Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prince Harry in Afghanistan! Classic Leadership / MBWA example

Tom Peters, alumnus of the management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company and one of today's best known and highest paid management gurus, first came to prominence in 1982 with his ‘knock-out’ book; In Search of Excellence. This thought-provoking classic provided us with many valuable lessons from America's Best-Run Companies.

In his first book, Peters introduced us to the key concept of MBWA (Management By Wandering Around). MBWA does not mean leaving your responsibilities behind as you stroll through the nearest shopping mall. According to him, to "wander" with customers and vendors and our own people, is to be in touch with the first vibrations of the new. Pretty self explanatory!

To illustrate: in our highly digitised natural gas processing plant where I work, we have sensors that are connected to and closely monitor all plant conditions (pressure, temperature…e.t.c) and give instant feedback to enable instant response in emergencies. (Our plants are multi-billion dollar metals that deserve world-class monitoring and protection)
A key characteristic of effective leadership is its ability to detect changes in the eco-system and execute a seamless transition program that responds appropriately.

The nexus between MBWA and Prince Harry should be quite clear now. What on earth would a Royal and possible heir to the throne (King of England) be doing in war front you might ask (and I asked too!), particularly in a country notorious for insurgency, a drug-based economy and base for international terrorism??? Harry has spent about 10 weeks there now, and seems to be enjoying the experience of rendering service to his nation.

No pun intended, but you and I would quite agree that this isn’t a frequent occurrence in Nigeria, and by extension Africa (Where so-called leaders live in fortresses, and claim to defend the plight of the poor by ruling from those same palaces).
Harry has often been portrayed as the black sheep of the family, but his recent accomplishments speak volumes. The decision of the Royal family to allow their son to pursue his dreams also deserves applaud.

I believe Leadership largely involves experiencing and possessing the ability to relate to what every other person feels. If I can’t empathize with you, and relate with you on your level, why should I qualify to lead you?

Rick Warren in his classic “purpose driven life” talks about the strategy adopted by Saddleback, His Church. He says people who have had terrible experiences in the past, but overcame them (by God’s help of course!) are commissioned to lead and coordinate ministry arms that reach out to youths and others experiencing the same pain. In essence, the fact that you experienced and overcame a particular challenge puts you in a much better position to rescue those having similar experiences.

It’s not cast in stone that you must be an ex-evil (or have had a terrible experience) to help others, but the truth is adversity fortifies and places one in better stead to help others overcome. (I guess if Christ himself had to shed eternal glory momentarily and endure unimaginable pain to save us, then any serious minded leader must be willing to identify with his constituency)

And one more example: Barack Obama – I’m not exactly a fan, but I believe his life experiences, humble beginnings and past voluntary work have significantly aided his campaign. People are naturally drawn to those they view as having the ability to understand their needs and view points. God help Hillary as the Obama Machine seems to have stockpiles of ammo and WMDs that could keep up with the annihilation.

From a business perspective, David Packard had this to say about MBWA:

Straightforward as it sounds, there are some subtleties and requirements that go with MBWA...if it's done reluctantly or infrequently, it just won't work. It needs to be frequent, friendly, unfocused, and unscheduled—but far from pointless.

Here are some tips on how to practice MBWA:

  • Include affected employees / team members in goal setting.
  • Give frequent and meaningful recognition for a job well done.
  • Interact with employees on an informal basis.
  • Go to staff's work area. Meet them on their own turf.
  • Ask for staff's opinions and listen with an open mind.
  • Share non-confidential information with staff.
  • Offset demoralizing actions and events by emphasizing what went well
  • Listen 80% of the time and talk 20%.

MBWA works best when you are genuinely interested in people / employees and in their work and when they see you as being there to listen.

Time to add some credentials to our names folks! Check this out:
Adetayo Bamiduro, MBWA (Pretty cool! or what do you think???)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Business Minds; the criticality of relevant, optimistic and intelligent thinking

Business Minds; that’s the label of one of the most instigating books I’ve read about conducting business in the 21st century. This unique material is a profound compilation of thoughts and view-points of renowned entrepreneurs, professors and leading consultants globally. (I strongly recommend you get this text)
I extracted a few landmark pronouncements by some of these thought leaders and put them here (though some are paraphrased)

