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. Is Jugaad the Indian equivalant of Macgyver, the American spy who could build a solution to anything out of buble gum and string?

    Most of MacGyver’s ideas were great. It’s just that they would never work in the real world where they would cause far more damage than good.

    I fear Jugaadists similarly value ideas over results.

    Jugaad is nothing more than a creative approach to solving problems within a context of constraints. i.e. can’t afford the time and money for a clamp to hold the gondola to the cable, then just use duct tape, cheaper, faster, and readily available. The problem with this is that we need to consider the notion of cost as it applies to not just the idea but also to results. It is creative to use duct tape unless you are the one riding in the gondola.

    Simply put creativity does not guarantee innovation.

    Innovation adds VALUE. Creativity and invention may or may not add value. Creating just because we can is a prescription for pain and suffering – just look at the ecological mess we’ve created.

    I fear that many confuse Jugaad with value in the same way that they confuse invention with value. There is no value in ideas, the value is in the result of ideas.

    Take note, Jugaadists, Incentivize results and better ideas will follow.


    1. Thanks Tom!

      Very powerful and apt summation of the jugaad mentality and its potential to harm society. The ecological mess we’ve created through this type of thinking says it all. Let’s not allow the ‘fixing’ mindset to take over, never mind that The Economist and Harvard Business School are building courses around this. They euphemistically call it ‘frugal innovation’, ‘reverse innovation’ or some such thing.

      ‘Creativity does not guarantee innovation’ cannot be overemphasized.

      See what Jugaad really means to the native people here


    1. Thanks for your comment on my blog post, Gaurav.

      Never underestimate the power of the Delhi-wallah’s jugaad mentality or the West’s propensity for creating catchword-based professions. Since MBAs became jurassic by the downfall of the Financial wizkids, the next is ‘jugaad ka zamaana’ – welcome to the age of the ‘fixer’ professionals. No points for guessing the highest geo-density of domain experts on this one!

      Idea for a new book title – “Jugaadonomics” – Quickfix Management


  2. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian, Satellite Direct Tv


  3. Sunil

    Nice post. Couple o reactions…

    Jugaad may not be an iPod for sure. But jugaad achieves a purpose in market-time. Like some years ago, when i was in the highway, and the car radiator had a leak. Engine steamed… We waved a trucker to help… And he put a soap piece, and the radiator leak was temporarily sealed. Ready to go to the next stop.

    Or you may remember the golf-cart kind of car that my batch guys in REC had built. which was used by my next year guys so well in Festember. The whole thing was assembled by buying kachraa. It served a purpose…

    Now coming to Nano…

    If we take Clayton Christensens mode, Disruptive Innovation is described as a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors.

    Let that be.

    Innovation is the whole cycle – from Aspiration to Money-in-the-bank. Invention becomes innovation, only when the rubber meets the road – not when it is tapped in the tree.

    Good Jugaad meets a dirt road, and takes me to some place I want to go to. Good Innovation meets the metal-tar road also goes some place I want to go…Both are cousins. One is Desi. Other Angrej.




      1. Heres another thought… Jugaad as a term – instantly communicates its value. There is no ambiguity about what Jugaad is. It is a solution – an innovative, quick, cheap, solution.

        Whereas Innovation as a term is like the elephant described by blind men. Its a subject of research. Its like philosophy. One can say “Not this, not this” (Quote your tweet “Creativity is not Innovation. Invention is not Innovation. R&D is not Innovation.”) or one can say “One truth, many versions” (Quote your tweet “Many ‘labels’ (not bong) of innovation reverse, frugal, jugaad,catalytic, disruptive, random, incremental … why complicate simple stuff?”)…

        And one more thought… There is this subject of “Appropriate Technology’ – much neglected subject. Puts solutions in perspective… And then the issue changes from being this or that.. It is this and that, each appropriate to its socio-economic context.



    1. Spot on Kamesh! Your car radiator example illustrates the exact value of jugaad, ‘extreme creativity in the face of immediate crisis’. It is a TEMPORARY fix – kind of a survival measure – and is immensely valuable.

      My problem is not with the type of thinking and bandwidth this provides but with evangelising an innovation culture based on a mentality of temporary fixes. We must be careful that jugaad can be disastrous if used out of context.


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