Business Sutra |10. 2| Jugaad – Good or Bad?

Business Sutra |10| Finale : The Indian Way of Doing Business

We have covered nine episodes of Devdutt Pattanaik’ TV serial on CNBC 18:  Business Sutra.

The final episode explores Indianness. Devdutt Pattanaik believes that Indian ideas need to be seen through a fresh post-post-modern lens. The post-post-modern lens looks at things in context appreciating the subjective realities of Indians and recognizing it as being different from those of other people. It is of value in some situations but not in all. Segment 1 took up the subject of destiny v/s desire.

Business Sutra |10. 2| Jugaad – Good or Bad?

Financial Times defines Jugaad as:

Jugaad (a word taken from Hindi which captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way) is a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy. Jugaad innovation has a long-lasting tradition in India but is also widespread in the rest of the so-called Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and numerous other emerging economies. Jugaad is about extending our developed world understanding of entrepreneurial spirit in the traditional Schumpeterian style (Joseph Schumpeter was the Austrian economist known as the prophet of innovation).

Jugaad means thinking in a frugal way and being flexible, which, in turn, requires the innovator or entrepreneur to adapt quickly to often unforeseen situations and uncertain circumstances in an intelligent way.

Intelligence in this context “isn’t about seeking sophistication or perfection by over-engineering products, but rather about developing a ‘good-enough’ solution that gets the job done”. (Radjou et al., 2012, p. 109 ff.)

And to reposition the question ‘Whether it is Good or Bad?’, I will pick up a paragraph from Manu Joseph’s article, “’Jugaad’, India’s most-overrated idea” that would set the stage to listen to what Devdutt Patanaik has to say on the subject.

‘The existence of jugaad is merely the evidence that the circumstances of a society are so bad that its smart people are doing what smart people in other civilizations do not have to do…There is an argument that such humble innovations can solve problems no one else but the poor want to solve. But then India holds enduring proof that giant capitalistic market forces that throw up accidental solutions are more beneficial to the poor than jugaad, or humble altruistic research. For instance, Media Lab Asia, the pious short-lived collaboration between MIT Media Lab and the Indian government, worked on a range of technology to improve the lives of the poor….In the end, the problems were solved by BlackBerry, Apple and Google, giant corporations that thought big and believed in having extravagant budgets for innovation.’

Oh, we have two divergent views! And, possibly, we have well-meaning, smart and sincere people lined up in both camps.

Now, let us see what Devdutt Patanaik has to say with regards to Jugaad – The Indian Way of Doing Business in Segment 2 of the episode 10, Finale, The Indian Way of Doing Business

A recent feature on management practices in The Economist said Indians often say frugal innovation as their distinctive contribution to management’s thinking. They point to the National tradition of jugaad, meaning roughly making do with what you have and never giving up and cite many examples of ordinary Indians solving seemingly insoluble problems.

You mentioned an interesting thing when you said it is our strength and our weakness. Is it good or is it bad?

Again, the answer is maybe, but you see the word Juguaad is a North Indian word. When you use the word, there is a sense implicit in the word, a mischief, a prank. There’s something not right about that word. It has negative connotation, and yet when the word Juguaad is used in the eastern parts of the country, it carries a little different meaning. For example, when my mother would use the word Jugaadu, she didn’t really mean it in the same way as you say it in Hindi. She would mean it in the form of a resourceful person. A juguaadu is both a responsible person and a person who is able to go through the cracks, between the lines and find his way. He can improvise. He is able to innovate. So it depends on the situation and depends on the outcome. If the outcome is favorable, then it is good. If the outcome doesn’t favor, we say it is bad.

The problem with the mindset of a Juguaad is that nothing can be taken for granted. It doesn’t allow for planning, it doesn’t allow for systems to be constructed. So, you suddenly feel lost in a system that everybody is improvising. You are not sure what is happening out there. This is a negative part of the Juguaad mindset. The good part is that it’s more about relationships it’s more about people. It is about people feeling powerful, of saying that no matter what the situation is, no matter what the odds are, no matter what the scarcity is, we will figure a way out.

You have listed an equal number of pros and cons. So, will Jugaad take us forward or will it hold us back?

It is who we are. Whether we harness it and take us forward. If you do not harness it, if you wish it away, it won’t go away. It will always be there. The question is do we consider it as a factor when we are designing our cities, when we’re making our plans, when we’re making our business plans. We, sometimes, forget that as Indians, by nature of who we are. Rather than looking down upon and wishing it away and hoping to sort of condition and decondition Indians to make them something different. Let us see this as an attribute and turn it into a strength, which sometimes we don’t.

Can you really design something for people who are more creatively driven, and therefore, more unpredictable? It is considered difficult to do that. A system requires predictability. So, it becomes very tough to harness unpredictable creativity to create systems.

This is a very good point. It is about predictability. When you need predictability, you talk about processes and systems. But, in a country like India, where everything is unpredictable, or they make it so, people have always relied on how to create the innovative solution. That is the journey that we will have to undertake in the next 10 – 20 years, as India becomes a more important country.

Let us look at examples. We can focus on results rather than on methods. This is one way of looking at it. The other method could be you know what 80 percent will be as it is defined by process, but 20 percent will be allowed for human freedom, for Jugaad. Multinational organizations define everything to the last detail, because we almost don’t trust the human intelligence.

You always need a defined manual. If it does not exist, then people can’t function.

Somewhere along the line, we believe the processes will force people to have integrity. But the fact is, integrity has nothing to do with the processes.

The segment seems not to be normative when choosing between the Jugaadu-way of doing things or systemically doing the things. However, it does unequivocally state that integrity, or voluntary commitment to the organization’s vision, will not come in simply by the defined processes or system. The segment also makes a firm statement that Indian way of  doing business does need to be better aligned with standard, global, way of doing things.

In our continuing journey of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra, we will move on to the concluding, 3rd, segment, ‘Raas Leea – The Perfect Organization’ of 10th Episode, the Finale, in our next episode.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.



In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

3 thoughts on “Business Sutra |10. 2| Jugaad – Good or Bad?”

  1. Sir,
    This is a very informative and thought provoking write-up.

    I have heard Devdutt Patnaik at the National Convention of our Institute, where he talked about some parts of his book “Business Sutra” (we were given a copy of it, which I still have to read completely).
    He talked about the difference between Indian Thali & Western Thali, about the difference in Indra & Vishnu’s character etc.

    All in all he meant that we should try to evolve some principles of management keeping in mind the Indian mindset and tradition. And since we at home also used to discuss similar thoughts, it felt great when someone like him too supports that view.

    As for “Jugaad”- when an airlines cuts one olive or one little slice of papaya from their meals to bring down costs, isn’t that somewhat similar. Although it is put forward as big costing decision. I may be wrong, but that’s what I feel.


    1. Jugaad becuase of its colloquial meanings that we normally carry in our mind is sometimes being treated as a small cost-cutting here or a minor change in the product or service there.
      But in its true sense it is a quite an innovative improvisation that does not really cost much, but does make or offer similar or better experience.

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