Necessity is indeed mother of invention—regardless of resources, study shows

September 28, 2017 by Shannon Roddel, University of Notre Dame

Previous studies have shown that a lack of resources stifles innovation—that people in the U.S. and around the world who live in resource-scarce environments are unable to be innovative and make an impact.

But new research from the University of Notre Dame argues that people who live in extremely poor environments can also be highly innovative in a different way and provide benefits to a range of people through creative problem solving.

"The Surprising Duality of Jugaad: Low Firm Growth and High Inclusive Growth" is forthcoming in the Journal of Management Studies by Dean Shepherd, the Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship in Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, along with Vinit Parida and Joakim Wincent of Lulea University of Technology in Sweden.

The study shows that although Western theories on creativity emphasize the importance of access to resources and the generation of innovations as a source of sustainable competitive advantage for firms, it's a different case in resource-poor environments of the east. There, entrepreneurs rely on "jugaad," a Hindi word that roughly translates to "hack."

Jugaad means finding a low-cost, intelligent solution to a problem by thinking constructively and differently about innovation and strategy. And while the solution may not offer a competitive advantage for a firm, as is typical in Western practices, it does benefit the person, the community and the industry as a whole.

Through a case study of 12 problem solvers in the highly resource-poor environment of rural India, the researchers examine the impact of jugaad, which relies on assertive defiance (unwillingness to accept constraints on resources, thinking or behavior) for engaging trial-and-error experiential learning to utilize available resources for new purposes, resulting in frugal, quick-fix solutions.

"Dismissing this form of innovation because it does not benefit the single organization is to miss its larger impact, which is called inclusive growth," Shepherd says, "because it looks more broadly at who benefits—the benefit generation is more inclusive. It's a process of innovation that people in resource-poor environments can use to impact their lives and the lives of those in their community."

"They can be innovative by combining and recombining available resources into unique bundles," he says. "For example, by using machinery parts for purposes for which they were not originally designed and a process of trial and error until a problem is satisfactorily solved."

Shepherd and his team spoke with an innovator who created a natural water cooler, which channels water through copper coils covered in cotton cloth continually moistened by a dripper. Evaporation of water from the cloth on the coils cools the water inside, making it suitable for use in schools, hospitals and elsewhere.

Another entrepreneur created an economical gas-based water pump that uses a moped engine to lift water and rigged a lamp to a gas stove for use during power failures.

"These types of innovation are possible in any place or situation where people find themselves without resources," Shepherd says. "This could include the developing world, but also poor regions in the developed world. During disasters that strip away resources, it is likely those who are accustomed to being innovative with little available are the ones that already have the skills and mindset best suited for the innovations necessary to survive in the aftermath of a disaster. They have become resilient."

An example of this kind of innovative effort occurred in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which was a focus of Shepherd's previous research with Trenton Williams.

"People came together to create ventures that performed a range of tasks to help the community, including organizing locals for searching for food, water and shelter; for search and rescue, providing medical treatment and burying the dead," Shepherd says. "They also created tent cities or other forms of temporary housing and provided both security and law enforcement."

"In the longer term, some of these ventures turned their attention to lobbying the government for resources, transitioned people back into their homes or more permanent housing structures, created employment agencies to help people find paid work and offered psychological services. The initial focus of the ventures was on keeping people alive or burying the dead, and later some evolved to help the families transition to a more sustainable and self-fulfilling life."

A research leader in the field of entrepreneurship, Shepherd specializes in entrepreneurial cognitions, new venture strategy, opportunity recognition and learning from failure. He has written or edited more than 20 books.

Explore further: Frugal innovation

More information: Dean A. Shepherd et al. The Surprising Duality of Jugaad: Low Firm Growth and High Inclusive Growth, Journal of Management Studies (2017). DOI: 10.1111/joms.12309

Related Stories

Frugal innovation

May 17, 2012

Co-author of recently published book 'Jugaad Innovation', Professor Jaideep Prabhu argues that a frugal and flexible approach to innovation can generate breakthrough growth not only in the developing world but also in the ...

A touch of frugal genius

October 15, 2015

A "gutsy" Indian approach to innovation is being echoed worldwide by multinational companies adopting "frugal" approaches that help them do business faster, better and cheaper.

Does greed help a forager survive?

July 12, 2017

In a world of sometimes scarce resources, greed, the trait that encourages resource accumulation, would seem to be an evolutionary advantage. But, new research reveals that while greed may appear to be a good strategy, it ...

How will climate change impact water resources?

June 7, 2017

Access to adequate fresh water supplies is a critically important societal challenge posed by climate change. With rising heat and shifting rainfall patterns, and reduced water storage resilience, fresh water supplies are ...

Research reveals secrets of success of tourism entrepreneurs

June 29, 2017

University of Surrey research into innovative entrepreneurs starting to work in tourism has found, in some of the first analysis undertaken, how they have to use initiative and hard work - and often work for nothing - to ...

Recommended for you

Solving the mystery of an unusual medieval text

July 20, 2018

When historian Rowan Dorin first stepped onto the Stanford campus in early 2017, he made it a habit to visit Green Library every week to dig through its collection of medieval documents and objects.

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

xponen
not rated yet Sep 28, 2017
A frugal inventor can spend their whole day tinkering with stuff. That mean they must had 'resources' to buy that time. People don't simply get skills for free, they need to spend their time playing with objects and gain competence over it.

The inventors is most likely more resourceful relative to the locals. It's interesting if we could see how they collect resources in their environment rather than looking at the society as average.

Local culture or law might be a seed to such situation. For example, they might not exist a stigma to such lifestyle or it might be a praised behaviour, so it catalyse the emergence of such people.
xponen
not rated yet Sep 28, 2017
One colourful example to frugal innovation is Cuba's DIY culture during its communist ruling, partly due to a Trade Embargo enacted by the US prohibiting western technology from reaching Cuban people. As a result, Cuba had this colourful magazine/manual that list all DIY/Hacking invention that is distributed by their government to the people by the people, to overcome the embargo. The result is a plethora of inventions that is really really 'colourful' and practical.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2017
And if something absolutely has to be invented then conditions must be created that make its invention absolutely necessary.

For instance the sham cold war and the need to create mutual assured destruction. The result? 10k tons of fissiles and a mature knowledge of how to store, maintain, and apply it.

Its our ticket outta here.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.