Jugaad: the best management theory you’ve never heard of
Brand owners and agencies don’t want for mental frameworks. We’ve read Drucker and Porter. We can choose between Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on the one hand, and challenger thinking on the other. We debate whether we are hedgehog or fox. We wear various hats.
Yes, there are plenty of management road maps, albeit typically drawn up by the pale and male. Products of Northern hemisphere business and culture, of the slow-moving West – not the fast-growing East.
How delightful, then, to make the acquaintance of a less celebrated, less well-documented, and certainly more visceral brand of management theory on a recent trip to Mumbai. ‘Jugaad’ is described on Wikipedia as “an innovative fix or a simple work-around, a solution that bends the rules”. The FT, no less, has called it “a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy…a word taken from Hindi which captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way.”
Jugaad has, as far as I can tell, bubbled up from the streets rather than down from any management thinker. You see it all around you, most obviously in the form of Mumbai’s variously repurposed bikes, one of which I saw implausibly transporting a fridge freezer, all of which should carry a “Don’t try this at home” advisory.
The can-do mindset that the word enshrines has been described more prosaically as “the way that people deal with whatever life throws at them” and “a way of dealing with the chaos”. It’s the mental underpinning of the observation that India may have hundreds of problems but also boasts millions of solutions.
The FT defines Jugaad as the art of “thinking frugally”, adapting quickly to often unforeseen situations and uncertain circumstances in an intelligent way. In this context, intelligence “isn’t about seeking sophistication or perfection by over-engineering products, but rather about developing a ‘good-enough’ solution that gets the job done”.
In these fast-moving and cost-constrained times, doesn’t that sound like a good new strategic muscle to train? An antidote to our default business practice with its long lead times and its often onerous or counterproductive stakeholder engagement, a climate where the original customer problem can easily be forgotten.
Look hard enough, of course, and you will find examples of Jugaad all around you, but they tend to be exceptions to the rule and more often borne out of crisis than BAU. (KFC’s brilliant ‘FCK’ apology is this year’s stand out communications example.)
Start-ups, by their nature, tend to be more Jugaad-ian than most, whether client- or agency-side. When the Art Fund became 101’s first client seven years ago, we repackaged the benefits that existing donors to the charity already enjoyed into new, physical form as the National Art Pass, going from briefing to product launch in less than three months and reimagining the charity as a retailer along the way.
When Wagamama briefed 101 to reverse a surprise sales decline, we established that many customers found the long-form, numbered menu intimidating and so stuck to old favourites (chicken katsu curry, anyone?), which in turn put a cap on frequency of visit. And so, rather than invest in media, we changed their menus to feature hero shots of other, often higher margin dishes (aah, that’s what ramen is!). It was sleight of hand that created an instant uplift of those featured dishes, picked up the Marketing Society’s ‘Marketing on a Shoestring’ award and kickstarted four consecutive years of sales growth for the noodle merchants.
So, whether you crave more efficiency or more effectiveness (or just fancy picking up the pace), Jugaad is your friend. It places the end above the means, prioritises utility over beauty, begs forgiveness rather than asks permission. In short, Jugaad gets things done. Wouldn’t you like someone like that on your team?
Laurence Green is executive partner at MullenLowe London