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Corruption and Injurious Innovation
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By J Mac Ghlionn

Frugal innovation involves the creation of new products or services at lower costs. Such a description, however, does the concept a grave injustice. In fact, frugal innovation, or FI, is more akin to a state of mind, one that thrives on creative problem-solving. Gupta (2012) considers FI to be a philosophy of sorts, where an individual or individuals offer novel solutions to everyday problems.

In India, FI comes in the form of jugaad, a Hindi word that means finding low-cost solutions to problems that exist in resource-scarce environments (Prabhu and Jain, 2015).

Bhatti (2012) considers jugaad to be a frugal and flexible approach to innovative thinking. Quotidian examples include the fastening of small chairs to the front of motorcycles in order to provide extra seating and washing machines being used to churn out lassi, a yogurt drink consumed by millions of Indians. Jugaad allows those with less, financially speaking, to do more.

In Kenya, FI comes in the form of Jua Kali. The term refers to a person or business that can fix (or do) practically anything upon request (Hope, 2013). In Brazil, meanwhile, when faced with a problem, a person may resort to Gambiarra, which relies on highly innovative, highly flexible thinking (Silveira, 2013). All three approaches – Jugaad, Jua Kali & Gambiarra – are largely viewed as forces of good. For millions of people, such lateral forms of thinking are very much means of survival. Such innovation, which largely involves the creation of novel rules, is to be applauded.

How, then, can innovation be linked with corruption?

Innovation is largely discussed in positive terms. In reality, though, it’s neither good nor bad; it’s simply an idea that has been transformed into a reality (Vandenberg, 2020). Innovation can be used as a force for good or a force for bad. Innovation is closely tied with creativity, which simply involves turning creative ideas into practical reality. Creativity, like innovation, is widely discussed in positive terms; however, highly sophisticated, novel crimes often rely on creative processes (McLaren, 1993). If in doubt, just watch the movie Catch Me If You Can, which is based on a true story.

Both innovation and creativity can play an integral role in acts of corruption. First, though, before discussing how, we must define the term corruption.

Though definitions vary, corruption refers to acts in which the power of public office is used for personal gain in a manner that disregards the rules of the game (Jain, 2002).

Again, corruption, like the aforementioned types of innovation discussed in India, Kenya, and Brazil, involves varying levels of disregard for established rules.

It is important to distinguish between positive forms of innovation and negative forms of innovation. I argue that acts of corruption can be viewed as a type of injurious innovation; something like jugaad, on the other hand, should be viewed as a benign form of innovation.

Like benign forms of innovation, injurious innovation operates on the principle that 'rules are meant to be broken.' Furthermore, like the more benign forms of innovation, injurious innovation is the product of creative thinking.

Importantly, innovation often relies on the implementation of creative ideas in an economic setting (Amabile and Pratt, 2016), hence my desire to apply it to the world of corruption.

Why use the term injurious?

Up until now, even when innovation is discussed in more negative terms (for example, see Ankush Chopra and the Dark Side of Innovation, 2013), authors tend to focus on the unintended consequences of innovation. Digital cameras, for example, resulted in millions of people who produced film roll for a living losing their jobs (Chopra, 2017). This unfortunate side-effect falls under the banner of disruptive innovation, where one area progresses while another area ultimately suffers.

With injurious innovation, however, the bad actors are knowingly bad. They know that certain people will suffer, yet they proceed anyway. I intentionally chose the word injurious for a reason: this type of innovation tends to be extremely harmful in nature. Some of the most common forms of corruption involve acts like extortion and embezzlement (Dreher and Schneider, 2009). The former refers to the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats, while the latter involves a person or entity intentionally misappropriating the assets entrusted to him or her. In both cases, victims exist. In both cases, people suffer.

Like benign forms of innovation in India, Kenya, and Brazil, which are principally employed to help an individual or his/her immediate family/friends, injurious innovation, in the form of extortion and embezzlement, is often employed by individuals looking to help themselves and their close colleagues (úbeda and Gardner, 2010) Nepotism, which happens to fall under the umbrella of corruption, is a textbook example of those with power using their influence to assist relatives and/or friends.

The difference here is the word power. Injurious innovation is usually employed by those of whom are in positions of power; benign innovation, on the other hand, like jugaad in India, is more often employed by the disadvantaged.

Innovation, by and large, is a force for good. However, bad actors exist. More specifically, injurious innovators exist.


J Mac Ghlionn is an essayist and cryptocurrency researcher, currently pursuing a doctorate in psychosocial studies. His research focuses on the ways in which technological progress shapes humanity.



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