Subba’s Serendipitous moments

September 7, 2010

Jugaad – National character, national shame.

Filed under: Business,India,Innovation — Subbaraman Iyer @ 7:59 pm
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Following my post on Juggling Jugaad is a dirty joke on India, I received about 12 comments on the blog and 45 emails. One of my friend Ajith Narayanan sent a response and requested that it be carried as a guest post. Ajith is from IIT Chennai and has one of the best engineering brains that I have come across.


Jugaad is at work when there is single minded focus on the end goal, disregarding everything else that doesn’t contribute. Jugaad is lean and mean efficiency. So far, so good.

But the essential principle of Jugaad is about taking a short cut, cutting corners, not delivering in full measure, and getting away with it.

Jugaad then, is also about disregarding the impact of your actions on others, on the environment, on the common good, on established principles and structures of society, norms and standards and so forth.
Of course, the Jugaadist reaps a reward. Others begin to envy and emulate the Jugaadist.  Eventually Jugaadist thought and action takes root in every sphere.

Small innovations are to be lauded, and Jugaadism may have a role to play in early stage innovation. But, beyond that, Jugaadism is a mental disease, hard to overcome  when a critical percentage of the population has pledged their allegiance to Jugaadism.

When we rely on Jugaad, there is little need or use for principles, standards, guidelines, or best practices whether these be related to engineering, design, human factors, processes, safety, reliability and such, or to natural and procedural justice, fairness, ethics or dignity of the individual.

Jugaad defines our national character.

When our Election Commission ordered the arrest of the EVM researcher who demonstrated that  Electronic Voting machines can be tampered, (  ) wasn’t it taking a short cut ?  The EC found that crying "thief! thief!" and calling in the police was much easier, and rightly Jugaadist, than joining in the debate — on how secure an EVM Indian citizens deserved, and whether the EVM or operational procedures could be improved.  Jugaadism is expedient and has no slack for such diversions. Here you see the EC’s Jugaadism working against innovation. But then, Hari Prasad (the EVM researcher) procured an EVM by "other means" for his research, despite being denied access by the EC, and he did it through Jugaad ! One man’s Jugaad, another’s crime.

When established H1B-dependent body shops (that pay little taxes if at all), faced with visa quotas and resulting curbs on their lucrative slave trade, call protectionists racist ("discriminatory" — which is quite close. Protectionists are protectionists!), and hijack a whole country’s government to fight on its side, it is Jugaadism at work — in a supposedly mature industry.

But when such entities, big and mighty, rely on Jugaadism, something is wrong. Can they be truthful and just ? Can they innovate, in real terms ? Do they have social consciousness ?

Jugaadism also means no rule of law as Anand Giridharadas comes close to observing. The Jugaadist feels no need for any norms.

In my view, Jugaad is functional at primitive stages of development. To celebrate India’s Jugaadism as national character is a shame — but, perhaps we deserve that shame.

September 6, 2010

Fear is to be welcomed because it seeds courage

Filed under: Learning,Motivation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 2:28 pm
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“Fear becomes not just an acceptable but even welcome emotion because it paves the way for courage and heroism. It is fine to be frightened, but not to run away from it.” says Vinita Dawra Nangia – one of the most respected columnist of The Times of India.

I did blog about reframing the fear of failure for success and to Vinita’s credit she makes the point well. She has expanded the thinking from the fear of failure to fear in general to all the so called negative emotions. Her column – The emotional trap is a good read.

She goes further and destroys the myth of negative and positive emotions completely in a very compelling and persuasive style.  Selected extracts from the article:

Fear is as important as courage; sadness as important as happiness; to cry is as critical as it is to laugh, to grieve every bit as needed as to celebrate. If positive emotions help give us confidence and cheer, negative emotions too serve a purpose.

The important thing is to feel. And, to feel with intensity. In the movie, Beyond Borders, based amidst the suffering in Ethiopia, Clive Owen talks to Angelina Jolie about pain, "In the city, we drown it, numb it, kill it — anything not to feel. Here (Ethiopia) they feel….. We have no idea what courage is. It’s the weirdest, purest thing — suffering."

And from that intensity comes mental, emotional and spiritual growth.

I like the way that she puts fear and other so called negative emotions in perspective. She puts it succinctly when she says:

It is critical to be in charge of your emotions, not allow them to control you!

And of course the best thing about emotions is that they don’t stay with you long. Try as you might, you can neither catch happiness by its forelock, nor pain by its tail. They visit us and in time, after having served a purpose, they leave…

I am reminded of the clear definition of courage: Courage is not absence of fear. It is the ability to function despite fear.

The best way to lead life is (as the Bhagawad Geetha says) by having a sense of equanimity or through inculcating the “samathva”. Easier said than one, but every small step in the way is progress.

September 3, 2010

Juggling Jugaad is a dirty joke on India

Filed under: Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:36 pm


There is enough scope to create new management paradigms based on the Indian ethos. Sadly, the one that seems to be gaining popularity is “Jugaad”. From what was once a verb which was used, albeit apologetically, it is now getting gaining respect. It has even become the talk of celebrated journalists like  Anand Giridhardas and Swaminathan Aiyar. Both extol their values here and here.

Even McKinsey, which seems to have run out of management fads recently, is keen to give its own spin on Jugaad. Like many desi usages which has pushed its way into the English lexicon, this one will also get included. The institutionalization process will be complete.

I felt outraged when a respected academic in a business school suggested that we should teach Jugaad in business schools and even export it as a business model from India, fully aware of its sinister side.