Warren Bennis: intellectual capital (know-how, skills and innovation) has supplanted capital (traditional resource-based assets) as the critical success factor….
Peter Cohan: the few firms that persist and ultimately achieve integrated transactions (ERP/ERM and enterprise-wide intelligence) are likely to enjoy a sustainable advantage over those that give up.
Arie de Gaus: long lived organizations were sensitive to their environment, cohesive with a strong sense of identity, tolerant and financially conservative. What you find out today is that the wisdom of the past has largely been reengineered away rather than appreciated and intelligently referenced.
Peter Drucker: today, you have to be a partner, not a boss! It’s a democratic relationship.
Daniel Goleman (The EQ Master): all effective leaders learn to manage their emotions, especially anger, anxiety and sadness. Pontificating and hypothesis, rather than hard data have been the currency of many leadership theorists.

Referencing data from The Hay Group on over 300 executives showed 6 separate leadership styles in use by business executives. They are:

Coercive: usually demand immediate compliance with procedures
Authoritative: mobilise people towards a compelling vision
Affiliating: create emotional bonds in the workplace
Democratic: aim to build consensus
Pacesetting: expect excellence all the way
Coaching: develop people for the future

Leaders who have mastered 4 or more of these styles especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliating and coaching strategies have been shown to have the best climate and business performance. (Seems like a bit of everything is important for success)
Leadership however certainly requires a balanced mix of pragmatism and mental agility.

Another sharp business mind, Dr. Oren Harari in the field of strategy quite accurately remarked that a truly competitive business strategy is:

Coherent: i.e. clear and makes sense to all parties
Deliverable: i.e. execution. It’s practical and can be carried out
Ever evolving: i.e. not rigid. It’s flexible and responds appropriately to internal and external changes in its business eco-system.

After studying the field of competition for a long time, he discovered that:

• Winners do strategy on the run. (i.e. adaptability, responsiveness and flexibility)
• Intangibles are more important than tangibles (brains are more than bricks)
• It’s got to be fun. Strategy should involve informality, humour, celebration and shenanigans at work. After all, we’re humans.

These next two statements I have kept at heart, as they have proven invaluable in every type of business I’ve engaged in.

Companies that catapult over conventional wisdom in order to carve out new value propositions or create new markets are the ones that create sustained competitive advantage.

In business, don’t try to make people share your values, find those who already do!

The following have been identified as major pitfalls to growth in businesses, particularly for the big and global ones. The companies in braces have been negatively impacted at one time or the other by these identified pitfalls:

Lack of a clear mission (ITT)
Underestimating your core business (Medtronic)
Depending on a single product line (Cisco)
Failure to recognise technology and market changes (Compaq)
Changing strategy without changing culture (GM)
Going outside your core-competence (Xerox and IBM)
Counting on acquisitions for growth (WorldCom and Sprint $160b merger)

Our very own business mind, Fela Durotoye (CEO, VIP Consulting) addressed some fundamental business and related issues at a meeting we had in his house.
In Fela’s words:
Your talent and the business of your talent are different things.
You need to get into the business of meeting needs, not pushing products on people.
Consulting (selling information, expertise and know-how) has proven to be the easiest way to start a business in an industry where you could eventually end up becoming a major player.

A great way to connect to people and potential clients and customers is to say and do things that make them appreciate you, and in essence say ‘thank you’.
Learn to do things to perfection, blast your tasks to pieces!
He had this to say about weaknesses. Well, we all have them, or don’t you?

Your weaknesses will not limit you until you refuse to acknowledge, respect, restrict and submit them into the hands of someone who can manage them for you.

Finally, he had these to say about attaining leadership:

Right Intention: constitutes the justification and bias for undertaking any tasks.
Excellence: You ought to build the reputation of being the best at something (especially in a highly specialised area i.e. finding a niche). Many times, it’s easier to make impact as a small growing company. Though you may not boast of size, you could certainly emphasize growth rates.
Celebrate Milestones: Your little achievements count and you should learn to tell success stories regularly to your staff and team members.
• Expertise: Realise that passion is not a substitute for knowledge, wisdom (strategy), understanding (underlying principles), expertise, genius and skill

Remember that you are the custodian of your own future. Birthing and actualising a desired future requires breaking free of controlling forces, and believe me, these forces are every where, even in the most subtle and unexpected of forms and places. This concept of controlling forces constitutes a subject on its own. Robert Liardon wrote a whole book on this. He was very candid, performed some root-cause diagnostic and approached it from a more fundamental (and Spiritual) perspective.

