There's always a way

There's always a way

Imagine, you are driving through rush hour traffic and all of a sudden, your car breaks down. The thought itself is enough to make one break into a sweat. But that’s exactly what happened a few decades ago, when our good old Fiat decided to act up. Just as we were trying to manoeuvre through a busy street, the gear stick broke into two. With no roadside assistance or helplines to fall back on, my dad quickly stuck a long screwdriver in place of the gear lever and drove us out of there.

Little did I know at that point in time that, apart from some quick thinking on my father’s part, what I had just witnessed was a simple jugaad that had saved the day.

Multiple meanings
For the uninitiated, jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that refers to the process of finding an unconventional, yet ingenious solution to a sticky problem. The word has come to be interpreted and used in multiple ways, depending on the situation one is caught in.

So, whether it is creating a working alternative of an otherwise expensive or complicated piece of machinery with limited resources at hand, or finding clever ways of overcoming mundane, day-to-day issues that we face, the first solution offered is invariably a jugaad. Look at the weeks following the demonetisation drive in the country, where we witnessed jugaad in its Sunday best. From people hiring other people to stand in serpentine queues outside banks for them, to others who tried using their ‘contacts’ to get around the law, and doing everything else in between, to tide over the crunch.

More often than not, we prefer making our own way, if we can’t find our way out. Take, for instance, the case of a teenager in Kerala inventing a pedal-powered washing machine in order to ease out life’s struggles, or that of others using washing machines to churn lassi. Yes, you read it right. In the 80s, small dhaba owners in rural Punjab often used top-loading washing machines to churn up large quantities of lassi in a jiffy.

Jugaad is a way of life in India, and the jugaadu sentiment is so deeply embedded in our psyche that it comes naturally to us. Though, if one fully wants to comprehend the meaning of this sentiment, watching Delhi-based filmmaker Anandana Kapur’s award-winning documentary, The Great Indian Jugaad, makes for a good start.

“What was initially intended to be a short film turned out to be a feature-length documentary,” says Kapur, as her film successfully portrays the myriad meanings and common perceptions of the word jugaad — both positive and negative. “The word is so multifarious in its connotations that I couldn’t help but give it a kind of encyclopaedic treatment, which brings out the comic, the ironic, as well as the satirical interpretations of the word in the film,” she adds.

Her film introduces us to the jugaad, which is also the name given to a locally made low-cost motor vehicle — a rattletrap of an assembled pick-up truck, with a diesel water-pump for an engine, and various automobile parts taken from different scrapped vehicles. Popular in rural areas, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, it is put together “thok peeth ke”, as one regular passenger puts it, and is used for ferrying people, livestock and agricultural produce, sometimes all of this and more, all at the same time.

Kapur’s film also introduces us to the inventor of a hybrid scooter, who proudly refers to his invention as a piece of jugaad that runs on renewable sources of energy. Then, there is the RTI activist who calls himself a jugaadu crusader, and uses his writing skills and an in-depth knowledge of the RTI Act to file petitions that elicit actions. 

During the making of the film, Kapur discovered that jugaad means different things to different people. While some of us consider jugaad to be a way of life, others consider it a shortcut on the road to making life more comfortable for themselves.

Some see it as the act of getting things done ‘by hook or by crook’, while others see it as ‘innovation’, ‘corruption’, ‘careful calculation’, ‘plagiarism’, but most importantly, as a survival ‘skill’ in life. Everyone unanimously agrees that jugaad is everywhere and that we all use it irrespective of our education, upbringing or financial status. Interestingly, the idea of making the film struck Kapur while she was helping a friend put together a presentation on jugaad while applying to a business school in France.

‘Jugaad’ goes global
The word jugaad has not only found its way into the Oxford dictionary, but has also got the academics, analysts and corporate honchos in the West enthused about it. A whole lot of credit for this goes to Navi Radjou, Dr Jaideep Prabhu and Dr Simone Ahuja, who have co-authored the book Jugaad Innovation – A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century.

In a nutshell, the authors see jugaad as a ‘highly effective business tool that can be formalised and can help companies innovate faster, better, and cheaper, in today’s hyper-competitive and volatile environment.’ Explaining the concept further, Radjou, a noted innovation and leadership strategist based in Silicon Valley, California, says, “Unlike the Western R&D model, which is time-consuming, costly, wasteful, and resource-intensive, jugaad is a frugal and eco-friendly innovation approach that relies on improvisation and making the most of the limited resources one has. By focusing on the real needs of the customers and eliminating superfluous features, jugaad innovation yields solutions that can be developed and marketed much faster, and can deliver greater value to customers at a lower cost.”

A good example of this — as cited in the book — is Tata Motors, a company that practised frugal innovation in the first place, to give us the Nano, India’s first low-cost car. Then again, there is also the example of Kishore Biyani, CEO, Future Group, who used his own judgment and intuition to make Big Bazaar a success, rather than going through the time-consuming process of conducting market research, or relying on expensive management consultants who advised him to follow the Western approach to retailing — the Walmart model, which, unfortunately, didn’t yield the expected results.