The Hindi word “Jugaad” was originally meant to be innovative under severe resource constraints. It was to find a workable and a temporary solution for an unforeseen problem. The Jugaad approach defied conventional logic: it needed creativity, imagination, use of available cheap materials and more importantly the gumption to try something new. A permanent solution was never the objective or the expectation though it gives the impression that the problem has been “fixed”.

Over a period, it stood for grassroots innovation done on a shoestring budget. Low cost products like a $50 water filter, or a $800 ECG machine was touted as products coming from a Jugaad mindset though the quality, reliability and efficiency of such products remain questionable.

Suddenly the Jugaad phenomenon gained credibility and got the attention of intellectuals with the $2,500 Tata Nano,  and the $10 OLPC (One laptop per child) as examples. Tata Nano is yet to prove itself. All that came out of India’s OLPC  was just sound bites as can be seen from the links here. Yes, used tires can be recycled as shoe soles, but I have yet to see recycling done on any scale. So much for Jugaad that signifies frugal innovation!

What makes it worse is that Jugaad masks a more insidious thinking that is corrupting the core fabric of Indian ethos. Jugaad deploys any means – legal or illegal – more of the latter to get a job done. Accountants use Jugaad for creative accounting, Ramalinga Raju uses Jugaad to siphon money from Satyam (“Truth”) and the list goes on.

Even school kids are encouraged to do benign Jugaad by asking them to revise 10 year question series (instead of reading their study materials) to pass exams. Here is the ultimate Jugaad: judges caught cheating in their LLM exams. This temporary success has institutionalized shortcuts, short-term thinking, shoddiness, a grey market, patchwork all leading to mediocrity and corruption.

Sadly, a generation has grown up without understanding the meaning of excellence and what it takes to pursue it, having been fed on the Jugaad pill since childhood. And India depends on this generation to become a superpower!

Jugaad derives its immense energy from its elder brother – a “Chalta Hai” attitude. What at one point of time was meant to signify meek acceptance and a tolerance of an aberration has now become the de-facto response to everything – corruption, poor governance, miscarriage of justice, unfair social systems, criminalization of politics, even acts of terror and mindless violence – and you can keep counting.

While Chalta hai has assumed a tone of abject resignation and even cynicism, Jugaad has become more sinister and monstrous. Jugaad’s execution models revolve around manipulation, deceit, corruption, criminal intent all going into sub-standard workarounds and cover-ups for selfish short term interests.

The Commonwealth Games scheduled in Delhi is a classic example of the entire Jugaad lifecycle at work. Far from showcasing India to the world, first the Sports Minister (M.S. Gill) and now the Chief Minister of Delhi (Sheila Dixit) are exhorting the country to pray for the success of the Games. This can be “Incredible India” but by no stretch is “India Shining”.

I for one would like it to fail as this is the only way that the collective Indian consciousness  can wake up from its deep slumber. The fact that Rs28,000 crores have been spent instead of the original Rs655 crores in what amounts to be a criminal drain of public funds is another matter. Azim Premji raises this pertinent issue and several other valid points here.

If the benign avatar of frugal innovation has failed to deliver, Jugaad’s sinister variation is to India’s detriment. It has completely corroded traditional Indian values. Sadly, the vast majority are happily celebrating it in the drunken stupor of a temporary surge in economic growth, completely oblivious to the fact that no organization or country can buy its way to superior status with a Jugaad strategy. The fact that some are acquiescing – and worse giving it a glossy coat of respectability – is tragic, to say the least.

It just takes a few good men to say the truth. Will India find these good men before it is too late?

September 1, 2010

Reframing fear of failure for success

Filed under: Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:46 am


Most people get paralyzed by fear. It seems to be an automated response, partly burdened by the expectations of success or the stakes involved. This doesn’t have to be necessarily the case.

A simple mental calibration of our perspective should be adequate to leverage this negative emotion to be successful. Adam Khoo explains the mental calibration effectively in his blog post here. Key elements involved in the mental calibration include:

Many people define failure as NOT achieving their goals. Successful people see failure differently. They think they only fail when they give up. As long as they don’t quit and keep learning and moving forward, they have not failed yet!

Successful people also believe that the greatest failure in life is the failure to participate in life. Not even ‘trying’ is the greatest failure of all.

There is nothing wrong with having fear. Fear is an emotional response given to us by our creator for a specific purpose. When you learn to use it, fear heightens your senses, increases your focus and drives you to become even better prepared.

Speaking for myself, the fear of failure in fact energizes me. Though I am  well prepared for most events, there’s always the gnawing fear that something can go wrong and I can fail. For instance, I dread the ten steps that I need to take to go up  the podium to deliver a talk. But as soon as I am close to the stage and get ready to start, I can actually feel a positive energy revitalizing me. Some say it is the adrenalin effect. I can’t confirm that. Most times, I deliver a talk that surpasses expectations and I feel a sense of fulfillment.

In the rare case, when I never felt the dread, I missed giving a great performance.

I have also been told that psyching oneself up and having positive thinking is a great antidote for the fear of failure. I do not think so. An induced positive thinking is synthetic. It only accentuates the obsessive attachment to the desired result and increases the intensity of failure. It doesn’t neutralize the fear of failure; merely suppresses it. Delusional optimism is as harmful as having the pathological fear of failure. I wrote about the negative aspects of positive thinking here.

The thing that works effectively and is healthy: Feel the fear and do it anyway. Do it after you have adequately prepared for it.