Many highly talented folks have been held back from venturing into the wild and attaining their full potential largely because of the demands (i.e. shackles and restraints) placed on them by loved ones to live up to certain expectations. It requires appreciable strength, determination, awareness of the bigger picture, and many times divine enablement to break free from the myriad of psychological, physiological, cultural, emotional and sometimes unexplainable impediments that attempt to inhibit the process of harnessing our potential and maximising everyday opportunities.

Nevertheless, we have a choice to escape from gravity and ascend into an unthreaded stratosphere of possibilities.

Have a good week folks!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

……Still on Business Strategy and Achieving Competitive Advantage.

Gary Hamel (one of the world’s thought leaders on the Strategy theme) clearly stated that ‘Strategic Planning is different from Business Strategising’. ‘To plan is not to create something new’ (how true!). Try to read the next sentence carefully and think about it. The objective of the revolutionary is to free the process from the tyranny of the past.
This basically is in sync with the Excellence Man, Tom Peter’s top-notch consulting advice in one of his recent presentations (in Johannesburg, SA) where he declared that Managers ought to hire crazies and unconventional people. You know what guys? I’ll just replicate the content of one of his slides below:

1. Ready. Fire! Aim.
2. If it ain’t broke ... Break it!
3. Hire crazies.
4. Ask dumb questions.
5. Pursue failure.
6. Lead, follow ... or get out of the way!
7. Spread confusion.
8. Ditch your office.
9. Read odd stuff. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…..

10. Avoid moderation!

Now, don't you take this out of context but if you are the nice, orderly gentleman (or lady) who loves to maintain order and do stuff the normal good way (with respect to business and pressing constructive change through), you might just as well ignore this piece cause this ain’t for the faint at heart!
See what these legends and thought leaders have to say:
Do one thing every day that scares you. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy. – Nicholas Negroponte

Creative strategising in the global capital marketplace requires revolutionary thinking.
You’ve got to realise that the corporations and businesses in our world today are definitely one of these:

  • Rule makers (General Electric, IBM, General Motors, Intel….): They tend to get comfortable and gradually experience creativity drought. Their perceived success eventually becomes their greatest undoing.
  • Rule breakers (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Toyota, Apple…..): They come from no-where and rewrite the rules. They could be referred to as disruptive innovators and are usually architects of industry transformation. You’d better be here if you intend to lead a meaningful and impacting life.
  • Rule takers (me don’t want no trouble! you can figure examples out yourselves!) They accept whatever is being offered. They are content like sheep.

    The primary agenda for a business that means business is to be the architect of industry transformation, not just corporate-level transformation.
    Incrementalism, what most of us find comfortable is not innovation.
    Gary Hamel clarifies that Re engineering the Corporation (Classic business improvement manual by James Champy and Michael Hammer) is more about incremental changes than paradigm breaking. (BPR, 6 Sigma, Value Chain Analysis……e.t.c certainly do result in improvements and costs savings, sometimes quite significant but seems like the bar has been raised in the current highly deregulated and technology driven international markets)

Companies, organizations and entities that view change as being an internal matter are liable to be left behind as the pace of external change in our world has, and is still catching many unprepared, forcing them into oblivion and irrelevance. The forward thinking individual or business wouldn’t aim to meet up with the pace, but rather dictate the pace. Now, you would agree with me that it takes foresight, cutting-edge business strategy and most importantly, spirited execution and impact assessment to do that today.
In short, you’ve got one option, and that is to re-invent your industry!

These are other critical elements that have a direct impact on your organization’s overall effectiveness:

  • Values & Ethics: These are the communal foundation and basis for all socio-economic activity. i.e… the cohesive bonds that hold social order. When they aren’t sacred, assertive and shared, you tend to experience inconsistencies that check quality and organic growth.
  • An Articulated Cause: You must be able to conceptualize and crystallize ideas. Your Cause is what underpins your existence. It reflects what you believe in and determines your relevance to society. It explains how you fit into the bigger dream of regional economic prosperity and development. Normally, it should leverage on your position, uniqueness and inherent design and capabilities.
  • Research, Collaboration and Strategic Partnerships: which of you embarks on a project without counting the costs first? The mind ought to be engaged vigorously (ATP: Analytical Productive Thinking. We are what we think, not what we eat – Walter Anderson. We must have foresight, and the ability to chart a course indented by specific actions and executions that lead us to the projected future-state. High selectivity in collaboration and partnerships is also paramount. How many emerging companies and great ideas have gone under just because they got in the wrong train!
  • Mentoring, Coaching and Succession Planning: We are way past the era of the superstars and untouchables. If you get so good that no one else could attempt taking on your responsibilities, and you become aware of this and do nothing about it, you are practically what I call a shooting star and in the process, set up your organization for extinction. Organizations are set-up with persistence in mind (let’s ignore SPVs – Special Purpose Vehicles) meaning that they are designed to live and continue to grow. This is compromised when superstars litter and thrive in your organization. Their exit becomes the organization’s exit.
  • Control and leverage: Would you volunteer to drive a car without controls, or perhaps fly in an airplane with the slightest control faults? When an organization lacks effective controls that are in sync with its strategy, such organization is inadvertently bracing up itself to join the greats viz: Enron, WorldCom, Cadbury…the list goes on.

