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    Posted on 04 June 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    BOOKS

    Interpreters of Ingenious Innovations

    Both the West and emerging nations need to go back to basics to find bottoms up solution

    Manjula Lal
    New Delhi

    (L to R) Authors of Jugaad Innovation: Simone Ahuja, Jaideep Prabhu and Navi Radjou in the Oberoi lobby

    Photo: Naval Hans

    WHAT MAKES a book on Jugaad relevant circa 2012, when India’s faith in its economists (and departure from the ingenious mixed economy model) is so severely jolted? That, according to the trio which wrote the book, is exactly the point. Instead of looking for ‘over-engineered’ products and solutions, both the West and the emerging nations need to go back to the basics, to find bottoms-up solutions.


    Navi Radjou is quite categorical that multinationals operating in India have shown more interest in low-cost, innovative products, compared to Indian business houses. He holds out as an example German engineering giant Siemens, which has been in India for a hundred years and has only now gone into bottoms-up innovation with clever devices like the foetal heart monitor.

    Researching Siemens on the net (since it is not, unlikely some PR-savvy companies, in regular touch with the media), we learn that the company laid India’s first telegraph line to British. Now, the group in India comprises of 17 companies providing direct employment to over 18,000 persons. It has 21 manufacturing plants, a wide network of sales and service offices across the country as well as 500 channel partners. It seems well placed to understand grassroots problems and come up with relevant products.

    Navi also gives the example of Pepsi supporting water conservation under CSR (corporate social responsibility), but that is difficult to swallow. Under attack for using up scarce water resources to market soda water, not exactly helpful to health, why wouldn’t the multinational try to do something about this crucial ingredient and win brownie points in the process?

    In this context, quizzed about whether mighty corporations have enough of a heart to listen to a lone innovator if he walks into the reception of its offices, Simone Ahuja is quite categorical that, “In the end, a corporate has to make money for its shareholders. It wants to do well by doing good.” She adds, for good measure, that “Extrapolation from individuals to corporations is not always possible.” She is more keen that the book, also published in the US, inspires the West to learn from India, simply because it is running out of options as the fuel-based lifestyle is no longer tenable.

    The book is aimed at entrepreneurs, management students and govt agencies

    Her documentary series for TV — Big Ideas from Emerging India — and film on Mumbai’s Dabbawallahs (Lunch on the Run) makes her quite an expert on uniquely Indian ideas that work.

    The authors of Jugaad Innovations are clearly excited about the launch of the book in India, which they say is primarily aimed at entrepreneurs, management students and even government agencies.

    'In the end, a corporate must make money for its shareholders. It wants to do well by doing good. Extrapolation from individuals to corporations is not always possible’

    Simone Ahuja, Co-Author

    While promoting his US book Rebooting America’s Innovation Engine, he had pointed out that the motto ‘innovate or die’ held true for American firms in the 20th century.

    In this century, he says, the mantra should be ‘innovate faster, better and cheaper — or die.’

    He talks about corporates not being equipped to meet the ‘frugal needs of thrifty US buyers’. Quite a change for us in India, having been told time and again about the ‘price-sensitive’ Indian consumer.

    Jaideep Prabhu, a professor at the University of Cambridge, talks passionately about the John F Welch Technology Centre in Bengaluru, a $80 million facility set up in September 2000. This is GE’s second largest research centre in the world, starting out as a plastics lab and going on to research everything from nanotechnology to advanced propulsion. It started out working on agendas set in hq mostly de-featuring products (stripping down sophisticated products to bare essentials) then realised it was missing out on opportunities.

    R&D centres, however, are not really in keeping with the spirit of jugaad, a fact which the authors admit during the course of a very animated interview. That’s because ingenious ideas, which abound, require a certain gestation period to commercialise. For example, an electricity-deficient country like India needs off-grid solutions to many of its problems. Although the book does not touch upon Sam Pitroda’s switching systems that worked without air-conditioning, bringing about India’s telecom revolution, it is obvious that what NGOs are doing in rural areas, in hybrid organisations that rope in local entrepreneurs, is really imperative.

    As for the success of the book in India, it does seem assured. For the very word jugaad is so catchy, summoning up images of roadside mechanics improvising heavily to repair Maruti cars instead of using genuine spare parts. Or staplers being used to repair a torn shirt in the office.

    We’ll all benefited from it, and it’s unlikely India will any time soon enjoy the luxury of doing without improvisation.

    Frugal’s the word

    Jugaad innovators in emerging markets, says the book, rely more on their own intuition than on analysis to successfully navigate in complex, unpredictable environments

    A clay fridge
    Mansukh Prajapati, a potter by trade, came up with an idea that transformed scarcity into opportunity. For years, he experimented with clay to produce a variety of durable goods.

    In 2001, an earthquake devastated his village and the surrounding area. Reading a report of the devastation in the local newspaper, he noticed a photo caption: “Poor man’s fridge broken!” It triggered Prajapati’s first eureka movement. He thought of making a fridge for villagers that is more affordable and doesn’t need electricity.

    He experimented for several months and eventually had a viable version of the Mitticool that he began selling to people in his own village. The fridge, which costs, around Rs 2,500 was a hit. He began selling Mitticools across India, and then internationally. Forbes magazine recently named him among the most influential rural Indian entrepreneurs.

    The wine cooler
    Zhang Ruimin thinks and act quickly. This CEO of Haier, a Chinese consumer goods company, makes appliance-makers like GE and Whirlpool nervous. Under Zhang’s leadership, Haier has, in the space of a decade, made huge inroads into North American and European markets by selling quality appliances at lower prices than those of western suppliers. Haier is disrupting the consumer goods market not only in mainstream segments but also in niche segments like wine coolers. For instance, Haier launched a $704 wine cooler that is less than half of the cost of industry leader La Sommerlere’s product. Within two years of this launch, Haier has grown the market by a whopping 10,000 percent and now controls 60 percent of the US market by value.

    Wooden incubators
    Infant mortality was high at government medical college, where Dr Sathya Jeganathan works as a pediatrician in Chengalpattu. At her hospital, on an average, 39 out of every 1,000 infants died at birth. Wising to decrease the infant mortality rate in her hospital, Dr Jeganathan first tried to import incubators made in the west. But she soon found the setup cost of these incubators prohibitively high, and the staff maintenance unsuited the rural India. Undeterred, she applied some jugaad thinking. She decided to design her own incubator, one that was simple, inexpensive, and easy to use. Jeganathan developed a minimalist incubator from a wooden table made of locally harvested wood, and standard 100-watt bulbs to maintain the baby’s temperature. After that infant mortality was cut by half. Now she is working closely with the Lemelson Foundation, a US-based organisation that supports entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

    Compiled by Belal Khan

    [email protected]


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    Posted on 04 June 2012
 

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