Balancing Global Vision with Local Relevance

At the moment, Andrew Deonarine is a third year medical resident at University of British Columbia (UBC)  He has developed a passion for improving literacy in developing economies.  A few years ago after a trip to India he was inspired by the One Laptop Per Child initiative to improve literacy around the world.  And he wondered if there wasn’t an even easier and more ubiquitous platform for delivering literacy learning.

He is also a programmer and technology tinkerer.  With a curious mind, he developed a big idea to use simple cellphones to be a platform for distributing literacy learning through PhoneCasting – a push technology in which anyone can author a brief engaging learning script and push-cast it out to deliver simple reading and math literacy to potentially millions of people.  He calls it EduCell.

Inventive yes.  But how does anyone know about it?  They didn’t.  Until, he learns about an InnoCentive challenge.  He applies and his EduCell proposal wins.  He is in talks with Nokia to develop and deliver EduCell universally.  Through the innovation crowd-sourcing visibility of Innocentive, Andrew is changing the world.  From Ontario.

This is a wonderful story, and indicative of how fast innovation can move in this frictionless economy.  How important is speed to market?  Last year Jim Barksdale, formerly of Netscape, spent 300 million to dig a gopher hole from the Chicago Mercantile exchange 825 miles to the New York Stock Exchange to lay direct-line fiber optic cable.  Why?  To gain 3 milliseconds in speed of trading information.

Competition is emerging from everyone, everywhere, and for everything – and one thing is clear:  Our most powerful competitive advantage is in the hearts and minds of all the people throughout our global organizations, and we must unlock these capacities.  Gone are the days when we could just buy diligence and expertise, and ask people to execute on the strategic bets of a very few in the corner offices.  Now, only by tapping into those discretionary qualities of initiative, creativity and passion – that cannot be bought at any price – can we build the competitive value of the future.

Bruce Churchill, president for DirectTV Latin America, said the key to the 300% market growth was to remove the corporate directives from NYC and Miami that decided how and when and where their services were deployed in Latin America, and instead give autonomy and discretionary decision-making authority to the local operators.  Who knows better than the people who live in Bogotá, Rio, and Caracas, the culturally relevant TV programming to provide, how to price it, the marketing that would make it stick in each locality.

Michael Byrne, president of Linfox, the biggest shipping and logistics operator in Australia said the key to their remarkable growth in India, Thailand, Vietnam, China and throughout southeast asia over the past ten years has been specifically because tap into the talents and give localized control over operations.  With over 2400 employees in India, and as of my conversation with him last year, Linfox had exactly one Aussie ex-pat working there – and he’s not the boss either.  By first providing a clear and singular vision of commitment to safety, excellence, product integrity and quality, Linfox provides the shared vision and values that provide the bedrock of the company, and then gives trust and operating control to the local markets for culturally nuanced execution.

Those organizations that learn to balance global unified vision with local relevance are those that will thrive in the new creative age.