Apr 7, 2010

Jugaad, getting serious now

A term that has always been more a slang than even a formal Hindi word, has suddenly acquired respectibility in the Management world. India's economic profile rising, and it is only proper that practices that seem to work in this nation are formally propounded, expounded and then propagated as the new gospel. Witness Japan's 'Kaizen' business process philosophy export.

I remember jugaad was a quick word that school and college friends would exchange to refer to a 'thing-a-ma-jig' quickly put together to do what we wanted to do.

Now a blog in the eminent Harvard Business Review defines it in the following terms:
... the gutsy art of Jugaad. The Hindi term roughly translates as "overcoming harsh constraints by improvising an effective solution using limited resources". We call it the art of creative improvisation — within a framework of deep knowledge and experience.

Through our research, we have identified four operating principles or innovation rules:
  • Thrift not waste. This first rule — which promotes frugality — helps tackle scarcity of all forms of resources.
  • Inclusion, not exclusion. This second rule helps entrepreneurial organizations to put inclusiveness into practice — by tightly connecting with, and harnessing, the growing diversity that permeates their communities of customers, employees, and partners.
  • Bottom-up participation, not top-down command and control. This third rule drives collaboration. CEOs who tend to act as conductors must learn to facilitate collaborative improvisation just as players in jazz bands do.
  • Flexible thinking and action, not linear planning. This fourth rule facilitates flexibility in thinking and action. Jugaad-practicing firms are highly adaptable as they aren't wedded to any single business model and pursue multiple options at any time.

Management has always sought to capture the Innovation genie in its bottle of standard methodologies. In a field which focuses more on the way you work, rather than what you are working on, the accepted concepts are as liable to change, as clothes in a fashion show. However, there's just something about Jugaad that makes it incongruous to a formal management definition.

The term has become well known in the wider world with the publication of From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation. The book addresses the right question of

Why is it that India is unable to be the source of major industrial innovations on a sustained basis even though it has highly skilled talent and a penchant for jugaad (creative improvisation)?
- From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation, The Challenge for India, by Rishikesha T. Krishnan, Professor of Corporate Strategy, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, India

Jugaad is a starting point that happens in under-resourced conditions, but to scale the initial innovation requires other ways and means. I thought the following words expressed it well:
Jugaad is a survival tactic, whereas a hack is an intellectual art form; i.e. Jugaad is the wile of the poor, and hack the pastime of the affluent cerebral. Jugaad is a hack to get around or deal with a lack of or limited resources, and has a class component to it - jugaad are things poor but clever people do to make the most of the resources they have. They do what they need to do, without regard to what is supposed to be possible.


The 'Jugaad' (or Maruta) in Punjab region is also used to refer to a 'poor'-man's assembled vehicle, made by putting together a cheap low-powered water pump with a custom body.

Image courtesy Wikimedia

Now one wouldn't call this a great engineering success, but it is heroic in the attempt by rural-poor to cobble together a ride.

Washing machine ad

More examples of Jugaad can be found at Espirit de Jugaad, Hindustan Times.

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