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Frugal Innovation working for the collective good

May 4, 2012

Last night I settled in to listen to In Business with BBC journalist Peter Day.

Innovation and transformation of people’s lives, economies, etc., is very much part of the No Straight Lines project so I was thrilled to hear Professor Jaideep Prabhu from the Cambridge University Judge Business school and Professor Anil Gupta from the Indian Institute of Management talk about Jugaad Innovation. Jugaad (book website) is a Hindi word meaning an innovation; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and resourcefulness when faced with scarce resources.

Frugal Innovation is the means by which everyday people find solutions to everyday problems, by using not much more than their ingenuity, and skills of observation. These entrepreneurs are also social innovators as they work for the collective good. For me this is about Craftsmanship, principle #5 from No Straight Lines. The Craftsman asks this simple but important question: is what I conceive, create and make for the collective good? Or put another way – does it serve a wider humanity?

It is an important question to ask, however, as Anil Gupta observes if these innovations are relevant for “all” mankind they will be ubiquitously adopted. Serving all humanity can have its benefits.

Frugal Innovation requires some hard questions to be answered. Is it affordable within the context of that economy? Or, is it accessible for everyone within everyday culture? It requires as Jaideep says a rethink of how this is achieved. From fridges that requires none of the conventional parts of what we would call a fridge, to splints for broken bones, Jugaad innovation argues the authors, has much to teach us.

Also in the programme is an important cameo role of the late C.K. Prahalad, who we quoted in in Communities Dominate Brands in 2004. Prahalad contends in a previous interview with Peter Day that, we could do nothing about the 4.5bn people around the world living poverty or we we could do something about it. In this instance improving their material lives is a useful KPI. 4.5 bn people Prahalad says want to join the market economies of the world.

Professor Prabhu says in the the interview there are lessons for us all – in many ways this resonates for me with Faisel Rahman from the micro finance organisation Fair Finance (Faisel’s story describing his journey). Indeed how we do respond to adversity, to ambiguity as in the west we start to realise we cannot afford business as usual.

Professor Prabhu in conversation explains how some of these amazing creations come into being, originated by ordinary people existing in extraordinary circumstances. So we get the story of the fridge made of clay and an extraordinary collection of these innovations are curated on what is called the Honey Bee Network.

And the story that follows is very much about appreciative inquiry, a requirement for us to listen deeply and learn from all that which surrounds us. Even if it does not come from our normal sources of information and influence. For me this poses the question if we cannot afford business as usual where do we we need to look for inspiration and guidance? How do we minimize resources and maximize value? The answer is we need to look further afield.

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