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Bending the Rules to Drive Frugal Innovation

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Jugaad is a Hindi word that roughly means ‘solution born from cleverness.’ 
 

It’s usually applied to a low-cost fix or work-around. In a culture where people often have to make do with what they have it’s an improvised or makeshift solution using scarce resources.

Anyone who has been to India or other parts of Asia will have seen examples of jugaad on a daily basis.

In case you’re new to the word I’ll give you four pictures:

Building a house with discarded cola bottles

Making tea using an iron

Attaching an extra seat onto mopeds (or attaching  literally ANYTHING onto mopeds)

Bike + Tuk Tuk + Wifi 

I’ve seen washing machines used to whip up yoghurt drinks, an indian toilet converted to western style just by sticking a chair over it. The spirit of frugal innovation is everywhere.

Although the book Jugaad Revolution was published four years ago – it’s only now entering mainstream thinking in many western organisations. 

Partly this is a result of austerity. In an era of abundance there isn’t much desire for the simple fix. Scarcity drives creativity in ways abundance cannot.

We’ve also seen a generational shift. Many of us have moved towards a post-materialistic mindset. We are more interested in the environment. More interested in experience rather than acquisition. Digital platforms have opened up new marketplaces and information exchanges so we are all buyers and sellers – of products, services or even knowledge. 

A new report from Nesta asks whether Europe needs frugal innovation. It’s well worth a read – particularly the points around how little real innovation is around for low income consumers.

The question is whether organisations – often risk averse rather than risk seeking – can bring the principles of jugaad on board without killing the spirit.

Most organisational approaches to change or transformation are carefully structured. Agile or lean are process frameworks, whereas jugaad is void of process altogether. 

Innovation in the social sector is often focused on introducing shiny new things rather than bending the rules to make existing things work. Even creating new things with meagre resources requires a complete shift in thinking. 

I’ve been out with quite a few customers recently and it has reminded me of two things:

  1. I need to get out more. You don’t solve the problems that matter from a lab or office.
  2. Innovations ARE passing a lot of people by. The relentless focus on digital and technology as an end in itself is blinding us to the real needs of communities.

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Our own Lab is currently running a test that very much harnesses the spirit of jugaad. We are developing resident skills to open up ways they can do their own home repairs – literally hacking the home.

My personal belief is this is the best way western organisations can adopt jugaad: by directly channelling it into communities themselves. The frugal revolution needs to be driven by people – not from your boardroom.

That means learning to forget the past, and challenging our current solutions and mindsets.

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