Breaking the mold, going against the grain, forging new paths, swimming against the current, daring to be different, and turning the status quo upside down are all clichés reflecting an attitude and approach to life that is not for sissies. And yet for some, this mindset is intrinsic to their character and guides the way they move through their multi-faceted world. My name is Mel Lim. I have been doing the unexpected and unconventional since I was a small child. Shaped by my Malaysian culture, my family, my love of color, texture, and all things design that began in childhood, and the real economic hardship I experienced at an early age that challenged our wellbeing and survival, I had intrinsic drivers to excel beyond all limitations. And I began to perceive every limitation as a reason to go beyond it and find the opportunity in the unknown.
— Both my parents were entrepreneurs. My father was a developer and my mom had a furniture manufacturing business— SO at a very early age, I was exposed to sales, marketing, business and client management. For me, Rule Breaking is not so much about “defiance of accepted norms” as it is about “compliance with an innate drive to push limits, assume risk, innovate frugally, and evolve person and profession to the next level. This is an ongoing, self-perpetuating, way of living in the world. It is the “embodiment of design and its core principles,” which live first in the imagination and then manifest into tangible existence. It is a way of being in that creative space of what “could be” and making it real by hurtling what are sometimes very daunting obstacles.
— But things were not always peachy— My family suffered their first bankruptcy in 1985.— I grew up a hungry child— Food was scarce
Do we “turn the status quo upside down” or do we really just bring it up to speed? My early life gave me the drive and training for my life and career. I experienced a recession and bankruptcy in my family when I was eight years old, which gave me painful clarity that survival was not an option. I knew early on that in order to achieve my dreams, I had to have the very best education at a prestigious college. So I left my country of origin, which meant leaving everything with which I was familiar. I put my dreams before the traditions of my Asian culture, which has stringent attitudes against leaving one’s parents. My resolve to succeed and excel was deepened further when at age 19 I again encountered bankruptcy as I struggled to pay my way through college.
— Came to the US when I was 19— Left Malaysia & everything I was familiar with; broke typical Asian cultural norm of staying near parents
— Studied architecture. The only way I was able to leave the country, was to choose a respectable profession. ARCHITECTURE.
My resolve to succeed and excel was deepened further when, at age 19, I again encountered bankruptcy as I struggled to pay my way through college.
I did not have the typical college experience. To survive, I worked four jobs concurrently in college and graduated in four years. I was the “boss of me,” and I was unrelenting. I expected 200% because I had started from zero. I came to the United States as an immigrant, without a family, without money, and without any familiarity with this new, wonderful, and intimidating country in which I found myself.
And by the age of 24, I had designed an international mall. When I look back, sometimes in awe and disbelief, and ask myself “How did I even manage to do that?” I realize that my intrinsic defiance of set rules was actually a valuable lever that took the force of my focus and helped me strategize, manage, and redefine much that would normally try to define and shape me. DESIGN LIFE AND BRANDS
I have applied that valuable lever of “questioning and defying set rules” throughout my professional life, and have found it to be a valuable tool, and intuitive guide in key business areas.
What is frugal innovation? (Soy Sauce with White Rice)To me it’s like eating white rice with soy sauce!!!How can I position what I have and get it rolling in ways that will maximize the effort I put into it? Frugal innovation, according to NaviRadjou, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and frugal innovation leader, is also sometimes referred to as Jugaad innovation. Jugaad is a Hindu term describing a unique mindset: the gutsy and agile ability to improvise effective solutions with limited resources using ingenuity and resilience. So officially, frugal innovation is a way of improvising solutions where resources are limited.
The industrial and technology revolutions have turned us into “throw away” societies where we have no expectation of product longevity or retention, where we expect the endless flow of money and goods, and where we do not demand top value and quality. We have tried to export this mindset to developing countries around the world, but a growing awareness of limited resources is hitting that ideology and method of operation head on.
