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Jugaad vs. Innovation

Jugaad is an Indian hack, but is it good for business?



Jugaad is a Hindi word referring to frugal and simple innovations.

It’s similar to “hack” in English – a work-around that happens outside the official system. In India, you see examples of jugaad all the time – think hanger-turned-TV-antenna or a bicycle tire inner tube used as a bungee cord. Indians will often throw up their hands in frustration with a process and just get things done with what they have. As the head of IT at Orbis Financial put it in a CIO magazine article, “India’s known for its ability to maximize resources and produce high-quality products and services. That’s jugaad.”

Jugaad sounds great (it also sounds like it could be an Italian slang word – “joo-GAHD”). Who wouldn’t want an easy innovation, getting around red tape and quick returns? For communications, jugaad can appeal to business managers looking for another way to have their teams “just do it” and “think outside the box.” This concept can lure those who look to the east for new, undiscovered approaches to business that could quickly and easily improve the bottom line.

But there are drawbacks to jugaad.

It’s amateur. It’s often a short-term fix that lacks scalability, sustainability and even safety (imagine using jugaad during rush-hour traffic).

For professional organizations, the most that jugaad­-style innovation should be used is as an attitude or a flavor. But if you have ample resources, a more appropriate approach would be innovation that’s entrepreneurial.

The difference is important to understand while working in PR in India, especially at a company and industry that often hail entrepreneurialism as a core value in a country known for figuring out creative ways to make things happen. Entrepreneurialism and jugaad both aim to address a problem, inefficiency or inconvenience through innovation. Jugaad, however, is more reckless, less planned, not scalable and not professional innovation. Entrepreneurs typically take calculated risks, have a business plan, have a vision for growth and can explain their innovations professionally to draw investments.

In communications, it can be particularly dangerous to jugaad your way through a press conference or a product launch. Our clients often demand highly choreographed, focused and strategic engagement with the media. A jugaad approach could send the wrong message to stakeholders, cause confusion and not hold up to the test of time.

That being said, in PR it can often be quite tempting to just skip all the process. To ignore all the hard work that goes into developing messaging, media training, briefings and positioning and just wing it. But those who use jugaad do so at their own risk.

Have you used jugaad recently? Share how in the comments.

Darius Razgaitis is a fellow for Edelman in Mumbai, from New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrdarius.

Bike image courtesy of mrdarius on Flickr. Lightbulb image courtesy of Flickr's jamesrbowe.
  • I can’t agree more. After having worked in India and now in the US Im convinced that Jugaad is one of the reasons India is in a mess.

    • Dipika Mandhania

      Mr. Prabhu…remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

  • Dipika Mandhania

    Mr. Razgaitis…firstly being an Indian I am pretty proud that the word Jugaad has achieved this recognition…secondly..your views on the subject are pretty justified the way you have been conditioned so far…with all being said, I equate jugaad with a continual process of innovation. In your own words innovation does not happen in a day and nothing stops until it happens, things continue with Jugaad and with all the continued trial and error results into innovation. So if no jugaad, there is no innovation.

    • mrdarius

      Thanks for the comment. I like the concept of jugaad as “continuous innovation,” but my impression is that jugaad is not continuous. It’s more like the precursor to ongoing innovation. More like tinkering – a necessary prelude to more sustainable innovation. Without it, innovation would almost certainly not happen.

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