MASTERCLASS | Kiran Khalap on fostering innovation


I‘m delighted to share the inaugural story and video episode of a series, Masterclass With Pavan R Chawla, on the art, craft, developments and more in the world of Marketing, Media and Advertising (MMA).

Masterclass will be a deep dive. And this conversation on innovation is the first of hopefully several informative and insightful conversations with thought-leading master professionals. I thought of this format where experts converse and take the conversation along a route that yields knowledge-driven insights, experiences and learnings for both, aspiring young professional and practising peer alike.

So, Masterclass will bring you the perspectives of Marketers, Advertisers, Communicators and Entrepreneurs striving to make their brands reach the largest numbers of desired customers, to thrive, reinvest, thrive.

This, the first issue of Masterclass features one of India’s best known and highly regarded creative, marketing and business strategy experts, Kiran Khalap, who co-founded and drives India’s first end-to-end brand consultancy, Chlorophyll. (Read on, or, to jump to the video, scroll down)

When, earlier this year, author Vijay Menon’s book Innovation Stories From India Inc carrying brief, insightful features on the top innovation experts featured a veritable Who’s Who of leaders from Corporate India, there was one interesting aspect most people missed. Among the 23 innovative leaders featured in the book, one that stood out amidst shining lights like Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Aditya Puri, N R Narayanmurthy, Harsh Mariwala, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and William Bissel, was chlorophyll, led by Kiran Khalap. In that list of stellar individuals, chlorophyll (represented by Kiran Khalap) was the only end-to-end brand consultancy featured from all over the country.

Kiran Khalap, speaking about innovation and how to foster it in the cut-throat world of demanding – and often light green clients (what’s that? Watch the video) and the need for strategic and impactful delivery of solutions to brands. Everyone wants the innovatively strategic. How do you arrive at a group mindset of innovation-driven thinking in your teams? Watch what Kiran has to say in the first episode of my new series, Masterclass With Pavan R Chawla

For anyone who needs an introduction to Kiran, there’s a simply cut and narrated video profile of Kiran in Chapter 1 of this 13-chapter playlist of Masterclass With Pavan R Chawla in which Kiran speaks about fostering innovation. Actually, here it is. (Kiran’s video profile begins at 1:12): 


Why innovation? Really? In the next four-odd years, India, with the world’s youngest population of Generation Z-ers and Millennials, is destined to become the Innovation hub of the world. Why? Because a majority of particularly Generation Z wants to start their professional lives not as employees and entrepreneurs, and even though China beats India on absolute population  numbers, India outstrips it  on percentage of youth to the total population.

With millions of youngsters spoiling to launch startups, it goes without saying that effective innovation would be a major Chinese wall between the successes and the also-rans. Not just the future ones, but even the innumerable startups that are at present struggling to be seen, heard and adopted by consumers, are constantly striving to navigate the complex innovation maze. 

I hope you enjoy the Q&A and the video, plus this series.

Next fortnight: Another Masterclass on an important part of the Digital Marketer’s world. With whom, and on what? Wait for it J

If you have any suggestions on which master I should feature in future episodes, do write to me at pavan [at]


In Vijay Menon‘s book, Innovation Stories From India Inc, Chlorophyll is the only brand (or any other kind of) consultancy amongst the top 23 Innovation headliners from India Inc.  How does it feel, Kiran?

This is exceptional not only because of the august company we are in but because we are the only professional services brand in the list.  And the author is a heavyweight in marketing & brand communications from brands like India Today and Infosys

One of our copywriters wrote a beautiful line for one of our client partners: “Congratulations on becoming an overnight success… after ten years.” So I am happy my team’s 18-year  tapasya has paid off! I must admit I miss the two stalwarts who contributed to this success: Anand Halve and Nalesh Patil.

Tell me Kiran, what drives you? How does the quest, as it were, for the innovative, the more substantial, the newer and unique… how does it keep you going, and how do you look for it?