But with just a few more bits of ingredients…Frugal innovation truly is a way of proving that less can be more. And it challenges us to focus deliberately and to constantly raise our standards and expectations of the “parts” and how we put them together to comprise the “whole.” In so doing, we can generate more business, product value, and social value. And we can redefine “value” to also include “beneficial.”
In a world of growing populations, where demands on limited resources are growing and must be distributed among many, frugal innovation is not only a good idea and game-changing strategy. It is also necessary. Scarcity, it turns out, is the mother of invention.
Just as I had to learn in my life as a student, employee, and business woman how to innovate and do more, faster, better, and cheaper with less, so too the companies and industries of the world are now challenged to abandon the “bigger is better” mindset and tenaciously adopt the “frugal innovation” business paradigm.
Frugal innovation is more than a trendy new business paradigm. It is the constant challenge and opportunity to explore and unleash the maximum potential of a service or offering. It tests a company’s mission compass, core values, strategic abilities, creative capacity, laser focus, and willingness to move beyond a profit-motive mindset to the earth-wise and social-wise, ethical mindset of maximum utility and efficiency. It challenges the traditional Western innovation paradigm of “bigger is better.”
More entrepreneurs and startup companies are questioning “the big stuff,” the need for growing big as opposed to staying small and working from home, the need to “upsell” as opposed to staying true to one’s core, one’s values, what one knows and does absolutely best of all. Other entrepreneurships and companies are radically breaking the rules, rethinking “business as usual,” embracing a truly ‘global view,” and intuiting the importance of maximizing resources for biggest impact and not necessarily biggest payoff.
Anyone who runs a business that achieves the four value dimensions of Frugal Innovation -- Affordablility, Quality, Simplicity, and Sustainability – should be proud. When frugal innovation is authentically exercised, everyone wins.
The company Siemens, which provides solutions for industry, healthcare, and the environment, leads the way with a large portfolio of frugal solutions which they have branded as SMART (Simple, Maintenance-friendly, Affordable, Reliable, and Timely-to-market). Their SMART solutions are 40-60% cheaper, more energy-efficient, and easier to implement, use, and maintain. Siemens sees the wisdom of not simply being defined by the big stuff. They understand the importance of and the demand for the “beneficial.” Siemens, the German industrial giant, is also leveraging the jugaad mindset of its R&D groups in India and China to develop frugal solutions that deliver higher value to customers. For instance, Siemens’ Indian engineers—in close collaboration with their German peers—have developed a Fetal Heart Monitor that uses inexpensive microphone technology rather than costly ultrasound technology. This affordable Fetal Heart Monitor is part of Siemens’ larger portfolio of frugal solutions labeled SMART (Simple, Maintenance-friendly, Affordable, Reliable, and Timely-to-market). SMART products are 40-60 percent cheaper than high-end solutions. They are also energy-efficient as well as quicker and easier to implement, use, and maintain. Siemens estimates there is a US$200 billion global market for SMART products. As Peter Löscher, CEO of Siemens, affirms: “Scarcity of resources is not an impediment but an enabler (of innovation).” Embrace Baby Warmer: An innovative, low cost infant warmer for vulnerable babies in developing countries. EMBRACE started with four founders all from Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability program. Their idea was to create this affordable infant warmer for developing countries where traditional incubators are cost prohibitive and often unusable because they require electricity. They focused on who their users were— doctors and parents in rural villages. The design of the infant warmer looks like a miniature sleeping bag, the bag has a pouch of PCM (wax-like material that can keep babies warm for up to 6 hours). EMBRACE has set a goal of saving 100k infant lives over the next 3 years and preventing illness in more than 700k babies. Tata Nano: Made and sold in India, the Nano is the cheapest car in the world today. Priced at $1800 US, the Nano remains the lowest cost four wheeled passenger vehicle in India. The purchase price of this no frills auto was brought down by dispensing with the most nonessential features, reducing the amount of steel used in its construction, and relying on low cost Indian labor, as well as a new design concept called “Frugal Engineering”. Frugal engineering was coined in 2006. This type of design concept was designed to better those at the bottom of the pyramid. Liter of Light: A global open source movement with the aim to provide an ecologically sustainable source of light to underprivileged households that do not have access to electricity or have difficulties to afford electricity. The invention is simple. It involves filling up a 1.5 liter bottle with purified water and bleach and installing it onto the roof of a house. The water inside the bottle refracts the sunlight during the daytime and creates the same intensity as a 55 watt light bulb. With the correct installation and materials a solar bottle can last up to 5 years. This concept was developed by students at MIT and is based on the concept of “Appropriate Technologies” a concept to provide simple and easy replicable technologies to communities in need.
