Indeed many many middle managers will never …

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Leading Business Innovators today

March 16, 2007 7:07 pm 0 comments

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This is a post I feel strongly about, and will have a beginning, some history, the present, and conclusions.

A lot of people say that businessmen in Pakistan just do not want to innovate on business models or create new standards of business best practice — that businessmen here stop seeking breakthroughs as long as they make their margins every month.

I dont agree with that. While not as much as could be, I do believe there is enough vision in the ranks of business leaders in Pakistan. What they lack is the management and operational team that can help execute on them.

Indeed many many middle managers will never care to have enough vested interest to drive a certain vision to completion — the CEO has to be so involved in operational day-to-day matters that strategic realignment is often lost.

What I also think Pakistani businessmen often forget to do is to compare themselves with the global playing field of standards. It is like the nauseating interview candidate who comes in and starts comparing your company with others around you — “Oh well they send their people to Bankgok for training, so every company should!”

On a business leadership level, I believe we might also be doing the same — comparing ourselves often with just the local companies around us rather than leading international businesses.

If we study it enough, all we see is that the huge market influencers such as IBM, Dell, Walmart, GE, Sony etc are that simply because of fantastic business decisions, yet there is something else that stops our local shops from aiming at the stars.

I would call it a reluctance to be a leader, or the reluctance to innovate.

Take it from me: Business Innovation is hard, taxing, and brutal. It takes a will of steel to invest in directions that no one else around you sees as a feasible idea, and the determination of legends to push through criticism, speculation, and doubt from peers, the industry and even your own staff as the vision is executed.

Then it happens — you have a brief laugh as your efforts come to fruition and all of your critics realize they missed the boat in the next wave of business influence. However, this is just the beginning — you are then taxed with the responsibility of being that global role-model of pure business practice and ethics, and the expectations of your stakeholders double-up accordingly.

Indeed, management and business innovation is one of the black arts of the ancients.

In its essence, however, that is precisely what it takes to break through. Here are two simple examples from yester-years:

Walmart, at a time when it was just a small discount retailer, set a vision to be the lowest-cost departmental retailer in all of America. The vision was grand, and required meticulous planning and $$MMs of investment in a distribution and logistics IT system unlike any seen before it (and unlike many that exist even today).

It was a huge investment, and an impossible vision, but we can easily see where it has led.

Another fantastic example I quote is the mastermind that is Michael Dell. Realizing very early that the competition in the commodity PC business will be won based on quality customer service, Dell invested $$MMs in a state-of-the-art Customer Contact Center, E-Commerce website, and a “futuristic” (for its time) Just-in-time supply chain management system spread out across the globe.

The result (simply put) was that up through 3 years ago Dell raced so far ahead in the PC business it caused some of the bigger names like Compaq and Gateway to be eaten alive.

These are two simple examples of people who were able to see far enough ahead that they were able to become market leaders.

How do we learn this art? What can we see sitting today that can help us shape our future business decisions? What are we missing out on sitting in Pakistan?

The big understatement, I’m afraid, is: A LOT.

The world today is undergoing such a dramatic and impressive shift that it can cause giddy euphoric moments of pure joy to the people analyzing it (ok, just me then). In a move that empowers consumers unlike any time before it, everything is going back to the basics — back to what should have defined capitalism to begin with.

All of the old-school marketing, economic theory, intellectual property and copyright law, digital rights management etc. are gone. Everything is starting from scratch again. Everything is open to debate, and everything is being debated as you read this in blogs, podcasts and wikis all over the world.

Except…. none of us are getting involved! Now! When — more than ever — we have platforms available for Pakistanis to be recognized in the global stage of intellectual debate, we still live with pre-determined perceptions of our future.

Our MBA grads are still coming out of schools trained in 15 year old theories of push-based marketing, and are expecting the world to recognize and reward that.

Our intellectuals are still only listening to people that speak synonymously to themselves.

Our business managers are still only looking around themselves in the local country to make decisions on how to compete with each other on basic business tactics such as limiting supply to inflate prices on shipments.

This follows the economics of Scarcity, and we live in a New World which follows the Economics of Abundance / Long-tail economics, economics of micro-packaging, etc.

What about the rest of the world. So who is “getting it” — who are the leading business innovators today?

Interestingly enough, its the same people.

Dell recognizes that consumers are the biggest influencers of business success today in the world of Prosumerism and community-driven products. As a result, the company has started a blog to share ideas directly with customers in Direct2Dell, and even allows its customers to give products ideas to them with Dell IdeaStorm

Does this work? Go to Idea Storm and look for yourself. In short, now the customers of Dell are telling them what products to make, what features to add, how to package them. Dell gets immediate forecasted demand and reduced risk on planning new product features, and all they have to do is make the products their customers want.

Brilliant! Surely these people have a lot to teach about the black art of innovation.

And oh yea, Walmart is at it too.

Walmart recognizes that the new-age distribution economies depend on micro-packaging of media as opposed to bulk pushing. With more and more consumers looking for the media they want, when they want it, and how they want it, and at the exact moment they think of it, Walmart has started a completely online movie purchase store.

There are a whole lot more people getting on the bandwagon this time, including the Wall Street Journal, TV gurus such as Michael Eisner, NBC and many others.

Even though some or a lot of these decisions look dumb at the moment, they could very well lead the pack with the calculated risks taken.

The interesting thing is, these innovative changes do not require $$MMs of investment in time or money — they are even less costly than the shady games of limiting supply and pushing political pressure on each other.

So instead of doing those, why dont we all just get together, integrate horizontally and push our business onto the world together?

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