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?


  1. Prof subba,though there is both sides to jugaad.The spirit of jugaad comes in achieving more with less.If an nation and group of people are able to achieve this , definitely this can be an insipiration and possibility for some other country or other group of people.
    As with any other practice, this also has other side to it if practised wrongly, but the focus is on the concept itself and allowing people to decide how they will implement it

    Comment by Aravind — September 3, 2010 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  2. Dear Subba,

    Your write up is a timely reminder about all that is wrong with India. However, you are wrong if you believe that the vast majority are happily celebrating it in the drunken stupor of a temporary surge in economic growth, etc.

    Sorry the vast majority in India is still too pre-occupied with fighting for survival and for that itself they have to play jugaad.

    Yes, India is shining like that lamp which has the flame at the top, but below it there is only darkness. Unfortunately, that is the truth about India. 5000 families at the top dont know what to do with all the wealth, while 50 Million at the bottom dont know how to make ends meet.

    Yes, India is shining at the top with a corroded bottom, forgetting that no top can stay for long if the bottom gives way.

    Comment by Shivkumar Israni — September 3, 2010 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  3. Ah! Bang there. But it is not just India getting its way around there through Jugaad these days, a lot more nations and super powers, corporations big and small are bending rules left, right and center.

    Loved this: This can be “Incredible India” but by no stretch is “India Shining”.

    Comment by Dhivya — September 3, 2010 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  4. Dear All,I enjoyed listening to some of the complaints and concerns about “tinkering”. Claudio Ciborra, an IT professional who taught me long ago, Head of the LSE for a while in the early 2000… and who wrote consistently over bricolage in organizations as a way to strategize in times of uncertainty, rode the trends & waves of sense-making, improvisation, postmodernism. Riding as I well know with showjumping, may be a risky approach – Jugaad is inspiring yet you got to know your horse.
    The series on Sutras were indicated to me by a colleague and friend and here I dare to post them to you:
    They add nicely to this prominent discussion.
    Some of us want to be good men at times when it takes the heroes to come out, some of us like the shade of tall trees to operate in silence, some of us never leave the path and are determined to set a new route, but if we lose sight of the end objective we will have no excuses to our blindness. Oedipus King thought he knew better.

    Comment by Ianna Contardo — September 4, 2010 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  5. Prof. Subba, I agree with you. There are limits to making “jugaad” work. It cannot become a permanent solution. At the best it is a temporary home made solution to get out of a crisis. There is no substitute for setting up good repeatable and predictable processes, after your crisis blows over. And of course, you cannot be living from crisis to crisis taking “jugaad” as your support. Your (bad) luck will run you out sometime.

    Comment by Mukund Toro — September 4, 2010 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  6. Your write up on Jugaad is thought-provoking. For every thing, there is one good side and one bad side, particularly when the market forces are allowed to act freely. But the long term solution should include the goal for excellence and competitive advantage. That alone will succeed. I would like to see “India Shining” ; not incredible India!!!. The key is in the middle class. This class should be alert, awakened and empowered – no more a mere spectator – as vociferous as you are!!
    Parlikad K Jayaram

    Comment by parlikad k jayaram — September 4, 2010 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  7. Yes, could be said that ‘jugaad’ today, coutesy the way it has been adopted, does have a negative connotation attached to it. However, jugaad’s real sense of frugal engineering and innovation cannot be undermined. Jugaad is what has fostered innovation to a great extent, however your view about the illegality and illegitimacy involved in ‘jugaad’ is very valid and so true of its current state and perception. Using ‘jugaad’ as an authentic tool for fostering innovation is important but the fight is to make sure that in doing so the quality, ethos and legalities involved are not compromised.


    Comment by Arpan — September 4, 2010 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

  8. dear sir
    i would contradict pointing to the following
    1) Constraints: it is a must when it comes to innovation. necessity is mother of inventions. there is no perfect scenario where you sit back and think- and create, thats what scientists do. they too work in constraints.
    Henry Ford-” progress is not made by hard working people but by lazy people looking for a shorter way to do things”
    with rapid changing market dynamics- product life cycle is squeezed, innovation has to come earlier than never before. so nothing wrong in it 🙂
    2)Credibility of cheap innovations: here the constraints is price. period. its all about constraints and incentives. u make jugaad on constraints for some incentives. if a product fails to meet expectations, it bites dust. and thats how products pick learning by failing. not all innovations see the light of the day,some do-they deserve.
    u imagine u create u watch u improve
    3)Rs 28000 crores- thats the way we have grown up. delay and then jugaad to make it work somehow. Asim Premji raises issue. everyone does on something or other- and in your own words – “Big deal”
    we fail to make a mark this Games. Big Deal. We will do it again next time and better. Chalta hai.
    4)Few good men-we have plenty. till this culture of “chalta hai” remains we ll see rise of entrepreneurs making money for themselves and state. the day we become strict and methodological like china we rise under statehood not as free spirit.

    Comment by abhinav singh — September 5, 2010 @ 2:04 am | Reply

  9. Prof Subba

    I completely agree with you on all the facts stated above and the frustration evident from your write up is shared by many Indians back home and abroad.

    But, my thoughts on the so called “Jugaad” is in line with some of the respondents above, its just like a coin with two sides every innovative phenomenon has a good side and a bad side. Jugaad had its humble origin in a home made trucks for super cheap transportation. Like a weapon its use depends on its beholder, there are many who use it for the worse but i would argue there are many more who use it for the best.

    Comment by Vivek VV — September 5, 2010 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  10. Dear Subba,
    As with most thing,… context is important. let’s not “throw the baby out with the bath water” here. Jugaad can be misused, abused, misconceived,… but given the right context or situation, it can be a powerful tool to drive entrepreneurship. There’s always a flip side to most things. I would avoid depicting it a “black or white” case.

    Best Rgds.

    Comment by Foong — September 6, 2010 @ 11:21 am | Reply

  11. Dear Subba
    Pertinent and valid observations. ‘Jugad’ and ‘chalta hain’ are two curses that separates modern India from their contemporary successful nations. The sooner we get rid of them, is better. But it is so well trenchedd in our own individual psyche, that we need to transform ourselves and that’s the most challenging.

    Comment by milind pappu — September 10, 2010 @ 11:10 am | Reply

  12. Prof Subba,

    Sadly this is the way the world is recognizing India as. I remember just 6 months back a conversation with my cousin. He gave an interview with a very reputed company which was about to start it’s business in India. My cousin cited his strength as ‘Jugaad’ and the phirang interviewer from US recognized the word, laughed & asked for examples for the same and my cousin finally got the job.

    It is about the mindset and the way to get your work done in a culture. This was we are spreading the culture exponentially and making things better temporarily better.

    Comment by Shashank Paliwal — September 21, 2010 @ 1:43 am | Reply

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