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A caution on Jugaad

Workaround was a key theme across the chapters in our 2008 book. People were doing all sorts of things, like using WiFi to haul data over long distances in Indonesia, that made sense in the specific circumstances, but had no other value. As soon as the Indonesian telecom incumbent provided leased lines, the WiFi use stopped. This was a classic jugaad.

A contrast is the budget telecom network model, that came about because companies were trying to deal with the low purchasing power of their customers and the low transaction cost afforded by pre-paid mobile. These conditions were non-optimal, but the business model was a true innovation.

Scott Berkun and Sundeep Khanna who cites him take a different view, it seems. But we do agree, innovation is a truly over-stretched word.

Stuck in the morass of low cost, cheap products, we embrace jugaad perhaps because as a society we hate the concept of disruptive creativity. Tweaking things, taping them up to make them work, applying a little dash of cement to plug a hole, that’s what we revel in. Ensuring a new road doesn’t cave in with the first monsoon by adhering to strict standards of quality construction or a time schedule that asks for 24 hours of surface drying, is outside our comfort zone. Which is why, we salute jugaad. The Delhi metro one of the few models of efficiency in India is not based on jugaad but on a stringent adherence to processes.

In his 2007 book ‘The Myths of Innovation,’ author Scott Berkun, says the word innovation should be reserved for civilization-changing inventions like electricity, the printing press and the telephone—and, more recently, perhaps the iPhone. Each of these required leaps of faith and of creativity.

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