Bangalore has a hot startup vibe. Its all over the media and it’s THE major topic at lunch and dinner. Right now, the startup movement is dominated by engineers who focus on digital technology and copying successful Western platforms. After all, that’s how China is succeeding, right?
Well, not really. The great success of Alibaba and Tencent in China lies in their using a Western platform to provide CHINESE products that have deep meaning in Chinese culture. For example, Chinese people give red envelops full of money to each other on birthdays, holidays and all ceremonial events. The online players created digital red envelops that allow people to continue their ritual ceremony but on an easier, faster online platform.
That is what Indian startups need to learn to do. Indian engineers need to pivot away from a focus only on technology to a focus on Indian culture. They need to mine for what is meaningful to their customers. Amazon is doing well in India delivering quality goods quickly and cheaply. Local champion Flipkart is going head to head with Amazon. It might gain market share if it fully used its strongest asset. As an Indian company, it has deep knowledge and understanding of Indian cultures. If Flipkart focussed on delivering what Indians really want–what they really dream for–it could blow away Amazon.
How can Indian startup engineers learn how to be empathetic and how to learn what is meaningful to people? Start by teaming up with designers, like the people at Spread in Bangalore. The design process begins with understanding the user. Designers know how to create a great consumer experience. They know how to design a user’s engagement with the product or service. So engineers need to team up with designers.
And engineers could learn design thinking themselves. Design thinking means thinking like a designer. Design thinking is not simply the Six Sigma of Design–a rigid process that, if followed exactly, delivers innovation. This rigid interpretation of Design Thinking will not give you disruptive innovation. Thinking like a designer means having an open mindset to understanding what your users actually desire and crafting a product or service that is both unexpected and delightful to use. With that comes great value. And a good chance of your startup becoming a unicorn.
Oh yes, Indian engineers can do one more thing to help them increase their chances at launching a successful startup. My book, Creative Intelligence, is published in India. They should buy it and learn how to increase their creative capacities–and learn to think like a designer.
I’m in Bangalore speaking about design thinking, creativity and startups in India. The whole country is tuning into Prime Minister Modi talking with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley about–startups and Startup India.
I’ve been doing workshops with Spread, an amazing Indian design and innovation firm headed by Sonia Manchanda, training people to raise their creative capacities. The Spread folks are amazing and they had groups of people getting into Personas, connecting dots of behaviors and values to come up with fresh new business models. All in the space of an hour and all with great fun (each teach had to come on stage and play out how people would use their new product–my favorite was the “diggie dog” collar that enabled doggies to communicate with their owners but a close second was CHARGE, a female Uber-type car service by women–who drive Teslas–for women). The thing is, people walked in believing THEY weren’t creative and Spread showed them that they really were.
As for me, I talked about the Five Creative Competences of my book, Creative Intelligence–Mining for Meaning, Reframing, Serious Play, Making and Scaling. Getting into Personas allows them to understand what is meaningful to people. This is one big message that the Indian engineers of Startup India have to understand. Digital tech alone won’t get you a successful, profitable startup. You have to first mine for what is meaningful to people, then apply your technology to satisfy that aspiration, that dream.