Necessity is the mother of all invention – or so they say. I can remember being in Castle Bromwich (outside of Birmingham, England) visiting Jaguar Motors. The site that Jaguar sits on today was once the location of a factory that was converted from building cars to producing high performance Spitfire fighters when Britain declared war on Germany at the outset of World War II. The Spitfire was the most widely produced and arguably most important single-seat fighter built during that war and was the backbone of the RAF during the dark days of the Battle of Britain in 1940-41.
But in 1938 that factory was owned by the Morris Motorcar Company. It wasn’t until late in that year that the British Government ordered the first 1,000 Spitfires. That plant had to be disassembled and completely redesigned from top to bottom in order to accommodate the Spitfires which were still being designed. By the time war was declared on September 3, 1939, the factory had 2,815 employees and was producing its first aircraft. By early in 1943, employment at Castle Bromwich swelled to over 15,000 people working 24/7 to produce not only the crucial fighter, but the legendary Lancaster bomber of “dam buster” fame.
Having spent most of my professional career in the auto industry, this is a staggering accomplishment to me. In just 12 months – to disassemble, re-design, retool and rebuild a facility like that is remarkable when you consider that today, it takes 24-30 months to launch a new car line even with all of the technological advancements, software tools, and productivity aids the auto industry developed over the years. Virtually none of that was available in 1939. But these people improvised, cut corners, mapped things out on napkins, and used lots of common sense and hard work to pull off this amazing feat. What drove them was the fear of an impending war, intense time pressure and the knowledge that failure was not an option.
The lesson here is that when there are constraints, pressures and limited resources we are capable of improvising and innovating in ways that are not common under most other ”normal” circumstances.
A new book Jugaad Innovation, by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, & Simone Ahuja suggests ways you can challenge your R&D team. Jugaad, comes from a Hindi word meaning “an improvised solution born from ingenuity”. At the core is the idea of frugality.
The authors argue that many Western companies, after the Second World War, were fixated on the ideas behind mass production and economies of scale which were paramount during the difficult war years when so many nations were fighting for survival. The response to this was to develop complex, rigid, bureaucratic and “siloed” R&D structures and processes. While these may support a mass production system, they also create an inflexible and long development cycle that is less useful in a complex and rapidly changing world. The authors further suggest we need to think more like those innovators in the British midlands – more entrepreneurial, frugal, flexible, practical, and common-sensical.
Want another example of frugal, practical innovation? Consider Mansukh Prajapati, a potter by trade who had a working knowledge of clay.
He tried to solve the problem of creating a refrigerator in a part of India that had no electricity, no manufacturing, no technology infrastructure and no nearby research university.
What he invented was a terra-cotta box with an upper chamber which was filled with water. As the water seeps through to the lower chamber a cooling effect is created by evaporation. The result is a refrigeration product that is completely green, biodegradable, consumes zero energy, and produces no waste during its entire lifetime. True it won’t keep your popsicles frozen, but it is an ingenious and life changing innovation for Mansukh’s region and for a large part of the developing world.
He was driven by constraints (no electricity, no money, no infrastructure) to solve an important problem in a new way. This is a key innovation point: you can drive creativity by forcing people to look at conventional problems in different ways.
So what are the key principles behind Jugaad Innovation?
- Seek opportunity in adversity. Think of adversity as your friend. As in the Spitfire example, it can provide a strong motivation and make your team think out of the box – because they must. In my business, we once completely redesigned a major product line to be 30% less costly in three days when faced with the prospect of losing a major contract. We turned our anger and frustration into the creative energy we needed to develop a new solution that for us was not possible without the existence of the crises.
- Do more with less. Thinking minimally is not natural in many Western societies where abundance has been a normal part of the culture. We need to break the paradigm connected to this abundance and get people to design solutions that are right for a situation, rather than intended to show off our technical expertise. (One analysis by Microsoft suggests that 90% of the features they build into their products are seldom or never used. So why can’t there be a $50 version of Microsoft OfficeTM that would be more than fine for the vast majority of us?)
- Think and act flexibly. In a dynamic and unpredictable world, flexibility and speed are vitally important. Google has designed its innovation model around small, flexible and empowered teams who are free to react to the new situations they observe and encounter. According to Google’s Eric Schmidt: “we don’t have a 2 year plan [for much of our innovation], we have a ‘Next Day’ plan.”
- Keep it simple. Simple almost always leads to faster and cheaper. When a company like GM launches a new car line, maybe 70-80% of the parts are completely new. Each must be redesigned, validated, integrated, and tested. What if only 20-30% of the parts were new? Wouldn’t shortening the new car introduction cycle make them a more nimble, more cost-effective producer? That is the direction they are now heading – too bad it took going bankrupt for them to consider this strategy.
- Include the margin. Our Western mass production mind-set causes us to design products we think will appeal to the largest group of consumers. But there are always segments on the fringes who perhaps can’t afford the price or don’t need the most common features. Sometimes thinking about these fringe markets can be helpful. Procter and Gamble is a company that is rediscovering this. As they have gone global they came to see that many of their products were just too expensive for the developing world. A colleague of mine worked in P&G’s Baby Care group (which makes Pampers). He told me how Procter was learning how to adapt their product designs and manufacturing processes to meet the much lower price expectations of many foreign markets. Almost as an afterthought they came to realize that there were a growing number of people in their home market (the US) who were also facing economic issues. So product innovations developed for overseas are now being brought to serve consumers who were not previously on their radar.
- Follow your heart.Innovation is as much about instinct as it is data. We need to learn to trust out gut reactions more. We have all had the epiphany that “I knew I should have done that”. Harnessing our intuition is a powerful skill that we need to master. In the innovation business, we can’t know everything about what will or will not work – sometimes you just have to follow your instincts and go from there.
Try your own Jugaad Innovation Challenge!
So put these principles to the test in your own organization. First, pick some “wicked problem” of your own choosing. Then invite your employees to create Jugaad teams. Give them some constraints (based on time, or money, or both), and invite them to develop the best solution they can, in competition with each other. Tell them they are not bound by any of the rules that normally govern your new program or product development process. Celebrate the best solutions – and the creative efforts put forward by ALL those who participated. Learn from the experience. Implement the best ideas. You just might surprise yourself.
Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth, excerpt from the book.
Jugaad: A Frugal, Flexible Approach to Innovation, from Knowledge@Wharton
Jugaad innovation, Q&A with Authors, from the Jugaad Innovation website.