Can Indians please stop making a virtue out of 'jugaad'?

In a 15 April 2010 article, The Economist made the world familiar with the word jugaad: "Indians often see frugal innovation as their distinctive contribution to management thinking. They point to the national tradition of jugaad—meaning, roughly, making do with what you have and never giving up — and cite many examples of ordinary Indians solving seemingly insoluble problems."

S A Aiyar wrote, in an article titled “Jugaad is our most precious resource”, how “Dhirubhai showed that manipulation and world class productivity are two sides of the same coin called jugaad. If governments create business constraints through controls and high taxes, jugaad will be used to overcome those hurdles. But if deregulation abolishes these hurdles, the main business constraints become lack of quality and affordability, so jugaad shifts to improving productivity, quality and affordability. That ultimately makes you world class.”

Not to be outdone, HBR in a blog “Use Jugaad to Innovate Faster, Cheaper, Better” wrote, “This highly resource-constrained and chaotic environment inspires jugaad innovators — ie, the Indian entrepreneurs and corporations who practice jugaad to develop market-relevant products and services that are inherently affordable and sustainable. Jugaad innovators are modern-day alchemists who transmute adversity into opportunity, and in so doing create value for their organisations and communities.”


This makes jugaad a good thing. Right?  I beg to disagree. My view is that what we are so proud of (and rightly so) is great innovative work done by a handful of people, who probably shudder when they see their inventions shown up as shining examples of jugaad. For me, jugaad has created a mindset amongst us that allows us to do sloppy work and be proud about it. “Look, I fixed the bathroom tap with a white thread and some glue; it should be good for three washes”.

I recently moved into a new flat and have had the misfortune of meeting the most jugaadu contractor. Now, after six months, my door handles are falling off, none of my ACs works, my windows don’t shut.

Last week, I was in Delhi, staying at a fancy hotel in Vasant Kunj which cost my company Rs 25,000 for two nights. My room had a fancy walk-in closet. Just that the bottom of the closet didn’t quite meet the floor. But hell, that’s okay. They got the room done at one-tenth what it would have cost in Hong Kong orSingapore.

This attitude has turned into a total lack of any pride in quality. The satisfaction of producing something that is perfect seems to have no value anymore. I worked in advertising and a very clever creative director taught me how to proof check — read backwards. I have never forgotten that and I rarely have copy errors –and I was in servicing. Ensuring that anything that passed through me was perfect filled me with joy that was unsurpassed.  Today, any newspaper you pick up will have three copy errors on the front page, sometimes even in the headlines. And it’s all right. What’s the big deal?

My father was obviously not a clever man. His monthly take-home salary, after those high taxes, was barely enough to make ends meet. However, he never used jugaad to ‘overcome the hurdles’ he faced.  Really stupid of him.

Surprisingly, whenever I go home he seems to be much happier than a lot of people I know. He has no debts, his children turned out all right and he has his friends and family around him. And he laughs a lot.

And when I last checked, the radio telescope he helped build at the end of the 60s on an 11 degree natural hillside slope in Ooty, still works.

Updated Date: Feb 07, 2012 10:51 AM

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