What drives me as owner of brand chlorophyll is not fear, not ambition, not money,  but what Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead band said: “You do not merely want to be the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”  That has been our driving force right from the beginning.

At an individual level I think what drives me is this sense of responsibility that as a human being, I must contribute to conscious evolution and therefore then, you need to practice creativity at body level, mind level, soul level and there are hundreds of dimensions to it and a discipline that is required to achieve that.  So those are the two driving forces. And that is what we owe to one another to evolve as a species.

Therefore, if you look at chlorophyll’s past, we have not adopted a single discipline from anywhere else. The process that we use we have bootstrapped it… we have created it ourselves… the brand models that we use we have created ourselves…the intellectual property we have created we have created ourselves. In a way, everything we have created at chlorophyll we have innovated from within.

Startups and established businesses work with agencies. How important is it to have an evolved and supportive client… someone who’s evolved enough to decide well between the tactical and the strategic, between substance and effect, between organic and inorganic…

I guess this is the most critical question. Let me substitute the word ‘client’ with the word ‘judge’.

The biggest problems in judging creative work around the world is that the hierarchy of decision-making is the same for an intangible product as well as a tangible product.

Problem one: In 99% of the cases, the person who is judging the creative output has no clue about how they have to judge the creative output. It’s shocking but true!

Let me provide you one tool.

Whenever an idea is presented in the arena of commercial creativity, as opposed to creativity for self-expression, there are only four avenues of judgment that can occur, combining an objective component and a subjective component. These are:

  • One – It’s on brief, I like it.
  • Two – It’s on brief, but I don’t like it
  • Three – It’s not on brief, but I like it, and
  • Four – It’s not on brief, and I don’t like it!

The second problem is:  most judges have no clarity about the brief!

Commercial creativity is harnessed to solve problems, and if the problem itself is not well-defined, the solutions are unlikely to be useful.

The third problem around the world is that the process has remained the same since the Industrial Revolution.

The lowest level in the organisation scouts for lowest-cost suppliers, short-lists some, presents them to the next level, which demands proof, and finally, goes to the decision-making individual — the CEO, MD or Chairman.

Along the way, some of the best ideas that would have actually solved the MD’s problems would have been dug into a grave by the feisty brand manager.

This process works when you are judging material goods, not intangible ideas.

So a client who understands that judging ideas is a skill, and therefore works at it, is a great partner to have. Because when there’s a mismatch between brief and product, it boils down to trust.

So how do you,     as your client’s partner in growth, take her/him along?

Sorry to sound as if I have too many models in place, but this is something I learnt from a “client” who is now a friend – a gentleman called L C Singh, who is a cybernetics expert and runs a wonderful organization out of Pune…

Yes, Pune-based Nihilent Technologies. LC is also a major arts patron… runs which is like an opportunity window for talent…

Exactly. And he is a friend too… that’s another thing… I end up becoming a friend to my clients… So this classification of relationships, if you will, is what we learnt from LC. He taught me this wonderful grid which he calls Green-Non Green, or Green-Dark Green; whichever.

In any relationship where there are creative ideas being given, there is a vendor and a buyer.

Dark Green is a person who knows his business very well.

Light or even non-Green is a person who doesn’t know his business very well.

Two dark greens who know their business very well. One, the buyer, tells the other, the vendor, “I know my business well, I’ve defined the problem well. You know your business well, if you’re saying this is the problem solution, let’s go with it.”  They are creating a cycle of virtuous growth.


Trust-driven. I trust my judgment, I trust your judgment. They will work well together.

Two light greens;’ neither knows their business… this is a downward spiral. They have no clue what they are up to.

Now, if the buyer of the product is dark green, the seller is light green… they will have very little time together… he’s going to sack his vendor very soon.

Now if the vendor knows much more (is dark green) than the buyer (who is light green), then it’s what some people call a majboori ki sawari!  You’re in the relationship just for the money.

