Jugaad: A Breakthrough Growth Strategy

Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth

Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, & Simone Ahuja

288 pages, Jossey-Bass, 2012

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We reached Ramakrishna Nagar, a village in the desert of Gujarat, a state in Western India, after travelling 250 miles from Ahmedabad, the state’s capital. Our team—a Silicon Valley management consultant, a business school professor from the University of Cambridge, and the founder of a Minneapolis advisory boutique and media firm—had set out a few months earlier on an extensive research and travel project. Our mission: to discover new approaches to innovation in emerging markets such as India that could help Western firms take on the complexity of our tough and turbulent times.

We came to Gujarat tomeet with Professor AnilGupta at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad.1 Professor Gupta runs Honeybee Network, a non-profit organization that identifies and cross-pollinates grassroots innovation all across India. Over more than two decades, Honeybee had populated a database with over ten thousand inventions of grassroots entrepreneurs who have created ingenious solutions for pressing socioeconomic problems in their local communities. Professor Gupta suggested we meet with one of these rural entrepreneurs.

As we left an arrow-straight concrete highway to follow narrower and increasingly cratered gravel roads, the temperature rose to a debilitating 120 degrees. Stepping out of our air-conditioned jeep, we could feel the weight of the desert’s oppressive heat.

Mansukh Prajapati greeted us warmly outside his workshop.2 A potter by trade, Prajapati had for years been experimenting with clay to produce a variety of durable goods, many of which were on display in the office outside his ‘‘lab.’’ We were parched—and grateful when he asked us if we wanted water. We had run out, and there wasn’t any sign of a store or kiosk nearby to restock. He reached around to a faucet, handed us cups, and, beaming with pride, said, ‘‘Please, have this cold water—from my fridge.’’

Baffled, we looked more closely at the terra-cotta box in front of us. It was made entirely of clay, except for a glass door and a plastic faucet at the bottom. While sipping the refreshingly cool water, we looked around and found no electrical cord, no battery—just clay. Amused by our expressions, Prajapati explained how this clay fridge—the Mitticool (mitti means ‘‘earth’’ in Hindi)—works: water from an upper chamber seeps through the side walls, cooling the lower food chamber through evaporation. The fridge consumes no electricity, is 100-percent biodegradable, and produces zero waste during its lifetime. An ingenious invention!

But this inventor and his personal story are even more impressive. Prajapati doesn’t work for NASA or Whirlpool, and he doesn’t have a Ph.D. in quantum physics or an MBA from Stanford. In fact, he didn’t even finish high school. His R&D lab—a simple open-air room with clay in various shapes and forms arrayed on the floor and an oven tucked away in the corner—is a far cry from the sprawling campuses of GE and Whirlpool, which swarm with hundreds of engineers and scientists.

In 2001, an earthquake had devastated Prajapati’s village and the surrounding area. Reading a report of the devastation in the local newspaper, he noticed a photo caption: ‘‘Poor man’s fridge broken!’’ The photo featured a smashed earthen pot commonly used by villagers to fetch water and keep it cool. And though the newspaper had called it a fridge in jest, it triggered Prajapati’s first eureka moment. Why not use clay, he thought, to make a real fridge for villagers—one that looks like a typical fridge, but is more affordable and doesn’t need electricity? Over five hundred million Indians live without reliable electricity, including most of the people in Prajapati’s village.3 The positive health and lifestyle benefits of owning a fridge in a desert village where fruit, vegetables, and dairy are available only intermittently would be tremendous.

Prajapati’s training as a potter, coupled with his intuition, told him that he was on to something. He experimented for several months and eventually had a viable version of the Mitticool that he began selling to people in his own village. The fridge—which costs around US$50—was a hit. Prajapati worked tirelessly on design improvements, and began selling Mitticools across India, and then internationally. He couldn’t keep up with the rising demand and had to find ways to scale up—fast.

Then he had a second eureka moment. Why not transform pottery from an artisanal craft into an industrial process? He could leverage his traditional knowledge of pottery to mass-produce goods that met modern consumer needs. So Prajapati first developed an entirely new and more efficient method of working with clay. Then he began training women in his village in these industrial pottery techniques and finally hired them to work in his new factory. Soon a ‘‘mini’’ Industrial Revolution in pottery was launched in this remote Indian village.

Mitticool was the first product that Prajapati mass-produced in his factory. He soon built other products from clay, such as a nonstick frying pan that retains heat longer than other frying pans and costs a mere US$2. From one man and one idea has grown a frugal yet fruitful industry, one that employs large numbers of people in his own community and serves consumers in India and abroad. Prajapati’s groundbreaking inventions, which deliver more value at less cost, have earned him accolades from all over the world—including from the president of India. And Forbes magazine recently named him among the most influential rural Indian entrepreneurs, one of few to have made an impact on the lives of so many.4

Jugaad: The Gutsy Art of Improvising an Ingenious Solution

The Mitticool, an idea born out of adverse circumstances, shows how a resilient mindset can transform scarcity into opportunity. Combining limited resources and a never-say-die attitude, Prajapati tapped into his empathy and passion for his fellow community members to conjure up an ingenious solution that improved lives in Gujarat and beyond. Not only did he produce a cheap and effective cooling device, but he also created jobs for dozens of undereducated women. In doing so, Prajapati is both driving environmental and socioeconomic sustainability in his community and ensuring the financial sustainability of his own business. Prajapati embodies the true spirit of jugaad.

Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that roughly translates as ‘‘an innovative fix; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and cleverness.’’ Jugaad is, quite simply, 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. (We feature articles and videos on jugaad on our companion website, JugaadInnovation.com.)

Jugaad is practiced by almost all Indians in their daily lives to make the most of what they have. Jugaad applications include finding new uses for everyday objects—Indian kitchens are replete with empty Coke or Pepsi bottles reused as ad-hoc containers for dried legumes or condiments—or inventing new utilitarian tools using everyday objects, like amakeshift truck cobbled together with a diesel engine slapped onto a cart (interestingly, the origin of the word jugaad, in Punjabi, literally describes such makeshift vehicles).

The word jugaad is also applied to any use of an ingenious way to ‘‘game the system.’’ For instance, millions of cellphone users in India rely on ‘‘missed calls’’ to communicate messages to each other using a prearranged protocol between the caller and receiver: think of this as free textless text messaging. For example, your carpooling partner may give you a ‘‘missed call’’ in the morning indicating he has just left his house and is on his way to pick you up.5 Hence, theword jugaad carries a slightly negative connotation for some. But by and large, the entrepreneurial spirit of jugaad is practiced by millions in India simply to improvise clever—and completely legitimate—solutions to everyday problems.

In this book, we delve into the frugal and flexible mindset of thousands of ingenious entrepreneurs and enterprises practicing jugaad to creatively address critical socioeconomic issues in their communities. Jugaad innovators like Mansukh Prajapati view severe constraints, such as a lack of electricity, not as a debilitating challenge but as an opportunity to innovate and overcome these very constraints.