Managing the inflection point in organisations
Lecture presented at the Nigerian Institute of Management, Ede, Osun State on Thursday, November 26, 2015
ALL Protocols Observed
My intervention here today transcends sheer pleasure as many are wont to say. It’s a patriotic response to a familial yearning. It readily reminds me of what gave rise to Chinua Achebe’s Africa is People lecture. For the curious ones among us, we may Google0 up the entire text of that Achebe’s lecture later. Its relevance here however today derives from my academic and professional inclinations which do not seem to bear serious semblance with what conservative management experts will interpret management science to mean.
In Achebe’s lecture mentioned above, he had recalled how he had been selected to deliver the 1998 edition of World Bank’s Presidential Lecture. He wondered on why they decided to pick on him. Several questions ran riot in his head. He accepted the invitation all the same. But Achebe’s voice and a few others in the literary world including that of our own WS, Wole Soyinka, are not such you could only ignore in any circumstance to your peril. After all, witty Achebe, like the rest of us function within some economies and therefore it may not be out of place to sound them out on their perspectives. Thus, in his delivery that day, Achebe submitted, among others, that it would be wrong for the Bretton Woods Institutions of World Bank and International Monetary Fund, IMF, to reckon with African peoples as sheer statistics. He argued that Africa is populated by peoples who, as human beings, respond to both good and bad situations, and may not have limitless capacity to endure pressure.
The most recent and perhaps the strongest signal of the truism of the limitation to people’s endurance of economic pressure was the Greek economic crisis induced by the Bretton Woods’ prescriptions. Of course, we can also recall readily the Babangida must go campaign across our campuses and cities induced by the Olu Falae’s insistence that there was no alternative to the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP.
Today is a near replay of the 1998 experience of Achebe as evidenced by my profile. The wisdom in this distinguished body’s choice of my person is however reflective of insightful appreciation of the increasing borderlessness of bodies of knowledge otherwise reckoned as multidisciplinary approach to issues which I appear to symbolise, again as evident in my profile. I started with a degree in English, proceeded to the study of international affairs with emphasis on human rights; continued with a master’s degree in research inclined study of mass communication which was subsequently reinforced with the study of globalisation and development. All of these together have been made to willy-nilly impact on my PhD thesis and in my diversified formal and informal engagements locally and internationally.
The closest interaction I have practically had with management in the strict sense of it has probably been in carrying out my routine responsibilities either as an editor, project officer (as a development worker) or lecturer. In other words, consciously or unconsciously, I have been involved in varying level of resource handling in relation to my professional practices.
But if we had to muster sufficient intellect to bring out the rationale behind our relevance here today, why the reach for what may seem obscurantist? Does the topic not signal a somewhat numerate imagery closer to core sciences than the social science to which management belongs? It is an attempt to experiment with intellectual adventure which sessions like this should generously avail us with.
The organisers of this session subscribe fully to the philosophy of academic freedom and gave me the latitude to decide on a relevant subject. I saw that as a big honour which should not be abused. I therefore settled for a topic whose discussion will be not bore many yet will be management friendly.
The idea of engaging with “strategic inflection” in today’s discourse is in line with the global best practices of the recent times induced by some universal phenomenon. In mathematics, especially in differential calculus, an inflection point or point of inflection otherwise referred to as flex, or inflection (inflexion) is a point on a curve at which the curve changes from being concave (concave downward) to convex (concave upward), or vice versa. Of course, our preferred direction is rather obvious which is concave or upward, if we are talking about global best practices further confirmed by the Yoruba maxim of “a ma n pe gbon ni”, here taking after a comtemporary leading light in literary scholarship, Pius Adesanmi.
Globalisation: This is in line with the global best practices signposted early in this presentation. The inception of globalisation is one thing that has been difficult to ascertain. Some scholars and analysts have argued that it is not a recent development after all. According to this school of thought, social and trans-border commercial activities had been in existence as far back as the 16th century. Some others on the other hand, assert that the recent development they reckon with is characterised by activities that far transcend any that history had ever recorded. They cite such developments as the regime of unprecedented global capital flows and related activities.