Excerpts from Leadership the Goran Eriksson way, a book about the contemporary leadership style of the ex-England manager provides us with some insight into the cornerstones of effective business leadership in our world today. Here are the main points and distinctions from what previously obtained.

Features of the Old: charismatic, action oriented, idealistic, top-down structure, motivate thru fear and intimidation, task focussed, IQ, self confident (examples are Jack Welch – General Electric & Rupert Murdoch – Newscorp )

New leaders: understated, reflective, pragmatic, bottom-up, motivate thru reason and inspiration, relationship focussed, EQ, self awareness (examples are Richard Branson, Goran-Eriksson)

That does it for now folks! I hope we all continue to learn and APPLY these truths in our daily business and personal engagements. We’ve all still got ground to cover on our mission to becoming highly effective people, but the journey of a sextillion miles starts with a step. That leads me to the concept of doing, acting, executing….whatever name you choose o call it! Without this, we could all just have remained within the walls of those classrooms and training centres.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Microsoft Encarta Reference Dictionary explains trafficking as ‘having dealings with something or someone’ and could also mean ‘engaging in illegal trade’.
Child Trafficking was the main point of discussion on Channels TV’s Rubbing-Minds show. The guests talked about the numerous factors contributing to this universal ill, and aired divergent views on how and when to determine at what point, trafficking takes place.

Child trafficking is an illegal global business worth several billions of dollars. It has being a serious concern particularly in Nigeria, where it has become pervasive and everyone seems to be unknowingly involved somehow.
My focus is basically on the key distinguishing factor in Child Trafficking, which is Exploitation.
Exploitation occurs when we take advantage of situations, circumstances, positions and conditions in order to derive unmerited, unethical and sometimes illegal benefits.
Child Trafficking must therefore involve elements of selfish gain and narcissistic tendencies.
We live in a society segregated according to economic strata, and this inadvertently creates a tensed environment where occupants at the base struggle to progress, obviously by systematically collaborating with the more fortunate ones (living in urban cities).

We must however understand that the larger part of Children being trafficked are extracted from rural (poor) areas and traded to city inhabitants (middle to upper class) where they serve as helps, nannies and so on.
Now, going by the fact that those who harbour these little ones in cities are being labelled accomplices and could be indicted, many of us with kid house-helps may be committing serious crimes.

However, wait a second! Someone brings a young kid to my house, I feed him, cloth him, send him to school, treat him well, grant him opportunities he may never have had in life and still send money to his guardian(s) (or contact persons), and then you call me a criminal???
I bet many would ask that question.
I applied my judgement to this situation and here’s what I have to say.

Value is the underlying determinant and basis for defining exploitation.
Think about it: I offer to buy a pair of shoes from my friend at N5000, even though he bought the same at N30 000 before realising it wasn’t his size. Now, some shylocks out there could argue that I got an excellent bargain, but the ethical and sustain-ably thinking business minds amongst us would quite accurately admit that the best bargains are win-win partnerships where everyone goes home happy. It’s called fair value for money!
I once worked in an organization that paid staff poorly, and reportedly had an unwritten policy of firing or letting any disgruntled employee go. Management would reportedly say there are thousands of people willing to take your job at half your current pay!

Back to the main point: Every child has basic universal rights which include education, health-care and the likes. To deny them any of these rights under any circumstances is criminal.
However, I would intelligently argue that to keep a child (brought from God knows where) in my house would not necessarily translate into committing a crime.
Note that there are significant culture issues and traditions that may have fuelled this illegal activity, but I believe there should be unambiguous constitutional guidelines that clearly indicate what pre-conditions must have been met in order to convict or classify anyone as an accomplice in child trafficking.

