Nano, the smallest car in the world is a cult product. From the time Ratan Tata announced the Rs 1 Lakh car enough ink has been spent on the product, right from speculating if it was possible to deliver a car at that cost to its actual launch in Delhi to its infamous exit from West Bengal to it actually hitting the road. It has become the favorite case study for Innovation ecosystem, almost replacing iPod. Given all that we have already read about Nano, writing a book on Nano can be challenging, as there is not much left that has not been written already.

Kevin and Jackie Freiberg are astute authors, having authored similar business books earlier. Their most famous book is about South West airlines, another company that is always looked upon by Innovation fraternity. I am not sure how they are as management consultants, but as writers they are very smart. They have written the book in such a way that Nano appears as case study around which a complete model is woven and some innovation rules derived. They take you through the Nano story, beginning with Ratan Tata watching a family slipping from a Scooter on a rainy day in Bangalore and wanting to do something for them. They take you through the challenge of building a car that is unimaginable by most auto manufacturers. They tell you about the raw determination of Ratan Tata to create that he had already announced and to keep his words and his walking with the teams to keep them going. They talk about some defining moments in the development of Nano, which could have changed the scenario. They talk about some partners who worked with the Nano team. They keep the story interesting by sharing some trivia about Tata group, about India and about other innovations in the business world.

After telling the story they introduce the term Nanovation that is meant to show you the larger picture of the idea of Nano. They talk about the relevance of a small and fuel-efficient car in India and also the world. They talk about the quality of the product that is meant to be at the lower end but does not mean a substandard product. They talk about the inclusive growth that the Tata group always works towards mentioning in detail about their social programs in the areas where they have big establishments. This section talks less about Nano as a product but its development journey. It takes you through the journey of Nano from a design table to it’s many prototypes to its unveiling at Pragati Maidan to its struggle in West Bengal to its move to Sanand and to handing over of the keys to first few owners. Next section derives the rules of Innovation based on the Nano story and sometimes lending from the other innovation stories like GE and South West airlines. In at typical management consulting stylebook, the eight rules cover the gamut of things that an organization should do to come out with an innovative product like Nano.

My biggest apprehension with all writing about Nano as an innovation is that they are being written too early. Till this point in time, you can call Nano a design innovation, which is a credit you cannot take away from it. A business innovation can be truly called an innovation only after it’s commercial success for a reasonable period of time. I am not inclined to say that it is not a commercial success as I do see quite a few Nanos on the roads. A few odd incidents of vehicle going up in flames I am sure are being taken care of by the Tata Motors. But how does the car behave after 2 years? What is its shelf life? What do its users have to say? Has it really made the impact it was meant to make? Has the scales shifted from two wheelers to Nano? All these data points are yet to flow in. As two books on Tata Nano released more or less at the same time, I think it might have been a more prudent thing to write after a couple of years, to include the response to Tata Nano as well.

Book is well written and it is one of the rare occasions that I have found ‘Rasa’ in a book written by American authors. At no point in time, even when there are repeated repetitions does the book get boring to read. There are small anecdotes, personal stories of people involved, authors’ own experiences with Tata team and raw data thrown here and there keep the juices flowing through the book. Now what I would have wanted more from this book is a little deeper diving in the design part of the product. I am sure there are enough inspirational stories embedded in that journey, where the team would have tried some wild ideas, gone through some frustrating iterations, lost faith in the idea sometimes and got encouraged by a breakthrough at other times. This part has been dealt with very briefly. It is more about Tata group, its culture and Ratan Tata himself.

All in all it makes an interesting reading.

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