Simone Ahuja: Blood Orange's 'jugaad innovator' advises MNCs about adopting cheaper ways

 Ahuja vouches that frugal innovation gives MNCs an edge not only in competing against local players but also in offering Indians affordable products.


She has an incredible ability to listen," says Ellie Rogers, a Michigan, US-based marketing professional with Herman Miller, a maker of office furniture, about Simone Ahuja, founder of US-headquartered marketing and strategy advisory firm Blood Orange. Her firm advises US MNCs doing business in India to make high value products with lower costs. For Ahuja, an Indian-origin dental surgeon who grew up in Minnesota, what she does is called jugaad innovation or frugal innovation. 

"The concept is a godsend to companies in the US, thanks to the ongoing economic meltdown. They are now learning to make do with lower resources," adds Rogers.

In fact, the transformation from making products of high quality in a resource-rich environment to making them without compromising on quality in a resource-restrained situation isn't easy, Ahuja notes. It is about the mindset, says the co-author of the best-selling book, Jugaad Innovation: A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century.

For a dental surgeon who had practised briefly back home in Minnesota, Ahuja has immense patience and an eye for detail, recalls Rogers who adds that "she has an uncanny ability to explain things in a very simple way".

Mindset Over Matter 

Doing more with less is the key, insists Ahuja who wouldn't name her clients. "They include those ones in the Fortune 100 list." She hastens to add that there is a lot of difference between mere jugaad and 
jugaad innovation. While the former may be symbolic of the perception about everything Indian — that sloppy, lazy way of doing things, which manifests itself in moving files and in building roads — the latter is about a Gujarati potter's innovation: a fridge made exclusively using clay which stores 18 litres of water. This ingenuity is something she suggests MNCs learn from to stay ahead of the race. "They have to change their mindsets in order to compete in the future," she says.

Payal Randhawa of Saket, Delhi-based Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, which promotes social
entrepreneurship, says, "What sets Ahuja apart is that she comprehends things quickly." She was referring to Ahuja's sensibility to comprehend the use of minimum resources to achieve more. As someone who grew up and studied abroad, she had to change her mindset first in order to grasp the importance of frugal innovation.


Business Edge

Ahuja vouches that frugal innovation gives MNCs an edge not only in competing against local players but also in offering Indians affordable products. "For example, we have helped pharmaceutical firms understand the logic of opting for cheaper ways to produce drugs to sell in the Indian market," she says without elaborating. She says recession produced a necessity for MNCs to adopt cheaper ways and it has helped them change their mindsets faster than usual. Ahuja doesn't want to give specific examples because that would violate confidentiality contracts she has entered into with clients.