User-Driven Innovation, India Edition

22 August 2011 at 11:59 pm 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Aditya Dev Sood:

[E]very now and again one encounters an article in the American business press about jugaad, the uniquely Indian capacity to join broken things, and make them work, using country fixes. In on-going debates about innovation in India, it seems inevitable that one returns to the ‘ingenious fixes’ of those days, to ask how that talent and human inventiveness can be better harnessed towards the future.

The classic theory of innovation is provided in economic terms by Joseph Schumpeter, who listed several different kinds of changes that could be brought about through entrepreneurial action. These included the discovery and creation of new markets, the development of new methods of production and transportation, as well as new forms of industrial organization, and — this is critical — new kinds of consumer goods and the new experiences of value that they afford. It is striking to me that even though the country-mechanics and other jugaad specialists of India are capable of achieving none of these aims, they are still held up as somehow occupying a place or showing a kind of direction for innovation, that is not otherwise visible to us. It is as if we know, somehow, that all the abstract jargon of business thinking and economic reasoning has its place, but that it cannot replace that hands-on messing about with tools and things that artisans, craftspeople, and repairmen share. Jugaad seems to serve as a figure for design-thinking and problem-solving in the real world, capabilities which are scarce to the point of being unknown and unheard in many corners of Indian industry and public life.

Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja, writing last year in HBR, call jugaad “the art of creative improvisation,” the Indian version of the long-standing tradition of user-driven innovation associated with Cyrus McCormick, the Danish windmill industry, and open-source software.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Innovation, Management Theory.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rafe  |  23 August 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Australians like to think that we excel in fixing things, in addition to cycling, cricket and lamingtons. An Australian bushman was supposed to be able to fix anything with an axe, fencing wire and string. Admittedly that was before electronics…

  • 2. srp  |  23 August 2011 at 7:26 pm

    This capacity is in no way special to India. How do Cubans keep their ancient U.S. vehicles operating? For that matter, Depression-era American kids could build things out of all kinds of spare junk. My father once made a photo enlarger using parts from a broken camera. And U.S. troops in WWII were legendary for their field technical improvisations, such as welding cutting blades to the fronts of Sherman tanks to cut through the Normandy hedgerows.

  • 3. FC  |  24 August 2011 at 6:18 am

    The instinct to hack seems to be encouraged when materials and knowledge are relatively cheap and currency is relatively expensive, as in a general depression or when solders are paid in scrip. See also the Allied POW escapes from Colditz and Stalag Luft III.

  • 4. Hasdrubal  |  24 August 2011 at 12:08 pm

    The Red Green theory of innovation? “If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying.” Wait, that’s not the right one, maybe “All it takes is a little imagination, some mechanical ability, and neighbors who mind their own business,” is better…

    FC: That seems pretty intuitive. As the cost of labor (opportunity cost of time?) decreases relative to that of goods, people are going to substitute time repairing for money (or trade in kind) spent replacing/buying something.

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