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Nanovation: How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold

Nanovation: How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold

by Kevin Freiberg

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Do you have the eyes, the ears, and the hands to be a Nanovator? You're about to find out.

In India, entire families?too poor to afford a car?crowd onto a single motor scooter every day to brave the tangled traffic lurching through the streets. One evening Tata Motor's venerable chairman Ratan Tata witnessed something on those rain-soaked streets


Do you have the eyes, the ears, and the hands to be a Nanovator? You're about to find out.

In India, entire families?too poor to afford a car?crowd onto a single motor scooter every day to brave the tangled traffic lurching through the streets. One evening Tata Motor's venerable chairman Ratan Tata witnessed something on those rain-soaked streets that both horrified him and birthed a dream: an overloaded scooter lost traction in a busy intersection and sent several members of the family tumbling across the pavement. In that moment Nanovation took root in Tata's imagination.

The very idea was supposed to be impossible. A safe and appealing family car for the price of a motor scooter? The experts dismissed it. But Ratan Tata was undeterred. When budget constraints, design restrictions, the rising costs of materials, and political agitation threatened to derail the project, Team Nano pressed on. This is the story of how, in the face of insurmountable odds, Tata Motors created one of the greatest innovations in the auto industry since Model-T.

Nanovation has disrupted an entire industry and changed the game for India forever. Imagine what it can do for your business. Is your company changing the way society functions?

What's your Nanovative idea? It's time to get moving!

Warning! Don't read this book unless you are ready to challenge management dogma, taken-for-granted assumptions, and outdated systems by asking "what if?" and "why not?" to some of your industry's toughest questions.

But, if you're ready to revolutionize the products you make, the processes you use, and the companies you build, pull up a seat at the drafting table with the creators of the Nano, the most important car to roll off the assembly line in decades. Discover the thinking that bred their ingenuity and the leadership that encouraged them to overcome adversity, to take risks despite their fear of failure, and to innovate beyond their customer's wildest expectations.


"If you're interested in stoking the fires of innovation and making a profit while making a difference, Nanovation is a must read." ?Indra K. Nooyi, chairman and CEO, PepsiCo

"The Freiberg's deep dive into a company that transformed an entire industry is loaded with hands-on-advice- and a warning not to downsize your dreams!"- Gary Kelly, chairman, president and CEO, Southwest Airlines

"Nanovation is for leaders who want to leave a lasting legacy in the world." ?Chris Connor, chairman and CEO, Shermin-Williams Company

"Read Nanovation and learn what you can do to create an innovative culture in your organization." ?Ken Blanchard, co-author One Minute Manager, Full Steam Ahead, and Lead with LUV

"Nanovation is a must read for any leader." ?Eric Danziger, CEO, Wyndham Hotel Group

"Nanovation is for leaders who want to shake it up." ?Bruce Bochy, manager, 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants

"Vibrant and energetic, the passion of the authors reflects that of the innovators it chronicles...A practical guide for creating a radical culture of innovation." ?N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder-chairman and chief mentor, Infosys Ltd.

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How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold
By Kevin Freiberg Jackie Freiberg Dain Dunston

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2011 Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg and Dain Dunston
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-443-7

Chapter One

Nanovation Begins with Noticing

Apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today. MARK TWAIN

Let's set the scene with a look at life (and death) on the roads of India. If you want the ultimate definition of pandemonium, you'll find it in the words Indian traffic. Traveling in India is not for the faint of heart. No wimps, no whiners.

Particularly in the cities, traffic can be more than heavy—it can be nuts! Signs over the streets beg drivers to stay in their lanes (Lane Driving Is Sane Driving!), but no one pays attention. Pedestrians and bicycles are everywhere.

Open-sided autorickshaws—three-wheel scooters that serve either as taxis or as delivery trucks—belch smoke and fumes as they inch forward like a sea of black-and-yellow beetles clawing for forward progress. Two-wheel scooters weave through the traffic carrying families or delivering lunch or anything else you can imagine. A camel pulls a flatbed wagon. A sacred white Brahma bull stops in the middle of an intersection to take it all in.

