During the last couple of years, as the world has gone through turbulence having almost faced the worst recession of all times, the consumers have become wary of investments. The plastic-card happy consumer is embarking on an era of thrift. Today, as the consumers are saving more, they also want more value for every penny spent. To add to these woes the depleting material resource base across the world and increasing global population (expected to touch 9 billion by 2050) has only meant that the cost of living will increase significantly in the future. It would thus take a walloping effort from organizations and policy makers across the world to repudiate the Malthusian theory.
One such solution that could address the concerns raised above has been captured by an eminent Indian thinker, R.A Mashelkar. According to him what’s going to be crucial for the 21st century is Gandhian Engineering; which is all about getting “More for Less for More” (M4L4M) – more value for less cost for more and more people. This is possible only through a change in mindset of organizations across the world where they focus on innovation. However, this innovation has to be more of disruptive and less of incremental.
The last few grueling months however, have ensured that people across the world have realized the potential and importance of innovation for a sustainable growth. The following chart acknowledges the fact that there has been a credible increase in the amount of interest shown in innovation during the worst 2 years (2008-09) in recent times.
Incidentally, the last 2-3 years have also been the time when social scientists and policy-makers world-over have noticed a valuable Indian contribution to innovation and indeed have taken a serious note of that. The Indian contribution has been more on the lines of “low-cost innovation” punctuated by the idea of M4L4M, more famously termed as Jugaad, and is seen as the latest export to the developed world. Although the use of the term Jugaad remains controversial (the word originates in Hindi and has a negative connotation), it has become synonymous with low-cost innovation. As we can see from the graph below, across the world, the reference to the term “Jugaad” has been a very recent phenomenon and has had a major influence emanating from India.
The primary focus today is about organizations adopting the low-cost innovative ideas from India. However, I feel this new concept of Jugaad or low-cost innovation should be handled deftly and shouldn’t be seen as a blind man’s navigation device. The innovations arising out of the Indian heartland, although being very-very low cost ideas, are many a times the result of a necessity and thus are purely a matter of chance.
Hence, while organizations today are ready to adopt ‘Jugaad’, there are two more things that they should be ready to adopt: learning from low – cost inventions in India at one end and on the other high-cost inventions from the west.
Accordingly, what needs to be done by the organizations is not only to be prepared to replicate the successful innovative business models but also to have teams which have an eye for inventions from India. It becomes imperative to trap the local inventions (most of such inventive ideas from India/emerging economies don’t have a large outreach as they only fit the local bill) and tweak them to ensure a more global outreach. This would need organizations and policy makers to be ‘INNOVENTIVE’ rather than being simply ‘Innovative’ or ‘Inventive’.
As said earlier, being absolutely driven by low-cost solutions for people and having low-cost innovation business models would be a perfunctory approach. Business and policy makers should appreciate the necessity to also invest significantly in research to have the High-cost innovations. Although the probability of the realization of potential from high-cost business models is as good as the low-cost ones, the former model has the capacity to change the world in case of a success and examples in this area shall be: the emergence of Google or the stable of Apple products. These two organizations invest heavily to create a new market place for themselves, without compromising on their sustainability because of increasing costs.
A prime example of an organization in India which has adopted the three measures of ‘low-cost innovation’, ‘low-cost invention’ and ‘high-cost invention’, all under a single roof is the House of the Tata’s. Their ‘low-cost innovation’ comes in the shape of Tata Nano where they innovated the existing delivery model to produce the cheapest family car in the world. Their ‘low-cost invention’ comes as ‘Tata-Swach’ – a water purifier at less than $20 – where they invented a new technology and used naturally available resources to purify water. And finally, their ‘high-end inventions’ come from their foreign acquisitions of Jaguar-Land Rover and Corus.