The Art of Jugaad

I had a very enlightening conversation with a newfound colleague this week, in fact, more of a ‘brother in arms’ than simply a colleague. The conversation centred on Creativity, hence my immediate enthusiasm.

Sorry I ‘bang on’ about Creativity, like a broken record player, but when I studied public speaking many years back we were encouraged to use repetition for emphasis, three times mentioning a particular point in a talk, being seen as the perfect pitch to get the message over. 

One of the many common denominators in our conversation was our agreement on the fact that Creativity is human. It is us. It is what defines us as a species. It is what we should possess as individuals in abundance. The fact that this escapes so many is another story. 

Our conversation drifted onto Jugaad. Jugaad is often misunderstood, often frowned upon as being simply ‘ a cop out’, sadly more so by Indians than those outside. You know the expression ‘a prophet is never recognised in his own country. A sad fact indeed. 

I am drawn to Jugaad. My years in craft manufacturing in India has proven to be a great learning place. You see Jugaad, like Creativity is very human. It is the epitome of human problem solving 

I like making things like ceramics, woodturning or my newly re-established passion being gardens, anything and everything 3D. The school I studied in was most certainly well instructed in the sciences, the classics and the 3 R’s of Reading, wRiting and aRithematic firmly in place as the bastions of what ‘proper education was about. 

But this was the 60’s and new thinking has abounded, hence we also studied the fourth R. According to one of my gurus Sir Christopher Frayling, arguably the finest Rector of the Royal College of Art in London, the Mecca of makers, through wrought I made my first chair when I was 12. 

Interestingly the renowned Bauhaus architect Mies Van Der Rohe famously stated, and quote ‘A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous. That has stood me in good stead. I’ve design several chairs since and collectively about 5 crore units have been manufactured, which are very useful. 

Designing and making a chair is a key workshop I have always taken with all my students irrespective of whatever creative specialisation they are following. It centres the creative mind and, despite what Mies said is quite simple. 

Before I could afford the mechanical tools I would make do with what I had at hand. That’s what Juggard is all about. The results may not have been perfect but they were most certainly handmade and for that reason had a far greater intrinsic value. 

The UK based Innovation Foundation NESTA, produced a report ten years back on Our Frugal Future, Lessons from India’s Innovation System. It is freely available online and very much worth a read. 

I quote “Traditional metrics also miss what this research uncovered as a distinctive specialism of the Indian system: frugal innovation.”

Combined with deepening scientific and technological capabilities, this could be an important source of competitive advantage for India and is an overlooked opportunity for strategic collaboration with the UK.

Frugal innovation is distinctive in its means and its ends. Frugal innovation responds to limitations in resources, whether financial, material or institutional, and using a range of methods, turns these constraints into an advantage. Through minimising the use of resources in development, production and delivery, or by leveraging them in new ways, frugal innovation results in dramatically lower-cost products and services. Successful frugal innovations are not only low cost, but outperform the alternative, and can be made available on a large scale. Often, but not always, frugal innovations have an explicitly social mission.

Examples of frugal innovation are found throughout the Indian system like Dr Devi Shetty’s path-breaking model of delivering affordable heart surgery, government labs crowd-sourcing for new drug discovery, Bharti Airtel’s approach of cutting the cost of mobile phone calls and the Keralan approach to palliative care which is providing access to support at the end of life for thousands, who are in a void of formal healthcare.

Several factors align to create the conditions for high–impact frugal innovation in India:’

The paper goes on to identify ‘A culture of ‘jugaad,’ or creative improvisation, means the unusual skill set and mindset required for frugal innovation are abundant.’

The events of recent months have underlined the essence of what the NESTA report identified. Jugaad is uniquely Indian, Jugaad is powerful and something relevant. Jugaad is something every Indian should be proud of.


Prof. Mike Knowles,
Professor Emeritus, School of Creativity
Rishihood University

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