Home / News / Business Of Life /  Opinion | Why our love for jugaad can backfire

Improvising comes first and easiest to us Indians. Whether we live in rural or urban areas, whether we have resources or not, we’re quick to create and apply quick fixes. These good enough, affordable solutions, referred to as jugaad, are so ubiquitous that we no longer even notice them—a missed call as communication protocol, a Tata Ace doubling up as a mobile kitchen, ingenious ways of squeezing paste out of a tube, or creatively preserving and reusing food. They’re all examples of ingenuity applied amid constraints.

But these quick fixes are cases of addressing symptoms without bothering about the underlying problem or the root cause, which means we don’t try to find a lasting solution.

Jugaad is like a Band-Aid: it solves the problem enough to let the show continue. For instance, people across the country are making face masks using handkerchiefs due to shortages. It’s a low-cost, good-enough patch, but should not be confused with a permanent solution. In defence of such good-enough hacks, author Malcolm Gladwell notes, “The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem within the minimum amount of effort and time and cost." But an improvisation dominated approach has serious problems.

Improvisation has a place in problem-solving but making it the default is problematic. That’s what I think Indians are guilty of. Improvisation makes sense as long as it emerges from a genuine scarcity of resources, as demonstrated by the Isro’s Mangalyaan team.

But it can’t become a habit, else no one would have incentives to deliberately think of improving processes and outcomes. An improvisation-based approach suffers from three key limitations: such approaches are not reliable, not repeatable, and, consequently, not scalable. Think of jugaad as a prototype that got shipped.

Let’s understand why we are comfortable with improvisation. The reason is cultural and not so much economic, for a jugaad approach is seen even when resources are replete.

To understand the cultural context, let’s look at the work of Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, who studied cultures of different countries for 40 years. He noted that in India, there is acceptance of imperfection; “nothing has to be perfect nor has to go exactly as planned. Rules are often in place just to be circumvented and one relies on innovative methods to bypass the system."

For innovation to happen, you need a more individualistic culture. It might be a rather simple explanation, but by no means simplistic. As Gladwell reminds us, “We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for simple solutions because there is something in all of us that feels that true answer to problems have to be comprehensive."

So, what’s the solution? Adopting design thinking. Design thinking puts a premium on empathy and getting to the core of the problem, something that jugaad skips. What’s more, a rigour of prototyping and iterative development would bring the solution closer to the desirable outcome. Design thinking can lend the necessary discipline to the pursuit of problem-solving, whereby making the approach more reliable, repeatable and scalable.

Pavan Soni is the founder of Inflexion Point, an innovation and strategy consultancy.

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