Monday, February 8, 2010

From Jugaad to systematic innovation: A book launch experience at IIM Bangalore

“India has extraordinarily skilled technical talent but fails to create innovative products on a sustained basis” – With this paradox begins the book “From jugaad to systematic innovation” written by my friend Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan, a Professor of Corporate Strategy & Policy, and Jamuna Raghavan Chair Professor of Entrepreneurship at IIMB. I got an opportunity to attend the book launch last Friday at IIM Bangalore. The hall was packed and some people were standing. They had come to see the bridegroom (Rishi) and also to hear the bridegroom’s uncle, Subroto Bagchi (This is Subroto’s metaphor). This is a summary of what Rishi and Subroto said.


Why did I write this book? One, to promote an informed discussion on the paradox mentioned above. Second, to present a systemic view on why India is performing poorly on innovation when benchmarked globally. This is in spite of the fact that we are out of license raj for more than 20 years. Central theme of the book is in Chapter 4 which explores “barriers to innovation” from various dimensions such as social, cultural, managerial, political and economic.

The idea of this book traces its origin to a conference Rishi attended in 2002 on innovation systems. There he came across a book by Richard Nelson titled “National Innovation Systems” which presented innovation systems in various countries. The book didn’t have a chapter on India. That’s when Rishi thought, “Perhaps I should write the missing chapter”. He began the work in 2004. (Incidentally, National Innovation Systems is the first book I have come across at with an average review rating of 1 out of 5. The average is formed from a total of 1 review comment and the comment reads - They took my money but I never got the book.)


Why are Indians not so innovative? A sardar in Ludhiana can produce a copycat marker pen efficiently. However, he will not ask, “Who is it being made for? Is it for a kid or Antarctica expedition team members?” The requirements may differ substantially. Innovation may begin at any of the three layers – engineering (bottom-most layer), experiential and existential. Indians are comfortable working at the engineering layers. When Nissan wants to introduce a car in Europe, it sends a team to experience “What it takes to be a motorist in Europe” And the team will experience driving in French Alps as well as on Auto Bann. To operate from the existential layer one needs to creep into the mind of the customer and then work backwards from the feeling. In order to creep into the customer’s mind, we need to learn to dialogue (as against debate or discussion).

A salmon travels thousands of miles to hatch eggs. Out of the 2500 eggs that are laid only 2 will survive and grow up to hatch eggs. Similarly, there is a mortality rate built into the innovation process. Indian society is only beginning to understand and appreciate this.

The book launch was a wonderful experience. I am hoping it was a trailer of the experience the book will create. Let's wish the book a review rating far better than Nelson's. You can purchase the book online here.

Update: Kindle version of the book is now available on amazon and I have written a review there.


  1. I couldn't understand much of the three layers viz. Engg, Experiential and Existential. Are these mutually exclusive or are they a natural progression?
    My view is- India lack a culture that encourages risk taking and long termish view. For those who can morphy the climate around, do come up with sustained innovations. For most others, it remains a one off spark.

  2. I haven't read the book but will do. I'd love to meet Rishi again, it's been a while. In my view, Innovation is born out of pain and necessity. And an attitude of I won't take this and workaround it but I want it the way I want it. The notion of an assertive consumer culture that wont take no for an answer is a pre-requisite. Here in India, we've grown to accomodate and workaround very well and are just beginning to act consumerist. But then, maybe this is where we have an edge - just good enough innovation.

  3. Thanks VPD for documenting this, it was a very lively book launch with two engaging speakers. Two comments:

    1) Mr. Bagchi compared Prof. Rishi to Yves Doz, and hailed him as a "sense-maker of our times". I really liked this analogy of sense-making within the times, as it is a tough task to make sense of a complex changing world, in the context of the past and the future, and someone who can do that certainly makes a contribution. More on Yves Doz at The way I interpret Yves Doz's framework is to look at it as layers addressing needs of the matter, mind and spirit corresponding to engineering, experiential and existential levels. Sony is successful because they have gone into the existential layer, as per Mr. Bagchi, when they get into the "who is the enjoyer?" mode when they picturize a teenage customer wriggling in baggy pants.

    2) The key take away for me was the concluding note on Dialogue vs. Debate by Mr. Bagchi. New ideas require nurturing. You cannot build a house by shooting at the hand that pick up the bricks, assuming it will help you make a strong house. Debate is a killer as far as innovation is concerned, whereas dialogue is a process of engaging constructive ideas and building them further. India had a rich tradition of dialogue according to Mr. Bagchi, whereas we are now all argumentative Indians engaging mostly in destructive debates. Although in my view India actually had a specialised tradition of dialogue as Q&A form, and rich debate traditions as well, I still think the Debate vs. Dialogue [debate? :-)] raises a very valid point as far as nurturing innovation is concerned.

    Best wishes!
    Ramya TV