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Charles Leadbeater’s views on the “Frugal Future”

Charles Leadbeater's views on the "Frugal Future"

Charles Leadbeater is a respected author, a leading authority on innovation and creativity whose advice is sought by both governments and corporations internationally. He is currently researching his next book, 'The Frugal Innovator,' due to be published in 2014, which analyses the spread of super low cost, simple, robust and shared solutions to pressing social challenges.

Leadbeater believes that the common consumer-society innovation model of creating more/better/ faster products has run out of steam, and this has lead to the economic downturn we are facing today. He argues this is not a temporary dip; austerity and low growth in the developed world are here to stay, and this "new normal" is one of three important drivers for future innovation. The other two are the growth of the global middle-class with over a billion people—mostly from India and China—whose aspirations and demands cannot be easily met with current offerings, and the increasing constraints placed on natural resources such as energy, water and minerals.

He has identified 4 dimensions of successful innovations in this frugal future: lean, simple, social and clean.


1 Lean means the application of the principles of lean manufacturing in very different areas.
2 Simple relates to the user experience rather than the technology. New products and services must be easy to use in the context
of the users' background—this means optimising the entire system rather than just individual components.
3 The social dimension pertains to ever more sharing—not just in shared ownership schemes for durables such as cars, but also to social transparency. If you know what the average energy consumption in your street is, you can see how you compare.
4 Clean is not limited to environmentally friendly. It also means durable, re-purposing what is already in place, rather than replacing a product or system with a completely new one. Upgrade/ adapt rather than replace something that offers a partial solution.

Leadbeater has identified 4 dimensions of successful innovations in this frugal future: Lean, simple, social and clean

Leadbeater believes that in this time of economic crisis, the developed world must look to the third world for solutions. Frugal innovation involves developing solutions, which are simple, shared, re-us
able and recyclable. However, also tailored to the issues and barriers
 to development found in a spe
cific community, whether it is in Nigeria or Colombia, Pakistan or Mexico. In these locations Charlie argues brands are currently not an important aspect of the consumer market. It is not something people are prepared to pay for. This means designers, as we recognise them, have to rethink what they know. This perhaps calls for a greater sense
 of humility about their skills and knowledge, and further reflection how they might engage in innovation at a global level.