Friday, 31 July 2009

Jugaad, Innovation, and India traffic

Clearly you must be thinking what is the relationship between the above three items (Jugaad, Innovation and India Traffic)…it is tricky and maybe a stretch but I will try to share my views and see if they help in building the connection.

Let us pick the Hindi term “Jugaad” (pronounced literally as written with an extended and loud “gaaa” after the short “Ju”, and terminating with a quick “d”) at random to start out. Wikipedia describes jugaad as an arrangement or a work around, which has to be used because of lack of resources.  It goes on to state that "Jugaad" is a colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix, often pejoratively used for solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such or a person who can solve a vexatious issue.  It is used as much for enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers (the lesser said about political fixers the better!!). In essence, though it is a tribute to native genius, and lateral thinking. Ahh…”lateral thinking” and “innovative fix”…..truly unexpected…but thank goodness…the connection starts to build up with some of the other words…especially innovation!!!

Having fortuitously arrived at a semblance of “association” between Innovation and Jugaad, even though we have to develop this further would now like to switch to India traffic.  Clearly, for any visitor to the country the India road traffic is; “daunting”, “challenging”, “amazing”, “crazy”…..people (including I) watch with wonderment as an innocuous two lane road at an intersection becomes a six lane super-highway with a row of six parallel vehicles who have somehow made it to the front at a red light, waiting for the green and be the first to get across to the other side of the intersection. 

If one were to see a bird’s eye view of the phenomenon of how the front row evolves (while the light is red) one would not see random “Brownian motion” but a purposeful, deliberate, and relentless push to get ahead, by finding interesting work-arounds…all done in face of limited resources, in this case the road itself, which ideally needs to be a lot lot “better”, “wider” to support actual needs. I would call this jugaad and hence innovation…which is executed day in and day out, millions of times a day, throughout the country.  There is also this question of the “pH” factor associated with every road that contributes to the need for Jugaad……pH factor being the “pot-Hole” factor (a 0 to 10 scale, 10 being the highest) something applicable to every road in the country. Navigating the pH’s while keeping up with everything else on the road (that may or may not rightfully belong to the road) is innovation as well. The purists among you may argue; well “innovation is idea into value” or “fresh thinking that creates value”….so where is idea and what is the value.  To me the value is measured in “time” saved by the actions, and the “idea” is the navigational path.  The above is an example of how inventiveness of the jugaad variety is integral to challenging resource constrained environments common in developing economies.

While jugaad is good, most jugaad solutions are unique, one-time, not replicable, and do not translate into sustainable innovation. My contention is that while the solution may be unique or one-time…..the thinking behind is not.  What is required is for corporations and individuals to institutionalize and formalize a process to capture and unleash the thinking behind the jugadd to help solve the myriad business, technological, and social problems that are common place in a challenging resource constrained environment. 

Then there is cultural inertia that needs to be overcome…."let someone else do it",“Chalta hai” (complacent) attitude, “Jane do” (let it be)…to overcome these each and every one of us has to look within and have the desire to make a difference, the personal commitment to apply the jugaad logic/thinking (that exists for sure), stay with the problem till it is solved, and once solved improve or maybe take on the next problem.

If one steps back to look at the global macroeconomic view, one sees that world’s developing economies and companies operating within are going through an interesting evolution; where because of rapid growth a large pool of domestic customers are being added annually.  Many of these customers have just started consuming, and interestingly do not have high expectations as developed market customers.  Further, the buying power of these consumers is very low and hence low cost solutions are an imperative.  There are 2 important implications;
a) Companies providing goods and services can “experiment” with these consumers, improve quality and then be in a position to export to developed markets (just like how the South Korean cars started out and are challenging American and Japanese) and
b) Consumer driven innovation (often disruptive) will happen in these companies because of constraints that they are forced to operate under….this in-turn will have an impact on developed economies and incumbent companies.  Like I stated earlier, the jugaad mindset that taps into native genius but is institutionalized to deliver lasting innovation is critical for companies to be successful in this environment.

There are positive signs in China and in India to indicate that processes are evolving to do just that. Would like to share examples in each country; in China’s Chongqing city motorcycles are made using designers, suppliers, and manufacturers who have organized themselves into a dynamic and entrepreneurial network. Upstarts like Longxin and Zongshen use a simple and flexible business model.  Here instead of every detail of the parts they want from suppliers, the motor-cycle makers specify only the important features, like size and weight, and let outside designers improvise.  This approach has delivered massive cost reductions and quality improvements.  In India, the “People’s Car” (the Nano) is the latest incarnation to change the way business is organized and managed to produce low-priced products services for people at the bottom (or near to the bottom) of the pyramid. India is pioneering in low-cost eye surgeries, low-cost telecom services and low-cost retailing (with tiny sachets of shampoo and other products)….all very profitable. Interestingly all this is coming from the innovative jugaad mindset that combines irreverence for existing business models with a goal of creating through frugality.

I am sure there are other examples that you can think of, and yes progress is being made, but in my view there is a lot more that needs to be done globally for us to solve the greatest challenges the world faces namely; hunger, poverty, global warming, space exploration, and defining/envisioning business and technical solutions that organizations will need in the future. Institutionalized innovation strategies that tap into the hitherto untapped intellectual capital (jugaad mindset) of billions and connect it better with financial capital/sponsorship will go a long way in helping solve some of these challenges. This is not to say that the role of developed markets in fostering, financing innovation will (or can) diminish, it is simply saying that an inclusive collective approach will improve our chances of success.....and success is important.

Then of-course there is this need for over $500 billion in investment required over the next several years to reduce the pH factor on India roads… can we forget that!!! innovation here, pure common sense….the question, is there enough of it? :) As a side note, you continuously get amazed with the power of collective intelligence/knowledge (and open innovation) as demonstrated by Wikipedia…am not sure if one can better capture the meaning of the word than what is stated above…..I would just add that jugaad is also solving very difficult problems with resourcefulness and inventiveness but at ZERO (or near zero) incremental cost.  For those who watched the movie “Outsourced”, you may remember the approach taken to continue the call-center operations when the office was flooded; this was a classic example of operationalization of jugaad.

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