Frugal Innovation…

Frugal innovation is, in many respects, the…personification of utilizing intangible assets in one of their purest forms, i.e., intellectual, structural, and relationship capital.  Presumably, some readers, are unfamiliar with frugal innovation as a concept or a practice.

Let’s start by noting ‘innovation’ is often portrayed through the lens of…the west’s conventional entrepreneurial communities, i.e., the parameters of university-based research, biotech, incubators, venture capitalist, SBIR’s, intellectual property, and multi-tasking founders and management teams

Of course, some institutions – people are inclined to characterize frugal innovation…in various subordinate – simplified contexts, i.e., business building models ‘on the cheap’, unlikely to gain traction in western dominated entrepreneurial sectors where business startup conventions appear fixed and regimented.

Those who hold the view that ‘frugal innovation’ is merely a descriptor for executing entrepreneurism in un – underdeveloped areas…on the cheap, may not have taken time to appreciate its core principles, or perhaps have a stake in remaining an adherent to existing (business startup) conventions. In my view, it’s simply short-sighted to characterize frugal innovation as merely being a business (start-up) model, relevant only to the un-developed.

Frugal innovation has largely been chronicled as designing and introducing products and/or services into circumstances in which…

  • simplification, durability, and sustainability are requisites.
  • minimal training and maintenance is required.
  • the innovation can become fully functional by using minimal
    (primarily existing) resources.
  • to minimize, perhaps remedy, a current region-circumstance specific
    need rapidly on behalf of the intended beneficiaries.
  • the innovation itself is durable to accommodate – withstand
    conditions, geographics, and user skill sets, in which it was designed to be applied.

While, these are certainly not the only tenants – requisites to frugal innovation…they do deliver rapid, if not, immediate (often humanitarian) returns, i.e., agricultural irrigation, crop – animal sustainability, ease acquisition to power generation – delivery sources, promotes producing more stable-sustainable shelter and/or clothing, respectfully promotes innovative cultures and respectful investment capital for which there has been a long history of limited access and neglect.

Interestingly, as Schumpeter’s writes (The Economist, March 24, 2012) in his column titled ‘Asian Innovation’…he notes that numerous universities around the globe are engaged in somewhat of a ‘scramble mode’ to design and integrate curricula-courses that focus on frugal innovation. There is no evidence to suggest that ‘scramble mode’ has mitigated. This suggests the fundamentals, i.e., principles and concepts, etc., underlying frugal innovation are variously resonating.

To be sure, frugal innovation consists of relevant principles, but, generally is a far less structured path-strategy…for developing, applying, and commercializing practical innovations generally intended to benefit  consumers at the so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid’.

Not infrequently, early stage frugal innovations can be ratcheted up to…attract consumers in successively higher brackets of the global pyramid.

Numerous advocates and practitioners of frugal innovation in the East…as The Economist’ article points out, imagine a time when particular Western conceived-developed products, upon removal –  adjustment of gratuitous frills, will lead to substantial cost savings, pushing ‘frugal ideas and innovation’ to dominate the innovation process.

While western automobile ‘car seat warming’ features…which western consumers have grown accustom, have clearly not translated as frugal innovation The interest embedded in prospective (frugal innovation) entrepreneurs to pursue alternative – substitute innovations, absent of course, many of the conventional hurdles and/or constraints, particularly those having to do with the need for securing substantial investment, are attracting some well-deserved interest.

Please note…
• “Reverse Innovation” a book written by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, and “Jugaad Innovation” written by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja are seminal guides to frugal innovation.

• And, as a demonstration that the concept of frugal innovation is not being wholly dismissed by the multi-nationals, Mr. Govindarajan (Dartmouth’s Tuck Business School) is known to have advised General Electric on frugal innovation and co-authored a very worthy and illuminating article with GE’s former CEO, Jeffrey Immelt.

Frankly, I do not sense frugal innovation…conceptually or practically, will remain subordinate to business start-up conventions or wholly fade from western business (entrepreneurial) lexicon or practice. Those inclined to believe differently, while respected, are encouraged to re-think their position.

Michael D. Moberly July 6, 2017 St. Louis [email protected] the ‘Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006, 650+ published posts, read in 137 countries, ‘where one’s attention span, businesses intangible assets, and solutions converge’!

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