Stop and examine every aspect of your business operations and offerings and ask how you can do it better, faster, cheaper, smarter, and more efficiently. But that is only the first part of the equation. Then ask what the benefits of your refinements are and how they contribute to satisfying the demands of the masses, to enhancing quality of life, and to minimizing environmental footprints and maximizing social value.
The numbers of people I see starting out in business today thinking they are automatically entitled to or even NEED venture capital to get started makes me shake my head. We all think we are these red hot ROCK stars.Mmmmm not quite.
The truth, according to writer Cynthia Kocialski, author of Startup from the Ground Up is that in the past 10 years, venture capitalists funded 30,000 startups out of which only 10 made it to the status of a “Google.” People just starting out need to be inspired by the people who started with the basics: with a simple idea, and the passion to make it live in the world.
— Do I need to have an MBA? Or an Ivy League education?— Do I need VC funding?— Do I have to be a certain color, sex, an American to be a successful entrepreneur?
The essential ingredients consist of having a great idea, discipline, persistence, a desire to forge new paths, a willingness to defy odds and take risks, an inherent passion for innovation, and the crazy belief that end users will not only be attracted to what you offer, but will also value it and derive some benefit from it. So, how do you get started? Where do you look for inspiration?
In UX Design, as we all know, we use market segmentation and personas to help drive product and service creations. When designing your business and life, look for the unusual suspects…Look for mentors, teachers, healers, not necessarily, vcs, millionaires, or ceos to be on your advisory board.
Look for those individuals who inspire you at every level of being: professionally, intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually, etc. They come from every walk of life. Learn their story. Chances are that even if, and maybe especially if, they are humble, they will be more than willing to share their lessons and what they’ve learned along the way. Some contemporary entrepreneurs have quite phenomenal stories of transformation that inspire and make others feel hopeful.
As an ex homeless, drug addict and prostituteEntrepreneurs like Dani Johnson, who with $2.03 to her name and $37,000 in debt went from a tormented life of abuse, homelessness, drugs, and prostitution and almost overnight at age 21 became a millionaire using her resourcefulness and intuition to begin a weight loss program sales business. Moneyless, and living out of her car and on the beach in Hawaii, Dani decided one day after a night of heavy partying to drown herself in the ocean rather than face what she thought would be her future. While in the water waiting for the end to come, she had a war inside her mind, climbed out of the ocean, folded up her beach mat, and resolved to change her life and improve her circumstance. Today she is a multi-millionaire who runs five companies, jets around the world teaching success strategies to people from every walk of life, and works tirelessly and gives generously to provide food, clothing, and shelter to children all around the world.
As a mother on welfare….JK Rowlings, originally of humble economic means, is an amazing female entrepreneur success story and also a generous philanthropist. In fact, in February of this year she received the Beacon Award for Targeted Philanthropy. She is the second wealthiest female entertainer next to Oprah Winfrey, and according to Forbes Magazine is the first person to become a billionaire by writing books. In 1995, while divorced and struggling to raise her daughter on a welfare check of 70 pounds a week, she wrote a children’s fantasy novel entitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After a number of rejections, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published her first literary effort. The work was an international hit and Rowling wrote six more books in the series, which sold into the hundreds of millions and was adapted into a blockbuster film franchise.
