Kanak Das, like many Indians, rode a bicycle to work on roads that were full of potholes and bumps. This really slowed him down, but there was clearly nothing he could do to change the road. So he asked himself the question - how might I make this constraint work for me instead of against me? How can I use the cratered road to make my bike run faster? That question inspired him to retrofit his bike so that when he went over rough road a shock absorber on the front wheel released energy to the rear wheel moving the bike forward. MIT engineering students are now looking at his invention and exploring how to use this same principle in cars. This is a prime example of what Indians call “Jugaad Innovation.”
“Jugaad” is the gutsy art of spotting opportunities in very adverse conditions and resourcefully coming up with solutions using simple means. A critical mindset, practiced by most Indians in their daily lives, to make the most of what they have. In American slang we often refer to these kind of ad-hoc ingenious solution as a “MacGyver” derived from the action TV series in which the hero solved complex problems with whatever he found at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army knife. What’s different with jugaad is these are not just temporary quick fixes but are often more permanent solutions that become a part of everyday life. One example: a refrigerator made of clay that uses no electricity. Using resilience, perseverance and a willingness to learn, jugaad innovators respond to their challenges and create opportunities for themselves and their communities. In US history Benjamin Franklin is an example of a jugaad innovator with his focus on devising frugal solutions to address everyday needs (Franklin stove, bifocals, lightning rod). What other examples come to mind ? How do you and those on your team practice this form of innovation now?
The core principles of Jugaad Innovation are:
- Seek opportunity in adversity
- Do more with less - work with what you have
- Think and act flexibly
- Keep it simple
- Include the margins - they may be the new majority
- Follow your passion
I discovered Jugaad Innovation while surfing for trends in a New Delhi airport bookstore. I was searching for local material to include in a course on Strategic Thinking that New & Improved provides to one of our clients’ sales and marketing staff. In this search I came across an excellent book entitled - you’ll never guess - Jugaad Innovation by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja. The book is filled with lots of examples and ideas that nicely integrate with the topics participants explore in the course. If you are interested in looking at what might be learned from this approach to innovation it’s a must read.