Monthly Archives: January 2014

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation.

In remembering the first time I ever gave a motivational speech to students last year, I remembered one significant thing I advised that I myself still tend to forget today.

When the challenge of whatever task you have grapples you and for a short moment it seems impossible, I tend to let that feeling simmer and almost let it take over. I am constantly reminded about doubts and risk as a default measure of being African. It is a culture I am accustomed to because I know of the value tangible things measure in comparison to the intangible.

Like water with thirst, time with grieving and practice with expertise, there is a need to keep yourself constantly motivated. I am not talking reading about Oprah’s life over again when you’re down, but I’m talking of the very inspiration of waking up, going to work, studying.

The simple discipline of exerting self-developed reasons for doing what you do. It could be simply because you want to get rich. Some might not want to sound so materialistic but reality is, people have different things that fuel their actions and behaviour.

So just think of the proportions in which you as an individual would realise out of your efforts if you were surrounded by positive thoughts, those from the people around you. We need an environment in which possibility and intellect can be merged in such a manner that you’re by default, set to inspire yourself every single day. Since we as humans feed off of each other, imagine a group of friends or colleagues who have the same kinds of thinking. You see it everyday in social, political and leadership circles.

I’d like to start mine today, and the first place I can do so is in my personal capacity with my own mind. Surely someone close to me would be able to feed off of this greatness.

My Definition Of Innovation

Having just completed my latest block of classes, the focus this time was on Entrepreneurial Management. My understanding of the more developed world seems to increase more and more against that of the developing. For instance, when someone decides to be an entrepreneur in Southern Africa, regardless of the reason, they’re pretty much convinced and have ensured that they’ve made provisions to attempt the challenge of entrepreneurship. Whereas in the UK for instance, someone who decides to start a business (profit or social), that’s only when they start exploring the opportunities.

This is an endless list I have come to realise in the gaps between the two kinds of contexts and what I have noticed as a young african, is that we’re so bound by challenge and circumstance by virtue of birth, that often the ideas we explore are discredited by the reality of bureaucracy, debt, education and most importantly, lack of psycho-social support; the kind that focuses on possibilities, ability and realising something as intangible as a dream. As a result, when the resolve of starting a business once you’ve ensured a security blanket, one has explored the most possibilities and outcomes that it is not the opportunist entrepreneur I learned about in class, but the businessman that is convinced of his concept.

I must say that innovation has increasingly become a hot topic amongst the conversations surrounding globalisation, artificial intelligence, big data and millennials such as myself, and its increasingly evident that there are many variations and definitions of the word and the concept respectively.

I could pull out all the academic theories and citations or even a dictionary but I’ve learned to understand the power of an uneducated man. The power of a man that has learned through risk taking, having faith and beating the odds. The kinds that have not gone to school and but give advice at the graduate ceremonies of those who are educated; the likes of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson.

Then I look at all the African success stories and how they’ve been educated in foreign lands as if the raw talent that instigated their initiatives needed the harnessing of a western education. It is these same stories that seem to be tainted with a hint of political assistance, lack of sustainability and somewhat a ceiling in comparison to their western counterparts.

I say this because my understanding of innovation is doing the same thing in a different manner and doing different things in the same manner. Just in the way I had contrasted the contexts of African and Western, the key trigger for innovation is determination and understanding where you might lack as an entrepreneur. Putting the right skills by your side is essential, or rather gaining those skills just as essential; but in leadership, I have learned that you can harness this intangible phenomenon through allowing others to define their true talent.

I have said many-a-times that I am an ordinary person, but my ability to find faith in another’s strength rather than let it compromise my mandate or abilities, has truly allowed me to see that innovation is a growing effort of different minds, perseverance and certainly a lot of time.

Just as overnight success, it is something that is the accumulation of great effort, failure and determination. I am prepared to experience such a thing, even in the most trivial of moments – for when an idea comes to mind, the skill of building a concept around it, shall only be learned through the small steps I take on the long road.

Customer Experience versus Customer Service (3 of 5)

On this part of the series I’d like to highlight the cellphone network industry in Botswana. Being a customer for the two main networks, like almost everybody I have met, I get to experience the majority of the products the cellphone market has to offer.

My most specific qualm is the call centre provision the networks have engaged. There are several questions I ask myself every time I need to make a query, raise a problem or need assistance. After-sales services aren’t really touched on in a lot of marketing/business courses, as it isn’t really focused on the core functions of the business (sales, operations, manufacturing or product development). The questions I ask are on the basis of the above;

1) Do they really record the interaction between the client and the call agent? Considering the fact that the experience is often quite consistently bad, this should mean that there is no review or intergation of the data for training or improvement purposes

2) Do they understand that most issues with network problems should require that an IT professional be working? Considering the fact that we can contact the service provider, all services should then be available, rather than the inconvenience of waiting for the IT department’s operating hours

3) Do they review the IT data on most calls that are made? Considering the fact most calls keep you waiting for at least a minute and at most almost 15 minutes, is there no consideration for the need to hire more staff?

