The frugality of Jugaad
A household word in India “Jugaad” is now synonymous for creativity and innovation in India. Truth be told it has transformed into a USP for India. And with good reason. It has paved the way for practicality and rational thinking in product development, engineering and by extension into problem solving itself. But surely its not limited to India but indeed a common site in resource stricken countries on both economic and natural resource front. Innovators in these so called developing and under-developed nations have always had to do more with less and Jugaad or Frugal Engineering paved the way to come up with things that work, that were adaptable by the mass.
The achievement that as Indians we are most proud of are the Mangalayan mission , the Tata Nano, Indian telecom companies in bringing voice services at less than a rupee a minute and lastly generic pharmaceuticals at the best in class prices globally. These are no mean feats. In fact these symbolize the epitome of Frugal Engineering by Indian innovators that were able to bring a product to the market for the masses at never before heard price points. Affordability is the key in developing countries and the Jugaad approach was key to surpass engineering / problem solving obstacles while keeping system costs low.
In a sense Jugaad is a flexible and rational problem solving approach. They say its like a quick fix, a short term fix. I say it is problem solving approach using a multi variable optimization algorithm with time and cost as the crucial variables. Americans call it a “Hack”. But Jugaad is now a Management concept in itself now.
There is though an inherent drawback of this approach. In its very description of “quick fix” solution arising out of the need to find a solution to a problem in a short time at a low price lies the susceptibility of this approach. Jugaad stifles scientific understanding. In a large number of cases, it moves away from understanding the systems and concepts at a fundamental problem. And nations using this approach need to be wary of this danger. Jugaad must not come in the way of building a sound knowledge base on scientific principles. Frugal engineering must be supplemented with a strong scientific understanding of the solution at work arising out of using this approach. Else we risk falling into the trap of short term thinking which is only going to kill research and development and also kill the scientific development of the country.
ISRO is an exception here though. While the engineering marvel of Mangalayan uses Frugal engineering in achieving the end result at the lowest cost possible, the ISRO scientists have done so with plenty of reason and scientific understanding. In fact they are a role-model for the whole world on how to achieve breakthroughs through the use of frugal engineering.
Countries and Organisations must not get sidetracked by the success of frugal engineering. They must urge their product development / innovation teams to use these approaches while also attempt to understand the “how” and “why” of the solution/trick at a fundamental scientific level so that they can build future path-breaking, game-changing products and solutions that can really add value to society.
If anything Jugaad approach must be practiced more often by teams to come up with solutions or fixes so that organizational goals move ahead towards fulfilment. While organisations must clearly understand the limitations and push the R&D / Product Development teams to continue to explore solutions to problems at a fundamental level. Scientific & Technological progress must not sacrificed and instead efforts must be made to add knowledge at all levels.
Another crucial aspect is sustainability and safety of the Jugaad. I think there are so many internet posts out there showing Indian Jugaad in various instances that are downright funny, creative and even insane. From using a jeans as a hanger for artifacts in your bathroom to having a cycle bell used as a bike horn to using an iron to to make tea in a container, at first look they seem insanely creative or “Jugaadu” but as long term solutions they are unsustainable and downright unsafe.
We really need to do better and deliver valuable solutions that are safe to the user and sustainable and above all cost effective. Its not only about Jugaad it needs to go beyond frugal engineering. Jugaad needs to inspire a different class of products and solutions that enhance the quality of life and help deliver solutions to the Base of the Pyramid