India’s Jugaad Philosophy – Why I am not a big fan of it

In the last few years a lot attention has been given to the word ‘jugaad’. So much attention that I have seen it being mentioned by authors of reputable news sites, blogs, etc. Some guys even wrote a book on it (no, I haven’t read it). But really, it makes you think that this newly discovered ‘jugaad’ must be some sort of a magic spell to set things straight when in tight situations, right?

Before I go ahead and give you a download on why I am not a big fan of it, lets define ‘jugaad’ first. For that lets look to Wikipedia

“Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around,[1] sometimes pejoratively used for solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such, or a person who can solve a complicated issue. It is used as much to describe enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers. This meaning is often used to signify creativity to make existing things work or to create new things with meagre resources.”

Sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Maybe even makes us Indians proud for our ability to work in tight situations.

Firstly (and here’s where I get flames from some of you), innovation within meager means is not an exclusive Indian phenomenon… it’s the same world over. Everything audacious had to start with meager means at some point because most people really didn’t support such ideas. But anyway, that’s not important. The second point is however.

Secondly, jugaad is a quick fix in the name of innovation. Jugaad is at times (I would argue most of the time) a product of lack of planning. I have never seen a project implementation plan with a section dedicated to jugaads. They happen when there are leaks, mostly out of desperation or no choice. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying quick fixes are bad. In fact, at times, its the quick fix that helps us deliver the last mile.

So, what’s bothering me? Hmmm… let me see if I can explain that. If I were to say “quick fix” = “innovation”, would you frown? I wager most of you would. Even if quick fix is innovative? I guessed so. The difference between jugaad and innovation is its life span and impact on overall quality in the long term. Innovation is strategic, jugaad is tactical. Innovation is part of a fixed plan… jugaad is the fix in the plan. Innovation is long term, jugaad is short term.

Finally, you also need to consider the long term impact of short term solutions. Universe has a way of balancing these things. Easy fixes to problems disappear as quickly as they come. Jugaad is a transaction where you maybe buying time by paying with quality. Trust me, you don’t want to be in that place.

So the next time you think of jugaad, think long term and think quality and then focus on the solution. That’s when you will have… “jugnovation” 🙂

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Lessons from successes (not just failures!)

Everyone seems to think that one only learns a lesson when they fail. Though that is mostly true, I think lessons can be learnt from successes too!
In 2009, I was “forced” (why forced? I will come to that some other time…).. forced to start a tech product company. I had very little time to launch the product so I had to make some hard decision very very quickly.

I remember sitting in one of our brain storming sessions on the features the products need to have on the day of the launch. Lots of ideas were flying around, people saying, “we must have this in it” and other guy saying…”customers wont buy if it doesn’t have that”. The cautious (less innovative) guys said that the product must at least do what the existing products in the market did. Well, you know how it goes from here, don’t you? Before we even wrote first line of code, we had 50 lines of features to include. Now, I don’t know about you, but such long features list have baffled me even as a consumer, let alone being a vendor!

It was clear to me at that instant that we were heading for trouble. Conventional wisdom will not help here. The only way the product would capture market share, I thought to myself, was that it did that one thing that the customer needed and it did it better than anyone else. Suddenly the importance of the list of features disappeared and what emerged was importance of quality of those 2 – 3 features that were dead important to the customer. This had number of benefits. Primararily, we as a team, could focus sharply because the scope was narrowed. Second, we could test immediately since we had fewer features to develop, we could develop them faster, make it easier to use, vaghera… vaghera (etc, etc). Third, it didn’t cost us much money. You all know how good it feels when something doesn’t cost THAT much money, right? 🙂

There was still a problem… question of why would customer want to shift to our product if it did what existing products already did in a better way?… kept nagging me. The answer to that came to me in a two pronged way.

Number one: If the product does something better than any of it’s competitor, it will get some traction. I thought how Google managed to take away email share from Hotmail despite Hotmail being the prime email provider for millions at that time. Gmail simply provided better email experience and people didn’t mind changing their email for that. That’s brought me solace for some reason.

Number two: If there was one feature… just one feature… that no other product had (even if it was a gimmick), there would be a way to attract customer’s attention. And that’s exactly what we did. I could go to the customer and say… “No other product in the market can give you this.” Suddenly, we were perceived better than competition!

Conclusion (this is the part you were waiting for) is that we managed to capture some of the largest customers in Mumbai and company was profitable from year one!

Lesson:

1. If you are launching something new, keep the focus narrow. Choose your feature wisely. Invest more time in testing rather than adding new features.

2. Keep something that makes your product stand out. I am not suggesting that you add something ridiculous. All I am saying is that it must stand out enough to charm the customer.

Hope you could take something away from this. I am open to your feedback!