How “Jugaad” Became a Bad Word

Once a business buzzword, the Indian practice of makeshift, creative solutions is now — at times unfairly — associated with half-baked, shoddy work.

Sneha Mehta

September 1, 2022

How “Jugaad” Became a Bad Word
A scene from Sulekha's #GoAntiJugaad ad

In 2016, Sulekha, one of India’s largest platforms for local services, launched a viral #GoAntiJugaad ad campaign. People across India colloquially use the term “jugaad” to mean a makeshift solution using limited resources. Set in a small Indian town, the viral television commercial follows a well-meaning man and his “jugaadu” solutions to everyday problems — from strapping a couch to his motorcycle so he can transport multiple passengers to poking holes in a bucket under a leaking pipe to create a shower. It works for a while until it all goes spectacularly wrong, prompting his new bride to go onto the Sulekha app and look for qualified plumbers, mechanics, and other expert service providers. No more creative shortcuts, the ad preaches. 

Not so long ago, however, the concept of jugaad was a cultural juggernaut. In 2010, the Harvard Business Review transformed this practice into a business buzzword, calling jugaad “a new growth formula for corporate America.” The Oxford English Dictionary added jugaad in 2017, and the Harvard Business Review article authors Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja went on to write a 2012 bestselling book filled with frugal, flexible principles that could reshape time-consuming, expensive research and development (R&D) at corporations. 

For a while, Indians were thrilled at the recognition of their homegrown ingenuity — a 2013 article proclaimed, “jugaad is our most precious resource.” That is until they weren’t anymore. Economists, politicians, and entrepreneurs began to observe that glamorizing scrappy, streetsmart problem-solving was dangerous. Neither rural inventors nor upscale designers wanted to be associated with the label of “jugaad.” In a decade, jugaad went from a buzzword to a slur as unchecked usage warped its intrinsic merit into a half-baked, undesirable philosophy.