Bending The Rules To Drive Frugal Innovation

The frugal innovation revolution, by making the means to innovate more widely available, has the potential to speed up the innovation process – Jaideep Prabhu 

Jugaad is a Hindi word that roughly means ‘solution born from cleverness.’ It’s usually applied to a low cost fix or work-around. In a culture where people often have to make do with what they have it’s an improvised or makeshift solution using scarce resources.

Anyone who has been to India or other parts of Asia will have seen examples of jugaad on a daily basis.

In case you’re new to the word I’ll give you four pictures:

Building a house with discarded cola bottlesmain-qimg-7e79d5a4f92759828ed2b38169d17f1b-c

Making tea using an iron

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Attaching an extra seat onto mopeds (or attaching  literally ANYTHING onto mopeds)

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Bike + Tuk Tuk + Wifi 

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I’ve seen washing machines used to whip up yoghurt drinks, an indian toilet converted to western style just by sticking a chair over it. The spirit of frugal innovation is everywhere.

Although the book Jugaad Revolution was published four years ago – it’s only now entering mainstream thinking in many western organisations. 

Partly this is a result of austerity. In an era of abundance there isn’t much desire for the simple fix. Scarcity drives creativity in ways abundance cannot.

We’ve also seen a generational shift. Many of us have moved towards a post-materialistic mindset. We are more interested in the environment. More interested in experience rather than acquisition. Digital platforms have opened up new marketplaces and information exchanges so we are all buyers and sellers – of products, services or even knowledge. 

A new report from Nesta asks whether Europe needs frugal innovation.  It’s well worth a read – particularly the points around how little real innovation is around for low income consumers.

The question is whether organisations – often risk averse rather than risk seeking – can bring the principles of jugaad on board without killing the spirit.

Most organisational approaches to change or transformation are carefully structured. Agile or lean are process frameworks, whereas jugaad is void of process altogether. 

Innovation in the social sector is often focused on introducing shiny new things rather than bending the rules to make existing things work. Even creating new things with meagre resources requires a complete shift in thinking. 

I’ve been out with quite a few customers recently and it has reminded me of two things:

  1. I need to get out more. You don’t solve the problems that matter from a lab or office.
  2. Innovations ARE passing a lot of people by. The relentless focus on digital and technology as an end in itself is blinding us to the real needs of communities.

Our own Lab is currently running a test that very much harnesses the spirit of jugaad. We are developing resident skills to open up ways they can do their own home repairs – literally hacking the home.

My personal belief is this is the best way western organisations can adopt jugaad: by directly channelling it into communities themselves. The frugal revolution needs to be driven by people – not from your boardroom.

That means learning to forget the past, and challenging our current solutions and mindsets.

Bromford alone has over 80,000 customers. Imagine if everyone of them became a jugaad innovator – hacking solutions for themselves and the wider community.

The time for westernised jugaad has very much arrived.

Can Working Out Loud Inspire Creativity and Inclusion?


Collaboration – for all the rhetoric – is much harder , and for many of us less preferable, than working in isolation.

Today we’ve woken up to find the  UK has made a historic choice. A choice that could be interpreted as a desire to go it alone rather than working with others. To seize ‘control’ rather than work within a large and complex network.

The biggest innovation challenge we have today and in the years ahead – is that we simply stop talking to ourselves. That we value inclusion and collaboration above all.

The opportunity afforded to us by digital networks was meant to open up a new era where organisations committed to improving people’s lives (that’s most of us, right?) commit to open learning, sharing and collaboration.

It won’t happen without a lot of hard work. Most organisations and sectors thrive on insularity. It’s the way we’ve been raised. Working with others is messier, less predictable and more complex.

The issue is , right around the world , people are working on solving exactly the same problems. Huge amounts of talent seeking to address, income and health inequality, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, ageing, digital exclusion and loneliness.

Yesterday I spoke at a conference led by Suzanne Rastrick. It was organised by the NHS – the single biggest employer across Europe. It filled me with a lot of hope for the future. I like the way that Suzanne and her colleagues are reaching out to other sectors to get their ideas. Reaching out to communities to provide a less paternalistic and more human health and wellbeing service.

