Friday, April 25, 2008

Will-Power - How much can we achieve?

Here is an excerpt from Daniel Goleman, The EQ (Emotional Intelligence) master on the subject of will-power. He provides us with some insight into why we seem to perform better at the things we do first, and then experience a dip as we attempt other things.

Daniel Goleman – …….A slew of studies suggest that we each have a fixed neural reservoir of will power, and that if we use it on one thing, we have less for others. Tasks that demand some self-control make it harder for us to do the next thing that takes will power. In a typical experiment on this effect, people who first had to circle every ‘e’ in a long passage gave up sooner when they then had to watch a video of a fixed, boring, scene. The same loss of persistence has been found when people resist tempting foods, suppress emotional reactions, even make the effort to try to impress someone.

This all suggests we have a fixed will power budget, one we should be careful in spending. Some neuroscientists suspect that self-control consumes blood sugar, which takes a while to build up again, and so the depletion effect.
But the good news is that we can grow our will power; like a muscle, over time the more we use it, the more it gradually increases. But doing this takes, of all things, will power.

As the muscle of will grows, the larger our reservoir of self-discipline becomes. So people who are able to stick to a diet or exercise program for a few months, or who complete money-management classes, also reduce their impulse buying, how much junk food they eat and alcohol they drink. They watch less TV and do more housework. And this ability to delay grasping at gratification, much data shows, predicts greater career success.

(complete article at http://www.danielgoleman.info/blog/2008/04/20/build-your-will-power/)

This article basically strengthens the proposition that though we have the ability to accomplish anything we set our hearts and minds to achieve, we obviously cannot do everything!The balancing act is in determining which specific (well defined and relatively few per time) activities we would apportion our time, will power and resources to.
Many do have the belief that they can overcome every single weakness and in-competencies that they have, but that in my opinion is some unrealistic goal.What’s critical is finding out or discovering (and not choosing) our areas of natural strength. We must then learn to polish and exploit these inherent abilities for maximum profit.

For illustration purposes, a 4 x 4 could never outperform a McLaren or Ferrari on a smooth race track, no matter how hard it tries. Reverse the equation by changing the circuit to rough sandy terrain. The speed-masters would hardly move. By their very nature and inherent design, each machine already has competitive advantage as a function of the environment and frame of reference.
Indeed, we do have will power and as much as we could develop it through constant use, we still do have limitations. Paradoxically, those limitations are to our advantage.

A research carried out on different sets of kids exposed to confined and unfenced playgrounds showed startling results. The kids in the well demarcated playground were adventurous and moved about freely through all nooks and crannies of the playground.The other kids (in the vast open playground) were less adventurous, stayed put in a small place, and exhibited less creative tendencies.

I believe the learning point is that we’ve all got limited but sufficient measures of will power to achieve what we are specifically (and strategically) designed (and perhaps destined) to achieve.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Branding or Unique Value Proposition?

It’s now all too easy to make quite a lot of noise about some new product or service offering using any of the powerful PR media available in the 21st century (Internet, satellite TV...e.t.c.). It’s also quite hard to distinguish at first glance amongst the numerous options available on the shelf today. Name it! Whatever service/product you need, you’ve got several options and sometimes, you simply get confused.

However, experienced customers seem to always know their way around. Offer them 20 000 different brands of the same generic product, but believe me, they’ll pick just the perfect one (that offers relatively the most value for money). How they do it might be confounding to a newbie, but like they say, experience certainly could have proven to be the best teacher.

I’ve posted an article here that clearly substantiates the fact that no matter how hard you try to market an inferior product/service, you eventually would loose out ‘cause your customers would always find out, and possibly never forgive you when they do!

Please check out what Dr. Harari (leading strategist) has to say in one of his thought provoking write-ups.

What makes brands great is not their visibility, nor their celebrity endorsements, nor the marketing pizzazz behind them. Remember, during the 1990’s Nike and McDonald’s lost a lot of their sheen (and stock value), despite their heavy promotional strategies and the ubiquity (and near 100% recognizability) of the swoosh and the Golden Arches. Only when both companies revamped their product lines did the swoosh and arches generate a positive halo. Don’t mistake presence and recognizability for corporate vitality.

