The Innovation Mantra: Technology – The Key to Growth and Development
I would like to paraphrase this discussion by saying that innovation, despite the strength and changes it brings to the economy, has also a price. And today I’m going to be talking a little bit about that price, as we go along.
The Chinese have the same word for opportunity and for crisis. So generally, that is taken to imply that in every crisis there is an opportunity. And this is essentially true, because if you were to take a look at the Fortune 500 companies, you’ll find that almost half of them began after the first and second world wars. You’ll find that it is in the midst of destruction, in the midst of havoc and chaos, that some of the most brilliant and innovative technology has evolved, over the past century.
Germany, in 1933 was a country that was brought to its heel, and yet by 1939, it was the single most powerful country in Europe. In six years, it changed from a virtually unimaginable state. In 1950, most of the German cities were basically in rubbles. They were mowed down to the ground…you basically have to see it to believe it. From that rubble, in a matter of less than a decade, by 1960, Germany was already what one would consider to be a rising economic nation. The country was already among the top five in the world, and even today, the EU is driven by Germany’s might, to a great extent.
Having said that, there is also a reverse of the situation, being that in every opportunity, there is crisis. The Chinese word for opportunity and crisis in interchangeable, and that is where the real challenge lies – in understanding the fact that in every opportunity, one has to undergo a crisis. So even in innovation, there has to be challenges and a price that has to be paid for this process.
The first thing we have to learn is, to go against the grain. We have been coached, and structured, and our thinking and parameters have been driven into granite, so to speak. Innovation begins in looking the other way.
Let me share a little about our own company. Back in 1998, we were told that Hong Kong was getting into a recession, and it resulted in many companies fleeing Hong Kong, wary of the communist charge, people being retrenched, and otherwise. And as everyone was fleeing Hong Kong, we went against the grain. It would have been rather hard for us to pull this off at any other time. It was primarily because of the recession, and primarily because of the trouble at the time, that we could edge open the door and come in. We were able to acquire skill sets that would have cost us 10 to 15 times more. Two years later, we were able to walk into a building that we would never have been able to afford a year earlier. We were able to do things primarily because the recession created an opportunity. So we grabbed it and we went in despite everyone telling us how it could not be done.
When it comes to innovation, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, I have a little problem dealing with experts. We hire a lot of experts. We have a number of experts in various fields telling us how things should not be done. And they are rather brilliant at doing that – telling us how it cannot be done, how it should not be done and what can happen if we were to fall flat on our faces. And the reason we’re here today is because I’ve stopped listening to them. Innovation begins with a belief, and being able to think beyond the norm and out of the box. And we have decided that the world of IT CAN work. They told us that the world of IT CANNOT work, and will not permeate the third world fast enough for us to do business. So we went and opened up our first e-commerce portal in 1998. And we began by taking on a challenge at the time, by taking our first production to the nearest country, which is the Philippines, where internet penetration was rather low, comparatively. It is probably just as low today.
Some experts told us it would be really good for us to start an e-commerce operation and succeed in the Philippines. So we did exactly that. We went in there, we set up an e-commerce portal, we talked to the housewives, we talked to people from the streets, we told them about the products and services that we had. And then we worked on logistics, making the products appear at their doorsteps.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are in over 180 countries across the planet, with 40 offices and we provide a huge number of services and products. On a good day, we have been known to overtake the sales of Amazon.com, and we are one of the many partners of Microsoft. I believe strictly that this is because we decided that we would do something different.
I did talk to you in the beginning about innovation having a cost. That was a major challenge and debate between Sir Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s most eminent poets, who is also a nobel prize winner, and Mahatma Gandhi. Both of them had a major challenge with technology. Gandhiji felt that technology would come at a cost, a price…a spiritual price..one that we have to acknowledge. We cannot afford to lose our soul to technology.
We, for one, have always kept Gandhi as our icon. As a follow up to this, I’d like to show you a little clip where technology, as envisioned by an Italian company, has taken Gandhi to a whole new height…a whole new level of penetration. It’s a wonder how technology, when used right, can innovate, and reach out to touch a billion hearts. This video amazes me every single time I watch it. If pictures were a thousand words, a video adds another thousand to that. This is innovation at work, ladies and gentlemen.
Beginning: “If you want me to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of ‘Love’, it must be a message of ‘Truth’. I want to capture your hearts. Let your hearts clap in unison with what I’m saying, and I think, I shall have finished my work. Therefore, I want you to go away with the thought that Asia has to conquer the West. Then, the question that a friend asked yesterday, ‘Did I believe in one world?’ Of course, I believe in one world.”
The clip can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVaEpEO1zEM
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what technology can do in building a nation.
Thank you very much!