Jugaad Thinking for Product

Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that roughly revolves around the idea of creative improvisation or frugal innovation. Commonplace in many countries where resources are not abundant, jugaad thinking manifests as the fruit vendor breathing new life into a broken bicycle and miscellaneous scraps and concocting a makeshift mango cargo carrier. It’s about doing more with less and innovating in the face of constraints. It’s a unique spirit and mindset when it comes to solving problems. 

Jugaad offers tangible lessons for the product marketer, including on how to operate with constraints, think with first principles, and deliver greater value through empathy.

Operating with Constraints

On a personal trip to the mountain with two friends, jugaad was also a companion. Shopping was no exception. For our group of young individuals, sleeping pads were notoriously expensive and a burden on our budget. And yet, they were a necessity for heat insulation and a bit of cushioning. Employing jugaad thinking broke down the challenge to purchase a sleeping pad into three concrete requirements: must provide insulation, must add some cushioning, must be far below commercial sleeping pads’ price points. 

We were laser-focused on solving these three pain points. Reviews on the Internet about sleeping pads or the opinions of peers were not considered because the only criteria under scrutiny were these three pain points. Everything else was in the periphery. Our solution: an inflatable pool raft from a dollar store, with some minor modifications to the inflation valve and the base. It was a scrappy solution, but it worked. We got two nights of perfect, warm sleep for a dollar and nine cents.

Thinking with First Principles

This approach not only worked for our small-scale recreational trip but is also applicable to companies operating at a much larger scale with more stakes on the line. According to Wido Menhardt, CEO of the Philips Innovation Center in Bangalore, “[jugaad thinking] is always out-of-the-box, and it is typically very focused.” Philips uses this approach to develop an edge, particularly in competitive markets with price-elastic consumers. Menhardt states that this mindset “helps [them] focus on the essence of the need, the real [customer] requirements, and often leads to taking the mental leap that is required for a disruptive new design or product.”

This bold leap is about identifying the essence of the problem and the solution needed. It’s about operating with first principles thinking. 

First principles thinking is about reasoning from fundamental truths versus reasoning by analogy. Reasoning by analogy is about relying much on the knowledge, beliefs, and assumptions of others. Jugaad thinking parallels and advocates for first principles thinking. During an afternoon plucking and collecting oranges, I was bothered by the high-dwelling oranges escaping my grasp, falling a great distance, and rupturing upon impact. If I reasoned by analogy, I would have made a trip to the store, bought a ladder and a basket, and attempted my backyard harvest. I would have done all this without much thought since I’ve seen this before. The idea is ingrained in us from advertisements, movies, and television: to harvest fruit trees, you need a ladder and the other assortment of tools. The popular image in my mind of how orange pickers function was to elevate myself and get closer to the canopy of oranges.

Reasoning by first principles, however, forces me to pause and identify the core problem. It forces me to define what my desired result is. In this case, I just wanted the oranges I picked off to be intact. It doesn’t matter how I accomplish this. I don’t necessarily have to prevent oranges from falling at all—I just need to prevent them from breaking on impact. Intending to soften the landing of oranges dislodged from the tree, I found a wooden board, sliced out a few shards, and positioned it against the tree at an angle. In simple jugaad fashion, I made a ramp that could shepherd oranges as they fell and soften the blow of gravity. With a scrap of wood, I was able to harvest twice as many oranges in half the time. 

Defining the desired outcome and reasoning from fundamental truths is a key aspect of product marketing. The role is not just about content creation or indiscriminate awareness generation. As you engage in authoring a blog, developing a webinar, or building content, adopting an outcome-centric over an output-centric mindset is critical to meeting goals, whether that’s increased revenue generation or getting more users. 

In an output-centric mindset, the metrics are often leading indicators of success. 25 blogs, 3 webinars this quarter, 10 case studies for a use case. Moreover, the playbook for generating this content can quickly transform to referring to that of competitors. With this mindset, the product marketing process can become bound to quantity and the industry’s dogma. The closest competitor’s typical solution brief has a top section devoted to show company accolades, analyst statements, and metrics on how much they’ve saved their clients? Dogmatic thinking would say copy it. 

