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).
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27 Replies to “Innovation 101 – The Jugaad phenomenon”

  1. Hi Kamesh,

    We need to do a collabpost here I guess. You have made several interesting observations – all valid and extremely valuable.

    Couldn’t agree more about the abject state of neglect of “Appropriate Technology”. In our context, especially people like you and I who have imbibed multiculturality, – I a north Indian grew up in the South and you grew up in Delhi but are from the south – Jugaad is understood “without ambiguity”. But what of the folks in Harvard Business School and the like for whom it ‘Jugaad’ seems like a very hip label, especially because it originates from outside the US. Now you have a very fashionable and trendy ‘hook’ that has a huge potential to mislead. My friend Tom Koulopoulos pointed out the potential danger of this kind of ‘labeling’ when we spoke yesterday.

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  2. Hi Sunil
    Came to your blog from twitter. Interesting article. India runs on jugad from top to bottom. Look at the UPA govt. The whole system and mindset is the product of jugad.
    Its a chakravuh you cant get out of. Sad but true.
    Somehow we are unable to “fix”this jugad mentality. It is not just the things we fix with jugad but people too.
    Great blog. Bookmarked it.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment … I have to agree that this mentality is eating us from the inside. Everything about us is marked by the attitude of ‘Chalta hai’ and our methodology is all about quickfixes. Nothing seems to be able to stem the rot.

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    2. Glad you liked the blog, Tikuli. Unfortunately I cannot make enough time to write with the regularity this blog requires. Just visited your blog as well. Nice. Best of luck and keep writing.

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  3. Sunil, i liked the hotch potch theme done with hindi words i did not understand, but got the meaning,well explained with the pronounciations.

    i also liked the cheap things and how u made a sickle of the term.

    A pity the Tatas have got into the cheap models dragging their high flying status down to the gravel.

    Like

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