Most of our challenging business issues, fall into the category of Wicked Problems. These aren’t amenable to the single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.

These issues are incapable of being explored through hierarchical corporate machinery, a single sector or even a single state. They need an open network of rebels and pragmatists, doers and doubters, idealists and investors. Only through truly open innovation will we tackle them successfully.

That means working out loud – something we’ve begun to do at Bromford but needs far more development.

  • It means opening up your organisational borders to fresh thinking , new partnerships and ideas.
  • It means moving away from intranets – the death of corporate innovation – where all your knowledge is locked away from those outside your organisation. (And often from many within it too).
  • It means stopping wasting money on conferences where sectors congregate to talk to themselves. Instead we need strategies aimed at purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation.
  • It means generously sharing your knowledge , successes and failures through blogs , accessible dashboards and other digital tools.

However it feels right now, we are much better connected. Digital technology means we can share and learn in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago.

We still have the opportunity before us to connect communities, businesses and sectors – boosting our capacity and capability for innovation and change.

We still have the opportunity to connect with others across real and imagined borders and form movements and partnerships that change things for the better.

In that respect – today I’m just as hopeful as I was yesterday.

To Boost Innovation We Need To Make Ourselves Obsolete

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If you’re of a certain age you’ll sometimes find yourself reminiscing about an age where things were built to last.

My own mother swears her first washing machine lasted for over 20 years. Today,  Apple expects the lifecycle for an average iPhone to be just three.

Firstly – this is almost certainly a rose tinted view of the past.  I remember several breakdowns and days of hand washing in our house. Statistics back me up – In 1971 Which? found that 50% of washing machines broke down in their first year. Today the chances of a breakdown in six years is just 12%.

Secondly – the relative cost of technology has fallen dramatically. In 1970, the cost of a washing machine was extortionate – equal to about 8% of average annual earnings. Today it’s barely 1.5%. 

In truth – today’s goods are far cheaper and far more reliable than they ever were before.

The price we pay for this innovation is a much shortened lifecycle. And it’s known as planned obsolescence.

This is a strategy in which the process of becoming obsolete— unfashionable or no longer usable – is planned and built into it from conception.

Many see planned obsolescence as a driver for innovation.  Philip Kotler has described it as

the working of the competitive and technological forces in a free society—forces that lead to ever-improving goods and services.

Others regard is an exploitation of customers – driving them through a never ending cycle of wasteful upgrade or repurchase.

However – I propose that it has a place. And that includes a role in how we design our organisations and how we design our public services.

One of the questions I often hear asked is why aren’t our organisations embracing change, new technology, social innovation, more quickly.

The answer is pretty simple I think:

Getting rid of the old is harder than embracing the new.

All the talk and excitement of sexy new tech and ways of working runs out of steam when faced with legacy systems, established practices and policies. All formed in a very different age and stuck in place like a limpet on a rock.

Whilst organisations are generally very good at coming up with new ideas and practices they are generally not so skilled at decommissioning older ones.

  • So what if we designed all new services and products with the life cycle of an iPhone?
  • What if our customers and colleagues knew at the launch of a service that the infrastructure was in place for just four years , after which a newer , more powerful upgrade was to be launched?
  • What if rather than plan on our services being around forever , we designed for the very conditions in which they would cease to exist?

Wouldn’t that be a better future than yet more failed attempts by services to fix society? 

Over the next few months Bromford will be launching a completely re-engineered way of providing our core service. In fact it’s less a service and more a relationship. A relationship less about housing and more about people.

It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past few years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our customers when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things. 

This redesign will be accompanied by a process of decommissioning.  And we’ll have dates by which we will know whether objectives have been achieved. Dates when we can begin again or decide we are no longer needed in the same way. Or even at all.

If we all planned for obsolescence we’d perhaps see a very different social sector. A sector where innovation wasn’t endlessly lauded so much as endlessly practiced.

A sector where things maybe didn’t last so long , but where services had more impact, were cheaper, and rarely broke down like they used to.

