October 17, 2012

Welcome to the Asian Century: A Lesson From Biomimicry

There are quirky, little known and clearly underutilized pockets in the pool of human knowledge that can have profound impact on business. One such area is biomimicry. It  offers, so far, over 1,500 radical solutions that nature is already employing. Competitive statagies that can be applied to human problems to develop new products, new technologies, transport, and business strategies, form collaboration for defense against competitors.

Two marine themes come to mind in the context of thinking about the future economic relationships between Australia and China: tidal waves and barnacles. The former is the reference to global megatrends that change over, increasingly shorter, periods of time, where the direction and source of economic power shifts on a large scale. It cannot be stopped or competed with. It requires those at risk of being swept by the wave to come up with ways to collaborate and surf the wave.

The latter, refers to how small economies and small businesses can use their unique abilities to benefit from larger ones and to compete and survive.

Picture this. “A group of conglomerates in the SE Asia accounts for a dragon share of the business transacted there. Willmar International, still operating its multibillion dollar business from its original shop house in Chinatown, has a turnover that is 21.4% of Singapore’s GDP; Hong Leong Group, 14% of Malaysia’s. In Thailand the Charoen Pokphand Group accounts for over 10% of the Thai GDP. These names are unknown outside of SE Asia, but that is about to change,” spoke Adaire Fox-Martin, VP at SAP at a recent Economic Growth Summit.

The interesting part? All these companies are family run businesses! Note three unique characteristics: collective access to natural resources and low cost of labour, with many of them controlling the entirety of the supply chain; timely decision making because of owners’ direct involvement; and personal networks that enable them to access and channel funds into new businesses and ideas.

Tidal Wave: Welcome to the Asian Century

Over 80% of Australian businesses are SMEs, who do not have the potential to control this magnitude of resources. But this is the inevitable backdrop of the competition they face.

Change is a constant. We must embrace it and ride the wave. Those who travel alone will be swept by the wave of competition. Australian business leaders need to see the bigger picture, revise their competition strategies and master Collaboration to form new alliances, fast!

Collaboration is about forming alliances to mobilise and leverage resources, skills and capabilities of others. Australian businesses have many advantages to do so, even without the natural resources.

Business IS personal. Western culture has spent the last hundred and fifty years separating business from personal. Today, many western businesses forget that people do business with people and that it’s all about relationships.

The just announced world’s first Agility Study reveals how organisations can develop necessary agility to withstand the turbulent winds of change. According to the study agile organisations have a far-reaching Horizon that allows everyone in the organisation to spot threats and opportunities; Velocity to shift resources around quickly and efficiently and Plasticity to create or dissolve relationships quickly.

BTW, this approach addresses two perennial challenges of innovation: short-term focus and lack of integration of strategic objectives with the rest of the organisation.

Barnacle effect: swarming and rapid growth.

Let’s go back to South East Asian situation. It poses an immediate threat but also huge opportunities for agile Australian businesses. Firstly, these conglomerates have not sufficiently invested in the skills needed to thrive in the international markets. Secondly, they have concentrated on productivity and efficiency, with less focus on innovation. Thirdly, few of these organisations have the needed expertise in technology, training, systems, and customer service skills to improve their competitive edge. There is an opportunity for Australia’s businesses to fill these gaps and aid these organisations in meeting their challenges.

Australia is in a prime position to offer competitive strategies of creativity, technology, best practices, and business expertise to help SE Asian organisations succeed in their inevitable global expansion.

But the window of opportunity is small. These successful Asian enterprises face similar challenges to those we see in Australia today. The war for talent is about to break out.

Great opportunities are emerging for Australian businesses in the connected world. The opportunities of these competitive strategies will be driven by courageous, open minded leaders, not by the Government or large multinationals. It’s time to get personal and build networks and win-win-win relationships where it matters, one at a time.

Margaret Manson | Chief Inspirator | InnoFuture


InnoFuture helps organisations identify and leverage Competitive Advantage and “translate” it into an operational system that enables continuous improvement by guiding and inspiring people in their daily jobs.

Contact: Margaret Manson or (+61) 0407 661 130.