As an immigrant….Well, okay it’s a stretch, but maybe you get the idea. The take-away here is to build your company on an idea or product that you know that people want and simply can’t refuse. Surround yourself with like-minded people and be dedicated, disciplined, and unrelenting in your passion for your product and your mission. Remember ultimately that as you are evolving your business, you are also modeling and setting an example to others as well. Be the inspiration you want to see in the world.
As a pregnant mama
Sometimes falling down teaches us how to fly, how lush the earth is, or what it is that keeps us truly grounded in our work. Being an entrepreneur is about constantly dreaming new dreams, recalibrating one’s vision, taking risks, innovating new ideas, and taking the journey as opposed to reaching the destination. It’s about being a revolutionary, a game changer, a force for introducing the ideas that change the world.
While the world will try to give you a set of criteria for what constitutes failure, the true Entrepreneur will write their own rule for what “failure” means, and it will likely be regarded as an opportunity to engage imagination. We must constantly be prepared to reinvent ourselves and our efforts, over and over. Where success is an opportunity to evolve to the next iteration of something wonderful, failure, for the true entrepreneur, is an opportunity to reassess, recalibrate, refocus, and reinvent.
— The amount of stores, media, awards, press, users, twitter followers…all those don’t mean anything unless they somehow are contributing to the overall VALUE of your product or service offerings. You see people boasting numbers of users, numbers of downloads, the amount of revenue they bring in, but they don’t talk about their overhead, debt and how many actual paying customers they have.— This is one of my late father’s many rules…he said Cash Is King. Run your business with your own money before you try to run it with someone else’s. Know the true value of money. Grow with your cash, spend with your cash, and if you can succeed without borrowing , then your business is worth my time. — Screw saving face. If it’s time to let go, let go. No one will judge you if you decide to end your business. Sell your business, quit your job.— When an idea is failing, recognize it, allow time to act, and move on.— It doesn’t matter if you are Christina Aguelera or Richard Branson; everyone must be treated with respect, and no one is above anyone.In 2008, a very well-known British retailer that has been around for over 150 years insisted that we provide them with a 9- day credit term. We said no. We thought, heck, if Lehman Brothers can go bankrupt, anyone can.If you want my products, you go with my terms. The recession changed the way we approach business, where it forced us to take a hard look at a company and go, so what if you are Fortune 100, the people we work with at the company, could get laid off, companies could file for chapter 11 the next day, and all we had to go from was this big “fake” Brand façade…And that was an eye opening experience. — Business is always personal – every business decision I make, affects my staff and my family. Of course it is personal!—
— What is the definition of success?Are you easily impressed with big brands, big companies?Are you impressed when someone tells you yeah, I’ve managed a 10 million dollar account?Or are you impressed when someone says, I’ve managed to raise 4million in two years. Break the rules and challenge yourself to ask. Dig deeper……after all, the Bentley could be a lease
Should you always stay positive?— A NY Times article on failure; Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and director of a financial consultancy called Market Psych in New York, says that when faced with failure, many people hang on and try to save face and their business by investing even more, rationalizing that things will turn around. — YES and NO.— A recent article on Inc. on positive thinking: Positive thinking is a wonderful thing, but it can get you into deep trouble. If you're not careful, positive thinking can turn into "magical thinking" where your desire to win overwhelms your ability to perceive what's actually going on.Be positive you'll achieve your goals, but not that your goals will never change.Be positive you'll do your best, but not that your best will always win.Be positive you'll overcome obstacles, but not that obstacles don't exist.Be positive you can help your customers, but not that everyone is a customer.Be positive you'll make hard decisions, even when it means cutting your losses.Be positive you'll manage your emotions, but not that you'll never be disappointed.Treat positivity as part of your tool kit, but not a tool that fits every situation.
