Community Is The Most Powerful Unit Of Change

We are less pessimistic about our own lives than we are about larger units. We’re not very pessimistic about our village, we are not pessimistic about our town – but we are very pessimistic about our country, and even more pessimistic about the future of our planet. The bigger the unit you look at the more pessimistic people are about it.

– Matt Ridley

Sometimes, the best way to get traction behind an idea or initiative is to make it as local as possible.

Your own community is the best unit of change. For instance, solving homelessness across the UK is a wicked problem that seems unsolvable. However, making sure no-one on your street is at risk of homelessness seems eminently achievable.

Some of this is just that our brains can’t easily comprehend how to solve massive problems. Counter-intuitively, the bigger the problem the less inclined we may be to help out.

That’s why charity appeals often feature a single distressed child (or animal) rather than featuring thousands. In one study to explore this the psychologist Paul Slovic told volunteers about a young girl suffering from starvation. He then measured how much the volunteers were willing to donate to help her. He presented another group of volunteers with the same story of the starving little girl — but this time, also told them about the millions of others suffering from starvation.

On a rational level, the volunteers in this second group should be just as likely to help the little girl, or even more likely because the statistics clearly established the seriousness of the problem. “What we found was just the opposite,” Slovic says. “People who were shown the statistics along with the information about the little girl gave about half as much money as those who just saw the little girl.”

In my last post I outlined three reasons we fail to solve problems, but there’s an important fourth one: sometimes we simply try and approach them in ways that are too hard to comprehend. We go way too big when we might be better off starting really small.

As Matt Ridley explains in this conversation with Jordan Peterson, optimism plays a hugely important role in innovation. And we are most optimistic about our own community – making it fertile ground for solving local problems.

One of the reasons that frugal – or jugaad – innovation thrives in parts of Asia is because it concentrates on local solutions, solved using simple means, with a spirit of eternal optimism.

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, two of which I took myself in Cambodia.

Building a house with discarded cola bottles:

Making tea using an iron:

Tea-making-iron-jugaad

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

IMG_7492

Bike + Tuk Tuk + Wifi:

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 06.40.48

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.

Frugal innovations are extremely context sensitive and it’s understood that local people are the ones best placed to understand their needs and address them – almost the opposite of how large scale change is managed in organisations.

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

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

As an ex-colleague of mine William Lilley said a few years ago: Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has strengths beneath the conceptions that you have of them. But if you’re curious enough, you may just find that the answers you’ve always been looking for are there, often right beside you.

There is a massive untapped reservoir of skill and talent that we choose to ignore because we think we could do it better as professionals.

It could be that a lot of our problems are sitting there waiting to be solved by our colleagues and communities.

We just need to give them permission, and get out of the way.

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

Tea-making-iron-jugaad

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

IMG_7492

Bike + Tuk Tuk + Wifi 

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 06.40.48

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.

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