Jugaad Innovation and how to fit a square peg in a round hole

Dr. Jaideep Prabhu recently came to our London office to talk about the book he co-authored, Jugaad Innovation. Jugaad is a Hindi word to describe an improvised solution born out of ingenuity and cleverness. There are no shortage of examples from developing countries such as India, Brazil and China where entrepreneurs achieve a lot, yet with very little resources.

For example, YES BANK, a leading private bank in India. They implemented a mobile payment solution that allows money transfer via mobile phones without having to rely on bank accounts. This innovative solution piggybacks on India’s highly scalable mobile telephony infrastructure, which extends to even their remotest villages. A particularly resourceful approach for a nation where nearly 900 million citizens have cell phones, but 600 million don't have access to bank accounts. 

Innovation thrives in constraints

There is no doubt that Jugaad can offer lots of lessons and inspiration for Western companies to leverage their innovation efforts. But what really strikes me about Jugaad is the idea of taking constraints to fuel innovation to the extreme.

Although many people associate innovation with expansive expressions such as ‘out of the box’ and ‘blue sky’, the art of coming up with great products and services is often about setting well-defined boundaries. By establishing clear constraints, what you are in fact doing is giving much needed focus to channel your creative thinking.

Lessons from Apollo 13

Listening to Dr. Prabhu’s talk reminded me of that great ‘let’s build a filter’ scene from the Apollo 13 movie.

The explosion that crippled the ship also damaged the two main oxygen tanks, causing CO2 levels to raise dramatically and making it impossible for the crew to survive the return journey. The only solution was to figure out how to connect a set of spare square air filters to the round air supply system.

The issue was, they had to figure out how to do this using only materials available on the Apollo module: spacesuits, plastic bags, tape, towels and a few other bits and bobs.  

Once the engineers worked out how to connect the filters, they radioed the instructions to the Apollo team, and the rest is history. A great example of how constraints can really help fuel your innovation efforts.