Frugal Innovation: can we Jugaad innovation over here?

Navi Radjou is one of the eager promoter of frugal innovation through his book ‘Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth’. Jugaad, a Hindi-Urdu term used in India and Pakistan, means an improvised arrangement or work-around, triggered  by lack of resources.

Frugality is the new wealth

There are multiple sparkling frugal initiatives:

  • Grassroots innovations are community-led solutions for sustainability: ‘researching sustainibility from the bottom-up’ entailing limited resources;
  • Honey Bee Networks, founded by Anil K. Gupta, aims at dissemination of local and traditional knowledge, carrying stories of local ingenuity, and ensuring acknowledement of the innovators. It operates over 75 countries;
  • Frugal innovations are designed by average citizen entrepreneurs: designed by the people for the people; relying on individual self-starting capacity, they tackle village motors, urbanism, water filtration, vaccines, and the famous clay fridge—the Mitticool;

  • Jugaad might not be an African word, nevertheless African frugal innovation is not left behind. Inventive prowess are surging, transforming life in Africa: affordable housing, mobile money, solar lamp kit, solar wifi station, sms national polling, waste recycling into fuel, fly factory producing larvae for chickens, ultra rice fortified with vitamins and minerals, fonio express husker.
  • Are low-cost car, $100 laptop, $300-house, frugal innovations as well? They differ slightly: though they include low investment characteristic, they rather involve corporations than individual people, and do not harness ideas in a bottom-up move as in Jugaad innovations.

Practicing frugal innovation

Navi Radjou defines frugal innovation as a context of limited resources, paired with a commitment to ‘transform scarcity into opportunity through ingenious solution’. Less is more!

In a way, it meets Chinese philosophy of building on situation potentialities, detecting favourable drivers, rather than sticking to a rigid model and combating front-on, turning challenges into opportunities, as relates François Jullien in ‘Conférence sur l’efficacité‘.

Navi Radjou stresses 6 practices inspired by emerging countries:

  1. Seek opportunity in adversity;
  2. Do more with less;
  3. Think and act flexibly, and iterate rapidly;
  4. Keep it simple, stick to basics;
  5. Include the margin (excluded from consumption);
  6. Follow your heart.

Adopting frugal innovation for corporations

Frugal innovation outputs are amazing, and Navi’s enthusiasm is communicative: could we bring back frugal innovation in developed countries?

Navi Radjou believes so: large corporations shall reconnect with agility and frugality, learn to develop with less resources, turn limites into opportunities, to reach a new growth formula, both inclusive and sustainable.

Though I agree with the general outcome, I don’t think the desired transformation can be achieved at lightening speed:

  • Frugal innovation is a cultural pattern made of ingenuity, self-starter mindset, in a context of struggle for life: that’s the reason why its innovation outputs are stunning. Powerful innovation is cultural design, and cultural change are difficult, if ever, to perform;
  • Frugal innovation is rooted in local individual ingenuity, not in corporate systems: bringing in individual ownership in corporate companies requires exceptional leadership.

I would suggest a blended track, by setting-up collaborative platforms to scale frugal innovations from local to global. Acting as exchange hub where top-down and bottom-up initiatives cross, they can express through different forms: $300 house context is one form of a blended creation space.

Cooperation across borders is a demanding path, involving trust, transversality, time, and a networking culture. But when it comes to digital, APIs seem the perfect tool to complete collaborative innovation jigshaw: they present ‘explicit knowledge on the shelf’, and allow new businesses to form instantly by linking.

Chet Kapoor, CEO of Apigee, summarizes APIs impact as ‘driving entreprise inside-out innovation, shaping, and enhancing behaviour at scale’. What a ‘domino effect’.

As an illustration of API blasting effect, let’s take the case of mobile, a transformative tech  in Africa. The trigger there is individual entrepreneuship and start-ups propagation. Orange ‘API’ Toolbox is clearly designed to support African Mobile Entrepreneurs in their venture: we provide the tools, and you create!

Unleashing individual frugal innovation

In addition to translating frugal innovation’ benefits to corporations, one can breath Jugaad at individual or community level.

FabLabs (fabrication laboratories), 3D Printing, and DYI are currently dashing. Combining power of open source cooperation with freedom to conduct personal project, FabLabs are empowering individuals to create smart devices for themselves: FabLabs foster ‘personal innovation augmented’.

They now cover connected objects, rapidly becoming hackable devices: one can compose a customized connected object by assembling a set of components, as demonstrate Linkbot, Hello World DIY Kit, or SmartLamp.

Hacker-expert journalist Amaelle Guiton assumes FabLabs facilities will be ‘neighbourhood mini-plants’ in the future: one will design its electronic blueprint at home, and come to the nearest district FabLab to 3Dprint it.

With FabLabs, mixing low resources, individual initiative, and collective knowledge sharing, aren’t we tweaking Jugaad innovation, in a distinctive yet relevant, ownership, based on our cultural identity? Are FabLabs the Western side of frugal innovation?

Innovation is not duplication, and neither the negation of the past. Relying on our culture is the capability to create meaning for innovations no one can imitate.

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