd generation policy). An international group of six experts appointed by the government and chaired by me presented to the minister of business and the minister of culture the Vision for Danish design 2020 in June 2010.

Our task was to develop a vision, not a detailed action plan but we did a bit of both. We articulated a vision that we believe is both exciting and realistic and we made a number of suggestions for how to make it happen. I am absolutely delighted this was never a party political matter and that one of the strong players in the new government, the liberal RV party, presented their own design policy ideas already this spring. This means that there is a good chance that our suggestions will be converted into new and changed policies over the next few years.

In short, the we envisioned that in 2020 Denmark is known worldwide as the design society –  a society that, at all levels and in a responsible way, has integrated the use of design to improve the quality of people’s lives, create economic value for businesses, and make the public sector better and more efficient. To quote from our report: “Our vision will be realized the day it is no longer necessary to explain and motivate the value of design or promote its use to Danish companies and public organizations. This is the day when design will have become an interwoven part of the psychological, social, and economic fabric of Danish society. This is the day when design will be as natural to Danes as caring for the environment.

From here we presented the landscape and the roadmap for design as a driver of innovation, design competency development, design research and future branding of Denmark. In this post I will only mention our suggestions regarding design as a driver of innovation since, in my view, this is where the real mind shift is called for. We argued that Danish public-private partnerships simply should use design to develop innovative solutions to societal challenges, especially in areas in which Denmark and Danish companies have advantages such as the green economy and welfare services. The example of the upcoming mega investments in five new hospitals was a frequently used example of where a more intentionally and integrated up-front use of design thinking and approaches could add much value. Specifically, in our vision of using design as a driver of innovation we suggested that:

• A majority of Danish companies use design as an important and integrated driver of innovation to strengthen their productivity and global competitiveness.

• Denmark has a significant number of specialized design firms that offer a wide variety of cutting- edge design products and services to the global market.

• The Danish public sector consistently utilizes design to develop better and more efficient services.

• Denmark remains a country where materials and products are shaped, developed, and produced in innovative ways.

Our many suggestions about this an other issues represent an important step for how Denmark can retain its lead in design (or avoid losing it) by thinking of design as interwoven with innovation and by seriously upgrading its research and education about design. While the rest of the world is busy overtaking each other in innovation and Denmark is slipping in international rankings about innovation. From the perspective of research and higher education the integrated design aspect of Alto University and the new Singapore University of Technology and Design are examples that speak for themselves, which contrasts with some recent developments in Denmark.

The full report is available for downloading from the ministry of business.

Playing seriously


Play is a way to welcome the imagination and cultivate spontaneity.

“Despite good intentions and decades of conceptual progress, strategy is often practised as if circumstances remain reasonably stable. The typical outcome of such practices is well-defined action plans suitable for dealing with the expected, rather than increasing the readiness of individuals, groups and the entire organization to seize fleeting opportunities and avoid emerging problems. When I confront senior executives with these observations and views, few disagree and most say they wish things were different in the way they practise strategy. They also seem to be at loss about how to remedy the situation.”

This is one of the first paragraphs in my 2006 book Thinking from Within. The book was the outcome of a decade of research, consulting and experimentation and my statement a summary of the problem I had experienced, and continue to experience in corporations.

I recently worked with a leadership to of a large multinational corporation and I was struck by how valid my argument from 2006 seems to remain. They were doing the same thing over, and over, and over again, and, for some reason, expecting a different outcome. By the way, this remains one of the best definitions of insanity I know of.

In the late 1990s I was a professor of strategy and general management at IMD in Switzerland and this is where a college of mine, Dr. Bart Victor, and I begun exploring with the notion of breaking the patterns of how strategy was made in organizations.   The idea started out as a way to use LEGO bricks in innovative ways, in fact, it was a way to innovate an executive program at LEGO Company (!) that I was responsible for. In turn, this resulted in a product that Bart and I invented and patented together with them and we labelled it LEGO Serious Play (LSP). Wikipedia has a fair description of that history and an open and growing global LSP community of management and organizational consultants is thriving.

Much research and many publications later I  came to frame strategy making as being prepared to deal effectively and responsibly with the unexpected more than the action plan and the budget we develop to be prepared to deal with the expected. However, this twist calls for more imagination and spontaneity than writing up an action plan. In short, Thinking from Within is a play-like practice that enables people to engage more and different senses to create the conditions for new and different ideas and actions. It is about working more astute for meeting new circumstances in new ways.

