6 Principles of "Frugal Innovation"

At P.C.M.A.’s Convening Leaders conference, consultant and author Simone Ahuja shared strategies from emerging markets that can be used to solve problems faster, cheaper, and better.

By Mitra Sorrells January 15, 2015, 7:00 AM EST

Photo: Jacob Slaton

Frugal innovation is based on the Indian concept of jugaad, meaning an ingenious, creative fix developed with limited resources. At the Professional Convention Management Association's Convening Leaders conference Tuesday at McCormick Place in Chicago, author and owner of Blood Orange agency Simone Ahuja explained how the key principles of frugal innovation can be used to create better experiences at meetings and events. “Customers want not only more value, but they expect more customization. The idea of providing more customization at a lower cost is creating an urgency for a new approach,” Ahuja said.

In wealthy countries such as the United States, innovation has traditionally been driven through expensive research and development. But Ahuja argued the opposite can be more effective. “Not only is it possible, but having fewer resources might actually enhance our ability to innovate. This is a mindset thing we are talking about,” she said.

To apply the concept of frugal innovation, Ahuja said planners should follow these principles:

1. Find opportunity in adversity.
Reframe the problem. Take something that is a threat or seems like adversity and turn it into an opportunity.

2. Do more with less.
Don’t default to asking for more. Think about what you already have in a new way to create even better solutions.

3. Think and act flexibly.
Be improvisational rather than rigid.

4. Keep it simple.
Complexity can cause problems. More choices are not necessarily better than fewer.

5. Include the margin.
Know your customers and include them in your problem solving process. “Can we ask them what they need and go beyond that and really observe them and walk in their shoes?” she said.

6. Follow your heart.
Be passionate and use that to move ideas forward.

As the first step in innovation, Ahuja urged planners to ask “what if” questions, and then to be willing to fail. “If you really want to do something new you have to experiment,“ she said. “And if you haven’t had any failures you probably haven’t experimented enough.”

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