Intangible Assets and Frugal Innovation…

Michael D. Moberly    June 26, 2012

Frugal innovation is, according to Navi Radjou, Dr. Jaideep Prabhu, and Dr. Simone Ahuja, authors of ‘Jugaad Innovation: Reigniting Innovation in the U.S. and Beyond’…

much more than merely stripping out cost, it essentially prompts individuals to re-think the entire production process as constituting a reversal of most contemporary product design approaches and/or methodologies!

In their, many say, revolutionary book, the word ‘frugal’ is replaced with the Hindi term ‘Jugaad’ which means an innovation, i.e., an improvised solution born from ingenuity and resourcefulness when faced with scarce resources.

As the authors point out, ‘Jugaad innovators’ are most notable for possessing mindsets that encompass multiple (and simultaneously held) attitudes, practices, and abilities, each of which is conducive  to seeking and developing opportunities under adversity by…

  • doing more with less (resource constrained circumstances)
  • thinking and acting flexibly
  • keeping things simple
  • always including the margin, and
  • following one’s heart.

But, let’s be clear, ‘frugal innovation’ commences, like most innovative endeavors, with an idea. The difference is, frugal innovation is conducted under frugal, and, some would say, adverse circumstances with little or no seed capital.  My experience suggests, frugal innovation will produce a compliment of intangible assets.  Those intangible assets will usually take the form of intellectual, structural, and relationship capital, which in many instances are proportionately comparable to the output of corporate and/or university sponsored R&D initiatives in which there are generally, sufficient resources committed and innovation development conditions are anything but frugal.

As is frequently typical with many new initiatives, some espouse the view that frugal innovation is a ‘tricky skill set for western innovators to emulate’.  That’s because, that argument goes, a requisite to being a successful and frugal innovator, is having grown up in an environment where frugality is the primary, if not the only, option available to hopefully bring one’s innovative idea to fruition.

Needless to say, I don’t fully agree with that perspective.  Instead, I am very confident, in fact I know a substantial number of ‘western creatives’ who would find frugal innovation an especially attractive concept and strategy, perhaps even more so during this extended economic downturn in which funding and sources of capital are tight, to say the least.

Regardless, wherever a creative initiates/conducts their ‘frugal innovation’, success will be varyingly dependent on having access to an operational platform in which the tenants of ‘frugal innovation’ are already integrated and linked to processes and structures whereby they  can develop, test, and assess their idea (innovation) in not just a frugal, but a well managed environment coupled with the right amount of stewardship and oversight.

So, in my search to find an existing and preferably already operational U.S.-based company, that applied ‘frugal innovation’ principles, I became acquainted with a firm in Atlanta called

As it turns out, Qwerkstation was developed by Latanya Washington as a social workstation for entrepreneurially oriented individuals to explore and develop their ‘creative side’ by turning ideas into actual innovation.  Querkstation is a web-based platform in which individuals can truly observe and engage in ‘frugal innovation’ practices. During Qwerkstation’s development phase, Washington’s expertise in software allowed her to capitalize on the open source movement in software production from which she selected particular web application components and distinctively reconfigured them to literally create Qwerkstation.

As readers know, open source software development has been a boon to entrepreneurs for turning ideas into robust applications and digital products without the necessity of hiring software engineers which would all but negate the tenants of frugal innovation. The operational practices Washington adheres to, coupled with the digital functionalities she has embedded in Qwerkstation, collectively work in her favor by (a.) minimizing overhead costs, and (b.) better meet the needs of her target consumer, all-the-while operating in a genuinely frugal innovation manner.

Washington recognizes that frugal innovation has had a significant effect on her overall business processes and perhaps most importantly, outcomes, which I find to be valuable and sustainable competitive advantages, i.e., intangible assets.  Frugal innovators and creatives’ who engage Qwerkstation Washington believes, need to be highly focused and efficient, probably more so than in comparative companies with large capital reserves and ample resources.

It’s certainly my sense, at this point, that Qwerkstation is very much a global version of ‘frugal innovation’ which is not only an attractive, but very worthy first step to the innovation process.

(This post was inspired by the book ‘Jugaad Innovation’ authored by Navi Radjou, and Drs. Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja and the work of Latanya Wasington who founded

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