Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Jugaad Innovation at its best

My first train experience of travelling in a general class was all that I thought it was going to be and more.

Scenario: Its 3 PM, 6 girls are in an urgent need to get to Hyderabad from Bhopal and no last minute ‘real’ tickets are available.

The options were to either stand in a 30 people long queue to book general class tickets or to spend the night on the platform till next morning to book sleeper class tickets to Hyderabad. We valued our time more… which meant- being stuck with guthka chewing, paan eating, beedi smoking uncles and boys in a jam packed train compartment for the next 16 hours.

The lady sitting on one of the berths stretched the moment she saw us walk in, indicating she will not move. There were two men sitting near her feet, one could be her husband and the other her 4th son; she had 3 kids climbing all over her. In a general class every inch on the floor is taken, so finding an inch on the seats is out of the question. You can't expect the least bit of chivalry from Indian men. You will know that if you have ever been on an RTC bus, where the ladies seats are occupied by men and the women just stand.

Two hours into the ride the pantry guy walked in on rounds(yes,the pantry guy comes to general too, apparently) and asked us why we were not in the 'ladies compartment'? We all shouted in unison "there is a ladies compartment?". "Of course there is a ladies compartment!" I thought to myself. We were the only 6 girls with 3 old ladies in an entire compartment filled with men.

In the next few hours I experienced first hand why middle India has the potential to create great entrepreneurs and  here are 10 reasons as to why I believe so:

1. Jugaad innovation runs through our veins:  Jugaad innovation which is being adopted globally today is indigenous to our country. The middle India is so frustrated with the system that they have come up with brilliant ways to beat it. Indian railways poses many problems like poor passenger management, not having enough seats to satisfy the volumes of travelers, old compartments, not providing enough plug points to charge the cell phones(everyone in India has cell phones today) and poor bathroom facilities(the stink when you enter the door!). In my experience, the solutions to all these problems came from the people and not the government with their big RnD budgets. Even though you are constantly surrounded by people breaking rules in every which way possible, whether it be stealing electricity(maybe its generated freely through dynamos when the train moves, but its still stealing) or peeing out of the main exit door, sleeping on the luggage cabin and making yourself a new berth with a cloth hammock; you understand that it is the way of life in India and can't help but appreciate their innovative streak.

2. Proactive: Don't be fooled by their pot bellies, they are more active than they look. When it comes to their own work they will move mountains, as the saying goes. 

3. Competitive: You see this competitive me-first-attitude on the streets where if you are trying to take a U turn you need to wait an hour because everyone is trying to beat the person behind them. Most of all while standing in the queues. 

4. Frugal: From housewives to maids and tailors to doodh walas (milk man), middle India is best at cost cutting and coming up with unique ways to save money. Like carrying their own bag to the market, using the gardening pipe for the AC condenser or taking their own food during travel. Bhayya, yeah doodh mai pani hai ki paani mai doodh? (Is that water in my milk or milk in my water?) I don't know why I even bothered spending 240 rs on my general class ticket where half my compartment was travelling without tickets(no one checks for tickets in general class).

5. They have great stories to tell: When you are surrounded by real India, you hear some of the best stories they have to share. As Blake Mycoskie says in his book "Start something that matters", the ability to tell stories is the key for your product to work.

6. They are their own boss: Despite the number of times I've told people on a train not to throw trash out the window, they still do so! Right in front of me! After having just told them! They don't need anyone to tell them what to do, they are their own boss.

7. They are Flexible: Accommodating  8 people on a 4 seater.... now that's flexible!

8. They have a great support system of family, friends and community: At Namaaz time, I found people clean the little patch they could find in the middle of the coupe, and take turns one by one to do their prayer on the small piece of checkered cloth laid on the floor. With such limited place it was surprising to see how they found a square meter of block for their prayer and everyone in the on the compartment co-operated to let 20 of them take turns one after another to say their prayers. That's where unity in diversity is best demonstrated and the community approach India is made of.

9. They selfishly care for their kind: They give a lot of self importance which translates into caring for others. Most innovations or phenomena have been discovered out of a need of a specific demographic. But now reaches even people outside of the target group and global communities are befitting from it. 

10. They take calculated risks: Perhaps the stupidest example ever, but in Mumbai locals, passengers take calculated risks everyday! While climbing and hanging off the overflowing doors of a fast moving train. Even though it is a stupid thing to do, they still dared to do it, which makes them fearless.

Maximizing space:

 Maximizing resources:

The pretty view from the window of the Deccan Plateau:

Sleeping on the baggage shelf was definitely a better option than breaking my back sitting on the edge of a seat for 5 hours:

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