Stepping Behind The Rhetoric of Digital Transformation

Fundamentally the challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model which is rooted in serving a de facto purpose which is disconnected from the people and places the organisation or leaders serve – Carl Haggerty

 

Yesterday I chaired an event where the CEO of HACT , Matt Leach, gave us a wicked provocation.

Talk of a digital transformation in housing (he could also have been talking about care, health etc) is rubbish.

It hasn’t happened.

All the talk , all the conferences , all the clubs , the tweets,  all the lists of digital leaders – it’s all rhetoric.

Nothing has changed.

We are delivering the same services as we did in 1965. Just with shiny websites and customer portals.  

It’s a point that Carl Haggerty also refers to in his must read post. Too many people are claiming that there is digital transformation happening – when really it is just automating legacy processes.

It’s improvement for sure. Less time for customers , less money for providers – but it’s not ‘transformation’, a word possibly even more abused than innovation.

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Here’s what transformation could be:

  • Rebuilding your organisation as platform – enabling people to select the suppliers and services they themselves want – rather than the ones that made it through your procurement framework.
  • Rewiring your organisation for the network era – stripping out hierarchy and management and making the,  often painful, transition to decentralised decision making.
  • Automating everything that can be automated. But not before stripping out legacy protocols and systems.  Decommissioning old world services as you launch new ones, reserving your people for worthwhile jobs that add value to their lives and those of others.

Transformation is not about the illusion of radical change (better, faster services , less crap than they used to be) but rather a fundamental rethink of why you exist – and a reshaping of the ways you deliver upon it.

That said, a few events I’ve been to over the past week have reminded me that many of us are a long way from this.

For a lot of people closer to the frontline some minor changes could be truly transformative.

Over the past days I’ve heard the , sometimes sad,  reality of people trying to change things whilst their organisation seems to fight against it.

  • Of organisations where social media is still banned, or at least actively discouraged
  • Of organisations where IT departments tell people resources like Yammer and Slack cost £35,000
  • Of people stuck using digital tools that were last updated when Gordon Brown was in Number 10.

(As an aside I was told great stories of young people entering the workplace not knowing what Outlook is. Not even realising that Microsoft made anything other than Xbox!)

For all the talk of transformation we are in an era of digital haves and have nots. And Matt rightly questioned how seriously this agenda is taken strategically.

  • How many social sector organisations have true digital leaders on their boards?
  • How many Chief Information Officers (or their equivalent) are part of the executive function?

At the end of the conference I collected up some of the evaluation sheets.

The first one had scored my slot , presented in the slides above, 5 out of 10.

My talk of robots, 3D printing and self management was a world away from what they needed. They just wanted tips on how they could convince their organisation that social media had a business benefit.

Transformation, like innovation, is all relative. We need to support whatever makes a difference to people. 

What if Uber did health, housing and social care?

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If you’ve been to a conference in the past 12 months – you’ll almost certainly have seen the slide above, or a version of it.

Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a sprinkle of sophistication to otherwise ordinary presentations. It’s a sit up and take notice slide that says: ‘Better listen, or you could be history.”

However – it doesn’t always hit its intended target. A significant portion of the audience at a couple of events I’ve been to recently have looked at each other as if to say ‘that couldn’t happen to us’.

The reason for this seems to be the comfort blanket that can come with extended working in the public and social sectors.

The thinking can go like this.

  • We are different.
  • We deal with people who are highly complex with multiple needs and vulnerabilities.
  • No tech outfit could hope to understand the extent of the personalisation involved in our services.

It’s optimistic thinking – probably the same that was held by some taxi firms pre-Uber and hotels before Airbnb.

It’s going to take radical change a lot closer to home before many managers recognise how profoundly the rules of business have changed in the digital age.

Arguably though , it’s already happening. I’ve made a slide of my own that might be more relevant to the public sector.

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Far from fantasy – we are at the beginning of the end of one size fits all health, housing and social care monopolies.

Some examples:

Mercy is a hospital with no beds, no waiting rooms and no patients.There are nurses but they work virtually, providing care across 33 hospitals. The strategy is quickly expanding beyond hospitals and into the home. By keeping tabs on patients at home, Mercy can help keep people with chronic conditions out of the hospital.

