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Frugal innovation

2014

What do Renault-Nissan's Logan, Siemens's Multix Select DR X-ray system and Unilever's Surf detergent have in common? All three products represent a major conundrum: how can companies switch from a "Big is beautiful" mindset to one of "Good enough" or "Best fit"?

The answer is "frugal innovation" – the art of making more out of less, when the "less" is already on hand. In this issue we explore three assumptions. First: emerging markets are no longer markets that simply scoop up whatever they get from the high-end Western producers. Second: scarce resources are forcing companies to be more efficient in how they use raw materials and more careful of costs (see the previous issue of COO Insights). And third: What's good for the emerging markets can also be good for the entire world.

It sounds simple – but deceptively so. Frugal innovation is not a cure-all, but it is a sensible modification of our sometimes too-rigid innovation culture. After all, as Albert Einstein put it: "One cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it in the first place."

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