Frugal innovation, like all innovation, is a social activity. The best work comes from a team with a variety of capabilities, perspectives, and experiences, and the ability to share their talents and skills effectively.
Of course, that describes any competent, effective teams, but frugal innovation teams have requirements that must be fulfilled if they are to succeed:
Intrinsic motivation – Passion and commitment can be bought on other teams, but not on frugal innovation teams. Each person on the team must be personally dedicated because they work more as volunteers and employees. Often, they have “day jobs” where their work will not provide benefits to their reporting organizations. They may never get credit for the extra hours they put in and the contributions they make. (More than once, I had to ask the leaders of teams I belonged to not to send letters of appreciation and acknowledgment to my bosses because they would have caused me trouble.)
Respect – This has two aspects. First, these teams work best when they have people of genius and care with whom it is an honor to work. They expose the team to great approaches, share experience, and mentor. (Prima donnas need not apply.) On the other hand, hierarchy cannot matter for a team. Whoever has the insight and knowledge may end up leading a task force.
Flexibility – Answers come in the strangest forms for frugal innovators. The need to adopt and adapt may lead to the use of technologies and approaches that challenge assumptions and look bizarre. Solutions may start out sloppy and incomplete. And, especially in the face of client feedback, things can be learned that demand entirely new approaches. There is also a special freedom, since financing and direction from the top is limited, to dramatically change direction. Above all, these projects are not completely defined, so participants need to deal with uncertainty.
Resourcefulness – Frugal innovation teams often start out with little in they way of budgets. They also, since they usually work across organizations, do not have automatic access to experts, data, and even clients. They may never get the chance to meet face-to-face (though a good sponsor will make this happen). Along the way, they are likely to find they need resources that no one anticipated in the beginning. Once their project is done, they may face hurdles in presenting their conclusions, solutions, and prototypes to people who can take them into the marketplace. This means some people on the team must be inventive in finding and securing resources, recognizing substitutes, inveigling their way into meetings, creating opportunities, and pitching to potential allies.
Note: individuals on the team may not be strong in some areas. (For instance, a brilliant analyst may not have communications skills, but this can be modulated by people on the team who can work with him or her and communicate the findings to the rest of the team.) But the team as a whole must be intrinsically motivated, respectful, flexible, and resourceful if it is to succeed.