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Solutions and Innovations: The do’s and don’ts of the great Indian Jugaad | Slangbusters Blog
Apr 30, '19

Solutions and Innovations: The do’s and don’ts of the great Indian Jugaad

From an arbitrary phenomenon to a corporate strategy- redefining the concept that remains exclusive of creative innovation.

A hand structure below a tree

Indians take a lot of pride in anything that takes us on the global platform- from accreditation of inventing the concept of ‘zero’ to declaring our national anthem as the world’s best anthem, declared by the United Nations like they have nothing else to do. We love the attention even if it comes for the wrong things.

Jugaad is something that has brought the corporate world to look into the Indian art of getting things done- bringing results in the simplest possible manner, with diminished use of resources.

The etymology of Jugaad

The colloquial word was coined originally in Punjabi, the regional language spoken by the residents of a northwestern state called Punjab. Residents- mainly agrarian families decided to mount a diesel engine on a steel frame with wheels and someone witnessing this might have just uttered it in sheer exclamation; not knowing it would be a jargon used while building corporate strategies to cut down resources.

In the US, it would be known as D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself), hacking/bodging in the UK, Trick 17 in Germany, Gambiarra in Brazil and système D in France with their own stories about the word. These point towards the fixer-upper approach of the concept when put into practice.

Other phrases used for such a concept can be street smartness, a botch job, bending the rules, and cutting corners. Basically, proving it to have a Band-Aid approach towards problems that might be of the scale of fracture.

From mythology to modernity

Everything that is a part of the culture-weather good or bad has been a result of conditioning. Devdutt Pattanaik is an author and Indian mythology interpreter who wrote in his piece on Jugaad that Indians have always tried to get around a problem with some form of tactic. It could be going to an astrologer who will give you a stone to wear on your index finger to control your anger issues bestowed upon you by the mischief of celestial gods, or it could be Shiva replacing his son’s head with an elephant’s head because that is what he could find at that time.

Pattanaik concludes, “Hence, at a deep cultural core, most Indians believe there is nothing rigid about life. Everything is manageable, solvable, everything has a workaround.”

Patch like pattern in yellow color on a fabric

The infamous Indian patchwork approach in problem-solving is not something that has a long-term approach nor it makes sense of design on the fabric. This approach makes a lot of us born procrastinators.

We don’t believe in investing time in creating a stronger base for the building. Rather, we look at problems with a ‘come what may’ plan which depletes efficiency and productivity in the long run. We will choose to invest the most time in repair rather than making use of well-built infrastructure. R&D departments are a capital burden, branding can just be replaced with marketing, etc. are just short-sighted ways of execution.

People walking on a street

The Indian market also plays a jugaad-friendly role with characteristics like a constantly growing economy, diversity, global hub for tech, massive middle-class groups, welcoming market for consumer based and B2B companies, government and politics, businesses carried out on relations and networking, local ecosystems that help other ecosystems and cultural aspects. Home to 1.3 billion individuals, adjustments become mandatory.

In modern times, India has shown it’s problem-solving capabilities not through makeshift tractors but by achieving NASA level execution- at a fraction of their cost- jugaad (bingo!)

The Mars Orbiter Mission or Mangalyaan was not only executed in a cost less than the production budget of the film ‘Gravity’ but also completed a 1000 days in Mars orbit in 2017. Now, this jugaad was a scientifically calculated execution that was made by using the laws of physics and space more than the use of monetary resources. What is wrongfully taken as a reference while trying to adopt jugaad in corporate structures is when a Sikh man uses a washing machine to make lassi rather than the ISRO achievement with Mangalyaan.

The essence of entrepreneurship

Any idea that travels from mind to market needs resources and monetary backing for doing so. In the absence of resources too, some entrepreneurs successfully find a way out to build their brand in an unconventional manner without resources- through jugaad.

The first requirement of any startup is to have an idea for a product or a service that fills a gap and exists to solve a genuine problem. With the perfect product and market mix, success should be guaranteed. But sometimes, lack of resources halts the execution of the best of ideas and that is when jugaad comes into the picture. It favors the first requirement of the idea. For example, Arunachalam Muruganantham had the idea of making cheap pads. His audience was rather small- only his wife, but that amplified his passion and he solved a genuine problem for women all over India. He had the right idea and the market was perfect for him- rural women without proper sanitary provisions. This was what the MNCs and sanitary pad producers forgot to look at.