According to the online Business Dictionary, globalisations is the worldwide movement toward economic, financial, trade, and communications integration. Globalisation implies the opening of local and nationalistic perspectives to a broader outlook of an interconnected and interdependent world with free transfer of capital, goods, and services across national frontiers. However, it does not include unhindered movement of labor which is why we are daily confronted with migration crisis especially in Europe these days.
Martin Albrow cited by Baylis and Smith (1999) further describes globalization as the process – still ongoing- through which the world has in many respects been becoming a single place.
In the economic realm it probably manifests best as free markets with investment defying geographical and all other forms of restrictions.
According to Scholte (2000), globalisation could be said to be informed by some four factors. These include the spread of rationalism as a dominant knowledge framework and certain turns in capitalist development. The rest are technological innovations in communications and data processing as well as the construction of enabling regulatory frameworks. The last two factors are the most relevant to this paper as management practice which is what is in focus today have responded essentially to these. The technological innovations said to be unmistakable include breakthroughs in the areas of transport, communications and data processing. Capacities of cables as well as the speed of digital processors have increased and are virtually ubiquitous. All these help to create a high degree of technical standardisation within and between countries helping at the same time to create trans-world social spaces. And these have been improving virtually by the day. What, with the arrival of the Internet otherwise called worldwideweb which practically blurs time and space boundaries? Indeed, some authors have suggested that the factor of technology, more than any other, has been the single driving force of globalisation.
In Mathematics, an inflection point is when the rate of the slope of a curve changes sign from negative to positive. In physical terms, it is when the shape of a curve changes from convex to concave. Or simply, when a curve goes up.
Strategic Inflection Point
“A strategic Inflection point is when the balance of forces shift from the old structure, from the old ways of doing business and the old ways of competing, to the new. Before the strategic Inflection point, the industry was more like the old. After it, its more like the new. It is a point, where the curve has subtly but profoundly changed, never to change back again… the perilous transition between the old and the new ways of doing business
(Groove, A: 33-34)
Information Age, Era Like No Other
having had what can be said to be a foretaste of Groove’s postulation and the reality of globalization, what other stimulation do we need to be alive to the wave of globalization as individuals involved in management especially that Groove only signposts the prevailing trend? This is age of information society as Sociologist Manuel Castells would say. He concludes that it is the very basis of the interdependence and impliedly the growth and development of different organizations and countries of the world. The Economist magazine of February 2010 indeed takes it to the extreme and declares unequivocally that it is the age of “Data Deluge” in the cover story of that edition. A spectacle typifying volume and speed from The Economist:
Eighteen months ago, Li & Fung, a firm that manages supply chains for retailers, saw 100 gigabytes of information flow through its network each day. Now the amount has increased tenfold. During 2009, American drone aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan sent back around 24 years’ worth of video footage. New models being deployed this year will produce ten times as many data streams as their predecessors, and those in 2011 will produce 30 times as many.
Everywhere you look, the quantity of information in the world is soaring. According to one estimate, mankind created 150 exabytes (billion gigabytes) of data in 2005. This year, it will create 1,200 exabytes. Merely keeping up with this flood, and storing the bits that might be useful, is difficult enough. Analysing it, to spot patterns and extract useful information, is harder still. Even so, the data deluge is already starting to transform business, government, science and everyday life (http://www.economist.com/node/15579717)
Clearly and ahead of The Economist, internet freedom activists had seen the direction things were bound to go and strongly believed they should not be indifferent to it. They resorted to hacktivism. This is the process of unauthorized accessing of the contents of a computer to make political statement. In the recent time, this has happened more to published works. A most remarkable height of hacktivism is that involving a young American computer programming expert, Aaaron Swartz, who comitted suicide at 26!
Aaron Hillel Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, entrepreneur, writer, political organizer and Internet hacktivist who was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS and the Markdown publishing format, the organization Creative Commons, the website framework web.py and the social news site, Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami.[i] He committed suicide while under federal indictment for data-theft, a prosecution that was characterized by his family as being “the product of a criminal-justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach”.
Swartz as a civil awareness activist also helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010, he became a research fellow at Harvard University’s Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.
On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after surreptitiously installing a computer in an Institute closet which he set to systematically download academic journal articles from JSTOR. Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and eleven violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release.
Swartz declined a plea bargain under which he would have served six months in federal prison. Two days after the prosecution rejected a counter-offer by Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, where he had hanged himself.
In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.
