Editor’s Note: Today is the first guest post on LearningIndia.in. I’ve asked Arjun ‘John’ Buxi to give us a few articles to understand what Jugaad is and how to use it.
Problem. Obvious solution. Better life.
Simple, right? But everyone in India knows it’s not always like that.
Take Rhesus monkeys for example. For years now, these monkeys have been entering neighborhoods, stealing food, and even harming people. Simple response, right? Get rid of the monkeys. Not so easy!
The monkey in India is associated with the Hindu god, Hanuman, who is depicted as a monkey king and devotee of Rama, protagonist of the Ramayana epic. Because many folks see the monkey as holy, the Municipal Government is a bit loath to ‘take care’ of the problem, and people continue to feed the monkeys. Sure, you could buy an ultrasonic monkey repellant, but they are too expensive for most folks. So what can ‘Average Joe’ do?
There is a story of a retired Army Officer that finally had enough. He placed a basket of boiled, skinned potatoes placed under a tree around midday. Sure enough, the monkeys came, and went straight for the food. They grabbed the potatoes, screeching in pain as their hands burnt (monkeys won’t let go of their food, they say), and ran away with the potatoes, never to return.
This is a perfect example of average-Joe level Jugaad (pronounced ‘Joo-gaarh’), an idiosyncratic word people in India use to describe accomplishing goals…um, creatively. In India, the ‘obvious solution’ typically has some kind of a roadblock in front of it. So, whether balancing lethargic government machinery, leveraging special social customs or making the best of limited finances and tools, Jugaad helps a person in India get the job done.
It’s the original ‘disruption’, minus the app.
So what is Jugaad, exactly?
In a nutshell, Jugaad is a catchall term for creative solutions to problems when a roadblock exists. The ‘roadblock’ might be financial or cumbersome rules. Their use often becomes a part of ‘normal’ practices that ‘everyone does’. This might include using old resources for new purposes, working around restrictions, or taking advantage of strategic partnerships.
What does it look like in action?
Here are two scenarios to demonstrate how even the savvy foreigner can use Jugaad.
Scenario 1: ‘Sorry, it’s not possible, Madam.’
Customer-facing employees at any business often prove immovable when you’re making a request that is remotely out of the ordinary or that requires urgent attention.
A bank customer tried to withdraw some cash after hours, however, the ATM card would not come back out of the machine. With no one but a technologically-challenged security guard at hand, it would have to wait till tomorrow. The next morning, the customer explained her difficulty. The Customer Rep consoled her calmly, but mentioned that it couldn’t be fixed till the next day, owing to the need for the Mumbai branch to enter some codes on their end.
“Why is this happening to me?” #Customerisalwaysthere
Due to the centralization of power and high vertical power structures, these customer-facing individuals are neither trained for discretionary actions nor empowered to fix them. For the person in front of you, you are a momentary irritant in their midst. In a previous blog, I wrote about why accepting class privileges in India is not only inevitable, but that it provides you a pathway to the solution that otherwise does not exist.
Picture the customer again. She is frustrated by the immovable bank employee, but she has a mobile phone. She calls someone who knows someone, who is a ‘valued customer’ at the bank (i.e., either rich, well-connected, or both).
Calmly, she asks the employee to call a manager, who is likely to be older, more educated and polite.
She asks the manager to speak with the person on the phone.
“My pleasure Sir.”
“I’ll ensure you get your card immediately, Madam.”
Readers with egalitarian outlooks are understandably disconcerted when this comes up, but know that the social class system in India (overlapping yet distinct from Caste Systems) creates vastly differing subcultural and educational experiences. As a result, lower-level employees simply lack the communicative scripts to process your unusual request; this is where we apply Jugaad through the use of firm but polite language, personal or professional status, and social linkages to important people. #Powerplays
This brings us access not only to a higher-ranked person [the manager], but someone with greater discretionary powers. The ‘unusual request’ is then handled by someone with the knowledge and authority to do so, and you now have a new personal bond.
Scenario 2: Pick me up, but don’t pick up
If you’ve lived in a city like Delhi, you’ll know one thing – finding an auto-rickshaw is an adventure sport. First, you have to walk aimlessly around to find the ‘spots’ they tend to park at or ‘cruise by’ (hint: bus stops are useful). Then, you have to convince them to go in your direction, not get lost, and finally, get them to agree to pay the metered fare, not some ransom-like amount. Once in a while, you find a reasonable person who knows the way, and is willing to do business with you. But how can you stay in touch? Sure, he has a cellphone, but no money to waste on phone call minutes. Worse yet, he cannot read the written word so texting is out of the question. Enter: the missed call.
You open your cellphone’s call history, dial his number, but cancel the call before it is answered. He sees your number and, in a few minutes, the auto-rickshaw driver pulls over and takes you home. Business for him is actually booming now that happy customers call great auto-drivers frequently. All this before Uber!
We circumvented the challenges of poor public transportation and a person’s economic status as well as illiteracy. Neither you nor the driver paid your cell phone providers anything for the ‘missed call’ – no minutes used, no balance lost – and yet you communicated with each other to exchange money and services. The ‘Free Market’ economy works, thanks to a bit of Jugaad.
India’s people, like anywhere else, have their particular rules of living and being, and this article looks at a small slice of that. The true spirit of Jugaad lies not in rule-bending, class and power dynamics, or in the everyday ingenuity of missed calls. It lies in the power of people who live in inhospitable weather, deal with slow government machinery and work with limited means, who make things happen.
So go on. Stove not working? Try something else. You can’t go without chai, can you?
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be an informative primer on some Cultural and Business Practices in India, it is not meant to give legal advice – please consult a legal professional for such purposes.
Arjun Buxi is a Communication and Culture Consultant for Training, Strategy and Research on connecting you to your audience. He works with Principals and Entrepreneurs on Messaging and Skill-building for better leaders, better teams and better organizations. In particular he is dedicated to a better understanding of Culture, especially that of India.
Image Credit: DDohler on Flickr