An interview with Simone Ahuja

by Shradha Shreejaya on July 7, 2013

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Daily, we read and often encounter women who are successful in their fields, beautiful or leaders with innovative ideas. And then there are those, who combine all these and create a new wave of difference. In our interview, we listen to the thoughts of Dr. Simona Ahuja, founder of a marketing and stratgey based company, and co-author of the latest release 'Jugaad Innovation : Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth' (Random House, 2012).

1. Your book has been co-authored along with 2 other writers. How was this experience? How did you all reconcile your varied thoughts and ideas into one form?

The experience was extremely positive.  Each of us brought a unique vantage – academic, analyst and on-the-ground/practitioner and each helped bring a perspective that we could not have achieved on our own.  The trick was to find one writing “voice”, since each of us have different writing styles – but ultimately we found one that strongly supported the contents of the book.

2. Can you tell us the role of jugaad in other cultures or contexts – how it is different in a place like US with contrast to India? For instance, the US is known for excesses or having enough of everything. What role does jugaad play in that kind of society?

This is an important question.  Jugaad occurs out of necessity, it’s often borne out of scarcity and breeds a resourceful, improvisational mindset that helps you use whatever resources are at hand to find a solution.  Meanwhile, jugaad innovation is a lower cost, flexible and inclusive approach to innovation, and it’s a mindset that Western enterprises must take on to survive in an increasingly fast-paced and complex economic environment. 

I do find that it’s more of a challenge to imbue this mindset into the culture of our US based corporate clients simply because the individuals that make up a corporation are typically more resource rich.  Interestingly, we see jugaad innovation occurs naturally with US based entrepreneurs – particularly those with limited resources.  There’s also a DIY (do-it-yourself) culture that is emerging in the US and globally – one that, like jugaad in India, doesn’t rely on big institutions like government or corporations to solve problems.  In many ways, DIY culture has elements that are parallel to jugaad.

3. You’ve been a part of TV Documentaries on PBS (Indique) and now you have co-authored a book. What is the medium you prefer and why? – the written word or the broadcasted ideas?

The Indique series was commissioned by Fortune 100 CE company Best Buy as they were looking at approaches to innovation in emerging markets such as India, and how these might be relevant in a US context.  What I enjoyed about creating video case studies was the sheer amount of time it allowed me to spend in the field.  Essentially, it was several months of ethnographic research in urban and rural India and video allows me to share the lessons learned from grassroots entrepreneurs to CEOs – something I continue to do when we offer value innovation labs to clients here in the US.  It’s a very effective way to share the message of jugaad innovation.

4. You founded Blood Orange, a marketing and strategy consultancy that focuses on innovation and emerging markets. What were the challenges you faced as a startup in a competitive place like the US where startups are an every day thing?

The greatest challenge is always about brand – competing with more well known consultances.  However, since our book has been so well received globally by publications like the Economist, and corporate leaders such as Carlos Ghosn (CEO, Renault-Nissan), it provides much easier entrée into particularly large enterprises.  Ultimately, we are a boutique consultancy and so can offer clients significant customization as we work with them in a collaborate and I would say non-traditional way  Our clients appreciate this and often our business is based on referrals.

5. Who are the strongest influences in your life?

My heroes in real life are all those who go out there and try, who make a difference and aren’t standing on the sidelines criticizing others who are trying.  Last night, I watched a documentary about Muhammad Ali, the boxer.  His intellect and mental toughness in standing up for what he believed in is truly inspiring.  This kind of authenticity is what inspires me.  I can find it in an adult, a child…pretty much anywhere.

6. Can you share a jugaad idea that made a lot of difference in your personal/professional life?

Working in India with my own teams (both US and India-based) taught me to better understand jugaad innovation.  The ability to be frugal and have a flexible mindset in India is so inherent, that it’s often not seen as an advantage.  When I return to the US and see how powerful this mindset can be, and how challenging it is to acquire, I appreciate having had an immersive experience that taught me to be more resourceful and improvisational in my own problem solving approach.

7. Given a chance, what is the one thing you’d like to change in/about India and its people?

This is a very difficult question – India has so much to offer historically, culturally, intellectually and otherwise.  I suppose if I had to choose something I would say that India still feels very hierarchical, and I would like to see a more truly meritocratic society emerge in the coming years – it would only enhance what the country already has to offer.

8. “All’s fair in love and war” – your take on this?

This is really another way of saying have a flexible mindset – which is so important.  The ability to reframe a scenario can completely change one’s perspective, and approach to problem solving, to relationships, to life. Having said that, I believe it’s important that human beings treat each other with kindness and respect – so while I appreciate this metaphorically, I don’t buy it literally.  My version of this is, “It is what it is.”

9. Who would you recommend to our readers for a good read on startups in the field of innovation?

Lean Start Up by Eric Ries, and the Misfit Economy, an upcoming book by Kyra Maya Phillips and Alexa Clay that explores the world of informality and the lessons it holds for the rest of the world – who should be paying close attention to the gray areas.

10. What are you reading currently?

I am re-reading Vikram Seth’s, A Suitable Boy, and enjoying the architecture of each page, the very fine details in descriptions that I miss when reading business books!

Thank you very much Dr.Simone Ahuja for taking out time from your busy schedule for this interview with Indiabookstore. We wish to see more breakthrough innovation in coming days to think and live better.

Related Links
Learn more about Jugaad Innovation..

Written by Shradha Shreejaya

Still figuring the exacts. Bibliophile by choice and student by nature.

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