Jugaad Redux

Yes, gentle readers. The inevitable has happened.

As I had stated earlier, Jugaad is well on it’s way to respectability as a business word. Now, seemingly more business school professors have joined the “India improvises through jugaad” bandwagon. Another article in the Harvard Business Review blog post talks about this. And, I shiver to think about it, a full business book is on its way. What other banalities will be rediscovered, reposted, and repackaged as Indian wisdom?

And now, we quote.

Both sets of business leaders, Indian and American, preside over demanding worlds, both bring a vision of where they want to take their enterprise, both are called on to make timely decisions, and both use much the same skill set. But at the same time, American and Indian executives have evolved distinct approaches to their positions — critical leadership distinctions that, in India’s case, have helped the nation’s businesses thrive. As ICICI Bank chief executive K. V. Kamath summed up, “Time and again it has been proved that the Western model of doing business would not be a success here.”

The blog post on HBR’s site is actually quite an interesting read. I’d recommend going there to check it out.  The post, and presumably the book, talks about four distinctive Indian business capabilities. Out here you’re likely to find our insider’s view take on it.

Now, if you know the Indian CEOs, they were born and raised on the same educational and competitive environment as the rest of my MBA batch. We answer test questions perfectly! That’s how Indian beauty queens had once cornered the Miss World and Miss Universe market. We have cute little black books (dainty, in the case of beauty queens), and we compile all the previous questions. Then, we ask what worked the last time, and remember the answers. Desi ingenuity, I suppose. In the US, this is called “teach to the test”, and boy! are desis good at this concept.

Back to the post on HBR, the authors talk about the four distinctive Indian business capabilities. You should read that post to get the “official answer”. In here, the real-world answers will be speculated.

1. Holistic engagement with employees. OFFICIALLY: “People are viewed as assets to be developed, not costs to be reduced; ” PRACTICALLY: “The guy who said that official quote was actually right. He was cooking the books of his company by showing more employees, and therefore more revenues. In his case, people were assets. He’s..er…in jail now. Truth prevailed, somehow!” (Editors note: Satyam means truth.)

2. Improvisation and adaptability. OFFICIALLY: “In a complex, often volatile environment with few resources and much red tape, business leaders have learned to rely on their wits to circumvent the innumerable hurdles they recurrently confront.” PRACTICALLY:”Psst…Boss, meet me after this interview, and we can talk about how *green* tape can cover red tape real quickly”.

3. Creative value propositions. OFFICIALLY:” …Indian business leaders are inventing entirely new product and service concepts to satisfy the needs of demanding consumers and to do so with extreme frugality”. PRACTICALLY:”We sell what people want to pay for. If they will pay more if only we make it sound cheaper, so be it!”

4. Broad mission and purpose. OFFICIALLY:”…Indian business leaders stress broader societal purpose. They take pride in company success — but also in family prosperity, regional advancement, and national renaissance.” PRACTICALLY: “We’ve done the same thing for decades. Thank god for western academics. What used to be called nepotism and regionalism is called ‘family prosperity and aha!, regional advancement’. Very nice people, these Professors!”


Business Guru predicts future Indian Buzzwords

This whole business of picking shady old Indian concepts, and then presenting them as hi-funda new business buzzwords really has legs! If Jugaad can become a buzzword (see my previous post), why should other old desi concepts be left behind? What other borderline-morally-reprehensible activities will now be rebranded as business insight? We asked the experts.

2M1B invited the very famous desi Business Guru, Professor Gaurav Rastogi, to talk to us about other ideas that are likely to become global business buzzwords.

Hafta, (liteally, “weekly”) used to refer to the protection racket that local businessmen and beggers (see, Slumdog Millionaire) were subjected to. Prof. Rastogi says, “Time has come for this c0ncept of weekly payments of ‘insurance’ premiums to go global. The Indian merchant is used to paying a weekly insurance premium to the local insurance agent, who insures the merchant against vandalism and other ‘acts of goons’. This concept of mutual insurance protected entire markets, and provided the social cover that was needed to run businesses smoothly. We have seen businesses as far as the middle east and Africa asking us for advice on how to start their own hafta collections. This is the latest innovation from the Indian subcontinent after micro-credit and, in fact, much better for the society at large”.

