The device is a masterpiece of simplification. The multiple buttons on conventional ECGs have been reduced to just four. The bulky printer has been replaced by one of those tiny gadgets used in portable ticket machines. The whole thing is small enough to fit into a small backpack and can run on batteries as well as on the mains. This miracle of compression sells for $800, instead of $2,000 for a conventional ECG
Frugal products need to be tough and easy to use. Nokia’s cheapest mobile handsets come equipped with flashlights (because of frequent power cuts), multiple phone books (because they often have several different users), rubberised key pads and menus in several different languages. Frugal does not mean second-rate.
The article goes on to talk about several methods for how to profit from reducing costs which seem misguided. Frugal innovation is about thinking about meeting the needs of huge numbers of customers that can’t afford conventional solutions. By talking a new look at the situation and attempting to find solutions with significant price constraints new markets can be opened. Often this requires thinking similar to disruptive innovation (products that serve a similar need but less completely than current options).
It also requires the engineering principles of appropriate technology. I highlight this thinking in my Curious Cat Engineering blog and find it very worthwhile. For organizations that have a true mission to serve some purpose using such thinking allows a greatly expanded potential market in which to make a difference in the world.
There is a great quote from Jeff Bezos that captures one reason why organizations so often fail to address frugal innovation: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.” Many organizations are focused on trying to charge more, not less. Another problem is that decision makers often have no life experience with cheap solutions – this doesn’t prevent frugal innovation but it does make them less likely to see the need and to decide to solve those customer needs.
Gah! Trying to read about the “Simplicity: The Art of Complexity” (er, what?) conference. But the description at the conference site is the exact opposite of simple, clear writing:
An investigation of the essence of simplicity must necessarily get involved with the psychology of human-machine interaction. Why do we display such a strong proclivity to regarding technology as an externally imposed authority, to condemning or venerating it?…If we merely equate simplicity with simplification and reduction, simply let the technology become “invisible”, we not only manifest our inability to even recognize the type and extent of the technological deployment
This post on the excellent signal vs. noise blog illustrates how one can lose their way when trying to simplify. Lean and other management improvement folks can learn a lot about eliminating non-value added steps, clean design, simplifying systems to improve performance… from this blog. The examples are mainly relating to software development from a true understanding of lean thinking (though I don’t have any evidence they are familiar with the Toyota Production System or lean tools/concepts). Continue reading →