Subba’s Serendipitous moments

September 7, 2010

Jugaad – National character, national shame.

Filed under: Business,India,Innovation — Subbaraman Iyer @ 7:59 pm
Tags: ,


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.


  1. I was a whole hearted supporter of “jugaad” for some time. It was interesting to read about a diesel genset converted to Maruta, washing machines used for making “lassi” and scooter converted to mobile flour mill. I still am a supporter but with caution. Probably you cannot stretch “jugaad” too far especially when what Satyam’s Raju did is also hailed as an example of “jugaad”.

    Comment by Mukund Toro — September 7, 2010 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  2. dear sir
    i agree to some part of – the EVM case- ” when the shortcut overrides the law, its not punishable” but on the hindsight it taught us just another loophole in the system. for our country which is a standing democracy pillar, adoption of technology has to be fool proof, since we have less experience with technology, we is learning ” on the job”- nothing wrong with that
    we as a nation is improving 🙂
    Jugaad is not mental disease- its mental sharpness- it will not stop innovation instead propel it

    but come what may -Jugaad as a terminology might be prevalent now but its been there with us since ages not just India but with Mankind since the earth saw mortality. as homo sapiens we made jugaad to eat, dress, sleep. so much so the fashion today is women looking for jugaad to hide modesty and still flaunt. the term is new but the idea is old.

    and as some one has so rightly said- ” where there is a will, there is a way” :)or ” where there is a will, there is a jugaad” 🙂

    Comment by abhinav singh — September 8, 2010 @ 1:23 am | Reply

  3. Here is another good example of Jugaad — building a washing machine that runs on mechanical & kinetic energy —

    I hope the link is visible on this blog.

    Comment by Sanjiv — September 8, 2010 @ 9:54 am | Reply

  4. I think the problem is converting a “jugaad” into a standard, accepting it and living with it.
    One prime example of this is the auto rickshaw. It has same engine as that of a two wheeler. But carries four instead of the designed capacity of four. It is pathetic when riding up a gradient. Even when not on a gradient, it is noisy and polluting.
    The auto rickshaw drivers carry this “jugaad” further by tampering with the silencer, ostensibly to save fuel, but totally oblivious to the racket the auto rickshaw creates. Before the advent of CNG, they used to mix petrol with white spirit, yet another jugaad.
    I doubt if any country other than India, has auto rickshaws on plying on roads. It is one jugaad that we have accepted to live with.

    Comment by Mukund Toro — September 8, 2010 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  5. Regarding Indian services companies complaining about outsourcing ban (by Ohio government) what we see is the failure of Indian government to provide jobs for Indian workers. If India is not able to create jobs for these workers and they have to be sent out to jobs in other countries, it is a problem that India should solve. You cannot shout at other countries for the failure of Indian government and industry to create jobs.

    Comment by kanban — September 11, 2010 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

  6. A recently published book The Rise & Rise of Jugaad (and rather aptly subtitled: How ordinary people become extraordinarily successful; Matrix Publishers; Rs. 240/-; Also available in Hindia (Rs. 195/-) written by Virender Kapoor (who is often compared to Dale Carnegie and Thomas Friedman), the author compares Jugaad to a Swiss-knife and strongly espouses the case of this enigmatic word/concept. Kapoor says that while the rest of the world has learnt its lessons in EI (Emotional Intelligence) through formal coaching, an ordinary Indian citizen has over the past six decades perfected the art quite naturally while encountering numerous socio-economic hardships and a variety of political, administrative and environmental challenges in daily life. He also compares Jugaad to that component of human ability which can help one survive all odds as an individual, group or business. In this creatively written, innovatively packaged, compact and fascinating book he unfolds the several enigmatic facets of the magic word by sometimes dwelling on the commonsense appeal of an ordinary reader and by sometimes relating and developing on complex business management driven theories of Innovation, Improvisation, Lateral/Out-of-the-Box Thinking and a new concept coined by Kapoor Street Smart Emotional Intelligence, which would provide ample material for classroom discussions at B-schools, boardroom discussions at corporate houses and even for national/international media debates.

    Comment by arvind — February 11, 2011 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  7. In my opinion,Calling juggad an innovation is not justified. Jugaad is just one’s imagination to fix the problem at times. Mostly jugaads are used to bend the rules and bypass the processes. It is a short term fix where as innovation provides long term sustainable solution.

    Comment by jitendra shukla — November 6, 2012 @ 2:18 am | Reply

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