Monday, December 7, 2009

India and China Becoming Leading Innovators

As many of our businesses and jobs are being taken over by places like India and China, we still like to tell ourselves that at least Americans are more innovative and creative than they are. If this ever was true it might not be for very long. American companies are beginning to turn to other countries for innovative ideas not just for cheap, dependable and plentiful workers.

India's new improvisational style of invention called jugaad, focuses on being innovative, fast and cheap. The Hindi slang word, jugaad (pronounced "joo-gaardh") translates to an improvisational style of innovation that's driven by scarce resources and attention to a customer's immediate needs, not their lifestyle wants. It captures how companies like Tata Group, Infosys Technologies, and other Indian corporations have gained international stature. The term seems likely to enter the lexicon of management consultants, mingling with popular terms like Six Sigma, total quality, lean, and kaizen (the Japanese term for continuous improvement).

Americans are wishfully suggesting that Indian-style innovation is just a fad, or that it implies cutting corners, disregarding safety, or providing shoddy service. Some hint that it might involve corruption (supposedly unlike American businesses). You can just hear an American innovator saying "I'm not sure how this is different from old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity." Well, I guess the difference is that it is happening in India.

Already, companies as varied as Best Buy, Cisco Systems, and Oracle are employing jugaad as they create products and services that are more economical both for supplier and consumer.

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