We often read articles about how a farmer uses his motorcycle engine to pump underground water and use it for irrigation. Social media is full of several short videos like that. We all appreciate the ingenuity of the person and an out-of-the-box approach to solving the problem at hand with limited resources. But in the process, we also forget that Jugaad is a hack, a short cut — it is short of real innovation. It gets the job done somehow but it defrauds the person of the real innovation that can be deployed at scale and solve the problems forever — not just get the job done. So, every Jugaad is an opportunity lost to solve the real problem in entirety and continuation of the problem with more and more patchworks.
Is Jugaad an Indian thing?
The term is Indian for sure, a colloquial in Hindi with rough translation in every other regional language. It was added in Oxford dictionary 2017 due to quite a common usage by Indians.
Wikipedia defines it as predominantly Indian origin. We can safely conclude that Jugaad is an Indian thing and it has a cultural angle.
There are two essential elements of a rule-based society – the framing of rules and enforcement of rules. In India, incidentally, we do not have a shortage of rules whether it is in the legal, economic or social area. There are numerous central laws, state-level laws and even city and municipality level rules. They are so voluminous that no one is even fully aware of them. The key challenge, however, is the poor implementation of rules. Many of these rules are also outdated. For every rule, there is an easier workaround and increasingly more people start adopting the workarounds. The poor enforcement of these rules and social acceptance in a way encourages a common person to adopt the easier shortcut than the inconvenient rule. So more often, we do not stand in the queue, as we can get things done somehow. We first look for the alternatives than the default rule which we presume will be cumbersome to follow.
The second element of Jugaad is lack of resources – most of the Indian innovations have been criticised for being excessively focused towards the cost. When the Nano car was envisaged, it is only claimed to fame was the cheapest car ever produced in the world. Many Indian entrepreneurs work on ideas on how to make a product more affordable to the vast masses of Indians – sometimes referred to as the bottom of the pyramids. It is no denying that these innovations touch the lives of real people and hence are commendable in that sense, however, it also takes away the focus from the original innovations. We get bogged down by how to make a phone cheaper or a bike more affordable. This is one of the reasons that India does not have too many product innovations because we focus too much on ‘how’ of already invented products rather than ‘what’ of new products and services. In the end, even consumers do not go entirely by price. Otherwise, Nano would not have been rejected by the mass market.
Every house has a junkyard
One of the reasons Indians don’t throw the junk is because they believe that it can be useful someday. Each house has hundreds of such items tucked in the top cupboard that includes things like old textbooks, broken utensils, old toys, electronic items and even clothes that have been used at some point in time. “Don’t throw things” – is the usual advice from the house elders and they would tell stories about how their old books have been re-used by their younger siblings. The psychology of jugaad is always playing at the back of every Indian’s mind.
This habit of holding on to the old things for no practical reason is a big stumbling block for the manufacturers of the goods. If they want their consumers to keep buying, they must be willing to replace their existing goods.
In a true consumption-led society, there should be a faster cycle of replacement. Look at the cellphone market. Once the manufacturers have sold the cellphones to everyone; they can only survive if they can convince the customers to replace their existing phones. While they can add new features and better camera in higher version – what if the user turns back by replying “but it works fine for my requirement and I can manage with it.” This is the most damaging logic for cell phone manufacturers. No wonder some of them have been found guilty of deliberately slowing down the older versions so that the user is forced to buy the new version. This is not to justify their malpractice, but a consumer-driven market economy needs to recycle the old products fast enough.
To summarise, Jugaad is a roadblock to real innovation. To be the real-world leaders Indians need to get rid of this mindset while designing and using different products. Of course, things are changing and one of the heartening signs in this regard is India’s upward movement in the innovation index where now it is one of the top 50 countries in the world. But given the immense potential and technical know-how, India can do even better than that.
Mishra is a software professional with over 20 years of experience with leading IT and consulting companies. He also works with universities as a startup mentor in the area of new technologies.