Let no one mistake our message for incitement to undue radicalism here. Rather we have gone this far to emphasise the importance of access to information in our lives and indeed the sacrifices some genuinely convinced individuals had made to democratize it beyond selfish indulgence. There are however two main submissions here: Firstly, whether we are professionally adventurous or not, there is so much information out there in the public domain to support and sustain humanity’s endeavour for a better world. Of course, as much as for destructive purposes which why it is more compelling for us as management experts to be ahead of those who would put public information to negative use. Secondly, to echo the ageless sage, Obafemi Awolowo, “only the deep can call to the deep”. It’s the extent to which we are ready to explore information that will shape our world view. This is the very basis of the continentwide campaign for internet freedom. Already, as you know, in such countries as Finland, access to the internet is a fundamental right.
But how are we able to manage the information deluge? There is no alternative to what Manuel Caastells call technoliteracy. Computer skills have become indispensable. But not just ordinarily. Can we all spare some time to reflect on what may become of the sector in which each of us function today, say in 10 or 15 years time? Most undisputably, practices in the realms of banking, retail trading, law, catering, telecommunications, catering and agriculture are already manifesting computer induced sophistication. Labour and general human rights activists like yours sincerely will frankly label it downsizing.
Today, the banking industry has become so less human being dependent that the only regions of the world where banking keeps expanding as an industry are the largely illiterate ones including Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria stands out most uniquely with bogus building for bank branches, continentally and even globally. What do you need all the fat tables in our banks for when the apex banking keeps preaching cashless policy? Why should anyone deliberately run him/herself against the law of any country by travelling with more than $10,000 cash with all the electronic transfer avenues and a number of airports around the world (except Nigeria and few others) serviced by free internet access and even buses run by consortium of hotels with good presence on the internet?
Telecommunications industry is perhaps a greater recipient of the dynamism induced by computerisation. May we all ask ourselves: What has happened to all the roomy facilities that used to be dedicated to exchanges in various establishments? As if, the GSM wonder with its multifarious functions isn’t intriguing enough, the multiplying instant messaging and supra-telephoning platforms dependent on the internet including whatsapp, viber, skype, vimeo and so forth have all come as huge relief for pockets even as they have additional advantages of transnational operations which may not accrue readily to basic GSM facilities.
The effect of computerization on journalism has manifested in countless phases and may take us more than twenty years back. The most recent is the signal yours sincerely attempted to drop in the Saturday Tribune of November 7, 2015. Simply, journalism will soon become robot assisted. Robots, with their artificial intelligence will in the months to come be deployed to complement the efforts of humans in and outside of the newsroom. Already, unmanned drones otherwise referred to as quadcopters are being used to take photographs. Some of them even have the capacity to livestream photographs on the internet once appropriately programmed. Computers have suddenly made typists and copy boys irrelevant in the newsrooms as such is the level of computerization that information processing and storage in the newsroom have become more efficient and speedier.
So much said about the computer as a basic tool. The internet has since come to confer a much higher level of performance. Hear another phenomenal entrepreneur like Groove, Bill Gates (founder of the renowned Microsoft company, together with co-authors, Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson): “Popularity of the Internet is the most important single development in the world of computing since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981(Gates, Myhrvold and Rinearson,1995: 91)
After the book- The Road Ahead- was written, Gates recognized that the Internet was gaining critical mass, and on December 7, 1995 – just weeks after the release of the book – he redirected Microsoft to become an Internet-focused company. Then he and the coauthors revised the book, made it 20,000 words longer and focusing on the Internet.
Distinguished gentlemen and ladies, whether we are Christians or not, we can’t claim to be indifferent to the fundamentality of the “word” in our lives. In particular, the phrase “In the beginning was the word…” But the word as a constant variable keeps interfacing with new variables by the day the most prominent being the Internet technology in the recent time. The renowned Spanish scholar, Manuel Castells locates this on three platforms namely, production, dissemination and consumption. Where is the publishing industry here?
If we approximate production to the preparation of manuscripts and allied pre-press activities, it is not what we used to have in the past again. Research is becoming increasingly exciting and the challenges are becoming increasingly involving such that researchers often have to update trends. Although I can authoritatively say that researching on the internet is not part of what most Nigerian schools teach as part of Research as a course, there is hardly any research undertaken today that can measure up to international standard, global best practices, that can be independent of internet navigation. Was Aaron Swartz a fool to have nurtured such a commitment to information access to the extent of paying the supreme price for it?
