The Jugaad Myth

Kanak Das made his daily commute to work in a remote village in Assam, India, on his bicycle, but the bumps and potholes in the village road were slowing him down. So Das designed a bicycle accessory that would convert the shock of the potholes into ‘acceleration energy’, an innovation that has the potential to transform poor road conditions into a benefit for cyclists.

Dr Sathya Jeganathan, a neonatal specialist from Chennai, designed a low-cost infant incubator to tackle the alarmingly high infant mortality rate in India. The incubator uses two 200W bulbs in tandem with a fan for regulating temperature, and is likely to be priced at no more than INR 15000 (US $300).

Arunachalam Muruganantham designed a low-cost sanitary napkin – a boon for a country like India, which has a huge population of meager means. The fascinating thing about Muruganantham’s journey is, since his wife and sister refused to try them out, he tested the early prototypes himself.

All of these stories could be cited as examples of Jugaad, or creative ideas that navigate commercial, logistical and even legal issues in a cost-effective way. The theory has gained traction in emerging economies such as India, where it originated, and in the halls of innovation schools worldwide.

There are numerous other examples: Mansukh Prajapati and his Mitticool, literally translated as ‘clay cool’, the “no electricity, poor man’s refrigerator” that uses clay as the platform for cooling; Tata Group’s low-cost ventures in automobiles and water purifiers – most notably, the Tata Nano, a car that retails for under US $2000; and GE’s unique sourcing of radioisotopes that bring down the average costs for CT scans by an order of magnitude.

It would, however, be a huge disservice to many of these innovators to categorize their solutions as merely ‘makeshift’ under the garb of Jugaad. At the core of each of these solutions, especially those that are on the road to commercial success, the fundamental principles and disciplines of innovation are at play.

As an overarching philosophy, the “Innovator’s Dilemma”, proposed by Clayton Christensen in his book of the same name, is applicable to nearly all of the above examples. Each illustrated product or solution approached over-served consumer segments with a minimum viable set of attributes that were ‘good enough’, and was offered at a significantly lower cost. Established companies had very little interest to go down the value chain for fear of disrupting their own portfolios with lower margins, allowing a foot in the door for innovators. What remains to be seen is how subsequent versions of these solutions are improved so they can fulfill their potential and be adopted by the Indian mainstream.

The general principles behind approaching innovation and concept development could also be applied: identifying an unmet need in the consumer space; figuring out potential ideas and concepts to address the challenge at hand; and extensive customer validation, prototyping and iteration to improve on the initial solution.

Of the examples, the more successful ventures embarked on
a strict regime of customer development, actually getting out of the building and figuring out if there is indeed an early consumer base interested in the solution, well ahead of any advanced product development. In some cases, the concept evolved through several rounds of pivots and re-pivots before a product/market fit was achieved. There is not a single instance of an alternative to the structured approach to solving a genuine problem. Innovators were constantly mindful that the solutions needed to be better than ‘makeshift’ – Jugaad – grade for commercial viability.

I am often left bemused when authors label Indian innovations as Jugaad across the board. Jugaad to me has always been a misnomer and cannot necessarily be a substitute for the classical approaches to solving a problem. A rapid solution development cycle – the Jugaad way – is desirable but certain quality norms will continue to be mandated for a successful go to market. Whether it is Kanak Das out of the villages in Assam or a conglomerate like the Tata Group, innovators still need to journey through the rigor
of an innovation management cycle. Jugaad terminology, for most part is better left to the confines of colloquial marketing, not positioned as a new paradigm for the innovator’s lexicon. ////

Ankush Chatterjee is head of projects, product innovation at Samsung India Electronics Ltd. He is based in Gurgaon, India.

the author

Ankush Chatterjee

Ankush Chatterjee is head of projects, product innovation at Samsung India Electronics Ltd. He is based in Gurgaon, India.