India’s Indigenous Genius: Jugaad

Monday, July 13, 2009

Etymology aside, I have always been convinced that the word indigenous arose from India. To make something out of limited resources is India’s genius and, therefore, indigenous. After centuries of foreign attacks, changing cultures and ever-evolving political stands, India has somehow managed to create an insular economy where we create what we need from what we have. In India, we call this jugaad and you can see a jugaad car on the highways of North India made from spare parts.

Innovation in the mature economies of North America and Europe has largely been linked with large research and development spending in basic sciences. Innovation normally gets associated with creating new technology backed up by years of R&D. This in turn is backed up by huge marketing spending to create a “capital entry barrier” which is, in most cases, priced high initially to target the most affluent customers before the normal commoditization process gets the product in the hands of everyday consumers.

However, there is an entirely new type of innovation thinking called “constraint-based innovation” – innovation that relies more on ingenuity in product, process and people to solve a customer’s problem by creative improvisation rather than scientific and technological breakthroughs. In India, colloquially, we call this “jugaad” and it’s now got a new name “frugal engineering.” This kind of innovation generally starts with serving customers at the base of the pyramid by making the lives of millions of everyday individuals easier.

Source: Wall Street Journal (link opens in a new window)