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The Art of Doing Things Creatively

By: Murali Kamma Email By: Murali Kamma
September 2010
The Art of Doing Things Creatively M.B.A. students and business leaders in the West have learned the concept of kaizen (continuous improvement) from Japan, and the concept of guangxi (network links) from China. But what about India? What has it contributed to management studies lately?

How about jugaad (creative improvisation)? In these bleak economic times, the age-old Indian ability to work with limited resources in a flexible, inventive manner is getting a closer look. Jugaad also stands for those inexpensive, souped-up vehicles that carry large numbers of people in rural North India. Though the word is used in a positive sense, jugaad can sometimes have a negative connotation—as when we deliberately skimp on materials to make inferior products. These shortcuts, in other words, are improper rather than inspired. Other such examples would include the giving or taking of bribes.

A positive example of jugaad is Santosh Ostwal’s reengineered (or frugally engineered) mobile phone. It doubles as a device to switch irrigation pumps off remotely, thereby saving water, not to mention the time and effort spent by farmers on their daily chores. So how can jugaad be effective in the more structured corporate world? In a Harvard Business Review blog this year, a group of Indian researchers proposed the following principles: (1) Thrift, not waste. (2) Inclusion, not exclusion. (3) Bottom-up participation, not top-down command and control. (4) Flexible thinking and action, not linear planning.

Notable observers like Swaminathan Aiyar hold jugaad in high esteem. “Natural resources like oil are often a curse: they can lead to government kleptocracy and authoritarianism,” he recently wrote in The Economic Times. “But jugaad helps foil government kleptocracy and authoritarian regulations. It enabled Indian business to survive the licence-permit raj, and to blossom after the 1991 reforms.”

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