Society

Fast and curious ride to enterprise glory

elon

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk. AFP PHOTO

Summary

  • Kenya’s recent business history suggests today’s winners may fall victim to what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction’, the enviable rise and fall of business fortunes.
  • With African roots, Elon Musk (above), born in Pretoria in 1971, has just been announced as one of the world’s richest individuals with a net worth of US $185 billion (Sh19 trillion), overtaking Jeff Bezos.
  • Twenty years ago, Musk who was bullied as a child, was a virtual unknown, in the midst of the dot com boom, experimenting with business models; founding an online bank called X.com.

Paying attention to time and asking ‘Why’ make all the difference. Noticing what the majority see every day, yet fail to notice, may lead you to be a disruptive market leader of tomorrow.

Kenya’s recent business history suggests today’s winners may fall victim to what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction’, the enviable rise and fall of business fortunes. With African roots, Elon Musk (above), born in Pretoria in 1971, has just been announced as one of the world’s richest individuals with a net worth of US $185 billion (Sh19 trillion), overtaking Jeff Bezos.

Twenty years ago, Musk who was bullied as a child, was a virtual unknown, in the midst of the dot com boom, experimenting with business models; founding an online bank called X.com.

What’s the time?

Theoretical physicists tell us there are two dimensions to reality, physical space and time. If we don’t pay attention to time we are living in a ‘never never’ land of fantasy, just hoping for the best.

How businesses treat time provides a revealing insight into their organisational culture, and their ability to get things done. Forget the standard fancy vision-mission statements that says the organisation that can do the equivalent of ‘walk on water’. How a company treats time, how quickly they respond to customers and business partners is an indicator of their financial and operational health.

Interestingly, it is often the more senior decision makers who are better able to respond quickly, within the hour. In contrast, to the disengaged staff member, itching to move on to a higher paying job, who just doesn’t bother to get in touch.

In the mid 1960s, communication guru Marshal McLuhan coined the phrase the ‘medium is the message’ anticipating the Facebook, social media information age we inhabit. Perception is everything, the message you get from an instant interactive Twitter post, seen on your smartphone, is very different from how you perceive reading a book. In other words, the form of the communication influences its meaning. Just as the medium is the message, response times are the message.

Is time a constant or do we perceive it differently? When you are rushed, with a zillion things to do, time moves quickly. When you’re bored, just staring at clock hoping the work day will end, time seems to slow down.

Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity says that time slows down, or speeds up, depending on how fast you move relative to something else. Imagine travelling at the speed of light in a spaceship, where the space traveller would age much slower than their twin at home.

Responding, being conscientious sends a powerful signal. Just about every business churns out the ubitiquous PR hype about how wonderful their product or service is. Getting in touch, staying in touch, building relationships one by one, is the foundation stone of business. Response times are the real litmus test of how perceptive organisations really are. Or, whether they secretly discount the value of their customers.

QUICK FIXES

Based on the time factor, money transfer products, based on time, like M-Pesa and its relatives, have transformed the economic landscape, more than most donor programmes, by making it just plain easier to do business. Time has a clear financial value; in economics future projected cash flows are discounted back to their net present value, to determine the current worth of a project or investment.

It’s an illusion to think that there are quick fixes to success in management or business. In reality, on the management palette, black and white are rarely seen. There are all sorts of shades of grey, not to mention the shocking reds and the yellows, along with the reassuring blue sky visions of a better tomorrow. Somehow, we have to be ever curious, beginning to notice what has always been right in our eyes. “What is hardest of all? That which seems most simple: to see with your eyes what is before your eyes,” said German philosopher Johann Goethe.

Some of Kenya’s most successful businesses like Equity Bank or Safaricom were built on a simple insight that the competition failed to notice or ignored.

Market leaders of today are not those of 20 years ago. In 2041, the dominant business players may barely exist today, but for sure they are going to be based on something a majority failed to have the curiosity to notice.

A good bet would be leading Kenyan CEOs two decades from now will be fast and curious. And, like Elon Musk, avid readers, with enquiring minds, and the same gender as US Vice President elect: Kamala Harris.