Timepass, is the old desi tradition of whiling away time watching the cows chew cud, or watching dung dry, whichever is slower. Prof Rastogi says, “Modern society has put a high premium on time. No one seems to have time anymore. We are very busy getting to work, on conference calls and doing email. The society needs an outlet. The traditional Indian practice of timepass brings home the point of pointlessness.  The expert timepass practitioner can spend weeks without the need to do something mildly active, like changing the channel on their television, or changing the sand in their spittoon. Western society has much to learn from this ancient Indian tradition. We have done many 4-week seminars with Fortune 500 boards, showing them the power of no-action. Here, have some unshelled peanuts…”.

Chalta hai, (literally, let it go) is the Indian tradition of letting things happen with minimal intervention or protest. Internet service down? Relax, chalta hai! Death certificate will take 3 weeks? Take a chill pill, because Chalta Hai! Chief Minister stuffing billions into their swiss account? It’s OK Chief, Chalta hai! Prof. Rastogi says, “The oriental mind is more accepting of the situation, and this attitude of acceptance and forgiveness is exemplified in Chalta Hai! This attitude allows nature to work it’s course, and the eventual outcome is almost always the same. Why do something, when doing nothing will achieve the same result? For years, Japanese companies have been secretly visiting India and making videos of the legendary Indian worker practicing Chalta Hai. Toyota attributes much of their success with brake pads and fantastic auto acceleration to their recent lessons in this ancient Indian practice”.

Prof. Rastogi invites 2M1B readers to contribute their stories about famous Indian management practices that may have been given a bad name because of 2 centuries of oppressive British rule.

From QuickFix to Sexy: the story of “Jugaad”

I flinched when I read the first International business magazine article mentioning the “great Indian tradition of jugaad“. WTF!, I thought to myself, must be a slow news week.

Look, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I know that when a Delhi-wallah says “kuch jugaad hai” (literally, “I have a  fix for that”) he actually means that he has a really quick, and really dirty way of fixing the problem. It could be the use of boiled potatoes as glue to fix torn kites. It could even be the use of a washing machine to make milk-shakes (Extra large, for the whole village). It may have been the use of photocopied “Samantha Fox concert” tickets! It could be anything that requires the cutting of corners, and a blatant pursuit of short term fixes. A Jugaad, in other words, is a junkie’s quick-fix. A matter, in the early 1980s, of great national shame…as in “We have a “chalta hai” and “jugaad” mentality, us Indians, chee chee!!”. Many newspaper editorials would bemoan this collective lack of social consciousness and quality focus.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the venerable newspaper, The Economist, decides to honor the word with an article on “innovation in emerging markets”. This is probably the last step in the gentrification of a low-class word. Jugaad will now be completely acceptable in board-rooms as a legitimate business strategy. Awards will be given out for grass-roots innovation. Entire movies (case in point- 3 Idiots) will laud the hero who creates something out of nothing through the power of Jugaad.

You can see where this is going. The same editors who bemoaned the collective lack of social consciousness, will now claim this as an ancient and venerable Indian tradition. “Arrey! These ancients were great, you see, and they put the funda of  jugaad into the way of life for us Indians. Such foresight”.

Suddenly, I feel the jugaadu in me rising. I’m an innovator, and being a frugal innovator gives me the right to use this newly minted uber-sexy word. I, Gaurav Rastogi, specialize in jugaad. You read it here first.

Just don’t tell my colleagues yet! Wait for the word to become sexier. Maybe an article in the Wall Street Journal!

Quote from The Economist:

Indians often see frugal innovation as their distinctive contribution to management 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.

Follow up post is here.