Monday, November 11, 2013

The Great Indian Jugaad

20131112-142322.jpgJugaad, a Hindi word, means finding a solution to a problem against resource constraints by devising a solution which usually out-of-the-box. This solution is specific to the situation or problem involved, a spark of brilliance originating out of unstructured innovation.

Indians at home or abroad not just own but relish Jugaad. Many of them attribute ability to do jugaad as the important quality that helped the succeed in education, career, a particular job or life in general.

But, Indians tend to believe that only they have the ability to do jugaad. They own this concept so much that they forget that this concept thrives in other countries, regions and cultures too. David won against Goliath by jugaad. Trojan horse was a jugaad, Greg Chappel asking Travor Chappel to bowl an underarm bowl to win the match was a jugaad. There are several examples of jugaad in resource starved countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina which are nicely listed in the book called Jugaad Innovation.

Developed countries and western countries look down upon this. They think it is a low quality unscaleable solution that lies on borderline of the morality or legality. They believe it originates out of resource constraints and therefore irrelevant in resource surplus situation.

I am not sure whether Indians are generally better than rest of the world in coming up with jugaad solutions. However, one thing that clearly stands out is - there is no other country in the world where jugaad solution designers command respect or are looked up to. The glamor and authenticity for jugaad stands out starkly in India. This in fact draws more and more people to relent actively to jugaad solutions and it becomes a perpetual cycle.

What makes Indians good at jugaad? Or why does it have the legitimacy & glamour in India?

The popular answers include lack of resources & inefficient system. Some say propensity to break the law or presence of high intellect. But none of these reasons are unique to India or Indians. None of them explain why people look up to jugaad. I always thought this question needed a time taking research or advice or serious soul searching. But then I accidentally stumbled upon a possible profound answer. Take this.

As usual I was reading a story to my son. This time it was Ganesha and his bother Kartikekya. Their parents asked them to race around the world. Kartikeya rode a peacock and Ganesha rode a mouse. As soon as the race started the nimble and agile Kartikekya flew on his peacock and was sure to win. Ganesha was fat and his mouse moved very slowly. He was sure to lose till he thought of an out of the box idea. He went around them three times (called pradakshina in sanskrit. done in temples to the God to pay respect) Ganesha then declared that doing 3 pradakshinas to parents is as good as going round the world. This flattering explanation pleased his parents Shankar and Parvati and they declared him the winner.

"How unfair is that!!!!", exclaimed my 5 year old. "He didn't even run the race "

I had heard this story since childhood without questioning it. I had believed that Ganesha was intelligent and therefore he could think of such a brilliant idea. But the fact remains that he actually DIDN'T RUN THE RACE.

I started thinking about all the God stories I had listened to. To my surprise every single story involved jugaad.

Ram gathered an army of monkeys to challenge Ravan the mighty demon king. He built a make-shift bridge to reach Lanka.

Pandavas killed all commanders of Kauravas by jugaad under Krishna's leadership. Bhishma was defeated by putting a non-male warrior Shikhandi in front and Arjuna throwing arrows from behind him. Drona was killed by spreading rumors that his beloved son Ashwaththama was killed. Whereas Bheema had killed an elephant of the same name. Karna was killed while he was unarmed, trying to resurrect his chariot. Duryodhana was killed by hitting gada on his thigh which was entirely against rules of the war. Each and every strategy that was adopted was a jugaad.

All these stories are foundation of our childhood thinking. We tell these stories to our children to help them decipher what is right and what is wrong. No wonder jugaad is considered legitimate. No wonder we look up to it.

I am not qualified to comment on whether jugaad is positive or negative, right or wrong, a transient phase or trademark problem solving approach of Indians. All I know is, it is glorified and deeply ingrained in our psyche. It is certainly a differentiating unique survival skill possessed by most Indians. It is a gift from Gods... literally!

Read extended short story version of Why Do Indians blogs with a few more interesting indian inscrutable ways in Why Do Indians..? - The Book

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