Nowadays, Levi Strauss and Coke are struggling, and as I’ve explained elsewhere (see http://www.ftpress.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1180989), Starbucks' buzz and market cap have fallen—but everybody recognizes the brands. Regardless of whether you’re in the business-to-consumer or business-to-business space, a vendor’s brand flourishes when customers can trust the vendor to provide them with a special experience and constantly evolving great products. With that excellent foundation, judicious imaginative marketing can certainly fan the flames of exposure (think Toyota and Pixar, for example) , but on its own, marketing does not make a great profitable growing brand. (And think about the fact that there are many companies, like Google and retailer Zara and tube fitting manufacturer Swagelok, which build a healthy brand solely around their unique value proposition and do practically no conventional advertising).

Tom Peters says that a brand “is a promise of the value you’ll receive.” In that spirit, I sometimes urge my clients to think about a new “P/E multiple”, one that supplements the traditional “price/earnings” metric. Think about a “Promise/Experience” metric. If, in effect, you can implicitly (not via sexy ads, but in the way you run your business) promise the marketplace that you will churn out a cool, special value in products and services-- and then actually deliver it in a way that generates a really desirable experience for the customer--the payoff in customer and investor loyalty is a genuine multiple. That’s what they do at Toyota, Pixar, Google, Zara and Swagelok, among many others. Put simply, the way to build a break-from-the-pack brand is not by public relations campaigns, ad rollouts, logos, color schemes, viral marketing, etc. etc. Those can definitely help if you’ve got the basics down.

And what are the basics? The capacity to demonstrate to the marketplace that your organization will consistently, reliably, efficiently, authentically, and quickly deliver on great things that are implicitly promised in your business model. Retired Atlanticare CEO George Lynn used to tell me that from his perspective as a hospital CEO or an individual customer—the value of any organization he buys from must be “pervasive, relevant, and credible.” Once again, it all boils down to this: Can I count on this vendor to provide me with special value that truly matters to me?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

AFRICA Vs The Rest of the World

Friday March 7, 2008 19:30hrs, I watched a CNN Inside-Africa report that insensitively painted Nigeria as a difficult and corrupt environment, where people are forced to engage in criminal and immoral activities in order to survive. This report also implied that churches were simply in the business of exploiting people, not being concerned about their members’ general well being. The subject of the report was one 'Joy', who left the shores of Nigeria in search of greener pastures in Europe (after withstanding abuse by her guardian), was forced to trade her body for cash and eventually got deported from Denmark back to Nigeria. She was reported to have been given 100 euros ‘pocket money’ with which she had to bribe security and airport agents in Nigeria in order to escape incarceration.

However, this report did convey a grossly inaccurate message about Nigeria. I must mention that there are obvious challenges in Nigeria (and everywhere else on planet earth), but highlighting our's as being so intense that you have to resort to vices in order to keep body and soul together is indeed misleading and unjustifiable. The western media have enormous power and coverage, and have proven to be creative in prompt news delivery, but they also seem to have a reputation for subtly programming the minds of the global audience to adopt western ideologies and points of view.

Time and again, Africa has been labelled and perceived as a continent of suffering. Backwardness and underdevelopment are often associated with us. Those familiar with western media (i.e. CNN, BBC, TIME, The Economist…e.t.c) frequently come across reports on conflicts and mismanagement and each time we come across such, we begin to wonder whether it’s the same continent we live in that’s being reported.
It would be na├»ve to deny that Africa indeed has numerous challenges especially with regards to leadership, management, infrastructural development, education and health care. But the question is: “Is that all there is to our great continent?”

Human Capital: Africa has played a very crucial role in human development spanning generations. I need not bore you with history, but we know about the origins of Civilization. Egypt and Mesopotamia were major catalysts of human development over the ages.
Today, Africans at home and in diaspora have recorded numerous groundbreaking achievements in virtually ALL fields imaginable. Even head-hunters for global corporations are beaming their searchlight on Africans to fill strategic roles in these corporations. The two Nigerian women at the World Bank is testament to this fact.

Physical Resources: If I started enumerating our physical resources, It would take quite a while to exhaust the list. Fact is Africa is BY FAR the most talented continent in the world in terms of physical resources. From crude-oil to natural gas reserves, tin, columbite, uranium, gold, diamond, nickel, bitumen and the rare elements…e.t.c, Africa is gifted enough to be ENTIRELY self sufficient. We have the potential to build a regional self sustaining economy, though the journey to realisation of this requires focussed and tenacious leadership, strategic planning and execution of the highest order.

