Book Review: Frugal Innovation – Doing More With Less
Mrs K picked up this 2015 book by Cambridge Judge Business School academics Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu for me on the way home from a recent business trip. I’ve been looking for some inspiration in Sustainability thinking, so I got stuck in.
Frugal Innovation as a concept emerged from the Appropriate Technology movement and, more recently, the Bottom of the Pyramid idea championed by CK Prahalad. Fundamentally, it refers to designing consumer goods for people on very low incomes (e.g. stripped-to-the-bone functionality, smaller quantities, higher durability, better repairability).
However, Radju and Prabhu broaden the definition to include any ‘doing more with less’ concept and the book is as much about sustainable products and services in the ‘developed world’ as it is about Bottom of the Pyramid thinking. In fact, in their relentlessly upbeat and somewhat breathless prose, they quote many examples which appear only tangentially related to the idea of frugality at all – I had a constant nagging feeling I was reading a compendium of latest business thinking that the authors think is cool.
There are other problems as well – statements and statistics are often presented without evidence, source or context, and the authors fall into what I call the ‘Evergreen trap’, quoting Interface’s eponymous carpet leasing initiative as a success, when in reality the company had to withdraw it when they found customers couldn’t get their head around carpet as a revenue item. They’re not the only big names to fall into this trap, but it immediately makes me question how much we can trust the multitude of other case studies quoted.
The bits I did like were the two chapters on customer engagement as this is an area of real challenge for my clients, and they include some case studies and stats I was unaware of (of course I’ll have to check them out before quoting them), but overall I found the book frustrating, sprawling and sloppy. My hunt for inspiration goes on…