Less-With-Far-Less for the Developing World

The stalled world economy will make growth difficult, and companies are digging in for the long haul, getting ready to do more of what they do best – add more function and features, sell more into existing markets, and sell more to existing customers. More of the same, but better. But growth will not come easy with more-on-more thinking. It will be more-on-more trench warfare – ugly hand-to-hand combat with little ground gained. It’s time for another way. It’s time for less. It’s time to create new markets with less-with-far-less thinking.

Real growth will come from markets and consumers that don’t exist. Real (and big) growth will come from the developing world. They’re not buying now, but they will. They will when product are developed that fit them. But here’s the kicker – products for the developed world cannot be twisted and tweaked to fit. Your products must be re-imagined.

The fundamentals are different in the developing world. Three important ones are – ability to pay, population density, and literacy/skill.

The most important fundamental is the developing world’s ability to pay. They will buy, but to buy products must cost 10 to 100 times less. (No typo here – 10 to 100 times less.) Traditional cost reduction approaches such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) won’t cut it – their 50% cost reductions are not even close. Reinvention is needed; radical innovation is needed; fundamental innovation is needed. Less-with-far-less thinking is needed.

To achieve 10-100X cost reductions, the product must do less and do it far more efficiency (with far less). Product functionality must be decimated – ripped off the bone until only bone remains. The product must do only one thing. Not two – one. The product must be stripped to its essence, and new technology must be developed to radically improve efficiency of delivering its essence. Products for the developing world will require higher levels of technology than products for the developed world.

Radical narrowing of functionality will make viable the smaller, immature, more efficient technologies. Infant technologies usually have lower output and less breadth, but that’s just what’s needed – narrow, deep, and less. Less-with-far-less.

In the developing world, population density is low. People are spread out, and rural is the norm. And it’s not developed world rural, it’s three-day-hike rural. In the developing world, people don’t go to products; products go to people. If it’s not portable, it won’t sell. And developing world portable does not mean wheels – it means backpack. Your products must fit in a backpack and must be light enough to carry in one.

Big, stationary, expensive equipment is not exempt. It also must fit in a backpack. And this cannot be achieved with twist-and-bend engineering. To fit in a backpack, the product must be stripped naked and new technology must be developed to radically improve efficiency. This requires radical narrowing, radical reimagining, and radical innovation. It requires less-with-far-less thinking. (And if it doesn’t run on batteries, it should at least have battery backup to deal with rolling blackouts.)

People in the developing world are intelligent, but most cannot read well and have little experience with developed world products. Where the developed world’s solution is picture-based installation instructions, less-with-far-less products for the developing world demand no instructions. For the developing world, the instruction manual is the on button. And this requires serious technology – software algorithms fed by low cost sensors. And the only way it’s possible is by distilling the product to its essence. Algorithms, yes, but algorithms to do only one thing very well. Less-with-far-less.

The developed world makes products with output that requires judgment – multi-colored graphical output that lets the user decide if things went well. Products for the developing world must have binary output – red/green, beep/no-beep. Less-with-far-less. But again, this seemingly lower-level functionality (a green light versus a digital display) actually requires more technology. The product must interpret results and decide if it’s good – much harder than a sexy graphical output that requires interpretation and judgement.

Creating products for the developing world requires different thinking. Instead of adding more functions and features, it’s about creating new technologies that do one thing very well (and nothing more) and do it with super efficiency. Products for the developing world require higher technologies than those for the developed world. And done well, the developed world will buy them. But the crazy thing is, the less-with-far-less products that will be a hit in the developing world will boomerang back and be an even bigger hit in the developed world.

2 Responses to “Less-With-Far-Less for the Developing World”

  • Suresh:

    Good article and following are my thoughts.

    The developing world lives in wider contrast than developed economies.
    High and low population density, rapid urbanization, inefficient resource utilization, weak infrastructure, Lack of education and access to knowledge, corruption bureaucracy and lack of regulation, wide, lower per capita income, health, environment degradation etc.

    People who develop products for developing economy has to live, embrace, empathize the society and provide solutions that encompasses above challenges.
    Products has to simple, reliable and encompasses multiple technology taking into above issues and keep the cost low.
    Companies and products have to be sustainable and socially responsible.

    More openness, education, knowledge, access to information and collaboration will propel our societies for better products and solutions ahead.

  • Love it- ugly hand-to-hand combat with little ground gained, and no one coming out the winner, just declining losers YET others will spot the opportunities and something will emerge

    Re-imagining and less-with-far-less -such a focal point Mike, keep pushing this avenue of thought- we cannot afford to lose sight of it.

    Look around and use what is in our natural environment with a little help from technology


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