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Bola Owoade

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Senior Learning and Development Advisor

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Frugal Innovation


A couple of days ago I wrote a post about innovation and my premise was that if learning and development functions are to drive innovation in their organisations, they themselves must be innovators. Why? Because you can't make happen something you yourself are not doing. As a learning and development practitioner I want to innovate and on the back of that I have been doing some reading to help me learn more about innovation Just last week I read a book about innovation titled Frugal Innovation by Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu. When I first saw the word "frugal" I thought it was all about innovating on the cheap, but that's not what the the authors mean. The authors defined frugal innovation as: createing significantly more business and social value while minimising the use of diminishing resources such as energy, capital and time. As far as they are concerned and this is reiterated throughout the book, organisations now have to create products and services with high quality while using less resources. The authors cite rapid change and dimishing resources for why this is necessary. They use statistics to explain how huge investments in r&d is yielding less value and productivity from large corporations, while small and more nimble startups are innovating faster with much less resources.

Radjou and Prabhu have come up with six principles for organisations to implement frugal innovation which are:

  1. Principle one: engage and innovate
  2. Principle two: flex your assets 
  3. Principle three: create sustainable solutions
  4. Principle four: shape customer behaviour
  5. Principle five: co-create value with pro-sumers
  6. Principle six: make innovative friends

You can read a fuller review of the book and a bit more about these principles here:

Anyway how would frugal innovation apply to learning and development? My new focus around books is to take learn just one learning idea from the book. My learning idea from this book comes from the first principle of frugal innovation, which is to engage and iterate. The example of how Scott Cook started Intuit is used to illustrate the importance of learning about customer behaviour in their natural environment. After releasing Intuit’s first product, Quicken, a personal finance management desktop software product, Cook would follow customers home to see how they used the product so that he could better understand how they used it, their challenges and changing needs. With this information he continued to improve the product through iteration. This has become a culture at Intuit which spends lot of time understanding how customers use their products so that they can make them better.

From this idea my questions regarding learning and development are:

  1. How do people use our learning products? Do we really know? Or how do people really feel about the learning support we deliver?
  2. How can we honsetly get to know how people use our learning products and feel about them?
  3. How can we keep learning from our customers so that we can keep improving the learning support we provide?

These questions seem to be concentrating on things we already do, but the real question is, do we really do them? Definitely food for thought.

So the takeaway for me from frugal innovation is that I must find creative ways to engage my customers and learn from them so that I can keep delivering better learning products.




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Bola Owoade

Senior Learning and Development Advisor

Read more from Bola Owoade

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