This is not to talk of the influence of the increasing sophistication of printing machines with bourgeoning capabilities. It is no longer a breaking story that a number of Nigerians today indulge in off-shore publishing thus widening the outlet for for forex leakage. It is particularly important to mention here the place of the Internet reliant virtual private network which can be both advantageous and disadvantageous to the nation’s publishing industry. I hope we would have enough time to exchange ideas on this during discussion.
The physical boundary blurring effect of the Internet has indeed rendered publishers in countries like Nigeria relatively powerless to their contemporaries in the advanced world. This has also been strengthened by the emphasis on “foreign publications” for the promotion of academics in our higher institutions. Publishers in the west now embark on virtual roaming globally in search of quality manuscripts such as Ph.D theses often offer. Indeed, such is the global preponderance that as soon as title registration of doctoral theses is done at the University of Ibadan, these publishers go after the potential authors.
Dissemination is no less dependent on Internet technology, indeed, it is burgeoning. The advent of e-publishing has changed the face of publishing forever. Operations of the publishing industry thus get suddenly compressed even as, ironically, frontiers of patronage may extend substantially with contrastingly lower earnings. For consumers though, it seems a brighter day. Publishers who want to remain in business therefore need to be creative but this may require some collaboration. Are we there?
Consumption of published works today is also such that handheld devices especially tablets support. Indeed, some tablets are pre-loaded with a number of titles. But if some of these devices imported here legally get pre-loaded with some local music what percentage of our locally published educational texts are patronized? I want to believe that the brains behind our “Opon Imo” were conscious of this. I equally hope they envision a future that will sustain this lofty innovation with the deserved dynamism.
In the light of all the above, as a commissioned researcher on Internet policy, I can authoritatively confirm that Nigeria, till date, does not have an internet policy. But how much more can we make noise about this to alert the government in place to the reality of the increasing dominance of digital economy all over the world? In Nigeria alone, since Jumia and Konga started flying across our screens displaying all manner of wares, several other similar online traders have cropped up to the extent that the specialized ones as well as well barter specialists have since joined the league. All of them give us the option of paying cash on delivery notwithstanding the CBN’s cashless policy campaign. The question is: If somebody is sophisticated enough to shop online and he can enjoy the privilege inspecting his commodity physically before taking possession, would it be too much for us to enact the law to make it mandatory for such a person to pay electronically? We can begin to imagine the tones of money lost to tax evaders in the cloak of online traders.
There is also an urgent need to initiate and sustain a good bonding mechanism between the publishing and allied industries on one hand and the university system on the other. The military-industrial complex in the U.S. which gave birth to the internet offers boundless instructions. It may not be a bad idea for the publishing industry to support the research that will be directed at identifying solutionist avenues for the distractions that the digital age has come up with for youngsters in favour of reading.
Such is the overwhelming importance that the Internet has come to foist on us all that, Gates again came up with another publication, “Business at the Speed of thought”. In it he succinctly identifies a 12-point strategy an average contemporary professional such as we are should adopt on account of the inception of the computer and internet. These are:
Information flow is your life blood
Create a paperless office
RIDE THE INFLECTION ROCKET
Touch your customers
ADOPT WEB LIFESTYLE (Unusual Phds.)
Change the boundaries of business
Get to market first
Improve on strategic thought
Shift people into thinking work
Raise your corporate IQ & EQ
• Build digital processes on standards
The growth of organisations and individuals are never accidental. Rather, they are conditioned and are often so done in relation to the environments in which they function. The world of professional practices has evolved over the years perhaps with distinct borders in the past. In the recent time, several common strands run through different professions enhancing their interrelatedness and interdependence. For handlers of resources therefore at the centre of all, the need to be consciously trendy with the continually unfolding innovations cannot be overemphasized. The Internet, otherwise referred to as the information superhighway, is at the centre of all of these. It is the technological manifestation of our local Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA, 2011) guaranteeing our access to the wider world for better performance. As far as information is concerned, its value for the so called experts in whatever mould may not be any less worthy for the rest of us.
Thank you all for your attention
• Dr. Akanni teaches journalism at the School Of Communication , Lagos State University