Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Limits of Jugaad

We have duly celebrated Jugaad and made it part of the management canon: It has now come to be seen as the ethic of Indian business, perhaps Indian life, where one has to make do with less. What seemed once an awkward thing - visitors to India would often wonder about the Bamboo scaffolding used in the construction sites, for example - has now been accepted as evidence of Indian ingenuity.

We should celebrate Jugaad, and even see it as a precursor to things to come. The life of abundance, afforded by the industrial revolution, may soon face significant constraints as natural boundaries of our civilisation get exposed. And, even if this is an unreal fear, there may not be enough for the middle class millions in Asia and Africa as they aspire for good life. Improvisations, with a scene of constraint, the spirit of Jugaad, may indeed define the ethic of modern living at the periphery.

However, at the same time, we must be cognizant of the effects Jugaad ethics may have on India and Indians. There is a risk that once it becomes institutionalised, as it seemed to have been now, we may start taking this too seriously. While the point of Jugaad is about working things out within constraints, there is a risk of it becoming an ethic of short cuts.

The Jugaad ethics may indeed significantly undermine the concept of skills and one may suspect that is happening in India. It may have become a fancy term to celebrate poor workmanship, and informs the way the country has come to view skills. Jugaad entrepreneurship is the new official term for buccaneering. The idea of Good Work and Commitment may have been its greatest casualties.

While Jugaad may make waves in the corridors of business schools, Indian businesses preparing for the future must look beyond Jugaad, therefore. Their consumers, once satisfied with the philosophy of something is better than nothing, may have arrived at a stage of aesthetic maturation as they got wealthy. The young may be impatient to accept things as they are, and their life ethic may be standing out rather than subliminate.

Within this changing context, it is necessary to explore the limits of Jugaad: While we may celebrate the ingenuity within the constraints, this may breed lethargy to challenge the constraints as one must. This may become the excuse for second best, sloppy work, muddled ethics and muted ambitions, manifested in opportunism rather than change making. The celebration of Jugaad may help perpetuate mediocrity, and establish value systems that are contra-innovation eventually.

In the end, therefore, Jugaad should be seen as a transient phenomenon, not a way of life: We may celebrate the ingenuity of human spirit but must seek to remove the constraints.

1 comment:

Jay Pullur said...

Jugaad can be viewed as "Process Innovation" by informal sector. Jugaad shows 'what is possible' and permits inexpensive experimentation with available resources, reuse, recycling, customer-led business-discovery etc. Frankly, Jugaad poses challenge to industrial product makers (entrepreneurs) to find means of producing, marketing and succeeding at extraordinary levels of pricing.

However, the same should not be confused as "Product Innovation" substitute. Whatever was the outcome of Jugaad, even when it works (works out), cannot be directly be converted into a product by the formal sector (INdustry). The reason stems from studies on addressing the "bottom of the pyramid" market and "Reverse Innovation" thoughts.

The significant learning in such studies indicates that the bottom-of-the-pyramid users have no different aspirations/expectations than that of advanced markets. Hence, craftsmanship of products is a must. Indian entrepreneurs, product-designers, product-builders cannot rely of Jugaad in anyway as instrument to market success. I am presume they are not. Infact, a study has shown that such markets do not like products designed/marketed/labeled as 'products made for them'.

Hence, my argument is that, Jugaad can be viewed as customer-innovation and not a management technique for product innovation. Entrepreneurs have to focus on equipping their companies with world-class capabilities, including orienting their workforce to utilize best-of-breed practices (Jugaad or firs-world), rather than relying on short cuts as a useful management technique.

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