So the key question to me is not just the ability to come up with ideas. This co-founder of mine, Naresh Patil… he used to keep a clock on his table… he could come up with ideas by the minute! The question is not whether one can come up with many ideas. Yes, there are variations, differences. Not everyone can come up with as many ideas as others can.

But to me, what I’ve learnt from thirty-forty years of being in this business, is of judgement. The valuation. Understanding of the idea. Who is sitting on the other side? Does she know how to evaluate the idea?

So an evolved client inspires and illuminates your thinking too…

Oh absolutely! Brand building is a totally collaborative process.

See, one of the hangovers in this notion of brand and branding, comes from product brands. It comes from a static world of competition. It believe that competition comes only from your category.

Now these are changes people have not noticed. That the completion does not come only from your category.

Let me take the example of a not so commonly used product, like binoculars, to explain. You want to buy a good pair of binoculars. You want to go for the brand with the highest market share, Bushnell. But then you hear of another brand, called Nikon! Now Nikon has a great name for its cameras, lenses… but then you also hear of another brand in the fray, called Swarowski, and you do a double take, because Swarowski is really a top brand too; all class. But these are not the original binoculars category!

Would you like to share some illustrative examples? Name some clients?

We have had several evolved clients…I won’t name them because it would be unfair to some of the others; we have done about 200 brands.

We have worked with a technology and solutions company for over 15 years all around the globe… then there’s an Indian paint start-up with which we have worked with since 2011. When they came to us, they were (INR) 50 crore; now, they have grown to (INR) 400 crores. They have learnt to just completely trust us.

There’s a real estate company, for instance, which says every single solution you’ve given us has brought us at least 20X ROI. Why should I even question what you’re doing? Every single company we have worked with has seen the results.

But that doesn’t mean we get complacent. We go with at least three different solutions to every problem or situation.

Then there’s a bank in Tanzania that is spreading to five more countries… in each case the client held out and ensured that the product and service lived up to the brand. We respect them for this, as much as for their commitment to their own goodwill.

How would Kiran Khalap – I know you might wince – cultivate innovation organization-wide… what process, if any, would you  want to or do you follow? Or OK,  could you train youngsters to be able to attract the innovation genie through a process? Or something else? How does one kindle innovation inspiration?

There are two clearly identified enemies of creativity in the world — your family, and your school. The weapon they use is comparison.

These are external barriers to creativity.

The internal barriers are lack of clarity of the objective, the tyranny of one correct answer and the fact that a system can’t act upon itself.

What would you tell an agency professional to keep tuned about her/his mental orientation, awareness, etc, to be able to, equally, work the innovation ‘processor be able to recognize that flower of an innovative idea from amongst the – as it were — dead leaves in autumn?

If you know the answer when you’re first hearing of the problem, you are not being creative. You have to go through the five stages of any creative process:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Ingestion
  3. Frustration
  4. Inspiration and
  5. Verification

From the considerable body of work by chlorophyll, which initiatives are dearer to you than some others for having been very innovative? With any videos or stills etc – pictorial depiction of the ideas, that I could incorporate in the story.

Aadhar,  at a personal level. It was something I did pro bono. It involved working with a highly evolved team on a task critical to the nation, on a short deadline — to create a brand that would transform the lives of 1.25 billion people!


Now watch the video, where Kiran speaks of much more interesting work, and shares insights on…

  • What’s better than the ability to generate many ideas.
  • On managing quality work or the ego of a client’s alternative sounding board.
  • On the great value of an evolved client. And the terrible, even deadly menace of the ideas grave-digger.
  • On good ideator or evaluator?
  • On the assumptions, hangovers, behavior.
  • On the steps to a great solution.
  • On why innovation always waits beyond the default.
  • And on what drives him, why it’s important to have a subterranean river of learning, and more.

Watch the videos right here. Arranged chapter-wise. All 13 parts of a long and deep dive on Innovation, through a conversation with Kiran Khalap, MD – Chlorophyll.

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