There is a great new york times article: Following Your Bliss, Right Off the Cliffhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/your-money/the-painful-but-liberating-lessons-of-a-career-failure.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0Sometimes you can have what look like all the right elements for business success -- top education, notoriety, impressive career history, investment capital, a great business plan, and even a desirable location -- but you can sink miserably and not know when to walk away. _ Michelle Dalton Tyree, one time west coast editor for Women’s Wear Daily, opened a fashion retail boutique called Iconology in Los Angeles’s upscale Rodeo Drive neighborhood. She invested hugely, creating a space that was custom-designed chic, carrying exclusive collections, partnering with fashion brands, and throwing expensive celebrity parties. She went all out, had lots of press, and stocked a huge inventory, but with the economic downturn, her business folded and she declared bankruptcy. Her lawyer told her that some companies were on their fifth and sixth bankruptcies. Michelle took the lessons of her experience and has opened a marketing and PR firm for retail outlets.—Michael Dearing can relate. Today, he runs his own venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, Harrison Metal, which makes small seed investments in technology companies. He also teaches product development to aspiring entrepreneurs at Stanford University. But back in the ’90s, when he was fresh out of Harvard Business School, he, too, sank a lot of money into his dream of owning his own store. The Industrial Shoe Warehouse had five outlets in Los Angeles that sold work boots (think back to the Dr. Martens craze). “It had a vibe of, like, Urban Outfitters — concrete floor, high beam ceilings, all the stock was on the floor,” said Mr. Dearing. “We had a really good business for awhile.” But, in the end, he said, “It was what you would call a splat-against-the-wall failure.” Mr. Dearing said the economics of running a shoe store were tougher than expected. Plus, the business grew too fast. Then Mr. Dearing’s business partner wanted out. He struggled to keep the business afloat because, he said, it felt dishonorable to let it go. “I personalized the outcome to a degree that it was unhealthy,” he said. “I thought failure was total and permanent — and success stamped me as a worthwhile business person.”
So do you still think that your experience or your connections matter?
Know the wisdom of focusing on core values, avoiding upselling, becoming selective about marketing, knowing what you are good at, and delivering on your strengths and within your scope of expertise. Failure caused me to set the bar even higher for myself, and propelled me into my next evolution of business. Today, one way I measure success is by my ability to have aspirations, to have the vision to sense new opportunities, to have the motivation and means to accomplish them, and to be able to align my team so that they too are inspired to actualize those achievements. I measure success not just by my bottom line or my ability to engage in meaningful and challenging work, but also in my ability to feel that in some small way the work that my firm engages in is having a positive impact in the world, to give back, to share ideas, and to mentor and lead,
Which brings me to this discussion:Everything we do impacts all that is. Are you familiar with the term “The Butterfly Effect”? The expression that if a butterfly flutters its wings in China it can help trigger a hurricane over the Atlantic, It is a term found in chaos theory that refers to the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic, nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. Our world has become so much smaller.
What we do within our business culture has a global effect. We have to have greater awareness. We have to operate, even our small start-ups, with a world-view. Collaborative culture and processes must be integrated across a variety of boundaries: internal/organizational, social, and global.
Cultures all over the world are doing business with one another, but not everyone is —speaking the same language, — coming from the same place, — operating with an equal set of expectations regarding input and outcome,— or even an awareness of what is valued or how it is valued. — Talk about my family diversityCommunication cross-culturally can inadvertently confuse or offend if it is inaccurate. And mediating cultural differences isn’t even necessarily relegated simply to businesses at opposite ends of the globe. Sometimes within company cultures themselves, where there is a diversity of employees, communication barriers make effective interaction difficult.
I recently conducted workshops in Taiwan for design professionals, managers and leaders that make strategic decisions about projects and their firms. I wanted my material to be especially useful for anyone currently seeking methods to better serve their clients, to inspire innovation within their client’s organizations, and create holistic brand experiences. The workshops had a number of goals:Creating spontaneous moments for the random collision of ideas to happen in a safe environment without judgments or limitations; learning to listen and refine skills to detect rejecting; learning to rephrase questions and represent ideas;learning to co-create and rapid prototype; and learning to build culture and teams positively and constructively. What I discovered in the process, even early on as I created the “brief” to describe the workshop, was how easy it is to mistranslate ideas and how insufficient words can be cross-culturally. I also learned that the ideas I was introducing to attendees were fairly “counter” to their own culture and understanding of business. I was, in essence, giving them insight as to how their approaches and processes are perceived outside of their culture, and how they could (break rules and) adjust their business approaches to increase the value and return of their offerings.
