“Jugaad” – Design & Innovation Inspiration from India

I recently learned about the word “jugaad” from my friend Rikta Krishnaswamy at Quicksand Design. The way I understand it, it means to jury rig, or to create makeshift solutions however you need to in order to make something work. The word has a long history in India, where innovations often come about by necessity. The quality of said solutions may not be high, but they may be cheap and accessible, and sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed.

– A vehicle actually called a “jugaad”, it is made from accessible scrap parts and transports people short distances in India (source)

It’s a widely talked-about term online, especially catching the interests of non-Indian innovators, with a healthy back-and-forth about its pros and cons in different contexts by Indians and non-Indians alike. This article in HBR, “Use Jugaad to Innovate Faster, Cheaper, Better”, explores jugaad as a useful inspiration and state of mind for entrepreneurs in any situation. It’s a good read, sparking good thought and pointing to examples of innovations by Embrace with its low-cost baby incubating wrap, YES Bank and mobile payments, SELCO and its lighting offerings, and GE Health. From the post:

The jugaad mindset — and its associated principles and practices — is increasingly relevant for companies worldwide who are seeking to grow in an increasingly complex and resource-constrained business environment. Unlike traditional, structured innovation methods that rely on time-consuming and expensive R&D processes, the more fluid jugaad approach delivers speed, agility, and cost efficiencies. Jugaad is a “bottom up” innovation approach that provides organizations in both emerging and developed economies the key capabilities they need to succeed in a hypercompetitive and fast-moving world: frugality, inclusivity, collaboration, and adaptability.

Read the full post on here on HBR >>

In the HBR article, it seems to me that the word “jugaad” could easily be replaced by “adaptability” throughout. And that’s a bit of a let-down compared to the hopes stirred up by the title about some new (or ancient) and exotic-sounding cure-all process. Funny how we can reasonably understand how no magic cure-all for innovation could really exist, but a secret hope for finding one some day never dies. But the article does provide encouragement and some great, inspiring examples of wins resulting from insights, adaptability and being open to unconventional means of getting things done. And that’s always welcome.

The authors have written a book called Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth, to be published in April 2012.

As one commenter on the HBR article cautions, jugaad “simply means shortcut. The objective is to make best returns (not the best product/solution) out of the available resources.” Another says “‘frugality, inclusivity, collaboration, and adaptability’ are all great concepts. But they have nothing to do with the term ‘Jugaad’ as it is used in India. As already expressed by many, it usually has a negative connotation and implies a temporary fix and manipulation to achieve short-term success while bending the rules if required.”

Boiling down a little more online research and my personal thoughts, here’s what I’m taking away from the discussion so far:

  • Jugaad is an inspiring concept for innovators of all types, especially exciting for non-Indians who haven’t heard of it before.
  • Resourceful adaptation and improvisation may not new concepts, but the frame and flavor of the Indian context may be. Jugaad offers a whole new chapter of inspiration for innovators to explore and be inspired by.
  • Jugaad can be a helpful mindset to embrace when conditions have tight restrictions or resources are limited, as in cases of development or start-ups, for example, when you need to be quick, scrappy and resourceful.
  • It’s probably a perfect fit during ideation, prototyping and iteration phases in the design world, where improvisation opens up creativity and possibilities and fast, rough prototypes are exactly what are needed.
  • In the developing world, it can provide useful solutions that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. This kind of practice takes place world-wide in different forms, adapting to local contexts.
  • When it comes to scaling up good makeshift designs, jugaad should probably give way to more strategic thinking and longer-term considerations.

– Jugaad canopy by Sanjeev Shankar, photo by Sundeep Bali; E-charkha and inventor R.S.Hiremath, photo courtesy of Flexitron (source: “Jugaad – Practice of Making Do”)

The concept of jugaad is an enticing one and if you’re like me, it sparks a desire to dig deeper and search for more rich and creativity-sparking examples of jugaad in practice in India and elsewhere. If you’re up for it, here are a few more links to kick off a deeper dive:

I’d love to keep this discussion open.  Please add what else you find in your research or practice, opinions, insights or questions you may have in a comment below.  Or consider submitting a guest post to be published on BoP Designer.

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