People who live in extremely resource-poor environments are likely to be highly creative problem-solvers to benefit themselves and their communities, according to a new University of Notre Dame study conducted in rural India.

The new findings counter those of studies in the West which have suggested that a lack of resources stifles innovation and that individuals who live in resource-scarce environments are less likely to be inventive and make an impact.

So while Western theories on creativity emphasize the importance of access to resources and that consistent innovation is a strong source of competitive advantage for firms, the new study suggests that it’s a completely different case in the resource-poor environments of the East. Here, entrepreneurs rely on “jugaad,” a Hindi word that roughly translates to “hack.”

Jugaad essentially means finding a low-cost, intelligent solution to a problem by thinking constructively and differently. And while the solution may not offer a competitive advantage for a firm, as is typical in Western practices, it does benefit the person, the community and industry as a whole.

The study is published in the Journal of Management Studies.

The research was conducted by Dr. Dean Shepherd, the Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, along with Drs. Vinit Parida and Joakim Wincent of Lulea University of Technology in Sweden.

The study involved the evaluation of 12 problem-solvers in the highly resource-poor environment of rural India. The researchers examined the impact of jugaad, which relies on assertive defiance (unwillingness to accept constraints), and how this trait resulted in frugal, quick-fix solutions.

“Dismissing this form of innovation because it does not benefit the single organization is to miss its larger impact, which is called inclusive growth,” Shepherd said, “because it looks more broadly at who benefits — the benefit generation is more inclusive. It’s a process of innovation that people in resource-poor environments can use to impact their lives and the lives of those in their community.”

“They can be innovative by combining and recombining available resources into unique bundles,” he said. “For example, by using machinery parts for purposes for which they were not originally designed and a process of trial and error until a problem is satisfactorily solved.”

For example, one innovator created a natural water cooler, which channels water through copper coils covered in cotton cloth continually moistened by a dripper. Evaporation of water from the cloth on the coils cools the water inside, making it suitable for use in schools, hospitals, and elsewhere.

Another entrepreneur created an economical gas-based water pump that uses a moped engine to lift water and rigged a lamp to a gas stove for use during power failures.

“These types of innovation are possible in any place or situation where people find themselves without resources,” Shepherd said. “This could include the developing world, but also poor regions in the developed world.

“During disasters that strip away resources, it is likely those who are accustomed to being innovative with little available are the ones that already have the skills and mindset best suited for the innovations necessary to survive in the aftermath of a disaster. They have become resilient.”

As an example, Shepherd refers to the innovation that took place in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a focus of his previous research.

“People came together to create ventures that performed a range of tasks to help the community, including organizing locals for searching for food, water, and shelter; for search and rescue, providing medical treatment and burying the dead,” Shepherd said. “They also created tent cities or other forms of temporary housing and provided both security and law enforcement.”

“In the longer term, some of these ventures turned their attention to lobbying the government for resources, transitioned people back into their homes or more permanent housing structures, created employment agencies to help people find paid work and offered psychological services. The initial focus of the ventures was on keeping people alive or burying the dead, and later some evolved to help the families transition to a more sustainable and self-fulfilling life.”

Source: University of Notre Dame