How do you rate your company? What skills do corporate leaders need to succeed? Will breaking out of the box of conventional thinking create jobs?
The skills that managers need to succeed include a results orientation, strategic thinking, team collaboration and influence, awareness of change, market understanding and inclusiveness. It’s a long list, no manager is perfect, no one can be strong in all areas.
At the most basic level, there is what the Irish would call the ‘bog standard’, this is the expected, nothing unusual, the ‘same old, same old’.
Here the CEO is working almost at just getting by, a survival level. Would you eat a tomato that has just survived on the vine? Well you might if you are desperately hungry. In the cyclical ups and downs of corporate fortunes ‘hanging in there’ is admirable.
On, for example, the manager’s ‘results orientation’ continuum, on a 7-point scale, at the lowest end it goes from completing assignments, working to make things better, achieving targets, and exceeding targets all the way up to improving practices and performance, redesigning practices for breakthrough results, to transforming the business model.
So getting results goes from a rather bureaucratic completing tasks on time, all the way up to an almost paradigm like shift of recreating the business model. In mind-set, at the higher of end of the results continuum this is shifting from a cautious risk averse “It can’t be done” to “Why not?”
For managers, why is this ability to create, invent, redesign so uncommon?
‘Transform’ is word that is used quite loosely, more in a ‘marketing hype’ like way. Water transforms from a solid, to a liquid and then gas based on the laws of physics.
The path of least resistance
In human psychology, there is a tendency to take the path of least resistance, and simply copy, and imitate what others are doing. Makes sense, if it worked for them, it will work for us. In, for instance, the crowded banking and insurance sectors there is a lot of the equivalent of corporate plagiarism. Doing what the other company is doing, but perhaps hoping to do it just a little bit better.
The same process happens in the NGO–donor community, applying almost identical thinking and tired old frameworks, not because they represent a breakthrough in impact, but more because they are comfortable, preserving the status quo.
Here the focus is on looking good, and not questioning the fundamental assumptions, operating in the realm of conventional wisdom.
Every so often a Steve Jobs like ‘think for yourself’ character comes along with more an inquiring Clayton Christensen innovative-like mind and asks ‘Why not?’ In the beginning, that product while it may work, just serving a small niche market, will be ignored by larger corporate players, because they cannot see how it will be profitable. However, with time, often the once small unprofitable product, moves up the value chain, into a larger market based on working better and cheaper, and can go on to disrupt the larger corporates.
Job creation by problem-harvesting
Like most African countries, Kenya with a young population, where 60 percent of people are 25 years and younger, creating livelihoods, and raising household incomes is a must. Job creation is an issue the government and the NGO–donor community tries to address, often by taking more conventional approaches, usually based on aiming to intervene, by increasing the access to market share of existing products and services.
So far so good, but the catch is market forces demand is limited. An alternate approach would be to apply first principles thinking and go back and ask, for instance: What is the customer problem that needs to be solved? What is the need, the customer need that is not being met? What is the market essential that is not being met?
At the micro level, the smart entrepreneur harvests customer problems that they can solve, building the business around it. At the macro level, of the nation-state, in addition to accessing existing markets, jobs are built by creating new industries.
Shifting from the merely compliant, getting a task done, to the imaginative breakthroughs, begins in the grey matter. "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them," said Albert Einstein.
David is a director at aCatalyst Consulting. [email protected]