Opinion: Innovation in the Lockdown era — A frugal approach

frugal-approach

By Shane Herath

There’s an unprecedented level of uncertainty and even panic regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it has on the industries that we operate in, and the world at large. Businesses worldwide are preparing for the worst — with the virus not showing any signs of slowing down — taking action to protect themselves and mitigate the losses. As healthcare systems are struggling with a shortage of masks and ventilators in their fight against the virus, creative solutions are emerging worldwide. A ventilator that was developed in a staggering ten days by Dyson in the UK, an open-source low-cost ventilator developed by MIT and a low-cost easily scalable medical ventilator designed and developed by Vega Innovations in Sri Lanka to name a few, are good examples in this regard.

The focus understandably is on business continuity and functioning with perhaps scaled down operations, it is ill-advised to freeze innovation waiting for normal service to resume. This could be a short-sighted approach as we have all seen that, toughest times, recessions or downturns are always a great time for disruptive innovation.

Some entrepreneurs and business leaders are aware of the opportunity that these difficult situations represent for them, which could mean that there will be many new and smarter low-cost alternatives that emerge out of repurposed and existing technologies, new technologies or entire new business models to undercut and disrupt the incumbents in a wide range of sectors.

As far as innovation models go, a frugal innovation model is the need of the hour, with most of the global the economy in decline due to coronavirus. The ethos being developing good products fast and at a low-cost than normal. In a resource-constrained world with usual logistics and procurement channels being challenged, this approach to innovation is the way to go, which emphasises speed, agility, and low-cost.

Here are the top three key learnings from a frugal approach to innovation.

1. A good enough product is good enough

Understand what the real need is at its core, and be conscious of over-engineering. Pay close attention to the problem to be solved and focus on designing a good enough product that addresses the pain points. Testing, getting customer feedback by way of rapid prototyping and validation from the target market throughout the process is important. It is a well-established fact that a lot of products developed are full of features that do not get used. Power is shifting from buyers who value features and functionality to preference towards value pricing. Stick to the basics and lean it up!

2. Repurpose and Reuse

In an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) and resource-constrained world businesses must explore reusing and repurposing existing technologies, resources, products, business models and even distribution channels to generate value.

There are good examples of R&D teams shifting their focus from creating from scratch to reusing or re-mixing existing technologies. A medical device maker using Digital Direct X-ray technology leased from another company and re-engineering it to use for standard X-rays to be used in healthcare settings at a fraction of cost, is probably one of the best examples in this regard. It is about developing capabilities to continually design and deliver affordable yet sustainable solutions to value-conscious consumers.

3. Flexibility

The sheer diversity, extreme volatility and uncertainty are unavoidable especially to resource-constrained innovators in emerging markets. This demands that these businesses have to constantly think out of the box, adapt their business models, experiment and improvise until they meet the value for less cost. Flexibility not only in product design but in an age of scarcity how to radically challenge and reduce the capital intensity of business model, enabling businesses to do more with less. However low-cost does not mean poor quality but delivering higher value at low-cost.

Flexible thinking must translate to flexible action, breaking down organisational silos and frequently challenging the status quo to come up with previously unthinkable value propositions. To thrive in this highly volatile and at times resource-scarce world, the ability to think and act flexibly is crucial.

Please share your views. What was your experience on innovation and innovation models? What would you add to the above learnings?

(- Written by Shane Herath, April 2020. Shane is a Technology Professional currently based in the UK, President, Europe of RedBeryl IT, with over 17 years of industry experience -)