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.

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10 Responses to Jugaad and its Relationship to Innovation

  1. Aditya says:

    thanks for this.

    thought it’s worth mentioning that we at cks did a project called used in india in 2005 that looked at street innovation and indian visual culture:


    it’s a place to start, but not a place to end up thinking about innovation in india…!

    • CKS says:

      thanks for the comment and for providing the link.

      agreed, street innovation is indeed a place to start, and will continue to happen, because that’s just what people do – they improvise. but that just isn’t enough – there needs to be a more structured approach to innovation, because our needs for better services, products and technologies are wide-ranging and extensive.

  2. ayesha says:

    i read the original article on frog design, and initially thought it was really cool that jugaad was being considered at all as a source of innovation. but after reading your response to the article, i can see the distinction you make between having a structured, institutionalized approach to innovation and simply being innovative in one’s approach to a problem.

    maybe part of the disagreement arises out of the different ways in which people view innovation.

    the article on frog design, as well as the earlier businessweek article it references, seem to equate cost optimization and recycling/reconfiguring of existing products with innovation. but to me it seems that innovation could go much further than simply increasing the usability or reach of an existing product – it could actually revolutionize our relationship with the world.

    that kind of innovation, which could give rise to products, services, or whatever, that have not yet even been imagined – that needs more than just a jugaadu approach. maybe that’s why india doesn’t score so high on the global innovation index – because we’re great at improvising and recycling existing stuff, but not so great at producing something completely new.

  3. namrata says:

    I would be interested to know of examples (and no the Tata Nano does not count!) of the use of ‘jugaad’ as a formalized process of innovation. Are there example of how this colloquial Hindi term is being used in innovation practices in non-Indian context?

  4. Radhika says:

    I came accross this guy Arvind Gupta – An Indian Toy Innovator.. He creates toys out of trash.. heres a link…



  5. CKS says:

    More food for thought:

    While wandering the internet, I found another interesting blog entry on how we shouldn’t rely on jugaad for innovation: http://business.outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?277492

    And, in a gratifying confirmation that we aren’t the first ones to take this stance on Jugaad and innovation, a 2010 book addresses the issue: From Jugaad To Systematic Innovation- The Challenge For India
    by Rishikesha T. Krishnan

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