Jugaad – Is It A Mindset Or A Process – Views From Prabhakar

Many articles have been written about the merits and demerits of Jugaad. The best-known definition is that it is an innovative fix or a simple workaround. Its closest English equivalent is a ‘hack’ but unfortunately, a hack has evolved into something of an intellectual art form, so it misconstrues the true meaning of Jugaad. Others have said that it is an acceptable form of frugal engineering.



The breeding ground for Jugaad in India was obviously the early years after independence, an era of deprivation and lack of economic prosperity, in a seemingly free society, tinted with socialism. One may argue that there were many societies the world over that must have been at the same life stage as us and why did they not produce Jugaad? Most of the Western societies were able to pull themselves out of frugality and deprivation imposed on them largely during World War II by a firm and rapid economic development. In neighbouring China, a deep-seated craving for prosperity was the driver for economic progress. This is about the time that Deng Xiaoping’s immortal slogan ‘To get rich is glorious’ replaced Mao’s aphorisms in the same way that the tabloid Shopper’s Guide had supplanted his Little Red Book.


So when does Jugaad succeed and when does it fail?

The hypothesis presented here is that it succeeds when it is a process but fails when we rely on it as a mindset.

But let’s first start defining process and mindset. Process quite simply is a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. On the other hand, the mindset is an established set of attitudes held by someone.


Jugaad as Mindset



When I see the words ‘Made in China’ on my Mac MagSafe power adapter I have always wondered why Apple and other companies never thought of making that simple electrical device in India. But then every time my Indian 2 or 3 point power plug refuses to fit the wall power socket perfectly and has to be prodded sometimes even with the help of matchsticks I understand why, Jugaad unfortunately, is unable to provide standardisation of quality or scalability. So there is no perfect plug and no perfect wall socket. And the matchsticks that are required to give the power plug a tight fit in the wall socket in effect means that every Jugaad needs another Jugaad to make it work. For Make in India to succeed, we need to be able to control quality to global standards.

The worst example of Jugaad is the mechanic or carpenter who comes with a drill which ends in open wires. He does not even care to have a plug because he knows that the plug may fit some wall sockets and not fit the others. Because our sockets and plugs for some reason are not standardised. To overcome this difficulty, he decided to do away with the power plug permanently. Of course, he does not see the danger of live wires hanging out and being a safety hazard to passers-by.



My friend who was once going through physiotherapy at a very up market clinic in South Mumbai had the entire physiotherapy equipment fall on his head. An engineering post mortem revealed that the accident was caused because the carpenters used only 2 of the 4 screws in the wall bracket required to hold the heavy equipment in place on the ceiling. Now that is a familiar example for most Indians. If you go around examining your house you are likely to find several brackets which were meant for 4 screws functioning on 2 or 3 screws. Here Jugaad creates a scarcity situation where there is none.

So when the mindset is to search for a shortcut, Jugaad is most likely to fail. Fail as a global product. Fail in terms of global quality. And fail as a long term solution since societies will keep getting more prosperous and as they grow prosperous they will want better, safer, more fail-proof long lasting solutions. Going back to the example of the power plug, working a piece of equipment without a plug, yes, works on frugality and meagre resources but if the mindset is to be meagre and frugal at the cost of safety and optimum performance then Jugaad becomes a compromise.


Jugaad as Process



The story of the Indian doctor who saved an asthmatic child on an international flight last year is being quoted as another example of Jugaad. I am not sure it is entirely Jugaad, but given the Indian origins of the doctor and the innovative and creative thinking that he employed to save the child, one can forgive people who call it Jugaad.

So what did Dr Kurshid Guru, director of Robotic Surgery at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York exactly do? A child on board had an asthma attack and the child’s inhaler was in the checked in luggage. The adult asthma inhaler on board couldn’t be used on the toddler. So Dr Guru improvised and came up with a jerry-rigged nebuliser that would deliver both the asthma drug and oxygen medication to the crying child. He used a water cup and a water bottle to create the innovative nebuliser which saved the child.



What is important in this example is that he followed the process of a nebuliser by using parts available at hand (water cup and bottle) in the absence of any other resources in an emergency situation. He improvised and used his creative thinking to imitate the process of a nebuliser.

This means that Jugaad can work in the absence of the right resources being available, (in a scarcity situation). Which is why, perhaps, people have defined it as frugal innovation. But take away the scarcity condition and Jugaad then becomes only a compromise or shortcut to doing things the right way.


Summing up


Over the years, Jugaad has come to mean many things. But when it means cutting corners, creating shortcuts as a norm, a cheating mindset for the short term and compromising safety and other performance parameters, then Jugaad leaves you with an unpleasant taste. But if Jugaad is innovation at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid and is innovation and improvisation in the face of scarcity, then it has a purpose limited to conditions of scarcity but with no other future.

As populations become more prosperous which is a natural by-product of economic growth and development and scarcity is no longer the base on which all assumptions are built, the role for Jugaad may be limited in the long term.




About the Author:

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H. All previous posts of Prabhakar can be found here.