Talk by Jaideep Prabhu

Jugaad Innovation: frugal, flexible and inclusive

Earlier this evening I attended a Cambridge Network event where Jaideep Prabhu—co-author of the book “Jugaad Innovation” and professor at the Judge Business School—gave a talk about innovation practices in developing economies.

Compared to their counterparts in the affluent West, Indian innovators seem to be more:

  • Frugal. They need to do more with less resources
  • Flexible. High uncertainty means they need to change their plans more often
  • Inclusive. Targeted at reaching consumers and partners outside the established economy

Prabhu and his co-authors define Jugaad innovation as: Overcoming harsh constraints by improvising an effective solution using very limited resources. Examples he mentioned include:

  • The clay fridge, which uses no electricity but is based on evaporative cooling
  • SELCO, which needed to use a business model that allows small daily payments for their solar-powered lights

His two other examples, the Tata Nano “one lakh car” and the Nokia 1100 mobile phone I don’t find very convincing. Both Nokia and Tata have used significant resources to come up with products geared towards customers in developing economies. The Tata Nano has not been as successful as hoped, mainly because Indian customers do not want to buy “the world’s cheapest car”—they aspire to more.

What the successful examples of Jugaad Innovation had in common is that they use (combinations of) existing technology to sufficiently solve a clear unmet need. This is certainly harder to do in the affluent West—there are simple less unmet needs that can be fulfilled simply and cheaply. Prof. Prabhu mentioned a few examples of frugal innovation in the West:

  • Raspberry Pi. I find this unconvincing. The only reason it can be sold at £25 is that very little margin is made by designer, manufacturer or reseller. Don’t get me wrong, the Raspberry Pi (and similar alternative cheap single-board computers) is great for doing frugal innovation, but it is not itself an example of it.
  • CellScope iPhone otoscope. Again I’m not totally convinced. It only works in combination with an (expensive) iPhone—the product itself is really only a lens in a plastic tube. The combination with off-the-shelf consumer products can indeed reduce development time and reduce marginal unit cost, but unfortunately consumer products tend to have very fast life-cycles. The CellScope will need to be changed to fit the iPhone 6.
  • The Maker-movement. This is more convincing. There is certainly more DIY small-scale innovation going on, fuelled by the availability of easily configurable electronic hardware, 3D-printers, free basic CAD software and the proliferation of makespaces. DIY and corporate/professional innovation are certainly moving closer, as is evidence by e.g. Quirky and their collaboration with General Electric.

Small companies in the West (including myself and my clients) are in effect already practicing Jugaad Innovation. We try to do more with a fraction of the resources of large corporate R&D. We practice agile development. And we create products that tend to be more affordable for a wider market than alternatives.

I’ve now got the book on my kindle, to see what I can take away from it.

Shall we engage in some jugaad innovation?