Unboxing Jugaad

Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi and Punjabi word, meaning a low cost solution. It is generally used in India to represent an innovative work-around that subverts tacit rules, a resource used outside of its intended purpose, or a person who troubleshoots. Jugaad is often used to signify creativity in making broken things work or aggregating disparate objects to build a useful contraption. In other words, to Jugaad is to hack.

Hacking of this sort breaks traditional ideas of property and commodification by implicitly emphasizing on expressive qualities of the hack. A recurring form of expression in case of a Jugaad is its utility. Since Jugaad happens in very endemic conditions, they preserve a strong sense of social, cultural, familial and at times, personal context. This renders it as valueless to anyone outside its necessity, hence becoming an expression of the necessity itself.

In A Hacker Manifesto, Wark explains how the degree of dynamism or openness of a state is directly proportional to its capacity to hack. The hack overcomes the distinction between object and subject, the natural and the social, opening a space for free production that is not marked in advance by the properties of commodification.

Very few states can maintain the conditions of liberty in which the hack thrives. This is only worse when the state recognizes the power of the hack. Many countries, such as the US and western Europe have embraced it by containing the hack inside the controlled environment of a production line. Post globalization, as manufacturing grew to be outsourced from other resource, labour abundant, and developing nations like India, Bangladesh and China, developed nations have retained their own system of design, innovation and branding that allows hacking in laboratory conditions with well-defined performance metrics.

In case of Jugaad, the cultural context may be so deeply intertwined with the hack that it is difficult to look at one without the other. Examples of this kind is plentiful — from using old clothes as mops in a desert household, to washing machines as centrifuges to whip up yogurt drinks at a big wedding. Harvard Business Review describes Jugaad as “an antidote to the complexity of India: a country of mind-boggling diversity; pervasive scarcity of all kinds; and exploding interconnectivity”. This diversity arising from the history of the region is often unorganized is perhaps antithetic to the controlled conditions of productive hacking.

Then again, Jugaad happens not only in market streets in a poor vendor’s precarious contraption for a weight balance, but also in resplendent Information Technology parks, in the offices of people managers putting together an analytics team. The virtuality of organizational structures and computer code conserves features of multiplicity while shedding the materiality that Jugaad is associated with. In such an immaterial plane, Jugaad becomes extremely nebulous and easily succumbs to collaboration with a postmodern hacker culture that promotes universal ideas of decentralization and accessibility.

On the surface, a postmodern hacker culture inspired by the likes of Levy may look and feel extremely similar to Jugaad — both stand to focus on the hack and not the hacker. Both also operate with a general disregard for established affordances. But the former propels the idea of hacking with an intensity that turns it from a free-form expression into an engineered response. This helps elevate the hacker from its negative connotations, but into a member of a steadily optimizing system under the pretext of contributing to the greater good. A system in which, when a productive hack is identified and put into practice, surplus accumulates along with territorial power of the most productive region. This builds a symbiotic relationship between the ruling entity and the hacker, each accelerating development of the other.

There is sizeable amount of literature that has sought to document this specific treatment of a hack. In Jugaad Innovation, the authors use a recurring motif “doing more with less” to highlight the potential of accumulating surplus by repurposing existing commodities. The book argues that Jugaad is most relevant to industries, or nations where capital is limited and access to natural resources is constrained — and how hacking the supply chain can produce very different, and profitable results. More articles and essays have appeared in magazines such as Forbes, in favor of creating disruptive business strategies by realizing the inherent property value of the hack.

It is easy to forget that Jugaad sits in between the two kinds of politics that surround the hacking culture. Its primary motivations and constraints are the same as the forces it implicitly works against. The resource scarcity and inequality imposed by a continuously metamorphosing system leads to conscious improvisation within a small circle of needs, which in turn keeps the commodity industry from freeing itself out of necessity. It pulls this off because the solutions born out of it are very local.

Wark emphasizes that wherever hacking has been most at liberty, best resourced and most rapidly adopted, a surplus is released and productivity grows. When hacking is rapidly applied to commodification, all traditional and local fiefdoms and unproductive pockets are liquidated; their resources thrown into larger and larger pools of resources, out of which ever more varied productive possibilities may be further generated. While Jugaad grows only more popular as a new flavour and packaging of such a commodity system, it is worth recalling its emphasis on utility over execution of the hack, and its contextual, endemic and expressive qualities for an upstream swim in the river of homogenization.

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