Amid the chaos, horns blare. Honking is acceptable and encouraged. In fact, many overloaded trucks paint "horn please" on the back of their vehicles because they cannot see you passing on either side. It's one near miss after another in a dangerous sea of coordinated disorder that generally follows the laws of hydrodynamics. And in many places, all of this happens with toddlers and young children playing—literally—just inches away from all the mayhem.

India has been working hard to build its infrastructure, strangled by decades of neglect, yet most roads are in rough shape. To say that they are congested is a major understatement. Traffic in the cities frequently comes to a standstill, and traffic on the highways often slows to fifteen or twenty miles per hour. And fortunately they're not going any faster.

India's minister of Road Transport and Highways, Kamal Nath, recognizes the severity of this problem. In his keynote address at the annual convention of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers in 2009 he said, "We had the decade of IT in India. We must make this the decade of infrastructure. You build the vehicles; I will build the roads."

In the present decade, India will make a quantum leap from building one to ten miles of new roads per day using the best technology and latest methods from around the globe.

Against this backdrop, imagine riding a scooter in the rain. In India, when the rains hit, all the oil and grease accumulated from the dry season is flushed to the surface of the road, making driving conditions treacherous. It's not a good time to be driving, and it's an even worse time to be on a scooter or motorbike. It's uncomfortable. Undignified. And dangerous.

And that's where our story begins.


In Bangalore during the monsoons of 2002, it has been raining all day, making it hard to get on with your life. The rain subsides for the moment; you stick your head out the window and ask yourself, Can we make it? You decide to go for it, so you push the family scooter to the street and climb on—mother and father, with one child clutched between the two of you, and one child standing between your legs.

Like most of your friends, you are among millions of young, educated Indian families making do with what you can afford. You are doing better than any generation of Indians before you, working hard to give your children a better life. As you pull into traffic, everybody hangs on. Since most of the traffic in India is open vehicles—two-wheel and three-wheel scooters—people tend to wait for a rainstorm to end if they can. Frequently that just isn't possible. So you ride next to many who have obviously been drenched by the rain. They are wet, their passengers are wet, it's hard to see, the streets are congested, and the traffic is loud. It's no fun to ride a scooter in pouring rain. And it's not much more fun to ride it right after the rain, when cars and trucks splash through puddles and the spray from their tires hits you in the face.


You approach an intersection where you need to make a turn. You see up ahead that traffic has opened and people are increasing their speed. If you can just thread the needle and get by the Mercedes immediately in front of you, this narrow window might allow you to make it to your meeting before the rain starts again.

Suddenly your back wheel slides. Panic strikes, and a surge of adrenaline floods your veins. Your worst nightmare is unfolding right before your eyes.

You lose control, and the scooter goes down. No helmets. No leather. No protection.

You've seen this happen before but never thought it would happen to you. This time no one is seriously injured. As you collect your shaken family, you are incredibly thankful, yet ever more hopeful. The incident has intensified your dream of owning a safe, more dignified form of transportation, one that will get your family out of the rain.

This is not a hypothetical family. They are very real and so was their crash.

Now, consider the story through the eyes of Ratan Naval Tata, the chairman of the Tata Group. On this same dark and dreary afternoon, Ratan steps into his car, knowing how dangerous the roads will be. But he has no way of knowing the magnitude of what is about to unfold.

"Please drive carefully," he tells the driver. "The roads will be slippery." The driver nods as he pulls away from the curb. A few minutes later, as Mr. Tata's car approaches an intersection, the family on the scooter passes it.

"I think that's when the whole thing started in my mind," Ratan told us, "looking at what is now a pretty familiar sight in India, an entire family traveling on a scooter with three or four family members." He points them out to his driver. "Watch those people. In this rain, they could slip."

His driver responds.

"Be careful; slow down," Mr. Tata says again as they enter an intersection behind the scooter.

And then it happens. "I had no sooner said the words when he lost control and went slipping down on the pavement, the scooter sliding one way and the family members tumbling in all directions."

As he steps from his car to help, Mr. Tata knows it could have been much worse: "If we had been going faster, there would have been no way to keep from running over them. The family was all over the road and could have been under the car. I thought, This is really bad. And I thought, Now add nighttime to this. Add a little speed. Add a little bit of lack of control, and you have a really dangerous mode of transport."