Jugaad Innovation is replete with case studies and success stories of corporations, both large and small, across the world, which have used this approach to accelerate innovation and growth. Companies like 3M, Apple, GE, IBM, PepsiCo, Philips and Siemens make this list, among others. Radjou adds, “A Western corporation such as the carmaker Renault-Nissan has been practising jugaad for several years and has applied it successfully to produce bestselling vehicles like the Kwid.”

From global corporations to educational institutions worldwide, the concept of jugaad is creating a whole lot of buzz in top business schools and management circles. Radjou reveals that jugaad has made inroads into top US universities like UC Berkeley and Stanford. Incidentally, his co-author, Dr Jaideep Prabhu, teaches jugaad and frugal innovation in MBA and executive education courses at the Cambridge University. Radjou adds, “In France, jugaad is now a part of the management lexicon, and is embraced in elite French engineering and business schools.”

During their research, Radjou and his team also discovered that the entrepreneurial spirit of jugaad is not just unique to India. It is widely practised across all emerging economies such as China, Africa and Brazil. For instance, in Kenya, they have invented a device that enables bicycle riders to charge their cellphones while pedalling. While in the Philippines, to deal with the high cost of electricity, Illac Diaz, a jugaad innovator, invented an eco-friendly solar bottle bulb (SLB), which is nothing more than a recycled plastic bottle containing bleach-processed water that refracts sunlight, producing the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb. This ingenious solution costs only $1 and easily fits into the roofs of makeshift houses, bringing hope and light into the lives of underprivileged Filipino families living in shanty towns.

Serial innovator
India too has its fair share of jugaad innovators and grassroots entrepreneurs, but perhaps very few can match up to Dr Uddhab Kumar Bharali, who has been dubbed as the real life Phunsukh Wangdu on OMG! Yeh Mera India, a show on History Channel. “Innovation has become my profession,” says Bharali, whose jugaad mindset has pushed him to come up with 140 innovations till date, with many more in the pipeline.

Some of his popular innovations include a passion fruit gel extractor, an areca nut peeling machine, a tobacco leaf cutter, a mini tea-processing plant, a garlic peeling machine, a sugarcane chips maker, a cassava peeler, a trench digger, an encapsulated paddy-sowing machine, an affordable incinerator, and a self-feeding and cleaning device for people without hands. All of these low-cost, eco-friendly solutions were created using only the available resources, to overcome challenging situations faced by the less privileged.

For his efforts, Bharali has received a host of awards including the Shrishti Samman Master Innovator Award in 2007, the President’s Grassroots Innovation Award in 2009, and the Meritorious Invention Award in 2011 by the NRDC (National Research Development Corporation). His benchtop pomegranate de-seeder and detention chair for the mentally challenged have also won the engineering design contest organised by NASA Tech, Create the Future Design Contest, for the years 2012 and 2013.

For an engineering college dropout, who also battled with huge financial constraints, Bharali sure has come a long way. Today, he is associated with prestigious educational institutions in the North East, and has also been conferred the Doctor of Science degree by Assam Agricultural College. To continue his passion for innovation, and to provide technical training to the underprivileged youth, Bharali has established a machine design and research centre in his hometown, North Lakhimpur in Assam, along with a philanthropic research centre for innovating useful gadgets for the differently abled.

The maker movement
By now, if you’re also itching to tinker with your jugaadu ideas and build stuff, you can start your journey at a makerspace near you. The concept of makerspaces is slowly becoming popular across the country. These are DIY facilities that provide you with the right equipment, mentorship, and of course, the space to exploit your creative talent to invent and innovate.

Workbench Projects is one such space in Bengaluru, which co-founder Anupama Gowda describes as “a makerspace, fablab and public laboratory all rolled into one. It is a unique multi-disciplinary platform for the public to toy with ideas, tinker with tools and machines to prototype and build for the future.”

“The makers represent the coming-of-age of our nation where ordinary people are empowered with the tools, techniques and community support to pursue their creative dreams,” says Craig M Dmello, co-founder at Think Happy Everyday (THE) Workshop, also based in Bengaluru. Elaborating on the set-up at THE, he says, “It’s a cross-disciplinary design-research initiative where innovators, designers, makers and the curious kinds can explore and pursue their interest, develop personal projects, conduct academic research, and start collaborative community programmes.”

Speaking about the kind of support provided to its members, Gowda adds, “We provide training, along with project support staff ranging from generalists to on-demand facilitators who we invite on a case-to-case basis, ranging from highly skilled wood-working specialists to mechanics to patent lawyers and so on.” While makerspaces provide the much-needed platform to experiment and to create, they also cushion your falls and failures at times. But more importantly, they provide the environment and the opportunity for us to cultivate and hone our jugaad mindsets, to take things up several notches.

As for a jugaadu ending to this article, let’s twist a quote, which has probably been misattributed to Einstein anyway: “Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere,” to which we say, “Logic might get you from A to B, but it is jugaad that will take you everywhere!”

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