Markets and Population: On the average, we are densely populated and still growing at a fast rate. The markets are there and still rapidly expanding whilst new market segments have started to develop. That’s why we are called emerging markets (maybe not yet at the pace of the BRICs, but using your mind’s eye, this development is unmistakable).
A virtually previously non-existent middle class has emerged in many African Nations and is just budding. In a few years, there would be unprecedented regional and continent-wide demand for (high quality) products and services.

Perception: Perception has proved a major stumbling block to our development. We all frequently hear about the pre and post visit experiences of non-Africans that have visited our continent.
Frequently, these people have confessed to holding warped and inaccurate views of what obtains in our land pre-visit. Their decision to embark on such trips has been analogous to engaging in some form of risk, and many times adjudged as being uncalculated and unnecessary by their peers in their home countries. However, the more adventurous and truth seeking ones that managed to board those intercontinental flights have often not regretted.
Many of them have confessed that Africa is indeed a blessed and incredibly beautiful continent with such diversity you can hardly find anywhere else. The heritage and culture is original and simply incomparable.

Only Africans can redeem Africa’s image. Africa’s re-branding is certainly every African’s responsibility. When we get to the point where we all appreciate and perpetrate our heritage (of course we have to foreclose or put an end to negative traditions) irrespective of where we find ourselves, our misrepresentation would certainly become a thing of the past.
It’s about time we respond with a strategic media weapon that would propagate African objectives internationally in similar vein as the middle-east's response to western media manipulations with their famous Aljazeera Network.

Neo-colonization
The concept of neo-colonization is indeed true and should spark concern. FDIs (Foreign Direct Investments) have increased significantly and more foreign monies continue to pour into African economies. What is suspect is the fact that a larger part of the investments have been targeted at securing and sustaining medium to long term hold over our natural resources.
Energy and metals are key drivers of industrialization. The unprecedented growth rates of economies such as China’s and India’s and the increasing needs of the U.S and Europe have forced these nations to find new sources of energy and critical elements, if they intend sustaining their growth rates.

Focussing on Energy, nation states outside of Africa are increasingly nationalising their resources making it increasingly difficult for larger economies to guarantee future supplies. Increasing global economic development indices has also meant increased demand for limited resources, forcing the big consumers to go about scouting for newer and more stable sources.
China for example has recently flooded Africa with cash (obviously from those massive trillion dollar foreign reserves) in exchange for unrestricted access to significant chunks of her resources.

Companies such as Lonrho which were in the process of divesting from the continent have resurfaced with greater passion, perhaps after recognising the strategic role Africa’s resources would play in the emerging global economy. Indeed, there is a new rush for Africa, but this time around, it’s not for kunta-kinte (human slaves), at least not in that sense. It definitely is for her mineral resources.

But we indeed have a joker in our hands, and it’s up to us to decide how we’ll play. We could choose to collect cash in exchange for our resources, consume it, and continue to maintain our commodity-economy status whilst re-building debt. We could also decide to forge strategic partnerships that would harness these resources for global consumption whilst empowering our people, developing our markets and diversifying our economies.

A quick peep into what’s going on in the middle-east would provide valuable lessons for African nations. UAE, Qatar and Saudi-Arabia are appropriating their massive oil and gas wealth for development and diversification of their economies. They are setting up world class institutions and importing brains from all over to build local talent. They are building service oriented economies that would ensure a smooth transition from commodity based to service-oriented economies when the oil finally runs out (and that’s still up to a hundred years away, assuming no additional reserves are discovered).

And this next point is simply unbelievable - They are also investing in clean and renewable energy technologies that would complement and reduce dependence on global warming culprit, oil.
Masdar city is a multi billion dollar project in the UAE that aims to build a city that is entirely dependent upon solar energy using CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) technology in the desert.

There has been high clamour and clatter about reducing dependence on oil, but fact is there wouldn’t be a replacement any time soon. Africa indeed has been presented with a unique opportunity to leverage on her resources in order to achieve her long sought objectives of eliminating poverty, achieving prosperity and attaining development. We can either choose life (by doing the simple right things) or trudge along the old path. I believe we’ve learnt from history and would do the simple right things. Let's all do our part guys!