LSP is a great product and I am delighted it continues to add value in so many organizations throughout the world. But, the concept is not about LEGO or any other kind of materials. It is about the tremendous power of creative arts methods that engages more of our senses and more of our brain capacity, which is well known in psychology since the time of Carl Jung. This is what I discuss and exemplify in the Thinking from Within book.  This is why any kind of material remain an illustration and not a panacea of this approach to cultivate the imagination and welcome the spontaneity of serious people in serious situations.

As many prospective consultants have experienced the hard way when they passionately put a box with materials on the table, however, the key success factors to this approach are three: (1) great facilitation skills, (2) great facilitation skills and (3) great facilitation skills.

Here is Chapter 1 of Thinking from Within.

One of the first theory articles was published in Long Range Planing: Roos et al. (2004)

Lots of ideas, no money


More capital is needed to seed future innovations in Southern Scandinavia.

The southern part of Sweden acutely needs more innovation capital.  The Malmö-based daily Sydvenska Dagbladet recently published a special report on the situation.  In their report leading figures in the venture capital industry, science parks and in universities send the same message. There are any ideas but limited capital, especially for early-stage seed funding. Specifically, there are limited funding available for new investments since most of the funding committed by private players have already been invested. And the vast majority of venture capital in Sweden is focused on the Stockholm region.

I recently talked with a writer for The Economist, a science professor with affiliations in the US, China and Europe and with several years of experience in Scandinavia. In his view, there are probably a lot of undervalued ideas in that region, simply because it is off the beaten track for big international tech investors, and local investors do not have the technological insight. If may be off the beaten track for large international investors but with only one million people the very southern Scania (Skåne) county of Sweden has already an unusually high concentration of brainpower per capita and new mega investments in science and technology are expected to dramatically increase commercial opportunities. The nexus of this development is Lund, which hosts the oldest university in the country, University of Lund. The municipality of Lund and Scania are governed by a non-socialist coalition for which continued investments in research, development and innovation are at the top of the agenda. For historical and geographical reasons the psychic distance from Lund is closer to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, than to the Swedish capital Stockholm and this has provided many social, economical and political linkages and even a bridge/tunnel across the narrow Oresund strait. But, the risk capital industry in Denmark is less developed than in Sweden and dominated by life science.

With 3.7 million people the larger and bilateral Oresund region makes up 1⁄4 of the GDP in Sweden and Denmark, respectively. It features strong industrial clusters built 
around global corporations like Novo Nordisk, Danisco, AP Möller
 Maersk, Sony Ericsson, Gambro, Tetra Pak and Alfa Laval. The
 region is hosts three strong science universities and a 
handful science parks for commercialising technological development. Still, only a few venture capitalists take a bi-lateral, Oresund perspective, and most of them are already fully invested.

Over the next decade massive new investments in additional and world-class science facilities will attract thousands of additional researchers to the already science-intensive Lund region and this is expected to also boost the commercial opportunities. On the Swedish side a consortium of some 20 countries will fund the joint European, EUR 1.5 billion European Spallation Source (ESS) material science facility outside Lund (see my post about it) to be constructed 2013-2019. The Swedish state is currently constructing the additional EUR 0.5 billion synchrotron radiation facility MAXLAB IV next to the ESS site. Private donations in 2011 are enabling Lund University to convert Astra Zeneca’s previous site into a new EUR 50 million Ideon Life Science Village a research laboratory and business incubator located adjacent to the Ideon science park (see my post about it). Recently, private entrepreneurs announced plans to build a combined SEK 4-5 billion golf, spa and hotel retreat south of Lund, which is to be ready at the same time as the ESS facility.

Overall these unusual and international mega investments into R&D in the Lund region will further increase the general attractiveness to and high concentration of brainpower in the region. Lund is destined to become one of the most dynamic science and incubator hubs in the world over the coming years, especially in life science, cleantech, nanotechnology and materials technology. It should have all real potential to be a hub also on the beaten track of foreign innovation capital.

But capital funds need a certain scale to be meaningful and that is a major barrier of entry. In Sydvenska Dagbladet the head of the Ideon science part in Lund summarizes the situation: “One hundred million (kronor = EUR 11 million) is not enough….” And he suggests that five times that amount is a minimum level to operate such a fund. The problem is that none of the current funds with a south Sweden focus have raised that level of capital.

Somebody should give it a shot.

The family of Indian business


Family-owned business generates a new form of capitalism in India.

Under the heading Adventures in Capitalism the latest issue of The Economist  provides a special report on the dynastic nature of the industry in India, including

”… Ratan Tata, the fifth-generation head of Tata Sons, a conglomerate; Anand Mahindra, the chief executive of the Mahindra group, which was co-founded by his grandfather; and Anil Ambani, who inherited a chunk of the Reliance empire built by his father. The main representatives of first-generation entrepreneurs were Shashi Ruia, who built the Essar group with his brother and who has handed day-to-day management to his son; and Sunil Bharti Mittal, who controls India’s biggest mobile-phone operator, and whose son recently joined the firm after a stint as an investment banker in London.”