We must that realise that (economic) value is personal and individually assigned. We all have a price irrespective of what the market says. The market provides us with only an average price, or how would you explain two guys working at the same company, doing almost the same job, but one earns thrice the other. (It’s real and better believe it! Don’t ever assume you are on the same level with the guy sitting next to you in that cubicle! He may know his worth and have negotiated something entirely different!)

Therefore, in the case of more mature kids who have given their consent to serve in the mansions and outfits of taskmasters, the fact that they (or their guardians) are paid meagre amounts and treated less humanly may not constitute sufficient background to press a charge.

I believe the standard approach to solving problems of any nature is to first identify the root-cause(s) and then attack it. You would agree with me that increasing income inequality, slow or virtually inexistent industrialization and concrete economic development, ineffective rural empowerment programs and of course, malfeasance and poor leadership are major culprits here. We are all familiar with these discouraging terms and realities, but we certainly against hope believe that there is Hope, and that nevertheless a new prosperous society would emerge soon.

Learning point: We can analyse as much as we like and appeal subtly to the hearts and emotions of people to help mitigate child trafficking and its attendant consequences, but believe me, until we are able to offer practicable solutions, re-orientate and provide better alternatives to our people, we may not achieve significant results.

Have a lovely week folks!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pitfalls and Threats to Business Leadership

In 2000, Fortune Magazine did a survey of American CEOs and business leaders who were forced out. Top reasons were:

Bad earnings (Poor return on investments, faulty investment decisions)
People problems (failure to get on with owners and other executives)
Lifer syndrome (creativity drought resulting from being too long on the job)
Decision gridlock (lacking influence and political clout to implement ideas)

The critical challenges facing business leaders today are:

1. Globalization (Balancing Pankaj Ghemawat’s 3As i.e.)

  • Arbitrage: has to do with exploiting the variations in the availability and cost of accessing critical resources. For instance, situating your production facility in China may provide you with opportunities for significant cost-reduction with respect to labour as against erecting your facility in Western Europe or the United States. (you can ask BMW why they decided to move some of their operations overseas!)
  • Adaptation: entails tailoring your products to suite target markets. HSBC’s slogan, ‘the world’s local bank” is a pointer to the fact that they package their products to suite their target markets. Standardization may not always prove effective depending on the nature of products and services being offered.
  • Aggregation: aims at strategically centralising some aspects of your operations or implementing some form of shared services. The leverage point here is scale. With careful case analysis, multinationals can aggregate aspects of their operations for better coordination, increased throughput and overall effectiveness.

2.Technological change

Any business that isn’t internet enabled would simply be unqualified to be called a business in the nano-second world of today. Deployment of business automation systems and e-solutions including business to business and customer to business applications are basic pre-requisites for conducting any sort of business today. Service providers, finance and consulting firms and companies where knowledge and information management constitute core aspects of their business have significantly higher technological investment obligations including Document Management Systems, Information Security and Availability, Business Continuity Planning and host of others.

In our fast changing world, successful companies (by implication companies with sound leadership and management) focus on a few simple rules:

  • How to rules -- There are standard methodologies and approach to problem solving.
  • Boundary rules -- A niche has been carved out. This forces you to focus on your target market and ignore almost everything else outside your strategic framework.
  • Priority rules -- First things first. Resources ought to be allocated on the basis of the projected estimated value derivable from such resource commitment.
  • Timing rules -- There’s a time and season for everything. If you would agree with me, we are past the period of mega-bucks profits from computer hardware sales. It’s critical to discern the right moment for a product offering, but this does not in any way negate the fact that a company must be able to pro-actively articulate the needs of consumers and hit them with a solution they never knew they needed!
  • Exit rules – There’s a time to be born and a time to die. One of the most critical issues investors face today is pin-pointing to divest, exit or liquidate an investment. A twenty-hour delay in liquidating an investment could have implications in the realm of billions of dollars in losses for global corporations.