They offered what help they could and then got back in the car and drove on. As they did, Ratan Tata knew he'd just been given a wake-up call that something had to be done.

Someone had to ask, "What if?"


"Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind." Louis Pasteur

Most people would leave the scene of the accident feeling sad and sorry, but few would be in a position to take meaningful action. As Louis Pasteur said, speaking of his ability to recognize patterns and connections that other scientists missed, when, by long thought and study, your mind is prepared to see opportunity, you're more likely to have a breakthrough.

And this was not the first time Ratan Tata had thought about how to get Indian families off scooters and into something safer. In fact, he'd mentioned it in speeches and talked about it with his peers. As chairman of the Tata Group, which owns and manages Tata Motors, he had a car company at his command. He had the means and opportunity to act, and now, his heart pumping from the excitement, he had a motive.

Immediately his mind went to work. He couldn't shut the idea down; it played again and again in his head.

What if we could give these people something safer that they could afford? he asked himself. What if we made a four-wheel scooter that was more stable? That could be enclosed? That could offer protection from the rain and from accidents?

"Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often." Mark Twain

Ratan Tata was raised from an early age to consider the needs of others. He'd spent a great deal of time throughout his career thinking about how he and the companies he leads could improve the lives of employees, customers, and India's poor. In addition to his responsibilities as chairman of the Tata Group, he is the chairman of two major charitable organizations. So on that rainy evening, his mind was prepared to see opportunities and to connect seemingly unrelated bits of information into the beginning of an idea.

On that rainy afternoon, Ratan Tata conceived a big dream in the service of a noble cause: he would find a way to put safe transportation within the reach of India's emerging millions. But while the Nano was conceived in that moment, it was a long way from taking shape. It would take nearly seven years before the keys to the first Nano were handed over to the first thrilled customer.


Every creative insight, every burst of ingenuity begins with seeing or, more powerfully, experiencing a problem or opportunity that is meaningful to someone else. The pilot light of Nanovation was lit when Ratan Tata saw an invitation to make the world a better place, to build a business by serving others, and he responded.

There's a lesson here for would-be Nanovators. Pick up any newspaper, watch any news program, or just look around and you will see how many significant problems are out there calling for a creative solution. Nanovators are astute observers of people's wants and needs. They pay attention to how trends affect people and shape their lives.

Nanovation Begins with Noticing

As he drove away from the scene of the accident, Mr. Tata began to think about the enormity of the problem.

Each year in India, more than ten million people are injured in road accidents, and more than 125,000 die. India has a mortality rate approaching one hundred road deaths per million, nearly twice the rate in Europe. There is a number of reasons for this disparity, but the most important is that so many more people travel on scooters and other non-enclosed vehicles. In 2008, forty-five million two-wheel motor vehicles were registered on the road in India. There were six million cars. Can you see the potential for serious injuries and fatalities here?

As Ratan Tata saw, accidents don't just wreck vehicles; they wreck families. They hurt the nation.

"For six and seven months, whenever I got bored in meetings, I doodled, trying to figure out how we could make a scooter a safer form of transport. I thought about structural members going over the passengers so that if it fell, the people could stay in. I looked at perhaps having two wheels next to each other in the back that could give it some stability." But Ratan Tata's thoughts gravitated toward this question: Can we do a really basic car?

There were several reasons for this.

First, in India, as in all countries, you're safer inside a car than you are on two wheels. Two-wheelers, while lots of fun to ride, are inherently less stable. A motorcycle or scooter is more likely to get into an accident than a car or truck. In a million vehicle miles the number of motorcycle accidents is 7.7, compared to 4.2 accidents in passenger cars. So two-wheelers are nearly twice as likely to be in an accident as four-wheelers. As motorcycle riders will tell you, there are only two types of riders: those who have crashed their bikes and those who are going to crash.

Second, a person involved in a motorcycle accident is much more likely to be injured or killed than a passenger in an automobile. Again, the statistics bear this out: per million miles, there are 6.3 injuries on two-wheelers versus 1.2 in cars. If you ride a two-wheeler, you're more than five times more likely to be hurt. Now put a family of four or five on wheels designed for two people, and the injuries—and deaths—multiply quickly.

