I recently spoke at a very well organised and attended conference run by BIBA (Barbados International Business Association) in October 2012. I was charged with delivering a speech entitled ‘Entrepreneurship and the Global Markets’. This was quite important to me because having spoken in the Caribbean over 10 times in the last 18 months I was keen to share my thoughts on what it means to compete on an international level whilst addressing challenges which are unique to the region.
I thought about giving you a synopsis of what I said on the day until I found the notes to my speech. So here it is, undiluted, for your reading pleasure.
THE GLOBAL MARKET
So you’ve heard the bad news – we’re in another recession. The good news is that recession is correction; if a child misbehaves for too long they’re corrected and rightly so. That said, the idea around correction is that it must present new ideas and opportunities.
Those opportunities are typically adopted by the radical thinkers and visionaries who will herald in a new change. The question you need to ask yourselves individually and as organisations is what side of that change do you wish to be on.
“Change cannot be stopped only facilitated.”
THE BARBADIAN CHALLENGE
Since being here I’ve heard:
- In Barbados we don’t have a global mentality
- We don’t want to share ideas
- We don’t trust each other
- We’re not aggressive enough to compete
- We toe the line and are therefore not innovative enough
- Our educational system doesn’t train us to become entrepreneurs
- We’re too traditional, there’s too much protocol and red tape
- The policies put in place by government don’t trickle down to the people who need it most.
- The limitations in mindset have been ingrained over 200 years so we can’t change things over night.
My response today is that if this thinking is perpetuated it will never go away. They say “Julian it’s not paranoia these things really happen”. My response is that for you, your organisation or the country to act differently it must first think differently. The belief system has to be changed, and if takes another generation so be it, but who will be the catalyst for that change.
Ask yourself the bold question “What am I doing to make a difference? Is what I’m doing enabling or disabling change?”
We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
I don’t think there is anyone in this room who doesn’t have the capacity to do things differently even just slightly to foster a more enabling environment.
It has been explained to me that one of the reasons entrepreneurs across the Caribbean keep their ideas secret is because of scale. Arguably, in the UK or the US if I have an idea and share it with someone and it’s copied, there’s enough scale for two companies doing the same thing to still be successful. Because islands in the Caribbean are small, they’re not afforded the same possibility of success.
Sounds like a reasonable excuse for keeping an idea secret, but let’s think about what actually happens before we extend the life of this excuse.
- We make the assumption that someone will do it better than us which isn’t true – Google wasn’t the first search engine. They succeeded by focusing on creating an excellent experience for their users which meant having the best search results.
- We assume that someone with more money will do it better which isn’t true – The Wright brothers didn’t have as much investment capital as their competitors. They succeeded because they never gave up.
- We assume there isn’t enough room in the market which isn’t true – What gave Facebook the audacity to start another social network when website giants like MySpace we’re dominating the market?
- Besides any investor will tell you (that to a point) competition qualifies a market. Google, YouTube, Amazon, eBay weren’t the first of their genre, but they became the best.
The clear message here is that by seeking out excellence and delivering real value, you will capture the market no matter how small it is. But in the context of entrepreneurship you can only do that if you’re not chasing money and actually have the genuine belief that you’re good at what you’re doing and can add value to your customers.
I believe that we need to redefine the mission statements of companies from being the local or regional leaders for into being global leaders. Leading doesn’t require size; you can lead in other ways, not in revenue perhaps but excellence. There may be a well defined area of what your business does that can help to position your as best in class. This could be a process within the business or intellectual property which you haven’t valued.
Once you say you’re a ‘global player’, leader or innovator you will be forced to act like one. Before I started writing my last book I knew I wanted to be a best seller so I acted accordingly and it became a no.1 best seller. Before I started my first successful business I knew that it had to work so I acted accordingly.
Whilst on the island someone said to me “Julian, there are 1,000’s of books on entrepreneurship, why would someone buy your book?” My response was “Why wouldn’t they… “. I decided to start from what we intend to do not why we cannot do it.
Barbados needs to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurship, government, public sector, private sector (intrapreneurs), educational institutions – they need to all do their part otherwise the ecosystem becomes imbalanced and the net effect I believe we are experiencing in this day and time.
- Seeing opportunities where others only see problems.
- Find solutions where others make excuses.
- Choosing to see the possibly of change and not the downside of risk.
- Not doing it for the money.
- Focusing on the long term goal not the day to day problems.
- Not looking back to a safety net of employment if things don’t work out but by committing to the process and burning the bridge of failure.
- Is not intellectualizing the problem, flexing our cranial muscle by eloquently highlighting the issues and even proposing a solution…but getting up and taking real measurable action.
- Having a good business not just a good idea.
- Undertaking an idea which is bigger than you.
- Getting people on your team who are smarter than you because you realise that it’s not just that you cannot do it alone but you alone don’t have the necessary skills or expertise to execute on an idea that is bigger than you.
- Redefining how failure is viewed.
- Pivoting and doing so incrementally.
- Becoming a worst case scenario planner.
- Embracing different styles of learning. Without a degree you can still be an entrepreneur.
- Be passionate not emotional. Passion is no good without excellence. Investors want to see passion but they want to see a level head too. Go into the bank with passion and no security and see how far you get.
Through the local chamber develop cross chambers of commerce in the same way Trinidad and Tobago did with Nigeria. Fund trade missions to some of the BRIC economies and start to develop the necessary relationships across sector.
A local consultant told me that they’re often overlooked in their own country because they’re told they do not have enough ‘exposure’ – So provide them with the framework to develop that exposure. Involve the entrepreneurs under 30 in the conversation. There have been two youth focussed Tedex events in the last year in BIM. How have, who we recognise are the future, our youth been supported since those events?
Use technology, use the web, use mobile. I evangelise these areas because the youth are the biggest consumers of this media and are therefore our commercial ticket into the future of mobile and tech.v But only if they’re supported and shown how their skills can be transferred into professional environments.
Tech has democratised a number of sectors and flattened the competitive landscape such that a developer be they in Bombay or Bridgetown can compete with companies in Brooklyn or Birmingham.
The secret to success is that you will become what you think about. Focus means not stopping until you’ve got there. Whether you focus on, services or tech the secret is “If you want more give more”. Find creative low or zero cost ways to add value to your customers and turn them into evangelists. It’s the only way to stay competitive globally.
Barbados is an amazing place with amazing opportunities that will require some amazing people. But we must work together, if you know you’re the weakest link or even the bottle neck, be brave enough to solve that problem before someone solves it for you. Often it’s simply a matter of sticking to what you’re good at not just what you’ve been employed to do.
Coming out of this discussion I don’t expect the masses to move but I expect leaders, entrepreneurs and visionaries to move to masses. I expect them make a difference so that Barbados can excel internationally and secure its place in the global economy.