Warren Bennis remarked that the new leader is one who commits people to action, converts followers into leaders, and converts leaders into change agents.
Today’s leaders ought to think globally and act globally (not just locally)!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Attaining Leadership & Savant-hood

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great argues that the journey from capable individuals to managers and finally to leaders is a lengthy one that involves development of multiple new skills at each stage. He argues that there are 5 levels in the hierarchy of skills. I’ve paraphrased these levels as:

Highly capable individuals: They make productive contribution by applying their talent, knowledge, skills and abilities.
Contributing team member: He works effectively with others and is productive by collaborating with colleagues and other team members.
Organizer: Organises people and resources towards pursuit of pre-determined objectives. He can coordinate people and resources and leverage on the strengths and competencies of staff to achieve organizational objectives.
Leader: Catalyses commitment to and pursuit of a clear compelling vision. He stimulates high performance by enlisting the heads and hearts of followers in pursuit of a worth cause.
Savant: (yeah, Thats the spelling!) Builds enduring greatness through a combo of personal humility and professional will. His life, experience and achievements speak for him. This is analogous to statesmanship in the realm of politics.

It’s important to identify where you currently are on this ladder. This isn’t some formal classification where you can jump or skip some stages. Transition from a level to another is characterized by development of visible competencies that unequivocally make clear that one is ready to progress through to the next level. As for me, I think I’m basically playing around the 2nd and 3rd levels, though I’m working tirelessly to develop key characteristics and dominant features obtainable at the 4th level.

It was Steven Covey that theorized from dependence to independence and finally inter-dependence. (You can consult 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for more on this life-transforming postulation by Covey). In similar fashion, we must progress sequentially through these levels as the preceding serves as a prerequisite for the succeeding.
Guys, keep in mind at all times that we are 99.9% responsible for wherever we’ve found ourselves in life. The pace is also up to you. Like I read in one strategy presentation, slow and steady is good, but fast (pace) and consistent is always better!

Have to sign out at this point. Its a few minutes to the first working day of the week and your guess is as good as mine. I ought to get some quality sleep, to forestall any dozing gymnastic on my desk tomorrow, especially given the ‘open office’ strategy my company adopts. Have a great purposeful week ahead folks.

Friday, February 01, 2008

DNA & Scientific Innovation: Impact on Global Development and Sustainability

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is the genetic material of all cellular organisms (and most viruses). It carries the information needed to direct protein synthesis and replication. Protein synthesis is the production of the proteins needed by the cell or virus for its activities and development. Replication on the other hand is the process by which DNA copies itself for each descendant cell or virus, passing on the information needed for protein synthesis. The (DNA) molecule is the genetic blueprint for each cell and ultimately the blueprint that determines every characteristic of a living organism. (Just to give you an idea, don't sweat it!)

Many of us have a basic idea of what DNA is, but most lack a broader understanding of the implications of fully demystifying and having the ability to re-engineer this life-blueprint for specific human purposes. An international scientific collaboration called the Human Genome Project (HGP) was commissioned a few years ago and was given the task of decoding the entire genetic blueprint of a human being. Through a process known as sequencing, the goal of the HGP was to identify all of the estimated 31,000 genes (the basic units of heredity) in the nucleus of a human cell. This also involved mapping the location of these genes on the 23 pairs of human chromosomes, the structures containing the genes in the cell’s nucleus. The human DNA consists of 4 letters (i.e. proteins: A - adenine, C- cytosine, G - guanine, T - thymine) which are arranged in a sequence, but the challenge really is in determining the specific sequence of the 6 billion base pairs (genetic letters) for each person. (That’s right! 6 Billion!!)
The race for the complete sequencing of the Human Genome (lining up of all the human letters) began in 1990. In September 2007, the first complete human genome sequence was achieved and is now available to all on the internet

Dr J. Craig Venter (Entrepreneur and Scientist) in his presentation on BBC titled “DNA Driven World” said that I believe that the future of our society relies at least in part on our understanding of biology and the molecules of life - DNA. Every era is defined by its technologies. The last century could be termed the nuclear age, and I propose that the century ahead will be fundamentally shaped by advances in biology and my field of genomics, which is the study of the complete genetic make-up of a species.
Our planet is facing almost insurmountable problems, problems that governments on their own clearly can't fix. In order to survive, we need a scientifically literate society willing and able to embrace change - because our ability to provide life's essentials of food, water, shelter and energy for an expanding human population will require major advances in science and technology.

The future of life depends not only on our ability to understand and use DNA, but also, perhaps in creating new synthetic life forms, that is, life which is forged not by Darwinian evolution but created by human intelligence.
To some this may be troubling, but part of the problem we face with scientific advancement, is the fear of the unknown - fear that often leads to rejection.