In today’s world it is more and more clear that business is less about the products sold and more about the collaborative social and cultural experiences those products provide, from ideation to manufacturing, to end user.
We are constantly finding new and improved ways to innovate, to relate to colleagues, clients, and customers, to succeed and aspire, to be entrepreneurial, and to conduct business in the world. We insist on a greater return on assets leveraged and time and energy spent that goes beyond net profit and impacts mission, vision, and values and the ways in which companies see themselves as part of the world community. It is good to look at everything in which we find ourselves engaged and always ask how it can be even better. It is good to know that each one of us, every individual, has a voice, power, and impact, and can effect change.It is good to be a rule breaker.
―Small is not just a stepping-stone. Smallis a great destination in itself.Don’t be insecure about aiming to be asmall business. Anyone who runs abusiness that’s sustainable andprofitable, whether it’s big orsmall, should be proud.‖– Jason Fried, Author of Rework andFounder of 37 Signals
The 4 Value Dimensions ofFrugal Innovation:– Affordability– Quality– Simplicity– Sustainability
Tata NanoLiter of LightSiemens’ FetalHeart MonitorEmbrace’s Baby Warmer
Challenge The Status Quo:– Mass consumption– Eudaimonia– Social & Environmental Impacts
―Statisticallyspeaking, VCs havefunded 30,000 start-upsover the past 10 years.Only about 250 of themhave gone IPO andbecome publiccompanies. And onlyabout 3 out of 1,000become aMicrosoft, Intel, orGoogle…‖–Cynthia Kocialski, Author ofStartup from Ground Up
Challenge The Status Quo:– Do I need to have an MBA?– Or an Ivy League education?– Do I need VC funding?– Do I have to be a certain color, sex, anAmerican to be a successfulentrepreneur?
―You can’t judge great teachers by their looks.Or their English.Or their profession.Or their education.Or where they were born,where they live, how they dress,how much money they make‖– Alan Webber, Author of Rules of Thumband Co-Founder of Fast Co.
Dani Johnson was homeless, adrug addict, a prostitute.Dani Johnson is now anentrepreneur, a multi-millionaire, a successful authorand a philanthropist.
―Failure meant a stripping awayof the inessential. I stoppedpretending to myself that I wasanything other than what Iwas, and began to direct all myenergy to finishing the onlywork that mattered to me.Had I really succeededat anything else, I might neverhave found the determination tosucceed in the one area where Itruly belonged.‖–J.K. Rowling, Author of Harry Potter series
―I’m going to make him anoffer he can’t refuse.‖– Don Corleone, The Godfather
―At the end of the day, justremember that if you get theculture right, most of the other stuffincluding building a great brandwill fall into place on its own– Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com.‖
ASPIRATIONWhen you aspire,you design the future.PASSIONOur passion precedes us.We love what we do.EXCELLENCEWe aspire to excel & innovate inevery touch point of our work.HUMILITYWe stay humble so wedon’t tumble.TRUSTNo matter what the circumstance,we must maintain our integrity.APPRECIATIONWe practice the art of appreciation,with small gestures that draw big smiles.TEAMWORKWe are powered by the oneness ofthe we, not the me.JOIE DE VIVRELaughter & fun are company assets.OUR MANIFESTO
―Ultimately, we are deludingourselves if we think that theproducts that we design are the―things‖ that we sell, ratherthan the individual, social andcultural experience that theyengender, and the value andimpact that they have. Designthat ignores this is not worthyof the name.– Bill Buxton,Principal Researcher at Microsoft‖