The Art of Jugaad

- Andrew Tinsley

When I first arrived in Bangalore, my immediate impression was that it was very chaotic. However, it was amazing that everything more or less came together at the end of the day. People got on with their lives and jobs and things worked out for the most part. I found this even harder to believe the more I began to learn about the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles involved in living and doing business in India. Just obtaining a SIM card was overly regulated and complicated. But there was a reason that everything came together. The hurdles and chaos gave way to a beautiful style of creative problem solving. Through convenience and necessity, people had an innate ability to find improvised solutions to their problems. An obvious example of this is the prevalence of improvised vehicles such the motorbike-trailer pictured here.

A word I had learned heard in a college class came to mind: Jugaad.

Definition of Jugaad from the Financial Times:

Jugaad (a word taken from Hindi which captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way) is a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy. Jugaad innovation has a long-lasting tradition in India but is also widespread in the rest of the so-called Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and numerous other emerging economies. Jugaad is about extending our developed world understanding of entrepreneurial spirit in the traditional Schumpeterian style (Joseph Schumpeter was the Austrian economist known as the prophet of innovation).
Jugaad means thinking in a frugal way and being flexible, which, in turn, requires the innovator or entrepreneur to adapt quickly to often unforeseen situations and uncertain circumstances in an intelligent way. Intelligence in this context "isn’t about seeking sophistication or perfection by over-engineering products, but rather about developing a ‘good-enough’ solution that gets the job done". (Radjou et al., 2012, p. 109 ff.).

Jugaad plays a large part in how things are able to come together in a less organized system and it is seen throughout the culture, from the street seller who creates an improvised food stall, to the government, which puts long lasting ink on the fingertips of voters after they have voted. This clever trick allows them to avoid the laborious and expensive process of registering and documenting all the votes. So jugaad keeps India running not only on a micro but on a macro level.

It is a skill that can be useful elsewhere also. One of the posters on the wall of the Facebook headquarters recently released to the public for sale read, “Better done than perfect”. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Indians are represented well in Silicon Valley and large companies across America. In an industry which focuses on fast growth, the ability to take effective short cuts and improvise - the spirit of jugaad is a useful skill.

When I moved into my apartment in Indiranagar, a square hole in my bathroom for ventilation allowed mosquitos to fly freely through it. I was constantly getting bitten and I was forced to act when a neglected bucket of water had become home to some mosquito larvae! A moment of inspiration struck me when I was eating a small pizza with my flat mate and realized that the box matched up perfectly with the gap in the bathroom wall. It was a perfect fix and it was my own small moment of jugaad. Besides just that moment, I have been confronted by other unconventional problems here that require unconventional solutions. Having the flexibility to deal with whatever comes up on any given day is an important skill that living in India forces you to sharpen.