Building a Culture for Frugal Innovation 2: Values


“Make the poor your market” is one of the central tenets of Frugal Innovation. I mentioned it in my first post on this subject, and, taken literally, it speaks to humanitarian values.  “Serving the poor” is a clear and stark answer to why people will dedicate themselves, even work on a volunteer basis, to succeed on a Frugal Innovation project.

At the other extreme is the adaptation of Frugal Innovation at the ACX platform at Amazon.com, which reinterprets poor and needy to undercapitalized partners (writers and actor/producers). Here, the partners value their identities as artists and the new audiences and opportunities Frugal Innovation provides. No one needs to be talked into participating and providing their efforts, initially, for free. They may provide value for readers and listeners in terms of entertainment, inspiration, information, and perspectives, but they also serve themselves in terms of potential revenue, fame, and artistic expression.

Frugal Innovation 2Last time in my article on measurement, I alluded to the opportunity for Frugal Innovation within corporations. In austere times, companies can augment their other innovation efforts, discover new markets, build esprit de corps, and develop leadership by supporting Frugal Innovation, benefits executives and managers can readily appreciate. But what is the motivation for employees? Especially when much of the work is 1) likely to be “off the clock” and 2) aimed at achieving goals that reach beyond their assigned groups and organizations. Executives can and should work to assure employees get credit for their work, even when projects do not come to fruition. And they should protect them from managers who are jealous of any work by employees who report to them that does not benefit them personally. (I’ve heard many managers and executives refer to “my employees,” and that is a major indicator that Frugal Innovation will run into problems. No one owns these employees, and, for frugal projects, they are best thought of as volunteers.)

But, going beyond extrinsic motivations for participation in frugal projects, it is the corporate values that make Frugal Innovation a viable option. New ideas and communication across the company must be valued. Experienced employees must appreciate what newer employees have to offer and be willing to invest their time and energy in mentoring them. The company must appreciate what is learned as much as what enhances the bottomline.  Above all, there must be trust across the business. Employees must believe that those they are working with have their best interests at heart and are competent. They must have faith that they will have a share in credit and their work will better their reputations.

Above all, the projects themselves should promise real, substantial value that reaches beyond the corporation to improve people’s lives. Intrinsic value in terms of health, knowledge, education, understanding, peace, and community development catch the interest and increase the commitment of frugal innovators beyond any rationale around increasing profits.

Frugal Innovation was created with humanitarian aspirations, and, even within a corporation, it can draw adherents for the same reasons provided there is an environment of trust and good will.

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