By Tonya Lambert
Frugal innovation is a problem-solving technique garnering lots of attention worldwide. Driven by functionality, this learner-based methodology grew out of scarcity. Premised on the need for simple, low-cost, and long-lasting solutions, frugal innovation makes the most out of available resources through the sharing of ideas, recycling of materials, and restructuring of delivery systems.
Navi Radjou, a leading proponent of frugal innovation, says the impetus behind frugal innovation is the requirement to fill a need as inexpensively as possible. It is a strategy that focuses on needs over desires, on good-enough solutions over optimal solutions, on the underserved over the affluent, and on the consumer over the shareholder. It is a system in which low input costs translate into low prices and where profit is driven by volume. Radjou provides business owners and managers with three principles to guide their implementation of frugal innovation.
First, keep it simple. Focus on the essentials and eliminate the frills. Your goals are functionality, ease of use, and wide accessibility.
Second, keep your costs low. Utilize your existing resources in new ways, recycling materials and repurposing ideas. Streamline processes and redesign products to eliminate unnecessary costs. The mantra “do more with less” should be top of mind in all the company does.
The notion of keeping costs low should also translate to the consumer. Products should be inexpensive, durable, and sustainable. Many consumers are faced with diminishing purchasing power coupled with a concern for the environment. To succeed, companies must address these issues.
Third, think and act horizontally. Trim corporate bureaucracy and empower employees to enable the business to think and act with more agility. Use inclusive methods of problem-solving, such as
crowdsourcing solutions, and incentivize the transfer of knowledge within the organization through a learner-based approach to innovation. Such lateral thinking fosters creativity, making it more likely to produce results than the insular, vertical approach traditionally employed by organizations.
This practical approach to problem-solving has long roots in Saskatchewan, having been used by the province’s Indigenous peoples and settlers to devise thrifty and creative solutions to the many challenges they faced. It underlies our traditional values of hard work, resourcefulness, and good neighbourliness. Saskatchewan business owners have translated those concepts into the perseverance, ingenuity, and consumer-focused attitude they use to craft appropriate and affordable responses to their customer’s needs.
“Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits,” TED Talk by Navi Radjou, Oct. 2014. https://www.ted.com/talks/navi_radjou_creative_problem_solving_in_the_face_of_extreme_limits.
First published in the December 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.