Jugaad and its Relationship to Innovation

Tim Leberecht of frog design wrote in a recent article:

The term Jugaad (pronounced “joo-gaardh”) is a colloquial Hindi word that describes a creative ad hoc solution to a vexing issue, making existing things work and/or creating new things with scarce resources. Although sometimes used pejoratively (in the sense of a makeshift cheap fix), it is now widely accepted as a noun to describe Indian-style innovation (some also call it “indovation”) – describing the inventiveness of Indian grassroots engineers and scientists that have led to the pedal-powered washing machine, inspired the extra-low-cost Tata Nano car, or the success of India’s space program. It is, in short, the art of holistic (and therefore lateral) thinking, of unbound, resilient creativity, and of improvisation and rapid prototyping under severe constraints.

Interesting thoughts. But most innovation experts in India have come to see that jugaad arises as a coping strategy by those who lack other options. Jugaad is a symptom of a structural challenge in India, inadequate distribution and service networks prevent necessary goods and services from being readily available to those who most need them. Owing to that lack, improvisation steps in.

Ethnographers of Jugaad, of which there have been many over the past decade routinely alight on the most kitschy and visually provocative examples of such folk adaptations of technology. But real insight and understanding about India’s innovation needs in the future does not necessarily arise from those pretty pictures. Jugaad as a strategy and practice is certainly innovative, but it arise in societies that lack innovation as a process and as a driver of the economy.

What we need in India and in similar emerging economies are ways of learning from latent consumer needs through ethnography, creating new solutions through design analysis and better contextualization of technologies through user experience modeling. All this can ensure that new products, services, technologies and platforms can be imagined, designed, developed and rolled out.

In India today we need a better understanding of innovation and a more widespread committment to innovation. We don’t need more Jugaad.