Cross-Domain Application of Knowledge & Jugaad

It was around a discussion on cross-domain knowledge that I realized that there was no better place to look for instances of these than in India. India is a hotbed for innovation using cross-domain knowledge, most of which gets pushed under the umbrella of jugaad, a concept we find is commonly misinterpreted & misunderstood.


At Vivékin, we’ve understood jugaad to be a form of innovation, which while fabulously inventive and immensely beneficial to the immediate community of the concerned innovator, very often tends to be restrictive due to its inability to scale up and last long. In other words, jugaad is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. What makes jugaad truly an innovation is when it lends itself to being a scalable long-term solution to a problem.


Instances of innovation using the application of lateral thinking and cross-domain knowledge in India are many. The living bridges of Meghalaya, a tradition that was started sometime in ancient India, where bridges are built by coaxing the young roots of trees (planted on the riverbank) into formation – a practice that spans several decades; the MittiCool, an electricity-free refrigerator invented by a small time entrepreneur, Manuskhbhai Prajapati, by applying the cooling principle of the clay pot in which drinking water is stored in the hot summer months;  a water mill that generates electricity, designed by Siddappa, a farmer in Karnataka, using a giant wheel, plastic basins and a dynamo.


Instances elsewhere in the world – the windmill built by William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa, a 14 year old school dropout at the time, using spare parts from a tractor and bicycle to generate electricity for his family; or in the corporate context, the car-parts incubator (for new born babies) designed by a nonprofit firm in Massachussets, USA, “Design that Matters”, using the same technology used in cars to allow people in third world and developing countries to be able to easily repair them.


Some of the instances above could be classified as jugaad, like the makeshift water mill by farmer Siddappa, and the windmill by William Kamkwamba, but most of the others are true innovations resulting from the application of lateral thinking and long-term vision.

Bottlenecking Innovation: What can a bottle of water tell us about Indian innovation?

On a recent flight from Delhi to Hyderabad, the flight attendant handed me a bottle of water. This was a full-service flight, and like all airlines trying to make the best of both worlds, this airline’s dinner too was watered-down. The bottle of water was part of it. As I tried to open the bottle, however, I was nearly poked by a hard, pointer sliver of the plastic that broke off and stood projected from the neck (see picture). I was grateful that it was not my daughter who was opening the bottle.
Water Bottle on Flight from Delhi to Hyderabad

But the bottle raises many questions about Indian innovation. The state of the packaging industry in India is symbolic of the state of Indian innovation in general, and the bottleneck is both a literal and a metaphorical commentary on the culture of innovation in India.

A few weeks ago, I bought a bottle of cough syrup, and try as I might, I could not open the plastic bottle because the metal cap kept turning with the metal band underneath that is supposed to be fixed to the bottle.Cough Medicine Bottle

As every Indian knows, this is a common occurrence and is, in fact, a decades-old problem. As a kid, I saw my parents struggle with the same problem when they opened medicine bottles for the family. Why has the Indian packaging industry not innovated for decades? And these medicines are made by international pharmaceutical giants who would not even think of selling drugs in this packaging in Europe or America. True, we have seen more tetrapaks and better bottles in India in recent years, but if we have truly innovated, we should not be seeing the kinds of bottles that I am referring to—the water bottle on the plane or the cough syrup bottle.

So how do you open the cough syrup bottle? Well, we Indians are very resourceful. In fact, jugaad, resourcefulness, has been proudly promoted as a national characteristic of India and the foundation of the Indian way of innovation. So like my parents, like me, we Indians look for the kitchen knife or a similar instrument and quickly cut the metal band at each place it is attached to the cap.opening cough medicine bottle with knife

Voilà! The cap can now be untwisted, and the medicine becomes available.

At the same time however, unwittingly, our jugaad has killed innovation. Because we can open the bottle with a knife, we don’t pressurize the drug company to make a better bottle, and of course, the consequence is that there is no shift in market demand to another drug maker who uses better bottles. Result: drug makers continue to use same types of un-openable bottles for decades; no innovation.

Long live Jugaad! Death to innovation! We are a nation of jugaadis with no innovation.

The Power of the Metaphor in Innovation

Last night, Times Now featured a heated debate on television on the allegations of Team Anna against the Prime Minister. As the debate progressed, it emerged that the speaker had used the statement where he likened the Prime Minister to being used by his government like ‘Shikhandi’. For those who may not know, Shikandi is a male-female (hermaphrodite) character in the Indian epic of the Mahabharata who was used as a shield during battle because men would not fight somebody not “fully man”. The implication here was that the (honest) Prime Minister is being used as a shield by his highly corrupt government against their fraudulent practices. This was an unfortunate choice of a word (‘Shikhandi’, brings all the connotations of social misfit, gender misfit, and a mask for heinous activities. This was, quite frankly, in poor taste). The speaker tried to explain that he had used it as a metaphor, and not literally. But what is interesting is the power of the metaphor to bring out such strong emotions. When metaphor has such strong emotional connect, imagine the power it would hold for innovation!

Metaphorical thinking is what allows problems to be connected to solutions across domains. A Guttenberg is able to invent the printing press by recognizing the metaphorical connect between the pipe organ playing in his church and the coin press he worked at. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the art of the metaphor relegating it to some “soft skill” that is only fit for students of literature. In our systems- and process-orientedness, we refuse to look beyond and see that metaphorical connect that can lead us to powerful new ideas and innovation.

Click here to see the video.

Just in! Our new Downloads section!

Skip rope to outperform the competition!The article “How to Outperform the Competition” explains the logic behind this metaphor. Read about it at the “Downloads” section of our website.

Innovation is important for enduring corporate excellence. But how do you enable innovation in an organization? Read the article “How to Enable Innovation in Organizations” to understand about the four enablers to innovation within organizations – People, Principle, Processes and Technologies.
Go to the “Downloads” section of our website for the complete article.

Gratitude and leadership

A TEDxSF talk by Louie Schwartzberg titled Nature. Beauty. Gratitude offers much to think about for all of us in how we can and should lead. Humility is perhaps the most important characteristic of leadership. And at the heart of humility is gratitude. Intelligence makes us aware; awareness makes us recognize all there is to be thankful for and thus generates gratitude; and gratitude makes us humble.

Enjoy the video:

How to measure a leader’s capacity to adapt

The leadership guru Warren Bennis says that the key competence of a leader is “adaptive capacity”–the ability to deal with change. Adaptability is also at the core of innovation. Vivekin’s Leadership Intelligences Framework (LIF) is centrally concerned with measuring and developing a person’s ability to adapt. It does this comprehensively using 5 different intelligences: analytical, operational, inventive, communicative, and most importantly, ethical intelligence. Vivekin’s LIF is comprehensive in another way too: it measures both one’s aptitude to adapt and one’s ability to adapt.
We’re trying to benchmark LIF against other measures of adaptability. One such metric is Lumina Learning Inc.’s Spark–which uses a Jungian approach . Do you know of any other framework or system that measures the adaptive capacity of an individual? Do you use any such system in your organization?