Creativity Behind Jugaad Innovation

In 2001, when an earthquake caused extensive damage in rural Gujarat, Mansukh Prajapati, a potter, found his inspiration. Reading the caption, “Poor man’s fridge broken!”, under the picture of a broken earthen clay pot in a newspaper, sparked an idea in him. “Why  not use clay, he thought, to make a real fridge for villagers – one that looks like a typical fridge, but is more affordable and doesn’t need electricity?

Prajapati experimented with different clay designs over several months and ultimately created Mitticool – a refrigerator that doesn’t use electricity and is significantly more affordable for villagers who don’t always have access to electricity. The refrigerator quickly became popular and his company now creates many other clay products.

This kind of innovation – born out of a desire to solve relevant problems in the cheapest way possible – has come to be called Jugaad innovation. Jugaad, a Hindi word, means a resourceful hack using available or frugal resources. Examples of Jugaad innovation abound in many developing countries like India, China and Brazil.

What is fascinating about Jugaad or frugal innovation, is not just the creativity behind it, but also that it is tied closely to reverse innovation. Reverse innovation refers to the trend of innovation from low-income markets entering and disrupting wealthier markets, a change from the typical flow of innovation. Trends show that in the 21st century more innovation, a large part of which is Jugaad innovation, is coming from developing markets with the potential to move into developed markets.

Radjou, Prabhu and Ahuja, who researched frugal innovation and popularized the phrase Jugaad innovation, identified six principles that underlie jugaad that include seeking opportunity in adversity, keeping things simple and thinking flexibly.

While some of the principles relate to having the right mindset, from a cognitive perspective, flexible and simplistic thinking is key to frugal innovation. Some creativity techniques that can help spur frugal thinking are:


While typical innovation adds more features and complexity, frugal innovation works by removing key components and then figuring out a way to make the idea work. For example, I recently gave a challenge to a group of middle schoolers to design a washing machine that doesn’t use electricity. By removing a central part of the product, students were forced to think in different ways to manually rotate a barrel. They came up with several different ideas like connecting the barrel to a stationary bicycle or using a pumping mechanism like that in a salad spinner.


Another way to generate low cost solutions is to try and substitute with simpler or cheaper materials. Trying to find a substitute is the other side of the coin to typical divergent thinking. This approach can also lead to ideas that work well enough but at a much lower cost. For example, one student idea for a different challenge was to reuse discarded (and cleaned) socks to make low cost diaper linings.

Jugaad represents the best of creativity – being able to find a solution or a way out despite extreme resource constraints. And developing the skills and mindset for such innovation is becoming increasingly important for companies to solve important problems and stay relevant.

3 Simple Ways to Add Creativity in Math

In a study by the US Department of Education, 81% of 4th graders reported having a positive attitude towards mathematics but that number drops significantly to 35% for 8th graders. Somehow, in the span of four years, children lose their interest in the subject, and as a result their performance declines. Professor Eric Mann, believes that “keeping students interested and engaged in mathematics by recognizing and valuing their mathematical creativity may reverse this tendency.”

In fact, research has shown that creativity can actually help students acquire content knowledge. But, how can we encourage creativity in mathematics, a subject usually considered linear and inflexible? A few people have come up with ways to twist math problems to make them more creative and fun. So, here are three simple ways to add more creativity in mathematics.

Problem Finding

Problem finding, or problem posing, in any domain is considered to be an important and integral aspect of creativity. For this activity, students are asked to come up with as many different problems as they can with a given situation. One example that Harpen and colleagues used to evaluate creativity is:

In the picture above (Fig. a), there is a triangle and its inscribed circle. Make up as many problems as you can that are related to this picture.

Most students were able to come up with problems involving Lengths (“If the triangle is a right triangle, the hypotenuse is 2, another angle is 60o, find the radius of the circle”) or Areas (“Given the radius of the circle r, find out the minimum are of the triangle”). Creative students were able to pose questions from different fields of mathematics including less obvious ones like probability (“If you are to drop something to the circle, what is the probability of it falling into the triangle?”).

Divergent Thinking

Mathematical problems with many possible solutions can help build divergent thinking skills. Exploring multiple solutions forces students to look beyond the obvious and . One such problem posed by Haylock is:

Given a nine-dot centimeter-square draw as many shapes as possible with an area of 2cm2, by joining up the dots with straight lines.

Most children come up with the easiest solution of drawing a rectangle 2cm x 1cm, but finding other kinds of shapes gets harder.  One highly creative solution shown in the picture above (Fig. b) uses two new ideas –  connecting non-adjacent dots and using an internal angle of 315o.

Overcoming Fixation

A key aspect of creativity is to break free from routine patterns of thinking (flexible thinking). By forcing students to drop their established mindsets helps them in examining a problem from different perspectives and arriving at better solutions. In the same study, Haylock gave students a series of questions in which the students are asked to find two numbers given their sum and difference. The first few example use only positive integers which sets the student’s mindset to expect solutions that use only positive whole numbers. Then the students are asked:

Find two numbers where the sum is 9 and the difference is 2.

A surprisingly large number of students assert that this is not possible. The more creative students were able to remove the self-imposed constraint of using only whole numbers and get to the right solution (5.5 and 3.5).

MindAntix Brainteaser: Many Uses

One of the most common divergent thinking tasks is the Alternate Uses (AU) Task where you take an everyday object and think of different uses it can be put to. For example, a cup could  be used as a flower vase or as a hat or even as a toy. Designed by psychologist J.P. Guilford in 1967, the Alternative Uses Task is used as a standard creativity task to evaluate fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration of responses. But coming up with creative ideas is tricky because most people find it hard to move beyond their first strong associations. So, how can you jumpstart your brain into thinking of novel ideas?

In a study done on the Alternate Uses Task, researchers found that participants arrived at more novel responses after listing more obvious ones (typically after 10 or more responses). In a different study on divergent thinking strategies, researchers analyzed how participants responded to alternate uses and discovered some interesting patterns. They found four underlying mechanisms that people use to trigger new ideas: Memory Use (pull pre-known responses from memory), Property Use (pick a property and search for functions using that property), Broad Use (review the object against a broad use like “transport”), and Disassembly Use (pick a component of the object and find a use for it).

We can apply the three step process for creative thinking to our cup example to discover novel ideas in a more structured way. As the first step, we dissect the object into its properties (glass, metal, round), function (drink liquids from), or assumptions (hold liquids, kept open side up). In the next step, we can try and change one or more of these properties and then see if the resulting object could be used for something else. For instance,

  • instead of holding liquids, it could hold solids (vase, piggy bank, pencil holder).
  • if it was inverted it could be used as hat or a lamp shade.
  • if it was made of paper, you could cut the circle at the bottom and use that as a coin.

Once you dissect in many dimensions, you get many more starting points to modify things and come up with neat uses. In fact, the responses deemed most creative (property use) in the divergent thinking study fit neatly into the dissect and manipulate approach. You could also include the third step, associate, to increase your idea fluency. For example if you attach a string and a ball to the cup you could make a new kind of paddle ball or kendama.

So, when you attempt the “Many Uses” brainteasers (a loosely constrained version of Alternate Uses) on MindAntix, or similar problems elsewhere, try to dissect and change things to trigger more unusual connections. And remember, your best ideas will likely come in the second wave – after the more obvious ones.