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Reporting on innovative ideas in business.

Defining and Discussing the Meaning of "Jugaad"

Have you ever wished, when reading a thought-provoking book, that you could invite the author to lunch and simply talk about his or her ideas and inspiration? This was the premise of a lunch discussion at frog’s New York studio on April 3, when we invited Navi Radjou, an independent innovation strategist and World Economic Forum faculty member, and Simone Ahuja, a Harvard Business Review blogger and advisor to Fortune 100 companies, to talk about their new book Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth.

The title refers to a Hindi slang term, jugaad, used in India to describe “an innovative fix; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and cleverness.” Examples include an inexpensive clay mini-fridge that doesn’t use electricity to keep perishable foods cool. It was created by a rural entrepreneur for Indian villages where electricity may not always be reliable. Radjou and Ahuja, along with their co-author Jaideep Prabhu, believe that the concept of jugaad can be applied to managing corporate projects and as a product-development strategy, too. So far, as the authors write in their book, top companies from GE to Facebook are using jugaad principles, not just entrepreneurs in India. Start-ups in China, Brazil, and throughout Africa and Europe are implementing them, too.

At frog, Radjou and Ahuja presented their research to a group of about 30 people as we ate samosas, saag paneer, naan, and gulab jamun--and raised some practical, and even challenging, questions. The smart and curious crowd that gathered for lunch, after all, included a number of frog creatives, as well as editors from Fortune, CBS Interactive, and PSFK; writers for The New York Times and CNN.com; and various corporate executives who are clients and friends. Guests asked Navi and Simone such questions as "Is jugaad dangerous, because it means working around a failing infrastructure or problematic government policies, meaning that it discourages improvement in those realms?" and "How do companies balance jugaad with strict corporate goals and structures that can't be budged? "

The authors’ answers -- along with insightful comments from the crowd -- centered around the idea that jugaad is really a tool in the innovation toolkit, similar to so-called “design thinking,” which can be used alongside jugaad. (After all, jugaad is really about iterating and rapid prototyping.) It should, and can, be balanced with other strategies. And perhaps it’s best deployed on specific projects within larger corporate structures or governmental agencies, rather than as an overall mindset. At least to introduce the concept within organizations with layers of bureaucracy.

Since the practice of jugaad is fundamentally about improvising and rolling with new challenges as they come up, so, too is the idea of jugaad as a flexible innovation theory or corporate mindset. In their book and during their frog presentation, Radjou, Ahuja (and Prabhu) did an admirable job of naming and contextualizing the idea of improvised innovation. They placed it within a larger history of Indian street DIY culture as well as likened it to such current trends as the Maker’s Movement--to make jugaad seem accessible to corporate, government, tech start-up, and design audiences alike. But because the authors believe so much in jugaad, it’s clear from their lively and open discussion at frog that they’re looking forward to seeing how the concept shifts and evolves over time--and, of course, improves as it's practiced in various new environments.

In my next two posts, I’ll share a lengthy Q & A with Radjou, in which he goes through the six basic principles of jugaad, as well as an excerpt from the book.

[Photos by Radis Jensethawat]

Reena Jana is frog's Executive Editor. Based in New York, Reena is the former innovation department editor at BusinessWeek, and has contributed to a variety of publications including Wired, the New York Times, Harvard Business Review online, Fortune.com, and numerous others.