4) The fact that there are few cellphone networks results in customers not having enough options to divert too. Regardless of this, why is quality not a virtue for the call centre service?

I am pretty sure that employees of these networks also must experience these when they’re not at work and I am yet to think up a reason of why these issues aren’t troubling any of them.

It is a realisation that entities continue to make money because of the fact that there are no better alternatives; but in the context of globalisation, how is this not considered as a means to adhering to the global corporate strategy (for the multinational provider)? Or just to merely ensure that customers experience a wholesome value-driven product?

I believe that the days of merely relying on a product or limited market are gone. There is a new need for meeting sophisticated needs, uplifiting the local standards towards global gearing and understanding that customer service is merely not enough for brand loyalty and sustainability.

Customer Experience versus Customer Service (2 of 5)

Telling a story is one of the most effective ways of getting a point across. It is through examples, simulation and experiences that we not only relate to others but ensure that the message is conveyed in a more ’empathy’ oriented manner for better understanding.

Corporate culture is one of the most important aspects of the business for strategy implementation. I say this, especially looking at big corporates, because the expectations raised through advertising/marketing campaigns usually are difficult to measure against the reality.

If certain products are portrayed as excellent and geared towards addressing my needs, I rightly expect that my needs will be met when I spend my hard earned money. The reality of this is that for a company that has multiple operations, it is often difficult to receive the same products in the same manner at different times and in different regions.

Take for example a restaurant in Gaborone, the service might be good, staff pleasant and the food as expected. If I were to go on a trip to Maun, and the same brand restaurant is operating there, I would obviously expect the same kind of experience, considering they provide the same products, endorse the same marketing and principles. This is usually not the case, where either the service is terrible, something from my plate might be missing or the ambiance isn’t similar to the very same designs and protocols in Gaborone.

It is this stark difference, that isn’t necessarily caused by human error or different community cultures; but the difference in how employees articulate the strategic intent of the organisation.

I get baffled by the difference in the kinds of customer service I would receive over the phone from the same company in South Africa, as opposed to Botswana. Its as if none of the managers or senior staff in Botswana never experience their counterpart’s work in other countries.

It is this that is reflected in Botswana’s position on the Global Competitiveness Report, it is this that encourages people to put faith in foreign products as opposed to national ones. Competitive advantage has largely been neglected due to the lack of population and limited markets, but the reality of today’s challenges is that pricing isn’t going to be the only factor to focus competitiveness any more.

We Need More Solutions Building

2014’s here and all that I can read about is the need for more; be it in any business or industry (more transparency, regulations, innovation), or any profession (increased standards, requirements for expertise), or even personal lives (needing a mortgage, increased school fees for your kids or yourself). This increase in demand for most things isn’t new, its just more rapid because of globalisation.

For a local business, this can be threatening, considering the fact that there are a lot of multinational corporations that come with expatriate skills, advanced learning and better economies of scale. This in effect, can be the difference between the bottom-line and making a loss. The conversation of focusing on profits is no more in the stagnant yet niche-competitive markets in Botswana.

This in effect, boils down to one skill that isn’t learned, can’t necessarily be taught or quantified for any business, profession or qualification. That is the skill of problem solving. In as much as we have standards, policies and processes in place, the reality of life is that there is always exception and circumstance to any transaction or activity.

This has resulted in problem solving skills being a paramount talent for any employee, but in this day and age of technology, big data and disruptive innovation, we need more than just the ability to identify a problem and provide a solution to it.

By definition, in my opinion, a Problem Solver merely requires a diagnosis and remedy. Whereas my point for this article, is the need to start looking at Solutions Building. Solving problems is essential now more than before in the challenging day to day environments, but why should we always be on the look out for something going wrong? Or rather always reacting to problems that keep popping up? And how do we identify this in a job candidate?

I have come to realise how essential solutions building is:

1) It goes beyond the process of diagnosis and remedy and looks at the underlying roots of the problems

2) Sometimes it isn’t even a problem you’re solving but rather making an enhancement, which means solutions building is a more kaizen (continuous improvement) approach to daily activities

3) Solutions building is the result of not depending on one outcome (good/bad) when trying to solve a problem, it is made of several attempts at problem solving and looks at how to better that outcome

4) Solutions building requires action, as a follow up of decision making. It is not complete until there is a favourable outcome.

5) Solutions building is a part of innovation. Its can doing the same thing in a different manner.

So here’s another demand to be considered: building a capacity of solutions building rather than problem solving, if this cannot guarantee sustainability, at least it should provide competitive advantage.