Jugaad: Frugal Innovation, Deliberate Simplicty

Jugaad truckI was reading this Associated Press article about drones in Africa (Rwanda) to deliver medication and it once again occurred to me that somehow Africans manage to rollout technology in use cases that take so long and seem so daunting in highly developed regions like North America or Europe.

Another such case is how Africans overcame the inability for Banks to provide retail banking services in rural Africa by improvising an electronic payment system using cell phones and cellular minutes as trading ‘currency’ – a system that has matured and is now supported by Telco’s and indeed Banks.

But it isn’t just Africa. The history of India’s software industry is full of examples of human ingenuity under circumstances of limited means. To put this in perspective, the industry “fetched US $ 2 billion in 1998, […] 50 billion in 2010 and […] was expected to touch US $ 87 billion in 2014”. In my mind, the 1980’s was the period when this industry really started to take off, providing offshore services to large clients in the US. In that period, the US “imposed a computer export ban […] on India”. Indian ingenuity responded to these constraints by developing “parallel processing machines, called PARAM”. Can’t import super computers? Take a bunch of smaller computers and put them in parallel and voila!

Around the same time, Indian software factories needed to perform programming work for clients far away and then transferring said work by reliable means. Telecom in India was not well developed and the Internet was still to come. “In 1991 the Department of Electronics […created] a corporation to provide VSAT communications. […This allowed] Indian firms to convince their American customers that a satellite link was as reliable as a team of programmers working in the clients’ office.”


This dogged determination to overcome the limitations of the means to achieve ambitious ends is what is called Jugaad (the picture I posted above is from a You Tube video with an excellent example of every-day Jugaad ingenuity. You can view it here). I am fascinated by this philosophy – because it shows us that a simpler path is always there available to us to achieve our goals with minimum energy.

When I speak to my clients about my own philosophy and approach to simplicity in business processes, I often talk about “the lazy man principle“. No, I don’t advocate that people be lazy so let’s not take this literally. What this principle says is that you “always look for the way to get something done that involves the least amount of effort possible”. This principle is like Jugaad-no-matter-what. I.e., Jugaad your operational life, even if you have access to means.

I believe that Jugaad should be adopted by everyone, not because everyone is poor but because when you follow that route, you inevitably find the simplest solution to every problem; you develop the simplest designs; you engineer simple systems; you keep Enterprises, systems, organizations, all manner of structures, products, relationships with customers and with suppliers – you keep the fabric of businesses in a state of simplicity that affords great speed, agility and adaptability to changing market conditions.

As I wrote in another post, human beings naturally gravitate towards complex solutions simply because Simplicty doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Over many years attacking complex systems in multiple industries and obsessing over Simplicty, I evolved a methodology to transform complex operations in Enterprises into simple structures. This methodology is called Straightline™ and you can look it up here.

But method isn’t enough to steer individuals towards the simple. Mindset, attitude and philosophy is what steers human ingenuity. I know, it’s the soft stuff, but we are psychological phenomenon moving about and so where we head is largely determined by psychology rather than methodology.`

Jugaad is such a philosophy. It’s an attitude, a way of seeing the world. It’s not a method, it’s a drive inside you to get to where you need to go in spite of limitations. However, we should all benefit from a Jugaad-ian attitude, even if the means are at our disposal – and that is the point of “the lazy man principle”, my own interpretation of Jugaad.

Jugaad in the developed world

In just about every organization, especially large ones, you can see complexity – overly elaborate ways of doing things. You see it in HR programs, in the so common approaches to employee performance evaluations, in government services, in hospitals and health care in general, you see it in the way services are provided by some of the most common names in technology – like Microsoft and IBM; you see complexity in the way pharmaceutical products are manufactured, even in something as simple as opening a bank account or applying for a credit card – what’s with all the signatures already?; or something as mundane as renting a car at the airport counter (how can it be so easy through an app and so hard when you go to the counter?).

Complexity is everywhere. It slows things down and creates excessive costs in our society. How big is government? When did you ever see government scale reduced in any significant way when one party takes over from another? Ever?

In developing countries, people can’t afford complication; they can’t afford to not innovate either! So what they do is they innovate within their limitations. It’s a set of circumstances that strongly motivates Jugaad. But what about a country like the U.S. or the  U.K. where you have lots of resourcs and infrastructure available and where complex organizations abound so much as to appear normal. Did you go through an airport recently? Don’t you find it absurdly complicated to go from arriving to boarding the plane? Yet, everybody considers it – oh, well, normal.

So what do we do in this world of ours, where public transportation is abundant, where medication shortages are an insult, where adolescents go on trips with their parents to visit and select colleges – since there are so many – and where access to advanced technology is taken for granted? How do we stop ourselves from this inevitable ride towards complex structures and switch into a determined drive towards Simplicty?

In my view, simple structures – organizations, processes, programs, products, etc. – and Simplicty in general is the perfect recipe for any enterprise – because it is a single strategy capable of achieving lower costs, higher quality, faster execution and greater adaptability to changing market realities. Just one focus, just one direction and you get all those variables pointing north.

It is this determined focus on achieving the perfect operation that should motivate any enterprise to adopt Jugaad. Whatever you’re about to do, find the way to do it that involves the least amount of energy. On everything, across the board, no matter what.

Wouldn’t life in a developed country be so much simpler, so less burdensome, if we all obsessed over Simplicty, if we all adopted Jugaad?

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