Critic of Jugaad Innovation

This is a critical review of the book titled ‘Jugaad Innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century‘ authored by Navi Rajdou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja.

The effort of the authors in building a theory of 6 principles from their observations of both grassroots and corporate innovators is laudable. The 6 principles, as I understand, are essentially presented as the quality/ characteristics of what it takes to be called a ‘Jugaad Innovator’.

But, in one of the networking forums that I participate in, there was a question whether ‘Jugaad Innovation’ is a new approach to innovation! This made me think, if the authors intended to coin a new word called “Jugaad Innovation” that essentially implements these 6 principles.

And, I see that one or more of these 6 principles are already being followed, albeit captured with different labels(!) of innovation. For example, Principle#2: Doing more with less. The example cited in this principle is Bharti AirTel (asset light). It is essentially infrastructure outsourcing christened as “Business Model Innovation”!

This made me to take a critical look at the authors work vis-a-vis

  • A) What exactly does the word Jugaad and Jugaad Innovation mean?
  • B) What are the limitations of Jugaad innovations?
  • C) Understanding the limitations of a structured process of innovation, how do we marry a jugaad innovator with a structured process of innovation?
  • D) What could be the role of non-profits and public bodies in helping jugaad innovators?

I attempted to answer the above questions by bringing clarity into this whole new word called “Jugaad innovation”.

A) What exactly does the word jugaad mean?
It is an Indian word which means ‘workaround’ or ‘makeshift’. In other words, Jugaad innovation truly implies a makeshift innovation or a workaround for the problem that cannot be addressed by an existing product or solution to meet the needs of the customer.

As an NPD practitioner of structured process of innovation, I critic the authors application of the word ‘Jugaad’ for everything under the Sun where an innovation is either unstructured or driven from the bottom. And, I’ll explain why in the successive sections.

I see most of the grassroots innovations that were cited by the authors fall under existing definitions of innovation, that is, social innovations (YES bank)/ business model innovations (AirTel) etc…

One example that I see as a truly Jugaad innovation is the grassroots innovation cited by the authors – Mitticool.

B) What are the limitations of Jugaad innovations?
Taking the example of Mitticool, it is a “workaround” innovation because, Indian rural households cannot afford a main stream Fridge (Refrigerator) due to it’s price and also, inconsistent supply of electricity in their households.

And, if we attempt to compare this “workaround” innovation with mainstream Fridge, I feel it is incorrect, especially, when the main stream Fridge is developed based on sound scientific principles. One has to understand that the reasoning and the systematic study of nature that went into developing the main stream Fridge is based on the observation of the cooling effect of water stored in earthen pots, which resulted in inventing a scientific principle, that is, phase transformation of a liquid to a vapor absorbs heat.

While I do not mean to discourage such “workaround” innovations, one has to understand that such grassroots innovations should be scientifically evaluated vis-a-vis their ability to follow/ challenge the scientific truths discovered thus far. If the evaluation dis-proves the scientific truth, it is a great invention!

The question thus is: Are we creating systems or processes to evaluate such grassroots innovations for their “invention” potential or becoming cheer leaders by propagating knowledge about these “workaround” innovations.

And, I feel that by becoming cheer leaders to such crude fixes, are we not absolving ourselves of the responsibility to design and develop world class quality products by applying sound scientific principles using a structured process of innovation?

On a side note, Chotucool is a fridge innovated by Godrej, who is a popular manufacturer of refrigerators in India. This fridge is designed based on the scientific principle of Thermoelectric cooling to cater to the needs of people in rural India.

C) How do we marry a jugaad innovator to a structured process of innovation?
Again taking the example of Mitticool, I sincerely believe that it’s innovator should be provided with scientific knowledge (phase transformation of a liquid in this case) to help him better understand how the mainstream Fridge was built and improved upon over years. If we glorify such grassroots innovations without adequate scientific reasoning and knowledge, there is a risk of undoing the scientific progress that we all as one humanity have made over years.

D) What could be the role of non-profits and public bodies in helping jugaad innovators?
I strongly believe that all the non-profits and public bodies who are working with grassroots innovators should facilitate connections between the grassroots innovators and manufacturing organizations (who have implemented a structured process of innovation) to develop better products that could address the needs of a wider market, which other wise would not be possible.

Building products through the means of such connections in our structured process of innovation is an Open Innovation, which can take place in the fuzzy front-end stages.

In conclusion, structure does not mean fixed and rigid. An etymological definition of structure implies adapting to change that resembles a dynamic movement of what is being structured! That is how societies evolve (e.g., structure of India as defined in our constitution is changed more than 98 times!).

In our PDMA language, there is a term called ‘Lead Users‘. It means: “Users for whom finding a solution to one of their consumer needs is so important that they have modified a current product or invented a new product to solve the need themselves because they have not found a supplier who can solve it for them. When these consumers’ needs are portents of needs that the center of the market will have in the future, their solutions are new product opportunities” – PDMA Glossary.

And, I feel jugaad innovators are the lead users, who can contribute more to the development of world class products by networking with manufacturing organizations as mentioned above.

The biggest challenge as I see in India is: Do we have a critical mass of such manufacturing organizations who have implemented a structured process of innovation – to be able to support a pan-India network of jugaad innovators?