Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Facade of Jugaad

'Jugaad' has become a buzzword to indicate an Indian way of providing solutions .Management academics, the media and journalists now use it often with the Economist publishing an article on it .

For those new to it ,Jugaad (a Hindi word) simply means an improvised quick fix arising from ingenuity, just-in-time solutions , typically in a resource-starved situation and sometimes by bending rules or breaking the law . Essentially they are solutions for the short term and does not solve the problem permanently.

Innumerable articles and comments have been come out both in favour and against this 'Indian' trait . Some endorse it wholeheartedly as a method which is producing results while others have not taken it seriously treating it as the next new fad or as a hype .

How have Indians acquired this trait ?

Jugaad looks at quick fix solutions . First , Indians have become habituated to work in the short term and taking short cuts . This is often at the expense of other people or a permanent solution. This means that the problem could re-occur in which case you use the same Jugaad to re-fix the solution rather than looking for the root cause and solving it . One reason why people take to it is that a short term solution is easier to implement keeping in mind resource requirement , planning and getting approvals from higher-ups.

In general , Indians have been used to results , products or services which probably do not meet the expected quality. Often ,one is expected to adjust to these imperfections and get along . Of course , there are exceptions but these are fewer when compared to the majority .

Bureaucracy, complicated / impractical rules and an slow or unworkable legal system have only legitimized taking short cuts and it is little wonder that Jugaad thrived in it .Those who knew how to apply it were very successful and others emulated them .

The Jugaad mindset

Though 'Jugaad ' has a negative connotation can such a mindset be useful ? It can be - particularly in crisis situations . But we must understand that the outputs may not be of the best quality and the solution may not be sustainable in the long run .

The problem is that often 'jugaad' is being misinterpreted as a substitute for a systems approach and planning . Just because it ends up producing novel products or results it is confused with organized innovation .

Jugaad and Innovation

Jugaad is sometimes being used as term to denote the process for low-cost innovation or 'out of the box 'solutions . Consider these examples

General Electric - a hand held ECG which has reduced the cost to less than $1 per patient.
Tata Chemicals - a water filter based on rice husk - initial investment $24

There are many other examples quoted in the Economist including Tata's Nano car . These comparisons with Jugaad are misplaced and to do so will be belittling the planned effort that gone into these ventures . Some in India and also the west have simply found it convenient to romanticize the method and christening as then next new find from India .

From a manager's viewpoint , Jugaad can be considered a kind of 'workaround' . A workaround denotes the methods followed when events occur which has not been planned for - because of improper planning or are difficult to do so because outcomes are uncertain . Jugaad can never be a substitute for planning.

It is time to call a spade a spade . Let us relegate Jugaad to the rightful place where it belongs and not treat it as a panacea for all management problems . Surely , the Jugaad mindset is useful - in crisis management , during execution to take corrective action and in workarounds to solve problems . But , to equate it to organized innovation ,systems approach or planning will be a gross mistake .

Notes :

1 . First break all the rules- The charms of frugal innovation Apr 15th 2010 From The Economist print edition
Why praise jugaad? It's bleeding us by Swapan Dasgupta 29 Aug 2010


No comments: