The Hindi hacking spirit: how to use Jugaad innovation in tough economic times



“Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life.”

Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire & Rubber company

This quotation makes me wonder if the raise of the innovation subsidies for Top Industries in The Netherlands as announced by Minister of Economic Affairs Kamp earlier this week really is a necessity. Let’s have a look at an alternative option: Jugaad Innovation.

Last Wednesday I contributed to the Jugaad Innovation masterclass at Nyenrode Business University in The Netherlands. The event was organised by the company called Dutch and its foundation Dutch Jugaad. In the masterclass Navi Radjou, co-author of the leading book “Jugaad Innovation”, was the keynote speaker.

First of all: what does the word Jugaad mean? As Navi Radjou explained: “It is a colloquial Hindi word that roughly translates as “an innovative fix; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and cleverness”.

More simply put it is: “a unique way of thinking and acting in response to challenges; it is the gutsy art of spotting opportunities in the most adverse circumstances and resourcefully improvising solutions using simple means. Jugaad is about doing more with less”.

This makes Jugaad a mindset rather than a business or management technique. With budget challenges for both politicians as well as entrepreneurs, be they start-ups or companies that have been around the block a few times, Jugaad Innovation could be a very interesting approach to staying successful in The West. After all: the Jugaad mindset is really what made the BRIC’s, emerging African economies and Turkey so successful. These countries do not let themselves be held back by a lack of huge R&D budgets or the absence of a convenient infrastructure; to name but two challenges.

A good example of an innovative product that emerged from a Jugaad mindset is the Tata Nano. An economical car, stripped down to the basic necessities of what a safe car should be able to do.

                  

In the master class Director and Head for the Tata Motors European Technical Centre, Nick Fell spoke about the innovative technology used in the latest model: the Nano Pixel with its “Zero Turn” drive, making it super-easy to park in limited spaces. Although it may appear that this type of innovative thinking is mainly driven by cost-control, this is not the case.

The idea to start creating the Nano, as Nick Fell explained, was sparked by founder mr. Tata because he watched complete families hazardly driving around on scooters in busy Indian cities. Mr. Tata wanted to provide these Indian families with a safe mode of transportation they could afford. What mr. Tata did, was follow his heart, one of six principles that make up the Jugaad mindset.

 

Another example of a Jugaad-solution is TechShop offering inventors with low budgets the unlimited use of expensive machinery for a monthly membership fee of around Eur 100. Their motto “Build your dreams here” to me clearly says it is not about profits in the first place, but about offering people the opportunity to follow their heart. Whiteboardmag will soon publish an interview with TechShop Managing Director Europe Paul Duggan, who spoke with great inspiration at the Jugaad Innovation masterclass.

Organiser of the event Dutch and its foundation Dutch Jugaad invited me to share my thoughts around the influence of culture on the Jugaad mindset.

The most striking difference between The Western economies and emerging markets like the BRIC’s is that they fit into different categories as designed by Richard D. Lewis in his Lewis-model. This model places a number of cultures in a triangle, showing how these cultures relate to each other. Each of the points of this triangle represents the extreme of one of three categories.

build trust model richard lewis

 

Nearly all Western economies fit into the linear-active category. Individuals with this cultural background tend to be task-oriented, highly organised planners, preferring to do one thing at a time in the sequence shown in their diary.

On the other hand all BRIC’s, emerging African nations and Turkey fit into either the multi-active or the reactive category. Individuals stemming from this kind of cultural background are much more people-oriented and do not particularly value strongly organised working schedules. The latter allows for more flexibility.

The linear-active mindset of most Western economies has brought them a long way. Think of Frederick Taylor and his Scientific Management whose standardisation of working methods helped Western industries to leap forward in late 1900’s and early 20th century. This structuring of the working environment has certainly brought society affluence. Six Sigma, Lean and Total Quality Control all stem from this linear mindset.

“The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—are the primary sources of creativity.”

management consultant Margaret J. Wheatley

The downside to these methods that standardise processes and minimise risk is that it has left companies with a lack of flexibility and an attitude that avoids uncertainty. In a fast-paced world however, agility and differentiation are necessary for survival. Also this structured approach has become too expensive and resource consuming to maintain in this time of scarcity.

By no means do I wish to conclude the linear perspective is out of date or no longer valid. It all depends on the context in which a company is working whether or not a structured or a more flexible mode of thinking is desired. However, the very different mindsets of the emerging markets suggest that it is time to include these modes of thinking in Western teams and organisations.

We need to embrace diversity to survive. Not only diversity of cultural background, also diversity of generations. As a COO of a large Silicon Valley-based firm says “For the first time in my life, I now manage workers across four generations – which is more difficult because we have to accommodate the diverse values and expectations of our multigenerational workforce” (from: Jugaad Innovation)

What can companies do to give room for more creativity?

American company 3M figured out a long time ago that some of their most successful products were invented by their employees in their spare time or by accident, like the post-it note. This led 3M to allow staff to spend 15% of their work time to work on their dream projects. Of course the company risks a raise in idle time with this approach. Nevertheless time has taught them this so-called “idle” time allowed novelty products to surface raising the company’s revenues. More recently 3M has successfully taken innovation to a new level by adding the wish for great design to great technical performance.

Should all companies now allow all employees to spend a certain amount of their working hours to come up with new products and services? That is of course not for me to say and it depends on the context the organisation and the employees are acting in. I do however hope that both entrepreneurs as well as politicians ask themselves with an open mind what they really need to be innovative.

The first reflex of raising budgets and seeking for large investments may not always be as necessary as it looks at first glance. To put it even stronger: there are situations in which a large pot of money hinders a truly creative and innovative mindset.

For more information see www.jugaadinnovation.com or www.dutchjugaad.nl (in Dutch).

[Photos: Tata Nano, Mike Sense, Flickr | Scooter Delhi, Saad Akthar, Flicr ]

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About the author

Marianne Mol

Marianne Mol is the founder of Munro Coaching & Training. She delivers leadership and team development tracks that improve effective co-operation throughout the organisation. Marianne lived and worked in the U.K. for a number of years, where she gained a wealth of cross cultural experience through coaching team leaders from various cultural backgrounds with NCR Ltd. a global American corporation. Marianne is a Licensed Partner with Richard Lewis Communications, a leading organisation in the field of cross cultural awareness, knowledge and skills. Find Marianne Mol on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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