Navi Radjou is co-author of the bestseller Jugaad Innovation, in which he explains how emerging economies are innovating frugally by clever improvisation. Filled with many examples, Navi Radjou and his colleagues show that frugal innovation is flourishing in emerging countries. Think low-cost, high quality and affordable solutions in health care, energy, communications etcetera. Jugaad Innovation already strongly impacts the way rich countries organize their innovation.
Ruben: Jugaad Innovation evolves around 6 principles in which adversity, frugality, flexibility, simplicity, inclusion and following your heart are keywords. How Jugaad are you in your own work and living?
Navi: I’m very Jugaad. I was brought up in a family of nine in India. We lived in a small house, slept all in one room. Not that we were poor, but we weren’t rich either. We didn’t have a lot of toys. But my parents were forward thinking. As opposed to many Indian parents, they didn’t give me a trajectory. Most parents in India want their children to become doctors, lawyers, etc… But my parents gave me values like improvisation, flexibility. They just gave me the wings to fly.
Ruben: Why is that Jugaad?
Navi: The essence of Jugaad is that you don’t plan ahead. You don’t outline a clear-cut path. In my life everything is like a zig zag. I lived in France, Thailand, the US and worked for the government, the corporate sector, academia and now I’m an author. What will I be in 5 years from now? I don’t know. But it will be about following my passion.
Ruben: Precisely one of the Jugaad principles is following your heart. Why is that a principle?
Navi: If you look at the way artists work, they don’t necessarily see a problem when they get stuck. Instead they improvise a solution. You have a plan but the plan doesn’t go well so you adapt. You follow your heart. In the West, most companies have a plan A and if that doesn’t work, you get plan B and then plan C. They don’t follow their heart and don’t improvise.
Ruben: And what’s wrong with that?
Navi: With Jugaad Innovation you save on time and resources. Cells for example only carry 5 tot 10% of the resources they need. They’re frugal and trust the system it will provide them with what they need. So with Jugaad, you will improvise the resources when you need them. But you don’t improvise alone. You do it with the system around. So there is a co-creation. The moment you start to improvise you have to trust others. It’s hard for companies to do so because everything is so planned.
Ruben: In the book you seem to equal Jugaad innovator with Jugaad entrepreneur. Why is that?
Navi: To be a Jugaad entrepreneur is a state of mind. It’s not a profession. I live in Silicon Valley and here an entrepreneur is typically viewed as someone working from his own garage. But in emerging markets like Africa, Brazil and India, many entrepreneurs do not even have a garage, let alone a car. They innovate in the streets. They do not just come up with original ideas: they also know how to convert these ideas into value. That’s why we call them innovators.
Ruben: So it’s a chain from first idea to a marketable product?
Navi: Yes, Jugaad Innovation looks at the whole process from idea to market. That’s one reason why we call it Jugaad Innovation, rather than just Jugaad. But the idea of chain is also changing. With Jugaad Innovation, you reverse that chain and start by looking at the need of the people you’d like to serve. And then you co-create with them.
Ruben: I see. So Jugaad is moving beyond the normal concept of entrepreneur and innovator as two separate functions. I now see how the many examples in your book prove that point. Could you explain why so many examples come from emerging markets?
Navi: I see a big shift in the Western media in the past 2-3 years. Western media used to talk about emerging markets as countries with “problems” (e.g. with poverty, diseases, etc.). Now they view emerging countries as countries of solutions. Why? Because Jugaad Innovation is happening in markets without or with an underdeveloped system, typically emerging markets. We now recognize that the system in the West is broken or not working. The socio-economic in the West now resemble those of emerging markets. We now desperately need Jugaad in the West to rebuild our broken system
Ruben: And how does culture play a role in this? For example, some cultures embrace ambiguity whereas others don’t. I presume the latter ones will have much more difficulties in applying Jugaad innovation?
Navi: That’s a good point your raise. Initially I thought the Anglo-Saxon part of the Western world would be first in applying the Jugaad principles. But that’s not true. Actually countries with the highest urgency are more prone to adopt Jugaad. I see a groundswell movement happening in Europe.
Ruben: How can you explain that?
Navi: It’s true that in the US certain classes of the population are not OK, but overall the middle class is OK. But in Europe the crisis is much more deeply felt across all segments of the society. The status quo is not the way to go anymore. I speak to young and old, corporate leaders and many more. Parents are afraid for the future of their children. There is a broad feeling that the system is broken. I think the next revolution is coming from Europe.
Ruben: And what do you see happening then?
Navi: Two words are central: inclusiveness and sustainable economy. For example around 8 million people in France have no access to credit cards. That’s a huge financial exclusion. And there are start-ups in France helping these people, like Nickel, which provides prepaid cards at affordable fees. Furthermore Europe has much stricter laws on sustainability. Big companies are already responding tot that. Siemens, Renault-Nissan, Unilever are all doing great work in that respect.
Ruben: In Jugaad Innovation you regularly mention the health care sector as ready for Jugaad. And you give many examples of increased access, increased quality and lower prices. But you don’t make this point for consultancy, our area of work. How could Jugaad debunk this sector?
Navi: I have a nice example. Within Accenture they have the Accenture Development Partnerships Program. Employees could go for two years to a developing country to work there. Initially it was seen as a kind of vacation. But now it’s highly valued knowledge because Accenture clients like Unilever ask for this kind of knowledge as they seek to co-create sustainable value chains with local partners in emerging markets.
Ruben: And what does that mean?
Navi: There’s more pressure on consultants to acquire knowledge on emerging markets. And a second trend that puts on the pressure is the whole lean start-up paradigm. Old consulting models do not work anymore. The new model is much more agile. You have to set up a project quickly and get immediate feedback. Basically bring value quickly and frugally to clients. It’s becoming the golden age for free agents. And there will be an explosion of small consultancies.
Ruben: And even closer to my field, how would you debunk meetings in a Jugaad way?
Navi: I don’t know… I went to this office in Silicon Valley and they have stand-up meetings. That was great to see… There are ways you can change. Do make it more improvised. Have people take different roles. One reason I’m happy I left the corporate world is for the meetings. They are so political. Meetings have become a waste of time. I believe the younger generation will meet a lot virtually. They’re much better at coordinating and improvising. They don’t need to receive instructions in a meeting.
Ruben: So the way we meet also changes the way we work?
Navi: Well, young people also don’t trust companies anymore. The whole social contract will change. They won’t work for a certain company their whole life. There will be a blur between what is work and what is not. The young generation is guided by two questions in everything they do: ‘am I having a good time?’ and ‘am I doing something purposeful?’ We are entering a new era where we should stop separating things.
Ruben: What do you mean by that?
Navi: Take Corporate Social Responsibility; the notion that you do corporate stuff and social stuff separately should disappear. There are so many shades of grey. Baby-boomers suffered from the divide between West and East. But Jugaad innovators don’t see these boundaries. They operate in a 3rd space and are guided by what unites them in the differences. That’s what we need right now.
Ruben: How does this apply to yourself?
Navi: I think that brings me back to why I wrote the book in the first place. Inside myself I have always been struggling to integrate the different pieces of my mixed identity. I was born in India, but am also French, and I lived across the world. The book brings it all together. There is unity in the diversity of my background. And that’s the true spirit of Jugaad.
Ruben: Thank you very much!
Navi: Thank you too.
See for more information and great examples of Jugaad Innovation on Navi‘s site: