Jugaad: The Art Of Converting Adversity Into Opportunity
(Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Forbes.com, photo credit: Editions Diateino)
We are entering an Age of Complexity characterized by intensified economic unpredictability, tectonic demographic and technological shifts, and accelerating resource scarcity. Adversity has become the New Normal. When you face adversity you either throw in the towel quickly or keep on fighting the issue. But what if you could transcend this “fight-or-flight” reaction and uncover a third way that could empower you to see adversity as an opportunity for personal and collective growth?
Adversity would then become your ally and could ignite your ingenuity to unearth revolutionary solutions that yield amazing value for yourself and for humanity. You would become a modern-day alchemist—one who could literally transmute adversity into opportunity.
Jugaad Innovators: The Modern Day Alchemists
Jugaad is a Hindi word meaning an innovative fix or an improvised solution born from ingenuity. Jugaad is the gutsy art of spotting opportunities in the most adverse circumstances and resourcefully improvising solutions using simple means. Jugaad is about seeing the glass always half-full. Almost all Indians practice jugaad to make the most of what they have.
The jugaad spirit, however, is not limited to India. In our book Jugaad Innovation, we show how thousands of ingenious entrepreneurs—including many social entrepreneurs who operate on a shoestring budget and are aiming at addressing societal challenge—across emerging economies such as China, Africa, and Brazil, use jugaad to overcome adversity and create socially-valuable solutions. In Kenya, for instance, entrepreneurs have invented a device that enables bicycle riders to charge their cellphones while pedaling. In the Philippines, Illac Diaz has deployed A Litre of Light—a recycled plastic bottle containing bleach-processed water that refracts sunlight, producing the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb—in thousands of makeshift houses in off-the-grid shantytowns. And in Lima, Peru (with high humidity and only 1 inch of rain per year), an engineering college has designed advertising billboards that can convert humid air into potable water.
Jugaad Innovators Use Partners to Co-Create Sustainable Value
All the jugaad innovators we studied in India and other emerging markets not only demonstrate great resilience, but also excel at building and nurturing partner ecosystems. They actively engage partners to co-create greater value for society. Specifically, jugaad innovators leverage partner networks to:
1. Co-discover end-user needs. Jugaad innovators don’t design solutions by sitting in an insular R&D lab. Instead, they collaborate with local partners to learn about local problems and identify end user needs. Take Embrace, co-founded by Stanford graduates Jane Chen, Linus Liang, Naganand Murty, and Rahul Panicker. In India, China, and Africa, Embrace markets a portable infant warmer for premature babies priced only $200—or 1% of the cost of incubators sold in the West. The device doesn’t need electricity and helps mothers hold their babies close to their bodies, boosting their survival. Embrace used NGOs and hospitals in emerging markets to understand end users’ constraints—like lack of electricity—and find ways to overcome them.
2. Co-develop frugal and sustainable solutions. Jugaad innovators don’t develop new solutions on their own. Rather, they engage local—and even global—partners to design and build their frugal offerings. For instance, Mansukh Prajapati is an Indian potter who invented MittiCool, a fridge made entirely of clay that consumes no electricity. Prajapati involves many women in his village to co-produce his sustainable fridge, thus also creating gainful employment for local community members.
3. Co-deploy solutions to a large number of users. Jugaad innovators in emerging markets solve the “last-mile problem” by leveraging grassroots partners to make their frugal solutions accessible to a large number of customers. For example, SELCO—founded by Ashoka Fellow Harish Hande—employs a grassroots network of micro-entrepreneurs to charge, install, service, and collect payment for solar lighting systems that are rented to over 125,000 rural households in India. Similarly, Embrace partnered with GE Healthcare to scale up the distribution of its portable infant warmer while Indian retail giant Future Group distributes in its stores the frugal products of jugaad innovators like Prajapati.
The ingenious solutions created by these jugaad innovators—our modern-day alchemists—should inspire citizens in the US and Europe who are confronted with an economic crisis, resource scarcity, or a challenging social context. Rather than giving in to pessimism, entrepreneurs and companies in developed nations should learn from jugaad innovators in emerging markets how to transmute adversity into opportunity and engage partners to co-create greater social value at lower cost.
This post was written by Navi Radjou, co-author of Jugaad Innovation and winner of the 2013 Thinkers50 Innovation Award. He is a Fellow at Cambridge Judge Business School and a member of World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Design Innovation.