Frugality is a Mind Set

One of the common misconceptions we have about frugal innovation is that we believe it has everything to do about creating products and services that are cheaper. Certainly, affordability is one component of being frugal, but it is not the driver. I would even argue that the cost of what we develop is only a result of us having the correct attitude from the beginning.

To understand the concept of frugal innovation properly, we first need to understand the conditions requiring a frugal approach, and these circumstances are the driver of the path we choose.

Here, I argue that there are 2 main situations that trigger frugality.

Urgency is very often triggered through our conditions. Although it is difficult for many of us to empathise with people who lack running water, electricity or any communal infrastructure, the fact is that a number of people in various regions of the world, including the so-called developed countries are faced with situations that are unfathomable. The fact is that we don’t have look far to find such a state. Just say Flint, Michigan! We develop products and services that simply do not function in such environments, and we scratch our heads and ask out loud why we are not able to meet certain people’s needs.

Necessity is prompted very often through the ecosystems we have created that, through time, are no longer tenable. The near-universal awareness tied to global warming is only the most obvious example.  The product-in | trash-out model contains within it certain flaws that are no longer justifiable, and the excess of this construct are not sustainable moving forward.

What do these two conditions have in common? They both require us as innovation enablers to first properly understand the predicament our customers find themselves. We need to develop a frugal innovation mind set in order to come up with solutions that address the issues at hand. Without having the right approach from the start, we run the danger of

  • Not understanding the problem that needs to be solved. Very often, we make the erroneous assumption that we understand the conditions only to find out later on that our proposed solution has little to no value for the recipient
  • Missing the opportunities that our offering could bring to the intended audience
  • Neglecting the possible negative impact our solution can bring about
  • Wasting our energies in developing products and services that nobody needs
  • Continuing on a path where our offering loses meaning.

Affordability is only one component of the frugal mind set and should be viewed as a subset to the overlying issues tied to scarcity.  Once we start to understand that the underlying causes invariably are tied to the elimination of waste and the dearth of our customer base, we are then able to provide options that generate real benefits.  This is what frugal is all about.