Are we like this only?

Understanding (and shaping) India

Is jugaad the same as innovation? Are we Indians truly innovative?

Jugaad is Hindi slang for improvisation. And believe me, we Indians are great at improvising. For a number of reasons, like being under British rule, the License Raj and India’s huge population, Indians have had to manage with the scarce resources at hand to find a solution that satisfies their immediate needs.

But is jugaad synonymous with innovation? In my opinion, jugaad is a very narrow form of innovation. Jugaad is about finding ways to make do, while innovation is about creating something new. Jugaad is certainly worthwhile in many situations (like in a recession or in developing nations) where there are constraints on money, time, or manpower. However, to me innovation is something that happens when you try to solve a problem without worrying about constraints. Sometimes, the solution you find satisfies the constraints and other times you realize that the constraints were of your own making.

In their blog, The Innovation Leader, Cap Innovate use the Tata Nano as an example of jugaad by saying “an observation of families of four being fitted onto a motorbike, inspired Ratan Tata to come up with the Nano”. While I like the rest of this article, this example is flawed. A family of four on a motorbike is an example of jugaad, while coming up with the Nano is an innovation.

The key difference in my mind between jugaad and true innovation, is that jugaad is focused on the short term bounded by constraints, while innovation is long term, unbounded. The airplane, the motorcar, the light bulbs, WWW, etc. are products of innovative thinking. They could never have arisen as a result of jugaad.

So is India innovative? I think we are capable of true innovation, as has been proved by numerous Indians who have inventions and patents to their names after moving abroad. But which of the major inventions of the last 200 years or so can be attributed to India? Clearly, as a society innovation has not been top of mind, and how could it be when getting by was a struggle?

But as India becomes more developed the focus should be less on jugaad and more on true innovation. There has to be greater focus on a changing the education system so that it encourages free thought and imagination instead of mass producing automatons that feed India’s outsourcing business.

Our companies have to focus more on R&d (spelt with a big R and a small D) instead of just playing catch up with the West. Which is why I was disappointed with the focus on jugaad at 2009”s TiE summit  instead of on true innovation. The good thing was that there were some good examples of innnovation at the summit like Reva, India’s first electrically powered car.

BusinessWeek calls jugaad India’s Next Global Export. For any export to be successful, there has to be demand. Who says that the world will be interested in jugadoo solutions in the long run? Jugaad is what we’ve been forced to do so far, but now that the constraints are vanishing, let’s turn towards true innovation and leading India forward.

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January 25, 2010 - Posted by | india, innovation

1 Comment »

  1. jugad is the bambaiya slang for “manipulation.” improvisation is a process. jugaad – starts there and ends these. improvisation has a result to an end and in the process many benefit. the philosophy of jugad doesn’t call for much of a discussion – it is temporary – a work around, a stop gap for a better process waiting to happen..

    Comment by anrosh | May 2, 2010 | Reply


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