The problem with the approach

People wrongfully confuse jugaad and innovation as the same for solutions without understanding the need and applications for both.

Jugaad and solutions are mutually exclusive and the only scope of overlap is a sweet spot called creative innovation.

Is jugaad innovation in ideation while developing an idea or just finding a way out of the lack of funds? Are jugaad hacks or solutions? What is the difference between them? Is it a shortcut to the goal or is it a shortcut around the hurdle towards the goal? Is jugaad what a company should resort to in adversity or is it a way of execution even in successful times?

Ironically, perfecting jugaad has become the need of the hour.

There have been a few publications by business gurus to emulate the jugaad approach in corporations which give examples of ultimate jugaad like the earthen pots that are quite common In India. This frugality in innovation came out of the need that the Indian subcontinent passed through the tropic of cancer and the need for cold water and the inexistence of refrigerators gave birth to the earthen pot.

Bunch of brown earthen pots stacked on top of each other

What this explanation is deprived of is that the earthen pot was not just a jugaadu innovation but a dire need of the hour. The concept came from brains that understood properties of clay, and after humans adopted the sedentary life rather than the previous nomadic lifestyle after we explored agriculture and settled down at one place. The wheel was one of the first innovations (again, not jugaad) and the potter’s wheel came much later after the need for mass production and the concept of economy, transactions and barter system came into practice.

Jugaad is not using primitive technology when the world is using post-modern technology because of unaffordability, it is about finding solutions in case of lack of resources.

The famous Indian quadricycle is a popular vehicle used in rural regions for the daily commute. It is a jugaadu invention that is put together with wooden planks and by recycling old parts of a jeep. Seems very innovative right?

Animation from the cartoon series- The Flintstones showing a car

There have been reported instances of failed breaks and people having to jump off the vehicle in such incidents or having to manually put breaks with legs like they do in The Flintstones. In one incident that occurred in Aligarh, India, out of the 2,139 cases of traffic casualties that happened within 72 hours, 13.88% were a result of jugaad vehicles that do not adhere to Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.

The “poor Indians” resort to jugaad out of necessity, not the thrill.

So, what is the right approach?

Imagine if Alan Turing resorted to jugaad while decrypting Nazi codes? You wouldn’t be reading this blog on your device, or have a device, at all.

Finding a way around problems is basically avoiding them, not solving them and that is the exact difference between jugaad and innovation. Using a stick to switch channels on television is jugaad, inventing a remote control is innovation.

The need for jugaad should also take into consideration more than just the resource aspect. Along with the economic perspective, the creative and attitudinal approach becomes necessary. The ideal areas of innovation here become safety, design, legal and economic viability. While adopting the jugaad approach in boardroom meetings, hammering nails where they won’t go is not jugaad, it is about making a cavity where it would.

Remember, when villages use tractor engines to pump out water, it is not a permanent solution towards the goal of active water supply. It is short-term thinking that translates into makeshift solution until the problem is actually solved by bringing in genuine water pumps.

Jugaad should not be a pseudo-original problem-solving tactic or unnecessary compromise made to inculcate creative execution. Keep the audience in mind, the Nano was not product innovation with Tesla users in mind. Creativity and innovation for faster, cheaper, better, and sustainable solutions require knowledge, curiosity, imagination, and insightful evaluation.

Innovation is what Apple does, Jugaad is installing a macOS on a PC.

Creativity is independent of innovation but the success of creativity does depend on innovation. Creativity is subjective, innovation is measurable. Innovation is a result of a creative mind.

How do we know it? Well, Slangbusters Studio is built on the same idea. We went through a startup phase where we could easily resort to jugaad. Aiming at delivery in perfection, we focused on quality research, strategy, and design. We hope we have Slangbusted the jargon called jugaad for you. If you have any other slang for us to bust or any branding needs, do not hesitate in contacting us.

— by Manas, Content Strategist, Slangbusters Studio

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