With an outcome-oriented approach, every campaign, asset, and effort has a clear purpose. Creating an asset should start with the desired outcome. For a communication and messaging platform startup trying to win more healthcare customers, the goal would be to address concerns around the security of the platform and healthcare data transmitted and stored. Since healthcare providers may be cautious in adopting newer platforms, they likely want to see other organizations in their industry show success with the messaging platform. In addition to content that can help them make a decision, they want social proof. By considering the goal—win more healthcare customers—and how to accomplish it, the projects to embark on become clear. It may make sense to focus on creating web and white paper assets on healthcare security and create case studies on existing healthcare customers. For this startup, they might want to include quotes from executives of healthcare organizations who have benefitted from their product. By considering the goal, the focus shifts from gaining asset parity with the competition towards creating key outcomes.

Jugaad thinking helps you think less about going through an organizational checklist and more on customer needs. During a product launch, there may be moments when deviating from the team’s traditionally held launch bill of materials is necessary. Rather than delivering a solution brief, a sales deck, and a FAQ for the sake of checking off the mandated list of assets to create, take a step back during your next launch planning hour and define the following: 

  1. What is the purpose of this launch? What corporate and company-level objectives am I trying to move forward? 
  2. What is the real value of this product I’m trying to launch and how does it benefit my target audience?
  3. What does my sales organization need to effectively sell to this persona, and how can I reach my audience? 

By forcing yourself to answer these questions, content takes a step back and the customer and your company take center stage. Now, the questions don’t revolve around the number of pieces of content to create but around the best way to address the needs of your customer and company. The questions shift from revolving around the number of sales enablement content to churn out to understanding the optimal steps to ensure that revenue grows by 70% year-over-year.

Delivering Value Through Empathy

Imagine heading to a café for your usual cup of coffee, but today, the barista offers to roast the beans and grind them but informs you that due to budget constraints, customers—you—are responsible for everything else: brewing, frothing the milk, and pouring it in a cup. You would probably walk out as quickly as you walked in. If you had to make two-thirds of your cup of coffee, you would have done it at home, right? You went to the café so you could unwind with an e-reader in one hand and a warm mocha in the other. You didn’t make a visit to use the shop’s espresso machine to brew a cup for yourself. 

Although the café might believe they’re in the business of providing tools and coffee mix to make a cup of coffee, customers want the complete package. They want to be able to quickly choose a cup of coffee, pay for it, and quickly be able to savor it in their hand.

This seems simple enough. A business solves customer problems. However, the intricacies of your product or domain can get in the way of this fundamental truth. Regardless of the nature of your product—whether it’s a pair of sneakers or cybersecurity software for large enterprises—your business should solve real customer problems. Understanding your customers is the core step in being able to identify both articulable and inarticulable needs. 

That’s why I believe a jugaad approach offers lessons in understanding and solving real problems. For some, jugaad implies the circumvention of a problem or a makeshift, temporary hack. It’s much more than that. Jugaad is about identifying the essence of a challenge and the core problems at hand, and then solving it. According to Professor Jaideep Prabhu, author of Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth, over the years, a rift between product development teams and marketing has grown, with more value and emphasis attributed chiefly to the technological development of products. Prabhu states however that in a hyper-competitive market like today, jugaad offers a solution to maintain an edge: put customer needs at the forefront of every decision, from development to pricing. After all, companies are in the business of meeting customer needs. 

This isn’t a radical concept. Understanding customers and their needs more closely can help us innovate in a way that delivers real value and allows us to communicate value in a way that resonates. And being able to deliver greater value enables us to capture more value—helping both our customers and our business succeed.According to Jaideep Prabhu, “marketers are central to driving the jugaad innovation process in the organization.” In other words, customer focus for product marketers is not a suggestion, it’s part of the job.

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