Viewing your business within a global context, in most cases, is not a daily exercise. Sure, AES Corp., touting its presence in 20 countries, may be a notable exception; and many U.S. utilities hold interests in overseas businesses—a trend that has increased significantly over the last few years. But, all in all, daily pressures keep our sights set on life as we’ve come to know it in these United States.
But, according to Kenichi Ohmae, a corporate strategist and author of The Invisible Continent, a change in thinking is long overdue.
Speaking at Edison Electric Institute’s conference, The New Millennium, in Montreal this June, he spoke of the “invisible continent,” which was “discovered” only in the past 50 years, and has begun to be “settled” since the mid-80s.
In contrast to earlier human history, when sweeping changes were often related to the discovery of new lands, this invisible continent is a continent without land. Primarily existing because of computer technology, it too spurred changes in the world.
The cyber dimension of the invisible continent has had a tremendous impact on consumers and producers—in a relatively short time span. Consider the following observation made by L. Jacques Menard, Hydro-Quebec’s chairman: There is more computer in the average laptop today than was onboard Apollo 11 during its journey to the moon.
Another dimension of the invisible continent is that it has no borders. Ohmae said the world has moved a long way toward a fully borderless economy, and economic borders between nations are far less important than they used to be. He wrote that consumers have become acclimated to a global point of view by a century’s worth of increasing cross-border communication, travel and consumption.
The resulting sophistication of consumers must be addressed by companies in order for them to remain competitive in the invisible continent. Dr. Heinrich von Pierer, president and CEO of Siemens AG, spoke at the EEI conference and listed five key factors for remaining competitive within a global perspective:
- Customer orientation. There must be responsiveness to what customers want and what they’re willing to pay for—no more, no less. Companies with the most demanding, knowledgeable customers will defeat their competitors.
- Innovation across the board. Speed of innovation is the key, because as global competition increases, time-to-market is critical. von Pierer said e-business is the greatest driver of innovation today—time and location are no longer limiting.
- Strong market position. A winner must have a global presence.
- World class profitability. Profits are of key importance to shareholders and drive continued investment in the company.
- Company must be attractive to the best and brightest employees because knowledge is the key to success.
To win in the invisible continent, Ohmae encourages revolution—with a twist. In past revolutions, which involved nobility vs. peasants or capitalists vs. laborers, people fought against the exploitative rulers. In today’s invisible continent, it’s much more difficult to identify the exploiters.
In fact, Ohmae contends there may be no external enemy. Instead, the enemy is within ourselves and within our companies—in the form of conservative, stagnant approaches.
He points out that the majority of the people in the developed world are the “haves.” Not surprisingly, the “haves” don’t want the world to change. Comfort encourages complacency.
Ohmae called for an uprising against this complacency. Until the narrow view is conquered and replaced by a declaration of global interdependence, your company will struggle with zero visibility within the invisible continent.