Recently I had the pleasure of stumbling across a particularly interesting article from The Economist in my twitter feed (@ajhonore). Titled “Asian Innovation,” the main idea posited by the author is that the notion of frugal innovation will change the world. What exactly is frugal innovation (or “frugalvation”)? While one universally agreed-upon definition is elusive, the notion of doing more with less is deeply engrained in this idea. Delivering goods and services, and doing so profitably, is not necessarily a one-stop shop. What works in Canada or The United States may not necessarily translate to the BRIC nations. Furthermore, “stripped down” versions of Western goods probably do not fit the market needs of the developing world. More often than not frugally innovative ideas arrive by virtue of that veritable mother of invention: necessity.
Given the state of the overall world economy in recent times and the uncertain behaviors of the future with regard to our macroeconomic climate some Western, multinational firms have begun to look to the East, specifically India and China, for inspirationally innovative ideas. Of course the concept of seeking out wisdom and knowledge from locations east of the Levant is no new idea. Columbus was seeking India and not Indiana after all.
So if what is deployed in Milwaukee does not necessarily work in Roorkee, could the inverse be true? Can Eastern medicine sooth what ails U.S.-based firms like John Deere, Logitech, and PepsiCo? This is one of the main points made in this article and others like it. Cutting costs is nearly always something deemed desirable. Austerity may in fact become known as “the father of frugalvation” (though I doubt this particular metaphor will catch on). In my opinion, the one giant mistake one could make in terms of frugal innovation is thinking that it is somehow easier. After all, if innovation were easy, anyone could do it (and sustain it over long periods of time).
For further reading on the subject of frugalvation, two books were cited: Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble’s Reverse Innovation as well as Jugaad Innovation, written by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja. I shall be seeking both out in that best friend of the frugal reader, the library.