“We’re in an age that demands that we disrupt or be disrupted,” says Supun Weerasinghe. With a distinct track record in the telecom and technological domains, his perspective on innovation and business stands out among the nation’s corporate leaders.

He warns that “businesses that do not innovate risk commoditisation or redundancy. Old ‘category killers’ such as Kodak are now
relegated to the black and white pages of the past.”

Weerasinghe urges Sri Lankan enterprises to develop strategies that encompass innovation to avoid falling victim to a rapidly
developing global market.

“Sri Lanka’s prime export Ceylon Tea is under threat from fashionable and cheaper substitutes due to the lack of digitalisation,” he
observes, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of innovation in times of crisis, demonstrating how
innovative thinking can lead to new and unexpected solutions to business challenges.

Weerasinghe goes on to recommend a blueprint for successful innovation by identifying its key components.

He explains: “While a culture of creativity, trust and teamwork within the organisation that’s conducive to risk taking and learning are
important steps, it is equally important to have the support of the right team and financial backing – this can increase the scope of innovation, and introduce it to the market with the right mechanisms and expertise.”

Weerasinghe adds that businesses need to regard innovation led growth as critical – and align their goals, systems and processes to
promote innovation as a key strategic objective and core value. Moreover, he feels that “leaders must invest in a time and risk balanced
portfolio of initiatives matching strategy, ROI cycles and market intelligence.

“Hiring for innovation is also critical. Not only should teams develop and test new hypotheses but they must also translate insights into winning value propositions, while developing and launching quickly and effectively,” he opines.

And he remarks that COVID-19 has inadvertently spurred the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation among diverse groups of people, organisations and policy makers, sparking ingenious ideas to navigate the ‘new normal’ – from tele-medicine to the work from home (WFH) movement.

Weerasinghe reveals his admiration in witnessing subsequent social innovations that combine the power of civic minded individuals, businesses and communities liberated from the previous status quo of boxed-in or negative thinking… to think sustainability and think big.

“While businesses face many uncertainties due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we also learned the importance of adapting quickly as the situation evolves,” Weerasinghe states.

He comments: “This is not the time to overthink things but execute quickly – as demonstrated by quick moving initiatives such as digitally enabled services emerging as critical at the height of the coronavirus crisis.”

In regard to the growth of innovation in Sri Lanka, Weerasinghe is of the opinion that the nation ought to eliminate the tall poppy syndrome that exists to discourage those who stand out in a positive light through a series of negative sentiments that are considered detrimental to
creativity and innovation.

“As for instilling innovative thinking in young minds, it should be encouraged in education from the beginning, to not only equip them to overcome real-world challenges but also create a more dynamic and innovative workforce,” he adds.

In his closing remarks, Weerasinghe offers a piece of advice for leaders hoping to retain the necessary talent for innovation: “Before you can retain strong talent, you must build your talent…”

And he adds: “While this encompasses grooming, it also means that leaders must encourage inclusivity and diversity in age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic backgrounds, to bring about brand-new perspectives begetting invaluable breakthroughs and powerful results.”

Supun Weerasinghe is a Director and the Group Chief Executive Officer of Dialog Axiata