Jaideep Prabhu is Professor of Marketing, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise, and Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge.

His research interests are in marketing, innovation, strategy and international business. He has published in and is on the editorial board of leading international journals such as the Journal of Marketing. He has appeared on BBC News24, BBC Radio 4 and Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and his work has been profiled in BusinessWeek, BBC World Service, The Economist, The Financial Times, Le Monde, The New York Times and The Times. He has consulted with, taught executives from or given talks at ABN Amro, Bertelsmann AG, Barclays, BP, BRAC, BT, GE, IBM, ING Bank, Marks and Spencer, the NHS, Pearson, Roche, Shell, Siemens, Unilever and Vodafone, among others.

He is the co-author of Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth, described by The Economist as “the most comprehensive book yet” on the subject of frugal innovation. His most recent book Frugal Innovation: How to do More with Less was published in February 2015 and won the CMI’s Management Book of the Year Award 2016.

Network Capital editorial team interviewed him. Check out what he had to say.

What do you do?

I’m a professor of marketing and Indian business at Cambridge Judge Business School. Most of my time is spent doing research, teaching, outreach and administration.

Why do you do what you do?

The flip answer would be because there’s nothing else I can do! As I tell my students: I’ve never worked in my life. Which is another way of saying I’ve never done anything else and would not know how to start now. More seriously: I cannot imagine doing anything else. Being an academic seems noble to me (especially the teaching side of things) and it keeps one constantly learning. It also gives one a great deal of freedom with how one spends one’s time.

What is the one thing you believe to be true but others rarely agree with you on?

Many people believe that innovation is about technology and that it is a necessarily expensive and time-consuming process. I believe that innovation can and should be done faster, better and cheaper. Many people also believe that the role of business is solely to generate profits and returns to shareholders. I believe that business can and should balance social benefit with profit. Indeed, in some cases pursuing social benefit can increase profit.

Which failure or apparent failure set you up for success?

After I finished my undergraduate studies in engineering I toyed with studying philosophy with a view to becoming an academic in the humanities. But several people close to me discouraged me from taking this route, including an uncle who is himself an academic in philosophy. He instead encouraged me to study business. For the first few years after I made that decision I was unhappy, believing that I had missed my true calling. But now in retrospect I can see that business has been a far more rewarding and useful subject to research and teach than philosophy would have been.

What is the best investment you have made in yourself?

Spending time developing my inner life: living the examined life, so to speak, even while grappling with the messy world of business and technology.

Has your career been planned or a function of serendipity?

My career has been a combination of sheer serendipity and a bit of planning. As I say above, I have never done a “real job” and always knew that I wanted to be an academic of some sort. I had planned to study the humanities but was discouraged by others from going down that road. The choice of business was partly advised by others and partly serendipitous. The choice of marketing was purely serendipitous.

What is the role of mentors in your life?

Mentors are always important. The uncle I mention above—the academic philosopher—was an important influence at various points. But as an only child for many years, and one who moved a lot during childhood and adolescence, I have been independent from a young age and have often followed my own counsel, often explicitly avoiding, even shunning the influence of others.

What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?

I would advise myself to slow down, not be too ambitious, to be less serious, to invest more time in personal relationships, to be less of a loner, and not set so much store by books alone.

What next?

I’m not quite sure, actually. I will probably write a book on business and development.


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