Subba’s Serendipitous moments

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?