The question discussed is what this new kind of capitalism really looks like.  Since this spring I have followed a fast-growing Indian consulting firm called ReedSeer Consulting, which was founded by a handful of exceptionally well-educated Indians with a global outlook. One of their aims is to become the leading consulting form for family-owned businesses in India and they are busy collecting data about the what, how, when and who of family business in the country. While it is well known that most Indians are employed by a huge informal sector the real value added is created in a few conglomerate of which the most well known is the family dominated Tata group. My friends at ReedSeer are doing a great job to gather real data about the many medium-sized companies owned and dominated by family members.

While the findings are not yet presented it is clear that these firms suffer from the same problems family owned firms suffer from elsewhere. The strategy is in the head of the patriarch; the children are not always as capable as their parents, unclear boundaries of what is the family, etc., but what is very clear is that these firms need to update their tool kit for strategy, marketing and supply chain management.

The special report in The Economist is great step for those of us  wanting to understand more of the bigger picture about what makes India tick. What ReedSeers and similar experts help clarify the picture.

The power of irony?


In my last column with Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin as president of CBS in March 2011 I used irony and sarcasm to suggest that the debate about what was needed to get Denmark out of the crisis really missed some fundamental points, at least, when it comes to policies for education, research and innovation.

This was the time when the right-wing party put lots of pressure on the previous government to reduce the inflow of foreign students to the universities and the opposition left-wing group of parties kept talking about higher taxes and all politicians were jockeying for position. In many respects, it was a sad time in Denmark.

In that column I ironically suggest it was time to: (1) Increase taxes, (2) avoid innovating in the universities, (3) protect the local students from foreign influence, (4) ignore the broader regional aspects of Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, (5) prevent so called penta-helix cooperation (state-business-universities-NGO-private individuals), and (6) avoid building on what Danes are really good at (!)

Of course, what I really meant was that this was a great recipe for reducing  attractiveness and competitiveness.

However, a few days after it was published a few people told me they were shocked that I could even make such stupid suggestions…Clearly they did not see the parody, which I find hard to believe. Here it is.

Free us from new ideas and investments

Here is a recipe for how a small country can reduce its attractiveness. Or, perhaps there is a different way of doing it?

Everyone, who follows the public debate, knows that the Danes stand before great societal challenges. One of the challenges is typically called growth; but the way I see it, the problem lies in attraction. The better we are at attracting ideas, talent, inventions and investments, the more jobs and tax revenues can be used to pay for our expensive welfare system and vice versa.

I have a good recipe for doing the exact opposite, namely becoming less attractive and repelling new talent, new ideas and investments.

Here is a recipe for how a little country can reduce its attractiveness.

1. An increased high tax burden is the way forward: Ignore the fact, that the majority of our neighboring countries have gradually lowered the income tax, to motivate people to work more – successfully. Retain all tax levels and taxes, also for small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs. It prevents innovation. Forget everything about what has been going on in Sweden for the last five years – a significant reduction of taxes on work.

2. Avoid innovation in institutions of higher education: It is important to have as much command and control as possible at the universities, both concerning wage, educational content, and what counts as good research. A good mantra is as follows: “If it is not regulated, it is not allowed”. Jeopardize all synergy too, by dividing the ministerial responsibilities in to primary, secondary and tertiary education, and in to industry and employment; and furthermore, let us disregard what Finland has done in 2007 – 2008 and what India is doing right now.

3. Protect the students from foreign influences: If we expose Danish students to new perspectives and ideas from abroad, we risk that they seek out. A rigid “one in, one out”-exchange system is what we need. After all, it is best that the Danish universities keep their students within their protective walls, until they are thirty something. Never do as Singapore has done. It can only go wrong.

4. Ignore the Copenhagen Metropolitan Region: The bridge to Malmö is just a bridge, just as the Fehrmarn tunnel is just another expensive tunnel. Seen in this light one should avoid investing 41 billion Danish Crowns (about 7.6 billion U.S. dollars) in five large hospitals in the Scania/Skåne region across the strait in Sweden. Concurrently, one should ignore the 2 billion Euros invested in ESS, MaxLab 4 and Ideon Life Science Village outside of Lund. It would be foolish to imagine, that Copenhagen Metropolitan Region could be one of the most pulsating regions in Europe over the next 20 to 30 years.

