Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Christmas is a state of mind"

The Sunday just before Christmas, in his homily, the guest-priest in our suburban New York parish church talked about Christmas being a state of mind. And he made reference to Kris Kringle from the 1947 but familiar Christmas movie, "Miracle on 34th Street". That being generous and kind-hearted was why Kris Kringle was the real Santa Claus, and it's a state of mind that is not limited to Christmas Day.

And after arriving in Manila on our periodic homecoming, the first TV program I watched featured the CEO of the largest motorcycle producer in India. He talked about why and how he changed the direction of the company effectively undoing what then was the supposed success model started by his father. And that success model was founded on producing and selling cheap scooters. To one who instinctively resists change, his idea of producing more expensive motorcycles would be suicidal. And which is why he swears that innovation is a state of mind.

A serious student and being an engineer, he diligently studied modern management techniques like balanced scorecard, blue ocean strategy, six sigma, “the bottom of the pyramid” and others. But he found out that they were all superficial. "I had to think differently". Especially in a non-technology-driven business he realized he had to be different. He explained: "The consumers were effectively telling us that the success model of the past faced an uncertain future. If there were options they would prefer something they perceived as being of greater value. And that is why we had to undo something that practically everyone in the organization insisted was a success model – if it ain't broke why fix it?”

Given what has happened in the West, forward-thinking people have predicted that this would be the Asian century. “Over the last three years I’ve consistently stated my belief that Asia is emerging as a global innovation powerhouse. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons why I moved to Singapore in early 2010.” [The Asian Innovation Century, Scott Anthony, Managing Partner, Innosight (a Boston innovation consulting firm), Business Mirror, 6th Jan 2013] “While my long-term optimism remains, I think the region must overcome some serious hurdles before it can realize its full potential. Some of these, like poor infrastructure, are quite straightforward. More pernicious and harder to address are three critical mindset shifts:

First, there needs to be substantially higher tolerance for failure. Some of history’s most world-changing ideas were accidental discoveries. A fear of failure can choke off innovation. This fear is largely rooted in Asia’s regional laws, which include severe penalties for bankruptcies. But it also has to do with pressure from family, friends and co-workers. Second, a corporate culture reliant on hierarchical decision-making must open itself up to good ideas wherever they come from. Senior leaders with wisdom and institutional knowledge can certainly spark great ideas, but so too can 20-somethings without preconceived notions of what works and what doesn’t. Third, companies, particularly large ones, need a dose of humility . . . These mindsets won’t change overnight. Focused work by policy-makers and corporate leaders in three areas can help:

The more Asian leaders spend time overseas, the more Asians educated in the West return home, the more Westerners spend time in Asia, the more historical mindsets will shift in crucial ways . . . Many of the success stories in Asia over the past few decades have involved heavy government intervention, family legacies, or founders who muscled their way into resource-intensive industries. The more these stories are balanced by innovators, the more mindsets will shift . . . Many Asian countries have top-flight education systems. Yet, their overwhelming focus on facts and rote memorization can blunt students’ creative edge.

Asia’s people, cultures and religions are breathtakingly diverse. Imagine this diversity replicated in the business world. With the right mindset shifts, the vast well of innovation potential lying dormant in Asia has the potential to change the world.”

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