Constraint as a driver of innovation

or ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ (Mater Artium Necessitas).

I recently came across a really interesting post on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog, in which he lays out 7 “rules that appear to help explain how (some) developing world innovation proceeds”, which I am reproducing here:


– innovation (often) comes from constraint (If you’ve got very few resources, you’re forced to be very creative in using and reusing them.)

– don’t fight culture (If people cook by stirring their stews, they’re not going to use a solar oven, no matter what you do to market it. Make them a better stove instead.)

– embrace market mechanisms (Giving stuff away rarely works as well as selling it.)

– innovate on existing platforms (We’ve got bicycles and mobile phones in Africa, plus lots of metal to weld. Innovate using that stuff, rather than bringing in completely new tech.)

– problems are not always obvious from afar (You really have to live for a while in a society where no one has currency larger than a $1 bill to understand the importance of money via mobile phones.)

– what you have matters more than what you lack (If you’ve got a bicycle, consider what you can build based on that, rather than worrying about not having a car, a truck, a metal shop.)

– infrastructure can beget infrastructure (By building mobile phone infrastructure, we may be building power infrastructure for Africa…

<end quote>

It all seems so obvious and clear when Ethan says it — but how often do we forget or ignore these ‘rules’ in pursuing development efforts?

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