5. Prevent penta-helix cooperation: Avoid that universities, public organizations, NGO’s, investors who are willing to take risks, and private individuals ever meet at the same time and place. It is important not to make political changes that attract individuals who may want to donate money to the universities, or that attract investors who are willing to take risks, to our county.

Once again, I must stress the importance of not coordinating with Sweden. There is a possibility that innovation may become bi-lateral and that must be prevented.

6. Do not continue build on what we are really good at: Remember that governments are not good at even picking relevant problems to solve to strengthen already strong national positions and brands such as food production, design and wind power. Last, but not least, we should not coordinate research funding for these areas and keep separating the agendas of the research councils. Thus, we ensure that all universities spread out thinly and try to everything instead of specializing.

Or is there a different way of doing it..?

(A Danish version of this text was published in Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin 2 March 2011. Translated to English by Caroline Roseberry.)

More life-science, in Lund


In the early part of 2011 I was struck by the difference between the debate and focus in Denmark and in southern Sweden, just across the bridge. Perhaps it had to do with the uncertainty regarding the upcoming Danish election? Perhaps there is a real difference in mentality? At that stage many Danes I met were increasingly annoyed that the Swedish economy was doing much better, and as a Swede holding a leading position in Denmark, I was walking a thin line. However, I could not resist making a point about the difference in debate and highlight the positive development in the science-city of Lund, which was hardly mentioned in Denmark. In previous articles I have mentioned and discussed the mega investments in the ESS science facility in Lund. In this column I discuss the privately enabled Ideon Life Science Village, which is currently being established there. My purpose was to inspire and increase the interest on the Danish side to make more connections with Lund. It hasn’t really happened yet.

Onsdag 02/02/2011. Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin.

Another 1.000 life science-jobs… in Lund

In Sweden a private individual has just donated 100 million Swedish Crowns, to create progress in a science-park in Lund. In Denmark we are leading a passionate debate, discussing whether publicly funded early retirement benefits* should be abolished quickly or slowly.

In Denmark, we are proud of our strong position in the field of life science; which is why it is interesting that the University of Lund, Astra Zeneca and the billionaire Mats Paulson (founder of the construction company Peab) are now founding Ideon Life Science Village. The city will create one thousand new jobs, a power centre for research in life science, and a dynamic environment for entrepreneurship. The intention is clear: Lund wants to attract top researchers from around the globe, expanding companies based in medicine and related sciences, plus people with an interest in creating new companies.

The future is in Lund. The venture is especially interesting since Lund is already in the process of building ESS – the world’s largest neutron microscope – and MaxLab IV, which during the course of a few years will become one of the few power centers in the world within the field of advanced particle physics and materials research and development.

This will contribute about another one thousand resident researchers, plus another three to four thousand who will fly in and out on short or long visits. In this picture, other groups belong as well: aspiring researchers (Ph.D.’s), masters, and bachelor students.

By the way, thousands of researchers have families as well, which calls for good kindergartens, international schools and secondary schools, stores and hospitals. The families need a place to live, they go shopping, they go to the opera and the theatre (perhaps preferably in Tivoli), and they want to watch handball.

We should congratulate Lund, because these projects benefit the entire Copenhagen Metropolitan Region (CMR).The initiative attracts everything a community needs.

But let us look at things in a slightly less rosy perspective.

Differences across the sound: On one side of the sound, nearly all the municipalities have included the options that ESS give in their strategic plans. On the other side of the sound, only a few people know what the abbreviation means.

On one side of the sound, politicians – on a national level and across political boundaries – are ready to make decisions on new infrastructure projects, which bring us even closer together. On the other side, the interest seems to be more lukewarm.

The list could go on, and, with all due respect for national differences, this pattern is not working. There are far more similarities than differences between Sweden and Denmark, and my impression is that we, on the Danish side, do not see the opportunities in what, in my opinion, should be called the Copenhagen Metropolitan Region.

Isn’t it about time we place Scania (Skåne) high on the national agenda for strategic co-operation?

My hope is that the government and the opposition will unite in a “regional effort” to grab hold of the possibilities and challenges of the future, instead of passively letting the development pass us by.

Private donations: On one side of the sound a wealthy private individual has just donated 100 million Swedish Crowns to enable further progress for the existing idea-park for research and entrepreneurship. On the other side of the sound, we are leading a passionate debate, discussing whether the publicly funded early retirement benefits* should be abolished quickly or slowly.

I am also convinced that private individuals want to make more donations. As Mats Paulson commented on TV that same night, the deal was clear: “You can’t take the money with you, when you go…”. The legacy, which he is now creating, will last for generations.


* Early retirement benefits – The Danish term “efterløn” refers to publicly funded pension benefits payable five years before normal retirement.