[Book Review] Jugaad Innovation: A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century

by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja

URL: http://jugaadinnovation.com/ Amazon: http://amzn.to/PK3wam

2012 Random House India

317 pages; 9 chapters

Leading companies around the world such as GE, Google, PepsiCo, Philips, Renault-Nissan, Siemens, Facebook, Suzlon, Tata Group, and Yes Bank are practising various principles of jugaad or frugal innovation and are learning from grassroots innovators in emerging economies such as India, according to the authors of this informative book. These principles are also being adopted by many NGOs and governments around the world.

Though many in India would argue that jugaad is not just frugal or flexible innovation but sometimes also a makeshift workaround or ‘bandage’ solution and not true innovation, this term seems to have stuck and is finding acceptance in Western business jargon as well. But even for those who do not attach a romantic or positive connotation to jugaad, this book offers six useful principles of frugal and flexible innovation, and two practical chapters on scaling these principles from the individual to the organisational and national levels.

Jugaad innovation is less like Western classical music and more like jazz (an analogy I like, considering I am also a jazz RJ/editor!). I have summed up these principles of innovation, along with some sample examples, in Table 1 below. Some of these principles may apply to bottom-up or customer-centric innovation in general, and not just jugaad.

Table 1: Principles of Jugaad Innovation

1Seek opportunity in adversityKanak Das (generating energy from shock absorbers), Optima Energia (leased solutions for energy efficiency), Suzlon (wind energy, without fuel), SBI (Parivartan training programme), Proctor & Gamble’s Vocalpoint (social media engagement), SalesForce.com, Danone (lassi, Fundooz), TCS (Co-innovation network)
2Do more with lessAirtel (outsourcing IT to IBM), Los Grobo (contract farming), Zhongxing Medical (low-cost X-Ray machines), M-Pesa (mobile payments), Colgate Palmolive (village salesmen on bicycles), MicroVenturs (sari-sari/mom&pop stores in Philippines), KPIT Cummins Revolo (energy generation from brakes), Embrace (pouch-like incubators for babies), Renault (frugal engineered cars), Godrej (ChotuKool affordable fridge, ChotuWash low-cost washing machines), Nokia (1100 model), PepsiCo (Global Value Innovation Centre in India)
3Think and act flexiblyTata Nano (relocation, remarketing), Haier (flat organisational structure; low cost wine coolers), Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Centre (telemedicine centre for diabetes, with village technicians), SELCO (‘just in time’ energy solutions), IBM (re-definition of values: Smart Planet initiative), Google (70/20/10 model of work; fail fast, learn fast), SAP Labs India (AppHaus, ideas during work),
4Keep it simpleUshahidi (rapid response platform based on Web/SMS), Dr Jeganathan (wooden incubator with light bulbs), Illac Diaz (solar bottle bulbs), Philips (“Sense and Simplicity,” Simplicity Advisory Board), Siemens (SMART: Simple, Maintenance-Friendly, Affordable, Reliable, Timely-to-market), Oxo (universal design), GM (global platforms for vehicle models), Facebook (simple ‘social’ design)
5Include marginal groupsNeuSoft (telemedicine in rural China), Zone V (cellphones for the blind), Yes Bank (for underserved Indians), KidZania (theme parks for underserved kids), Zica (salons for low-income Brasilian women), PayNearMe (for underbanked Americans), Renault (Logan, Darcia low-cost cars), Eli Lilly (YourEncore.com community of retirees), Johnson&Johnson (Text4Baby SMS service for mothers)
6Follow your heartBig Bazaar (design like a bazaar, not Western supermarket), Steve Jobs (iPad), INXS Technologies (MarketSimplified mobile trading platform), Rural China Education Fund (local curricula and teachers), Narayana Hrudayalaya (heart hospital in Bangalore); Idiom, IDEO, frog design

“Innovation is going to be critical for India – not only for growth and competitive advantage, but also to ensure our future development is sustainable and inclusive,” according to Sam Pitroda, chairman of India’s National Innovation Council. The innovations need to manage with scarce resources, and be affordable and environmentally sustainable. “Today we are a nation of a billion connected people,” says Pitroda, and this will change industry, education and government in India.

Jugaad thrives in environments which are harsh, politically and economically unstable, bureaucratic, culturally diverse, with poor infrastructure and inadequate access to finance and skilled human resources. But this requires companies to see the proverbial half-empty glass as half-full.

The authors show that the ‘jugaad’ model also exists in other countries under different names, eg. zizhu chuangxin (in China) and Systeme D or Systeme Debrouillard (in France). “Jugaad was once a big part of Western innovation too,” according to the authors, who cite Benjamin Franklin and the Wright brothers as jugaad innovators.

Unfortunately this spirit seems to have been lost as Western corporations institutionalised innovation and standardised processes for all activities including creativity. But in today’s fast-moving world with economic upheavals coupled with agile entrepreneurs, the structured approach to innovation is too expensive, resource consuming, inflexible, elitist and insular.

The authors caution that jugaad should not replace but complement existing structured innovation practices in big companies. Companies also need to be able swing between these two kinds of innovation practices, rather than find an elusive balance in the middle. The authors cite GE Healthcare as a good example of a company which integrates Six Sigma along with jugaad, eg. its MAC portable and affordable ECG devices, Vscan portable ultrasound scanners. Other companies such as IBM, HCL and TCS have effectively used social media to organise massive and intensive brainstorming sessions.

The authors end with an intriguing list of university and government initiatives for building ‘jugaad nations.’ I have summarised them in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Government, University and Global Initiatives for the Jugaad Movement

CountryGovernment InitiativesNGOs/FoundationsAcademic Initiatives
USWhite House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP)Kaufmann Foundation, Venture for America, Deshpande Foundation (eg. Merrimack Valley Sandbox)Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability; Santa Clara University’s Frugal Innovation Labs; Design for America (DFA)
UK‘Big Society’ initiative (eg. grassroots owned schools)University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Programme)
IndiaNational Innovation FoundationHoneyBee NetworkIBM-ISB service innovation programme
GlobalNew York’s Next Idea Innovation CompetitionAshoka Hub, Skoll Foundation’s Social EdgeStanford-India BioDesign Programme

Notable trends identified in the book include the disruptive innovations emerging from software startups and services. “Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – and startups in high-tech hotpots like Bangalore, Chennai and Pune – are targeting marginal segments that have long been ignored by brick-and-mortar companies in capital-intensive sectors such as healthcare, telecom, finance, education and energy,” the authors explain.

In sum, this is an informative and interesting read for all those involved in innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging economies and the global impacts of such innovation models.

Author profiles:

Navi Radjou is the Executive Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. He is a strategy consultant to leading organizations worldwide, and has published a 10-part report series titled India: The Innovation Giant (Re) Awakens.

Jaideep Prabhu is the Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise and Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at the University of Cambridge. He has consulted with or taught executives from top tier companies around the world.

Simone Ahuja is the Founder and Principal of Blood Orange Media, a vertically integrated media company based in Minneapolis, USA. Her company Blood Orange, develops, produces and distributes non-fiction television programs in genres that include travel, history, and business, and develops concepts for fiction programming.

About Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is research director at YourStory Media and editor of five book series.



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