So much has been written about Leadership. We try to find a universal theory. There is none. The condition changes. The context changes. Some things stand out for that emerging context that most leaders have to pay attention to. Practice them. Inspire others, develop others, and multiply others.
– Ram Charan, March 2010
The context is indeed changing, and rapidly. As recently as just 2004 barely 20% of companies had adopted corporate-wide functioning offshoring captive strategies to leverage that promise of low-cost labor sourcing of services and technical expertise to not just Chindia, but Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and other global talent pools. (Arie Lewin, ORN). But yet “Emerging countries are no longer content to be sources of cheap hands and low-cost brains. Instead they too are becoming hotbeds of innovation. They are redesigning entire business processes to do things better and faster… Forget about flat – the world of business is turning upside down.” (The Economist, April 2010)
That’s right – EMC learned this lesson years ago when they opened a technical facility in India and immediately offshored/insourced the more rudimentary and mundane tasks that the U.S. engineers didn’t want. You can guess the Indian engineers were frustrated, annoyed, and characteristically weren’t so inclined to give the discretionary, passionate effort to their work to build measurable difference. (Gebauer/Lowman)
So what to do? There are several stances an organization can take in recognition of the ability to globally-source innovation, and leveraging emerging available markets:
Find new audiences: C.K. Prahalad dedicated the last decade or more of his life to the cause of gestating innovative products and services at the Base of the Pyramid and serving through capital mechanisms the largely un/under-served billions at the BoP. Rapid prototype products and services and serve these markets.
Source innovation for your existing audience: It may be more accessible than you think. Consider InnoCentive whose mission is to “harness collective brainpower around the world to solve problems that really matter.” Innocentive operates as as an inverted eBay, offering puzzles and real-world problems from companies around the world with hard cash rewards. Think you can solve how to virtually verify plastic product package sealing? Or provide a metric for how to evaluate the effectiveness of an R&D facility? Or even (yes!) help the Gulf Coast respond effectively to an oil spill problem? Sign up, solve the puzzle and get paid. Some of the best minds around the glove are wrestling with these problems from their homes and offices and work groups and getting rewarded by the companies and people in need.
I know it sounds daunting, but consider this: whether you are a mid-America regional bank manager, or a small business developing killer web apps, you can both leverage the mechanisms of innovation AND find new markets for your existing business. Doing nothing, or sticking to your knitting is not an option. Market niches are temporary, and the world is abundant with talent and opportunity.