Jugaad is just pimped out frugal innovation

I have to hand it to those who have managed to package jugaad, a disgraceful form of Indian stupidity, as a form of innovation, DIY and frugal innovation. Well, the only thing jugaad is frugal with is quality and imagination, the very antithesis of innovation.

And it would be safe to assume that these proponents of jugaad are academicians who have never innovated. Else they would never sell us, real innovators short.

The frequently peddled examples of jugaad are local hacks by poor illiterate, ignorant Indians solving a problem with quick fix solutions. They are all inferior versions of what has been done long before and hence cannot qualify as innovation. This is the Indian bourgeois white collar’s desperate effort to make the blue collars elite, respectable and presentable to the world at large so that they can ride on these grease monkey’s Icarus wings.

The latest form of this whitewash is to tactfully apply jugaad or frugal innovation to all non technical areas like innovation in management.  A desperate attempt by a few to stay relevant and market a dangerous concept by packaging it as an exotic, eastern, mystical, ancient secret to a curious (but not stupid) western audience since real innovators can see through this sham.

When you move away from the oft mentioned examples like motor bikes (prime mover) used as pumps or diesel engines fixed to a bullock cart chassis and used as motorised vehicles or re-invented simple agricultural machines which lay discarded on the wayside of western innovation highways, what you experience will be the ugly reality of jugaad in practise. Something we frown upon amongst ourselves, but desperately camouflage for others.

Take the helmet,  a product of advanced engineering, a life saver under constant development. Different composite shells, paddings, crush zones, comfort are thrust areas where millions of dollars are invested. Some would argue that it is over engineered, but not those who possess and value what it is trying to save.

Now shift your focus to India. The land of jugaad,  whose frugal innovators are out to redefine innovation and teach the teachers.

About 80% of India’s vehicle population comprises of 2 wheelers and hence an equally huge market for helmets. Several states have made them compulsory for both riders.

But when we Indians indianized it using a concept called jugaad, we produced a helmet,  that is now worn by the majority of bike riders, a helmet which costs less than 100 rupees, or $1.5. No. Not a typo. A DOLLAR AND FIFTY CENTS. We managed to pull off this disgraceful feat by intentionally ignoring the key concept of protection, the very essence of a helmet.

FRP helmet shells - Frugal innovation

FRP helmet shells Frugal innovation

Our helmets look every bit like a real helmet, bright and colorful, with visors and comfortable foam padding. But the superficial similarity ends there. Our single layer FRP helmets are as fragile as the very glass the FRP  was born from and was invented to overcome. Forget about protecting our heads,  they can’t protect themselves when accidently dropped.

Unfortunately one can’t see this facet of jugaad highlighted by the touts of frugal innovation because they drive around in swanky, chauffeur driven cars, visit remote villages, publicize the irrelevant, inveigle the perpetrators and inadvertently do more harm than good.

When the task of the world’s innovators is to raise the bar, our ‘innovators’are playing limbo bar, the exact opposite.