Friday, September 20, 2013

Innovation, innovation, innovation

"Microsoft continues to market excellent office productivity software . . . Yet these are successes engineered by a company that is, essentially, a very profitable utility, not a company that is a groundbreaking innovator . . . Steve Ballmer certainly was not the only reason for [Microsoft's] failures, but it ultimately was his responsibility, as Chief Executive to fix them. His departure is long overdue, and his successor has a lot of work to do." [Six opportunities Steve Ballmer missed at Microsoft, Bloomberg, 23rd Aug 2013]
There are two things to note in the above: (a) it is a straightforward and dispassionate assessment; and (b) the imperative of innovation in the 21st century.
It was many years ago and the Sales VP of the US operations of my old MNC company (his retirement was due in a matter of weeks) was reminiscing the times he travelled to the Philippines to introduce sales training to the sales force. And he was talking animatedly about the then more recent "fact-based selling" as opposed to "relationship-selling." But he was making a bigger point: he thought that the moving of a growing number of non-Americans to New York was bringing a battlefield/global perspective into updating our training curriculum, among other things. Yet in contemporary times even a corporate jargon could be evolving faster; and in this particular case, from "fact-based selling" to "sales management is information management."
And years later, my Eastern European friends would more than surprise me because they've gone well beyond the jargon: twice a day managers, with no human intervention, would see in their mailboxes an updated "information dashboard" to focus them on the state of the critical business drivers. And, as importantly, it sets them up to: (a) make a dispassionate assessment; and (b) take the necessary managerial action. And the better trained they were and the more markets they've been exposed to, the more innovation they were able to bring to bear. It must be human nature at work: they would want to demonstrate mastery subsequent to the couple of years when I ran the sales force – and proudly show how far they've brought the spirit of the jargon.
But then for the ones we assigned to Asia, the first cultural lesson they had to learn was about relationship – i.e., that relationship comes first. They've heard about the 8 months I spent traveling to China before the joint venture (with my old MNC company) came to fruition. And very recently while still on my summer break, I would smile upon reading an email that said we were delivering a-celebratory champagne to a company friend in Hong Kong (who belonged to the network of supporters that we had cultivated) to mark the day when our first TV ad aired in Hong Kong. (And it's not just a fancy slogan; it's driven by a high value-added product with healthy margins thus a high-cost environment like Hong Kong is desirable, not a barrier.)
Of course, we Pinoys are masters in cultivating relationships. But do we then struggle to figure out when relationship ends and the objective and fair begins? And so our “pakiramdam” would rule our problem-definition and problem-solving – as in land reform, as in party-list, or as in EPIRA? And what about innovation? If a Microsoft could be labeled a utility as opposed to a groundbreaking innovator, aren't our major enterprises in fact franchises and concessionaires, or utilities? But they are high up in our hierarchy and so we defer to them? Conversely, we see global competition through the prism of exchange rates and tariffs instead of innovative products; and because we're small, we are likely to be bullied?
And how come Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand could dominate inter-ASEAN trade to the extent of 70 percent? First we complained against the West; will our neighbors be next? And because we can't win in our region we think we can win in Europe? Are there still door-to-door salesmen? Selling and marketing has become targeted, no longer shotgun; meaning, we must understand the consumer and the product that will meet her needs. [Those who've seen Jobs, the movie, would feel for Steve Wozniak who felt Jobs was an egomaniac for being so obsessed about every product they were developing?] It must be said again, because it is crucial to our economy, that industry must be driven by a sustainable economic activity (i.e., margins) and a sustainable market (i.e., innovation.) Sadly, we've chosen oligopoly as religion, and influence peddling as its rewards – reflective of our hierarchical culture? And we wonder why we are economic laggards – while putting on our best face as in fatalism?

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