Skip to content

Frugal and flexible — innovation with limited means

Jaideep Prabhu speaks to the audience at OpenLab in Stockholm.

The Indians call it “jugaad”. “It’s the art of overcoming harsh restrains by producing a good enough solution with limited resources,” says Jaideep Prabhu, professor of Marketing and the Jawaharial Nehru Professor of Indian Business at Judge Business School, Cambridge University.

Addressing the OpenLab opening event this afternoon, Prabhu explained how working with limited means can spur faster, more flexible and better innovation.

Jugaad plays a vital role in the global economy, making it possible for people with low income to take advantage of products middle class Europeans take for granted, such as refrigerators and mobile phones, he says. While many Indians have benefitted greatly from economic growth on the subcontinent, many more simply aspire to improve their lives. Prabhu says that this segment of society “offers a very large, untapped market opportunity” for big companies. But the problem is to compress the production costs of products to make them affordable.

That’s where jugaad innovation comes in. As an example, he points to an electrocardiogram that was designed by students using off-the-shelf components, at a fraction of the cost of a typical ECG. Another innovation was a hand-sanitizing device that can be clipped to a medical worker’s scrubs. It cost only 3 dollars.

It’s not just products either. Using simple, existing technology, mobile operators in Africa and other parts of the developing world have become providers of financial services by enabling people to transfer money and pay for goods via mobile phone.

Big companies are finding that frugal innovation is the only way they’ll be able to compete with smaller companies with little resources, he says. “They have been getting out-competed by companies that didn’t have resources.”

But you don’t have to live in India to understand how to take on jugaad innovation. “You have problems in your own backyard,” he told the audience in Stockholm. “So you have to engage with people, you have to engage with consumers in those areas,” he says.

“Frugal, flexible innovation is crucial for our world.”

David Callahan


Where do false memories come from?

NBC TCA Summer Press Tour 072106
Suspended NBC News anchor Brian Williams

There’s speculation that NBC anchor Brian Williams’ account of riding in a helicopter under enemy fire was based on false memories. It’s a plausible explanation, with plenty of precedent.

The impact of false memories can be devastating, as Williams’ story demonstrates. But there have been worse instances.

Some believe that false memory could account for the bizarre case of Sweden’s most notorious convicted serial killer, Sture Bergwall, who under the name of his alter-ego, Thomas Quick, confessed in a series of therapy sessions to dozens of unsolved murders during the 1980s and 1990s. Later, however, serious questions arose as to whether he was involved in the murders at all. In a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, the convicted Bergwall would finally tell an investigator that he fabricated his confessions.

How could it be that someone believes they remember something that never happened?

One way is through memory implantation, a method that was tested by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham. It could explain how people acquire memories through prompts from others. It goes like this:

A teacher asks students to go home and interview one of their younger siblings on “the day you got lost in the supermarket” — an event that never actually happened. The older sibling brings it up as a homework essay to write. On first occasion, the younger sibling naturally has no recollection of the event. The older one simply says that’s too bad. The next day, the question is repeated. Still the sibling has no memory. The older one says, wow, this is remarkable given how sad you were and how nice the guard was who found you and took care of you. Next day, the question is repeated, and now the younger sibling seems to remember some of it. As days go on, more and more details appear until there is a complete story full of detail. Typically, the younger sibling fills in standard details, things that seem obvious or plausible given the situation. So, depending on how a person gets prompted or interviewed about a situation, this phenomenon can occur.

That might not explain all the reasons why someone, particularly an anchor for a major news network, could present a story that consciously or unconsciously deviates from the facts.

We asked Erik Fransén, a researcher a KTH Royal Institute of Technology who has worked on short-term memory, how can people get it wrong when recalling a story?

“Probably, our memory is like a sparse web of facts, and when we recollect from memory, we make a full dress’ out of these sparse fragments of truth,” Fransén says.” Filling in can be based more or less on these factual observations but also on generalizations using our common knowledge, or as in the case of memory implantation, from fragments that have incorrectly entered into this web.”

Perhaps we’ll never know why Brian Williams said the things he did, but one thing seems apparent, recalling things from memory is not as simple as it seems. And memories aren’t always facts.

David Callahan

Getting out of the silos

IMG_5314“When you distribute the burden, everyone becomes more creative, and more open,”says Uli Weinberg, the director of the School of Design Thinking at Hasso-Plattner-Institute, who just made a solid case for interdisciplinary teamwork here at OpenLab. As individuals, we’re limited to what we can accomplish in problem-solving, he says.

Programs like D-School at HPI are aiming to do better, using a model that is builds on the adage, “two heads are better than one.” D-School at HPI has been in operation for about 8 years and has not only taken on the problems of sponsoring companies, but has generated student start-ups as well.

What is Design Thinking? It’s a method of encouraging collaborative creativity to solve problems in a holistically and user-centered way. It’s about breaking out of silos and linear thinking, he says. You combine small teams of perhaps six people from different disciplines — say, life science, engineering, and creative disciplines — and let them work in the iterative design process at a flexible work space.

“We asked companies to give us their problems, the challenges they face,” Weinberg says. “(But) we don’t focus on tech or business; we focus on human values — the changes and needs of people, because they are radical.”

David Callahan


Meet us at OpenLab opening tomorrow

OpenLab also has a beautiful new cafe, which looks like the place to be even when there is no conference.

Stockholm is an old town, but in the new millennium it is having growing pains. The city and regional governments have started a partnership with local universities to address complex social issues in this region. It’s called OpenLab and it has an official opening tomorrow at its new home, Valhallavägen 79. Tomorrow we’ll kick off this new blog at the conference to inaugurate the new OpenLab center.

To start things off, OpenLab invited thought leaders from an range of disciplines to speak and participate in panel discussions starting at 1 p.m. The list is pretty stellar:

Alfredo Brillembourg, who holds the chair for Architecture and Urban Design at ETH in Zurich;
Jaideep Prabhu, professor of Marketing and the Jawaharial Nehru Professor of Indian Business at Judge Business School, Cambridge University;
Marina Ranga, Senior Researcher, H-STAR Institute, Stanford University;
Devi Shetty, Indian philanthropist, social entrepreneur and cardiac surgeon;
Christina Agapakis, biologist, writer, and artist;
Daisy Ginsberg, designer, artist and writer;
Uli Weinberg, ‎Director of the School of Design Thinking at Hasso-Plattner-Institute;
Pär Hedberg, founder and CEO of Stockholm Innovation & Growth.

So, With such a slate of speakers, it’s easy to imagine there will be lots to talk about. Keeping with the mission of the Stockholm Technology Blog, to report on and highlight research and innovation here at KTH, your correspondent will bring you updates throughout the afternoon, to give you a taste of some of the ideas brought up at OpenLab.

David Callahan