Buurtzorg is a care system without managers, even though it has 9000 employees. To kill bureaucracy and overheads there are no call centres. Nurses take the calls. In self-managing teams of ten they plan patient visits and decide how long they spend there, depending on their judgement of the need.

Honor is home care without direct employees. Like Uber , the care professionals here are self employed and use an app that helps them find and keep track of job offers. Applicants undergo background checks and in-person interviews to screen them, with only 5% allowed onto the platform so far.  More flexible than traditional care – it allows people to book packages in just one hour increments, and aims to foster long-lasting relationships between caregiver and the customer.

What these systems and technologies do is to enable existing infrastructure to be used more efficiently. They are harnessing the power of the connected citizen rather than the analogue organisation. As Alastair Parvin has written – we are no longer stuck with the choice between the public sector and the private sector. The citizen sector now needs to be recognised as a viable, industrial force.

Is it impossible to imagine a local authority as just a digital platform with its services all outsourced?

Paul Blantern, Chief Exec of Northamptonshire County Council is almost there. The Council employed 12,000 people when he took over. Today they employ 6,000 and his vision is to reduce that to just 150. He was asked in this programme “Is there anything you wouldn’t outsource?”. His response – “No – it’s all about the outcome to the end user.” Essentially the ‘Council’ could reduce to zero as long as people feel the services are still good. [UPDATE MARCH 2018: This approach was ultimately disastrous]

Is it impossible to imagine other organisations , housing associations for example, being managed entirely differently? Rather than multiple companies we may see a singular platform where users themselves directly procure the services they need from the cloud. The next generation of housing manager could be an algorithm rather than a person.

It’s not just housing. Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption.

There’s no question about whether the Uber , AirBnb, Facebook and Alibaba of the public sector will emerge.

It’s simply a matter of when.

 

[Credit to  Mike Clark and Shirley Ayres for inspiration on the slide! Thanks both]

 

How To Kill Creativity (And How To Rebuild It)

Many of our organisations , without realising it , act as inhibitors of innovation.

Rules and protocols are put in place — often for very good reasons — that preserve the status quo. Over time, organisations develop a set of social norms — ‘the way we do things around here’ designed to protect the business from failure.

One of the biggest inhibitors of innovation is part of human nature itself — the fear of losing what we’ve got.

What if innovation isn’t about doing more stuff but just removing barriers?

What if we just become more conscious and innovation takes care of itself?

Perhaps by identifying and removing barriers we can accelerate innovation simply by leveraging the capability that’s already there.

Six things we can stop supporting:

Hierarchy

Most corporate structures are uniquely designed to ensure that any decent idea never goes near the top table. Structures that support hierarchical decision making limit opportunities for people to have influence and innovate.

Push power down by giving each employee as much decision-making power as possible within the framework of his or her job.

Restrictive job profiles

Job descriptions are like organisational treacle. They cause inertia because the moment employees are given specific responsibilities they expect them to stand still. They cause people to focus on “just doing the job”, not “thinking outside the box”.

Huge resources lie untapped. The networked organisation of the future will utilise the skills of people regardless of where they sit or what they do.

Over complication

What if we made it the number one objective of management to just get out of the way?

Most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in management and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

Silo Working

It’s hard to innovate when people work in silos. Splitting teams into isolated units limit the ability to identify which areas could be combined to create new products and services.

Lack of resources

Innovation is not about doing more stuff but doing less. We need to have honest conversations about decommissioning non value-added services. Go through your website and find 10 things you could stop doing today.

Reports and approvals

We need less time in meetings and more time conducting dangerous experiments.

Let’s stop writing reports and use the resources to create a space where an idea can take its first few breaths without someone trampling all over it. Let it come to life in a nurturing environment where we can see if it solves the right problems.

Too many organisations are failing to grasp how profoundly the rules of business in the digital era have changed. How we must become more networked, more social and more agile.

Our environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and interconnected. We can’t afford to have our organisations stifled by the protocols of a very different age.

(This article is an excerpt from “Can Innovation Labs Save The World” — a talk given to the National Housing Federation — full slides below)