Dealing with the future
By: Basil Springer

'Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.' - Henry R. Luce (1898 - 1967)

The choice of topic for this week’s column was made easy when Ian Bertrand, International Consultant, suggested to me that I flesh out the above text. Given that business is the engine of growth, then it is desirable that one understands the environment within which it operates, manages the processes well and achieves sustainable success. Businesses which rest on their laurels and pay little attention to the changing environment, will inevitably meet their demise. It is therefore incumbent upon the businessperson to continually focus on the future, but of course using collective experience of the past to guide the business in this engaging activity.

It is indeed a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight, beginning with aa strategic visioning approach, which allows the business to survive and grow. It is interesting to note that established companies use historical trends in their business, along with foresight, to help chart the future. However, new companies, innovative businesses, sunrise industries have no history and thus the instinctive exercise in foresight is the only choice. Caribbean economies need a boost to enhance their rate of growth to levels which are greater than can be expected from massaging the success of existing companies. Innovative businesses must emerge, hence this has to take centre stage in our economic development strategies.

The prospects are not as daunting as we might first imagine because even though there might be a dearth of experience or even though our visionary skills might not be developed to the level that we might like, the Internet allows us to access global information instantly and hence we can garner a wide range of ideas and learn from the experience of others in a very short time.

A practitioner in the business development process, enjoys a very exciting life. One is forced to continually change one’s perspective as the exploration activity evolves. It is an exercise in what the operational research scientists would call ‘evolutionary operation’. It is a sequential process where the decision as to where to take the next step is informed by the output from the previous step. In the business context, it is a risky business if one relies too much on historical information which might lose its impact and relevance with the passage of time. This is not to say that the historical information should be completely ignored.

An essential feature in developing a business is to commit to a specific mission which can be delineated in a mission statement of less than 30 words, so that it can be remembered. The mission statement is the beacon which guides you forward. As each step is taken a reality check must be made to ensure that you are still on the right path towards the goal. The Vertically Integrated Sea Island Cotton project in which I and many others are now engaged, is indeed exemplary of this evolutionary operation approach. As more and more information is gathered, optimal decisions are made, and when one reflects on the passage of time there is indeed progress toward the goal even though gears have had to be changed from time to time.

For the conservative among us this dynamic practice might be offensive, but if we are to create significant deal flow to attract ongoing investment and growth, then a forceful approach is needed. We will find ourselves engaged in cyclical processes where we keep re-examining issues. If we do engage in this practice, every time an issue comes around we should ensure that we are dealing with it at a higher level. That is how progress is made. Persistence, commitment and discipline are essential to sustainable success.

It is probably appropriate to say a few words about the performance of the West Indies cricket team. I’ve always maintained that until we get the structure of WI cricket right and until we get serious management in place we will always suffer fluctuating fortunes. When the team does well the cricketing public have short memories and forget about recent failures. When the team fails, the cricketing public is at their vitriolic best.

The management challenge in West Indian cricket is to get the performance on an even keel and eradicate the business of fluctuating fortunes. Then when this has been achieved, we must then induce a trend of growth that will take us closer to the glory years. There are so many things wrong with West Indian cricket that it is really quite easy to start to fix it. The structure, the compensation package, the culture, the management style, the fitness, the mental preparation, all need to be addressed by no-nonsense leadership if we ever are to jump out of the present random performance mode. It can be done. We can take WI cricket to the pinnacle of success but it has to be a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) - )