India Inc India Inc: Monday, 27 February 2012 14:27

Enterprising with Shai Vyakarnam - Frugal Innovation or is that just ‘Chalta Hai’ innovation? - an academic view of entrepreneurship.

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I am very inspired by the idea of frugal innovation or jugaad, as it is more commonly described in India. But I am kind of puzzled by this. Are we talking about a frugal mentality which is about speed of execution, sufficient for customer need or are we talking about shoddy completion that attempts to get away with calling itself innovative?

I was in Bangalore and Delhi during January 2012. The visit started at a more academic pace at the Indian Institute of Science, in my capacity as Visiting Professor to study how we might improve the innovation rate there through the use of entrepreneurship education. I was delighted to hear that some of my recommendations have already been taken up! I will have to get a bigger hat.

In Bangalore, I saw a lot of innovations in the form of restaurants, technologies ad research outcomes. I was deeply amused by the radio formats and what is clearly becoming “fusion English” where English words were being made into Kannada by the way they were being enunciated – high energy, great sense of humour and thoroughly entertaining in the tedious traffic.

There are excellent examples of real innovation in the services sector, vehicles, healthcare, retail and numerous other fields. Alongside this energy we also find the solid brands that have not done anything frugal – such as Mercedes, Porsche, other luxury consumer brands, architecture and hotels etc. I am delighted there is nothing frugal about these – after all it is nice to enjoy well made products and experiences from time to time!

From Bangalore to Delhi and a long Sunday in Tijara district. I went looking for the “bottom of the pyramid” to better understand what it looks like, feels like and what this might mean for understanding innovation, strategy and marketing.  Not quite a journey of self-discovery but I think it is useful from time to time to get a sense of balance.  This visit was in the context of my trusteeship of the GEN Initiative.  Naturally I took many pictures and have chosen to publish two for the different stories they tell about jugaad.

Notice the wickets the young lads are using.  They had also requested a local building company to use their JCB to clear the ground and create a cricket ground. Not perfect but great for a Sunday afternoon friendly.

chalta1

 

Then notice how childcare comes together with income generation. They only get two-three hours of electricity per day on average and because this is shared around the villages you never know when you will get power. So – the hand-powered sewing machine is still used. These are used in a class where young women (with their babies) make all manner of quilts and other products, which have small markets. By the way, they are stunning quilts and someone needs to find a way to scale production without destroying the local social culture.

 

 

 

 

chalta2It will not have missed some readers that while the women work and care, the lads are playing cricket! This kind of innovative behaviour I can certainly understand, take what you have for wickets, care for your kids, get the machines you can and make some income to put roti on the plate.

 

 

 

 

 

chalta3The jugaad I could not stomach was the shoddy design of the electrical arrangement in the nearby 4-star hotel in Gurgaon. You will see from the picture that the wiring of the table lamp lead to a socket just behind the pillow and by the way the wire was bare. There was no plug. So – of course if you are an electrician in a hurry it will do – that the lamp is lit up!  But who put the socket there and how come someone with a suit did not check?

 

 

 

 

 

chalta4I was of course told to have a nice day, thanked for my custom and it was hoped that I had enjoyed my stay. No doubt these were all well crafted words from a training manual! But I better be careful what I say in case I am accused of making a racist remark – just like the Duke of Edinburgh on his visit to a factory in Scotland! http://www.independent.co.uk/news/duke-of-edinburgh-forced-to-apologise-for-racist-remark-1111947.html So there is jugaad and there is jugaad. In doing business in India we really need to be clear that in order to meet price point pressures, cope with the fast pace of growth and demand we do not lower our standards too. Let me end on a light hearted note.

 

 

 

Dr Shailendra Vyakarnam is Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, part of Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. He currently holds the Otto Monsted Guest Professorship at Aarhus School of Business in Entrepreneurship, Denmark. Shai is also Senior Member at both Darwin College and Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge. He has published five books and several papers on entrepreneurship and has combined academic and business interests having co-founded several businesses.

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