In the past, time would buffer whatever business leadership you may have achieved, allowing you to savour the top rung for a while before somebody else finally caught up. Not any longer. You are a leader today, and just tomorrow, you can be nudged out to become a follower, the day after, your business may collapse. The luxury of having processes, brand, money, machines and people does not bring stability enough to sustain profitable business. The diktat used to be that the West ideates and developed countries ride in its ferris wheel. Domineering power houses of business were never questioned. But suddenly, developing countries are upping the temperature, including Asian dragons bellowing fire from the nostrils by excelling in manufacturing and services. The furnace of digital heat has never been so active before.
So if you try to accomplish your short-term objective with truncated processes, youll produce a skeleton. Devoid of living substance, skeletons become fossils. Micro is your answer here. The microscope magnifies details for you to manage short-term business exceptionally well. Happenings of the world are not taking place in your boardroom or operational area, but totally outside. Dont point the microscope to your internal lab to find short-term happiness over performance thats not benchmarked. Rather, aim it to the marketplace. Youll find umpteen things to dissect or identify under the microscope lens. The magnified view may so surprise you as to encourage you to fill your short-term with succulent flesh, thereby avoiding being fossilised.
Simultaneously, to evade sinking in the mid-term, you have to carry the binoculars in your pocket to view competitor activities. Wait! You have another pocket, but the other instrument is too long. Its a telescope. Hang it to your back. As a business leader, your business driving instruments are not PowerPoint, tablet, Excel sheet or video conference reviews. You have to be equipped with the microscope, binoculars and telescope. Telescope brings the unreachable distance closer, so you can practice the new idea youve envisioned much ahead of time. In todays business domain, a leader cannot separate the three instruments made for discovery beyond the obvious in human civilisation. Can you become a leader who discovers beyond the obvious
Penetrate the market distinctly, with feet firmly on the ground microscope-like, or viewing the immediate distance with binoculars, or telescopically bridging expanse with the head pointing skywards. Thatll respectively tell you what to do today, tomorrow and in the future. Trouble follows the absence of the three vital business instruments. The pioneer of the celluloid photographic imaging industry experienced this and has since buckled under. In microscopically fine-tuning products internally to lead the market with, the company failed to address the changing mindset of customers. Thats its reason for collapse.
Indias habit of always taking a shortcut to address business requirements is just as dangerous. People in industry consider a low-cost business approach as the easy way to capture markets. Ive often heard industry people take credit for copying a German machine while adapting it to Indian conditions and, in the process, drastically reducing capital expenditure by six times. Managements pamper such engineers and give them great credit. But nobody analyses how in the global competitive scenario, they end up delivering low-value products of inferior quality with poor return on investment. The jugaad mentality of cut-and-paste improvisation to overcome an immediate constraint can be hazardous for mainstream business because such shortcuts translate to business not being sustainable. Jugaad application is certainly not compatible for the countrys industrialisation.
However, for livelihood generation of the low-income population, jugaad cannot be disrespected. Their jugaad experience of frugality and flexibility in the face of resource and money crunch is vital for survival. I honour their jugaad skills of crafting new solutions from the ground up. At the same time, government cannot shirk its responsibility of encouraging job creation in the country.
Theres disruptive change in how business was run even 10-20 years ago. Let me illustrate with the photography industry. In the celluloid film era, you needed to have film in stock, a camera at hand. Just imagine if, at your daughters birthday party, you forget to procure film, youve lost capturing that emotion forever. To even click a photograph, you have to know about ISO speed, lens aperture, follow the rituals of film processing, printing, printing quality, all of which comes after a certain lapse of time. The next day, you rush off, leaving the film roll on the table for your wife to give to the studio for processing. Suddenly, the three-year-old protagonist of that film roll wanders in and simply pulls open the celluloid with stretched hands. There! Everythings gone for a toss.
Just imagine how disruptively this industry has changed peoples mind, attitude and experience. They get instantaneous pictures today. Nobody below the age of 15 years can appreciate waiting for a photograph as of yore. This change mirrors todays radical digital nature of society. Among 800 million people carrying a mobile phone, each is carrying a camera, a totally unprecedented situation. Word messaging has given way to image messaging. Watch out. It takes only a few seconds to publicise worldwide the adultery any countrys president is getting entangled in.
Photography mania is just a symbol of how instantaneous visual memory is driving the world. At every stage, short-term, mid-term or long-term, you have to ideate beyond the obvious. You can never tell how your long-term objective may be matching your direct or indirect competitors short-term execution. In a jiffy, that will certainly make you obsolete. Yours and your competitors short-, mid- and long-term agendas are not the same. As a business leader, you have no choice but to carry a microscope, binoculars and telescope to understand the market and act to take your business forward.
Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence (www.shiningconsulting.com)