Monday, September 22, 2014

Jugaad Innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century

A book review by: Celia Pillai
Buffalo State College

Jugaad Innovation

What lessons on innovation can a small-time potter from rural India have for global corporations? Plenty, says the business book by Radjou, Prabhu & Ahuja called Jugaad Innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century. ‘Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi (a widely spoken language in India) word that roughly translates to an innovative fix; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and cleverness’ (p.4). Using extensive examples from emerging and mature markets, the authors propose that organizations everywhere can and should learn from jugaad. The book builds on business paradigms focused on emerging markets like fortune at the bottom of the pyramid (Prahlad, 2005), frugal innovation and reverse innovation (Immelt, Govindarajan & Trimble, 2009).

The introduction starts with a remarkable example of jugaad by Mansukh Prajapati, a potter from Gujarat in India. Mitticool is a fridge made of clay, costs a tiny fraction of a conventional fridge, requires no electricity, is 100% biodegradable and produces zero waste! Essentially, Jugaad is ‘a unique way of thinking and acting in response to challenges…of spotting opportunities in the most adverse circumstances and resourcefully improvising solutions using simple means. Jugaad is about doing more with less.’ (p.5). It is in contrast to the structured innovation model which ‘is designed to deliver more with more – that is, firms charge customers a hefty premium for over-engineered products that are expensive to develop and produce’ (p.10). Whereas Jugaad solves the core problem with a good enough solution and is ‘bottoms-up, improvisational, fluid and collaborative while working within a framework of deep knowledge’ (p.24). Among the many examples in the book are that of some major corporations like GE, 3M, P&G, Facebook, Tata and Pepsi.
The core essence of the book are the six key principles distilled from studying jugaad innovations across countries, industries and organizations:
  1. Seek Opportunity in Adversity
  2. Do more with Less
  3. Think and Act Flexibly
  4. Keep it Simple
  5. Include the Margin
  6. Follow your Heart

The bulk of the book expands on these principles dedicating a chapter to each. Chapters begin by describing the principle in action. For example, chapter Principle Four: Keep it Simple starts with Dr. Sathya Jeganathan’s (a pediatrician in rural India) minimalist incubator. Made using inexpensive local material, it costs less than 1/100th of a high-tech, high-end imported one. Yet it serves the core need – it keeps babies warm. Having drastically lowered the infant mortality rate in her hospital, it is now being scaled for wider use. Each chapter further delves on the principle highlighting relevant aspects of business climate, followed by recommendations to apply it and ending with an example of a major corporation’s success with it. The low-cost electrocardiogram-in-a-backpack by GE healthcare in India is a great example cited of a large corporation’s ability to include the margin through jugaad innovation.

The concluding chapters are on integrating jugaad into organizations and building jugaad nations. The authors caution that jugaad should not replace structured innovation but is ‘a useful complement to this approach’ (p.220). The companion website ( has visuals, examples and information on jugaad.
The central concept of the book is fascinating - human ingenuity in the face of scarcity is a phenomenon prevalent for ages across nations and cultures. It has a simple, easy-to-follow structure and is sprinkled with examples throughout, bringing alive the underlying dynamics of jugaad and its applications to organization. To date, this is the most comprehensive book on the subject and has helped bring the topic into mainstream business discussions.

It is interesting to note that the six principles squarely bring back the focus on creativity as the foundation for innovation (e.g. Amabile, 1988, 1996; Bharadwaj & Menon, 2000). All the principles are important aspects of creativity and related attributes of a creative person. For example, principle 1 and 2, Seek Opportunity in Adversity and Do more with Less, relate to the concept of constraints as an enabler to creativity (e.g. Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992; Stokes, 2005). Principle 3, Think and Act Flexibly is cognitive flexibility, an essential creativity skill (e.g. Guilford, 1967; MacKinnon, 1978). Principle 4, Keep it Simple, reminds one of De Bono’s book called Simplicity (1998). It is the ability to break down complexity and focus on what is essential – the skill to Highlight the Essence (Torrance & Safter, 1999). Principle 5 Include the Margin is about serving marginal segments of the market, which uses the creativity skill to extend the boundaries (Torrance & Safter, 1999) of thinking and acting. Principle 6, Follow your Heart, connects to affect, empathy, intuition and their relationship to creativity (Barron, 1969, 1988; Burnett & Francisco, 2013; MacKinnon, 1978). Perhaps, these are the most critical creativity skills in jugaad innovators. Drawing a parallel, there are related dimensions of organizational creativity that support jugaad innovation.

Though the book is an easy read, it gets repetitive at times. Also, the study of jugaad innovations is based on anecdotal observations and lacks academic rigor and scientific enquiry. Given jugaad’s low priority for sophistication, some examples like 3M’s focus on visual appeal or Steve Job’s perfectionism in design don’t sound aligned to the fundamental notion of jugaad. Adding a few actionable tools and frameworks to help organizations diagnose and implement jugaad would have added depth to generic recommendations like ‘redesign the entire organization around simplicity’ (p.144).

Overall, as a first comprehensive study of jugaad, the book is worth a read for anyone interested in innovation. It brings forth a powerful concept of innovation - one that is frugal, flexible and humane. Jugaad has its share of critics, who argue that it is a short-term, work-around and non-scalable approach. Either ways, the buzz on jugaad is here to stay and it will be interesting to see its implementation and impact on organizations in times to come.

Radjou, N., Prabhu, J., & Ahuja, S. (2012). Jugaad innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century. New Delhi: Random House India.

About Celia Pillai:Celia is a consultant, facilitator and trainer in the areas of creativity, innovation and strategy for organizations and institutions. She is also an associate of Tirian in India. Celia brings a diverse set of credentials and experiences, including design, strategy, management and creativity. Celia has a PGDM/MBA from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore, India and B.Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) from Bangalore University, India. She is a graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, NY where she is also a candidate for an MS in Creativity and Change Leadership. She is based out of Chennai in India.

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