Innovation 101 – The Jugaad phenomenon

This post is meant for those of you who have set up automated alerts for the new magic word ‘Jugaad’, the most fashionable innovation thread about India these days. Several innovation ‘gurus’, management experts, authors have latched on. The common thread – they’re mostly based in the US and are of Indian origin. The more equal of us. Keith Sawyer calls it a ‘fad from India’ and that’s exactly what  it is.

Business Week* reports on a management fad from India, that goes by a Hindi slang word, jugaad (say joo-gaardh). It means “an improvisational style of innovation”. It’s “inexpensive invention on the fly”. It sometimes has negative connotations, like cutting corners. The idea is that it doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy; it’s just good enough to satisfy immediate needs.

>>*See the comments at the end of the article.

Don’t be fooled – Jugaad is jugaad and innovation is innovation. Jugaad is a dangerous mindset – you heard right, a mindset. You ‘fix’ things by simply putting together bits and pieces, never mind that they don’t fit or that the final product is unreliable, unsafe, whatever. When something goes wrong, you can always use the excuse of not having time, resources, skills, etc. After all you did achieve ‘cheap’, didn’t you.

Maruti Gypsy 2020?

Wonder tape – Thank God I’m not driving

Sorry, but I just don’t get it. Jugaad really means ad-hoc, unplanned, just-make-do, random, untrained. At best it is ‘creative misuse’ of resources. For heaven’s sake do not call it ‘improvisational creativity’ or any such thing. It’s almost like saying that you can use duct tape to fix anything.

There’s another Hindi word ‘Kachra’ (pronounced Kutch-Raa) which roughly translates to ‘junk’. Next we’ll have some study that will show how leaving your shoes and clothes scattered on the floor means unrestrained creativity and the ‘experts’ will include a case showing my daughter’s room, in their B-school curricula.  And unsuspecting students would have to pay an arm and a leg to study “Kachra Innovation”.

Fiery Innovation?

How long will you promote ‘afterthought’ as valuable innovation strategy. Or sell ‘cheap’ as the mantra for doing business.  Tata, the flagship Indian conglomerate, reaped rich benefits of the free publicity (rumoured to be to the extent of Rs. 500 crores) by announcing the Nano. The company was praised for its ‘frugal’ innovation and unsuspecting buyers lined up by the hordes to book the world’s ‘cheapest’ car. Has anyone actually seen the Nano? It is cheap every which way. Cheap means shitty. Cheap means unsafe. Cheap means uncomfortable. Cheap means ‘fire’ prone. Go ahead, eulogise ‘Jugaad’!!! Tata’s Corporate Communications department must be lauded for branding ‘cost-cutting’ as frugal. (Read this account from Forbes India).

Early 2008, when Tata announced its ‘marvel’, the one-lac Nano, I had written –

From the land of Ayurveda must come a call of holistic and sustainable business practice. Let’s look at transportation infrastructure first, before we think of a Rs 1 lakh car;
Every new discovery or invention fascinates us to the point of obsession. Every commercial stakeholder seems blinded by its ‘virtues’ and before we know it, we’ve used it everywhere. Then, along come some activists who point out its adverse side effects and try cleaning up;
This ‘do now, think later’ mindset has to go.

Tata’s ‘frugal innovation’ mindset has gone too far. Their low-floor buses are catching fire without warning.

The government had earlier warned Tata Motors of strong action if the company did not improve the maintenance of the buses. Transport minister Arvinder Singh Lovely had said the government was “very serious” about the problem and may consider cancelling the company’s contract to supply the buses.

Improve maintenance? Give us a break guys!

I have a hard time trying to believe that Google is the outcome of Jugaad thinking. Or i-Pod, or the classic swiss knife. I leave it to your fertile minds to imagine what an Airbus would have looked like if the evangelists of these fads had succeeded. I, for one, would prefer to stay grounded. (All puns intended).

27 Replies to “Innovation 101 – The Jugaad phenomenon”

  1. I like the sardonic.
    The quick fix jugaad is dangerous. And it is a mindset issue.
    But there is a fine hair there.

    All jugaad stems from a need. A very personal, selfish need.
    Google, iPod or the Swiss Knife are no different. They also stemmed from a personal and selfish need to facilitate a convenience.
    But the personal there was aligned to the personal of a large number of people. And what it did was very focussed.
    That is the point where a jugaad stops being a jugaad.

    Because then it is not jumping the que on a wait listed ticket.
    Or managing to get a table at a joint sooner than the folk who got there.

    Jugaad is innovation. A poor choice of word, but it is.
    The tragedy is when the innovation is misplaced.


  2. One of the most “in-citeful” comments on this post came from N Madhavan on Twitter.

    Here goes –
    “@madversity — Read it and got the drift but the structure of the communication itself looked a bit Jugadoo! You need an organised one!”


  3. Sunil,

    Just read your blog, great writeup. I really enjoyed the blog, and wanted to share some of my thoughts. I agree with you that jugaad-type thinking is not sustaining for the long term, specially for a country as a whole, it can however be a good for the interim as it allows quick fixes so you can keep going, allowing you to followup with a long term better designed system (launch and iterate)

    A case and point is Google* (I worked there for almost 2 yrs)
    – All there s/w is in Beta they send stuff out and keep fixing
    – Their original servers were made of lego, and cardboard – yes they often caught fire
    – a LOT of their internal systems were total jugaad, till they were about to collapse and then they fixed it.
    – The mantra in the company is to just get it out cheap and quick, if it makes sense/works keep improving it.

    So maybe jugaad is not all that bad! Any how, I really enjoyed the blog, look forward to the next one!

    *I acknowledge that this is easier to do in the web-world, and much harder to do in the physical world (cant really use this mentality when building infrastructure).

    Mayank Sekhsaria


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