Venter went ahead and identified an even greater problem than scientific literacy, which is that almost every aspect of our modern society is geared toward only dealing with problems after they have occurred, rather than focusing on prevention
As a result of enormous advances in technology (cumulative effects of Moore’s law of computer chips / memory and Butler’s law of photonics), sequencing a human DNA which could cost billions of dollars and took years to conclude a few decades, would be done in minutes just 5 years from now. Databases are increasing exponentially every year and students are making more discoveries every year than yesterday’s dedicated institutions.
Statistics have shown that corrective spending by governments has not necessarily translated into good results. Preventative technology has been identified as the practical solution to the challenges we face today.

A disruptive innovation and/or technology that makes the most of groundbreaking scientific innovation is what we require in meeting today’s global challenges including health, food, climate change and energy. (Refer to my earlier postings for more on the concept of disruptive innovation).

In health-care, we face enormous global challenges. Malaria, HIV and Tuberculosis amongst others have consistently ravaged developing countries, with sub-Saharan Africa experiencing more than its fair share. There are still several million child and maternity deaths in Africa per year as a result of these diseases. In 2005 total US health expenditures rose 6.9% - twice the rate of inflation. Total spending was a staggering $2trillion. US health care spending is expected to increase at similar levels for the next decade reaching $4trillion in 2015. That's 20% of GDP. But all this money does not seem to guarantee the highest quality health care. The World Health Organisation in 2000 ranked the US health care system as 1st by expenditure but only 72nd on health. Though understanding our genetic code may provide very few yes-no answers, it would, however, provide probabilities concerning outcomes that we will eventually be able to influence. Considering enormous computing power and memory available today, we will be armed with databases of information that allows us to recognise our genetic patterns, make scientific deductions, lead higher quality lives and pre-empt a significant proportion of future health-related threats to our prosperity at minimal cost.

In energy, we face seemingly insurmountable challenges globally. We are all aware of the all time high prices attained by oil futures and other energy commodities and there seems to be no respite yet. Most of the commercially viable on-shore petroleum reserves of the world have been discovered and reality is that (non-renewable) fossil fuels including natural gas, coal and oil-shale would not last forever. Bio-fuels have been much publicised but considering that last year, we consumed more than 83 million barrels of oil per day (or 30 billion barrels during the year), it may not constitute a replacement for oil at the moment. In addition we used over 3 billion tons of coal. These are mind boggling numbers and the only way bio-fuels can become pervasive and penetrate is through a widely distributed system. If there were one million bio-refineries around the globe each one would still need to produce 17,000 litres per day. Agriculture can certainly not support such scale in the near term.

Closely linked to energy is the issue of climate change and global warming. Greenhouse gasses (gasses that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, making it possible for us to survive and not return to the ice-age) have consistently increased in volume resulting in the earth’s warming up. As the world population increases from 6.5 billion people to 9 billion over the next 45 years and countries like India and China continue to industrialise, some estimates indicate that we will be adding over 20 billion tons of carbon a year to the atmosphere (well over the current average of 4 billion). Al Gore’s inconvenient truth provides us with more insight into the climate-change issues we may be facing.

Advanced techniques including the use of Recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering) and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) have presented opportunities that could exploit bio-technology for generating renewable energy in sufficient scale.
Synthetic Genomics (Venter’s Company) have a major program underway in collaboration with BP to see how they can use naturally occurring microbes to metabolise coal into methane which can then be harvested as natural gas. While not a renewable source of carbon, it could provide as much as a 10 fold improvement over mining and burning coal. They also have organisms that can convert Carbon Dioxide into methane (Natural Gas is 95% methane) thereby providing a renewable energy source.

Sustainability, meaning our ability to meet the needs of today without compromising the resource-needs of future generations requires us to think unconventionally and apply our powerful minds and intellect in providing cross-platform and industry solutions. My creativity principle states that everything that would ever be invented already exists in its latent form. Our ability to permutate independent strands of knowledge and evolve a previously undiscovered solution is what distincts our species. We already have all that we need. It’s up to us to ignore our fears and embrace the new, or risk being swept away by inevitable mutations and transformations in our world as we know it.

Visit for more on the “DNA Driven World”. (Please note that there are risks associated with the use of advanced DNA techniques. It's actually a double edged sword. Wisdom compels us to maximize the inherent opportunities and mitigate the associated risks by enacting appropriate legislation and public enlightenement.)