Thought Leadership from Industry Peers

The 5 Principles that Guide Frugal Innovators

Jaideep Prabhu | 10 November 2017

agile-development-frugal

Think of innovation and invariably Apple comes to mind. Its products are the embodiment of Silicon Valley innovation. Innovation at companies like Apple typically involves technology (often for the sake of technology), huge budgets and structured, secretive processes. While this is a powerful way to create new solutions, innovation doesn’t have to be based on unlimited purse strings and blue-sky thinking. Powerful solutions can also come from resource constraints and from the challenges that consumers and enterprises face.

As I discussed in my previous blog, frugal innovation is an approach that thrives on resource constraints and creates relevant solutions for challenges that plague consumers and enterprises today. Together, Ignitho and I have created a methodology we call Frugal Technology Innovation for Enterprises to help companies innovate faster, better and cheaper.

In this blog I will share the 5 principles that guide the frugal innovator:

  1. Do more with less

    Good design thinking and saying “no” is the key to coming up with an effective solution with fewer resources in less time. Such “lean” thinking is increasingly relevant to firms of all sizes and sectors.

    Typically, CIOs face financial or resource constraints whenever they try to come up with innovative ideas or support a disruptive technology. Often, these constraints force them to give up on the innovation and continue with business as usual. A frugal innovator, on the other hand, tries to meaningfully use the minimal resources at his or her disposal and deliver innovation. A frugal innovator is always associated with a desire to do more with less, not focusing on problems but instead giving importance to opportunity in delivering an innovative technology solution.

  2. Keep it simple

    Innovators often focus on coming up with a perfect solution. But this often leads to unnecessary complexity. And cluttering a solution with inessential features adds to the cost without delivering significant additional value to the user.

    A common misconception in innovation is that it can happen only at an organisational level if it is big, hairy and ambitious. In today’s business context, however, where enterprises are struggling to conduct business as usual, an innovative solution which demands an investment of millions, is sure to be shot down without a second thought.

    Frugal innovators, therefore, focus on delivering quick and effective results. Their modus operandi is to identify a small element of a wider business or IT problem as a starting point or focus on a stakeholder who is willing to take the plunge to do something different or innovative. Applying the methodology of Frugal Technology Innovation for Enterprises, a frugal innovator works to deliver tangible results.

  3. Think and act flexibly

    Businesses operate in fast-evolving environments. Mergers and acquisitions are more common than ever before. A disruptive technology might come in at any point and shake up the established order. Witness how the private cab industry was disrupted by the arrival of Uber.

    There is a need to react quickly in an ever-changing environment. Innovation is about finding and acting within windows of opportunity. Frugal innovation helps to do this by delivering quick results and enabling quick adaptation to the change. Understanding your target market should be the key step in your journey of Frugal Innovation. Customising a product according to the environment of your target market should be the main priority of a Frugal Innovator. Frugal innovators need to be flexible to changing situations and the challenges that come up from time to time.

    Frugal innovators react quickly and flexibly to windows of opportunity, react quickly to disruption and react quickly to external changes to deliver tangible innovative solutions through technology.

  4. Seek opportunity in adversity

    Business is not static, and adversity is a reality. Frugal innovators do not worry about change; instead, they consider every change as a positive driver of innovation. Frugal innovators seek to convert adversity into opportunity.

    A prime example of identifying an opportunity in the face of adversity is that of Airbnb, where its founders were not deterred by the presence of giants in the hotel industry with millions of hotel rooms among their assets. The only way to disrupt this and enter a crowded market with limited resources at their disposal was to define a completely new business model, using ordinary homes as the “real estate”.

  5. Follow your heart

    Innovators face constant criticism from various quarters. They can be seen as an expensive distraction or as a blue-sky indulgence, especially in touch economic times.

    The frugal innovation approach offers a more acceptable alternative for innovators to follow their hearts and achieve their targets with conviction. It gives them the conviction to be disruptive, to be first movers, to stand up to people who oppose them, and to be different.

    Having the courage to do what your heart tells you to do, and indeed be a pioneer Frugal Innovator, is an essential trait for a successful frugal innovator.

Starting small, learning quickly and scaling rapidly is key to delivering Frugal Technology Innovation for Enterprises. The principles above need to be adopted by the IT leaders of today to bring about a more sustainable revolution. To do so, IT leaders also need an IT partner to help them learn these principles by working alongside them to deliver frugal yet innovative technology solutions: a partner who will build quality solutions through Rapid Prototyping and will also help deliver Scalable Solutions. Ignitho is leading the market for UK enterprises in this area today.

In my upcoming blogs, we look at how to approach Blue Sky Thinking in a Frugal Innovation Approach and some of the Success Stories in Frugal Innovation.

Jaideep Prabhu Professor, Judge Business School | University of Cambridge

Jaideep is a thought leader in the area of Frugal Innovation, who has been extensively researching on how multinationals are using emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa as a lab to do affordable and sustainable innovation for global application. Jaideep is the co-author of “Jugaad Innovation”, described by The Economist as “the most comprehensive book yet” on the subject of frugal innovation. His most recent book, “Frugal Innovation: How to Do More with Less” was published in February 2015 and won the CMI’s Management Book of the Year Award 2016.

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