Book Review: Jugaad Innovation

Jugaad Innovation, Frugal Innovation

A motor engine mounted on a wooden cart with a makeshift steering wheel is a common sight on the Delhi-Agra stretch

If you have grown up in India, the word “Jugaad” is something that we have lived it. It means finding an innovative solution to a problem arising out of very limited resources. I remember how two of my friends used to buy one textbook between them and then tear it into half, study from it and then exchange their halves to continue studying. It made limited resources go a long way.

This book written by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu & Simone Ahuja is about a frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century.  The book begins with Simone’s meeting with Mansukh Prajapati who has designed a fridge that costs Rs 2500/-, is made out of clay (it is called Mitticool) and runs without electricity. Prajapati’s innovation has made it possible for even people in rural India have access to cool water and the option to store fruit and vegetables for upto three days. Prajapati has no degree in engineering. In fact he didn’t even finish school. That is jugaad innovation at its best.

In India, such examples of human ingenuity are part of common folklore. On the way to Agra, I have seen diesel engines fixed on to a cart to create an ingenious version of motorized transport. I have seen them being used in rural Punjab. The locals call these vehicles Jugaads.

The book has hundreds of examples such as these drawn from India, China, Brazil, Kenya and a whole lot of other places. All of them work on six principles:

1. Seek opportunity in adversity

2. Do more with less

3.Think and act flexibly

4. Keep it simple

5. Include the margin(alized)

6. Follow your heart.

Before you draw the conclusion that Jugaad is for those who cannot afford the real stuff, the book also has drawn on examples from the Fortune 500 companies to see how they are leveraging the same principles to drive innovation in a resource strapped world. Facebook, Google, PepsiCo, Philips, Renault-Nissan to name just a few all feature there. And yes, the Nano story is there too along with examples from Siemens, Suzlon, Yes Bank to show that frugal innovation maybe the way forward for everyone.

Their website is rich with resources and examples. Check that out.

Many organizations ask themselves how they can build an entrepreneurial culture where the employees are unafraid to try out new ways of doing business. For them I want to point out an article the authors wrote called Six Job Skills to Recruit for in New Hires

1) Resilience

2) Frugality

3) Flexibility

4) Simplicity

5) Empathy

6) Passion

These six traits are translations of the same six principles of jugaad innovation applied to the individual. The next time you hire, try to ask the candidate for candidates when they have overcome massive resource constraints and still met their goals.

Consumer behavior in many developing countries is very different from what we see in other parts of the world. I can’t think of too many countries where you can buy a single cigarette. When the priciest shampoos are packaged in sachets, they make the same premium brands accessible to a larger set of consumers who may not be able to afford the same shampoo in a 500ml pack. The Nano is a great example of making a car accessible to people who couldn’t. Prof Vijay Govindrajan has been running his $300 house challenge for some time.

The world has been talking about Frugal Innovation to deal with a world that is grappling with unemployment, recession and rapid depletion of the earth’s resources. I loved the book because it tells us to stop over engineering products that add features that consumers never use but which drive up the cost anyway.

Think of the features that exist in your cell phone or your camera that you have had to pay for but have never used. Software that is bloated with useless features has been called bloatware. They add useless features that makes the price put of reach of the masses. So maybe the authors could have avoided doing a hard cover version of the book and stick to making these ideas accessible to more readers who cannot afford to buy a copy for themselves. Maybe they could give the book to libraries in the poorest parts of the world at a no profit price or even free to make sure more innovators get inspired by the stories.

Overall, I loved the book and its zillion examples of human ingenuity. Certainly recommend that you get your top management team to read it. That may inspire them to hire a different breed of innovators. I for one certainly believe that innovations often spring from the human effort of overcoming insurmountable constraints. The satyagraha movement was a jugaad solution to neutralize the superior firepower and army of the rulers.

As I started to post this article on Gandhiji’s 143rd birth anniversary I could not help thinking that he had talked about the principles that today go by terms such as “Bottom of the Pyramid” and “Jugaad Innovation” long before these had been taken over by management pundits. Think about it.

But do you think being seen as a country that is good at Jugaad Innovation is bad for Brand India? Leave me your comments.


This article first appeared in the Times of India blog

You may like to read Doblin’s Ten types of Innovation

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  1. Jugaad as you said is quite common among students, especially those stay in hostels. Indeed this theory came quite before the Management Gurus started it. Indeed, this book is going to help the higher level management team to hire new innovators. The book definitely seems to be interesting. Thanks for the nice review of the book.

  2. Michelle says:

    Read your blog for the first time.. Jugaad is something we all do it in everyday life to get our work completed more especially done in schools and colleges. Thanks for sharing..

  3. Joydeep Mutsuddi says:


    Picked that book on my last trip home and read it cover to cover. Its now with the COO and the head of strategic innovation for the company that I work with – i loved the seamless integration b/w the innovation philosophies the emerging and the developed…one that organizations that on both ends of the spectrum need to balance ….liked your summary. good job!

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