Third, Mr. Tata realized there was a question of dignity. Tata Motors had already seen this in its investigation of the needs of rural farm and business owners, who told designers they would choose a four-wheel truck over a three-wheeler because it would increase their status in the village. In many countries, people ride a motorcycle or a scooter for fun. It's a leisure activity. It's a lifestyle statement. In India and many other countries in Asia and Africa, it's a lifestyle statement, too. It denotes being at the bottom of the pyramid. Riding a two-wheeler tells the world you can't afford anything better.

So even if you found a way—with a roll cage, for instance—to make a two-wheeler safer, you're still faced with the question of dignity.

And fourth, there's the matter of comfort. It's hard to have much dignity when you're riding a scooter in a rainstorm. When your hair is dripping down your face and your clothes are soaking wet—or worse, mud-splattered and ruined—it's hard to feel pride. Can you imagine trying to concentrate at work? And you can forget about that job interview you were heading to.

Dignity matters.

Dignity matters, and Ratan Tata knew that. As he doodled, he came to the conclusion that whatever they built had to be a real car that would bring safety, protection from the elements, and dignity to India's emerging middle class. And it had to cost about the price of a scooter.

It had to be a real car. Not an apology car.

Chapter Two

Leading Nanovation

It's not that I'm so smart. It's that I stay with problems longer. ALBERT EINSTEIN

So what does the chairman of a $71 billion industrial group know about the dignity of the poor? Why would he care? The short answer is, it's in his DNA. And it's in the DNA of the companies the Tatas built. Ratan Tata learned through example, from more than one hundred years and three generations of Tata leaders who have modeled noticing, serving, and responding to the needs of India and its people. For more than 140 years the leadership tradition of "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" has become deeply rooted in the cultural DNA of Tata companies and Tata leaders.

Most of us arrive at our beliefs about leading people, building companies, creating corporate cultures, and serving customers through the individuals and events that have shaped our lives. So let us unpack the story of this remarkable man a little more thoroughly. Our purpose is to give you a glimpse of who and what have influenced the gutsy, global leader behind the People's Car, the man Time magazine named to its 2009 list of the one hundred most influential people in the world.

Of all the companies in India, none has a bigger footprint than the Tatas. As India's largest conglomerate, the Tata Group owns about one hundred different companies in more than eighty countries, with more than 350,000 employees. In 2009, revenues were nearly $71 billion, with 65 percent of that coming from operations outside of India.

If you live in one of the major metropolitan areas of India, you can drink Tata tea brought to you in Tata trucks made with Tata steel. You can build an IT infrastructure loaded with a wide array of Tata enterprise and business process solutions, assisted by Tata consultants. You can talk on a Tata mobile phone network and check your e-mail on Tata broadband on a computer driven by Tata power. You can sleep in a Tata hotel, watch Tata Sky TV, shop in a Tata retail store, put Tata salt on your dosa, and finish it off with Tata coffee.

If you live outside India—and particularly outside the Tatas' current sphere of influence in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa—you may know them only from the story of the Nano and their acquisition, in 2008, of Jaguar and Land Rover. But in coming years, you'll be hearing more of them. You'll be buying more Jaguars and Land Rovers. You'll be buying Nanos. And don't be surprised if your company sends you to the Tata Management Training Center to study their Business Excellence Model.


Excerpted from nanovation by Kevin Freiberg Jackie Freiberg Dain Dunston Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg and Dain Dunston. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Drs. Kevin and Jackie Freiberg are the authors of NUTS! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, an international bestseller, and Boom! 7 Choices for Blowing the Doors Off Business-As-Usual. The Freibergs have a global consultancy that equips leaders for a world of change. They have been interviewed by CBS’s 60 Minutes and appeared on CNBC and the CBS Morning News. Their articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, India’s Economic Times, and USA Today.

Dain Dunston helps some of the world’s smartest companies build cultures of innovation. For more than 25 years, he’s coached leaders on how to communicate with their people to build teams that are branded to the bone. Dain has worked with leaders in many of the world’s top automotive, high-tech, health care, retail, and hospitality companies—IBM, Lilly, Bayer, Office Depot, Sherwin-Williams, Carlson, BMW and Audi—helping them link purpose to performance, inspiring game-changing breakthroughs and building great brands.

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