Articles & Blogs

Are you listening?

21 December 2012
Vineet Nayar

“Do you think they’ll resolve this political gridlock?” “Did you update your Facebook status yet?” “Do you think this fiscal cliff could be a reality?” “Wow! Take a look at this tweet!” “Cut it out! It’s our money on the line…” “Ok, but let me just reply to this text first!

Did you guess right? These are not random statements but an actual dialogue between two perfectly intelligent young men. It transpired right next to me as I waited for my flight at JFK during a recent trip to New York.

Welcome to “distraction economy.” The world is kicking and screaming for our attention – the economy, the environment, madmen with guns! Would you please put your smartphone away and listen?

Look back at the year gone by; perhaps the biggest downside of 2012 was the global impasse, the near-complete deepfreeze on decision-making. Thinking about it now, I cannot help but question whether if it could be connected to the distraction economy.

The downtime and switchover costs from multiple distractions may not be our only problem or our biggest yet. But it is, without a doubt, a widespread malaise and one that is threatening to compound every other problem.

Matt Richtel could say he forewarned us as he wrote about this power of distraction among schoolkids in his New York Times article Growing up Digital, Wired for distraction. Marjorie Connelly confirmed it in a poll among adults as well. Today, we see it all around us.  According to one estimate, distraction costs the US business $650 billion annually.

Without a doubt, we need a new sense of discipline to prevent us from drowning in distraction. And it’s high time, going by the turbulence anticipated in global economic projections for 2013.

So what do we need to do differently in the year ahead?  To put it simply: We need to “Focus”.

Focus on Point A: We’ve all worked to overcome the downslide in 2012. Yet, things haven’t quite shaped up the way they should’ve. We all knew where we wanted to go but did we misread where we are today? What is needed is a deep understanding of the present situation to understand the nuances of the present circumstances together with its changing landscape. What is needed is a sharp focus on Point A, first. Only then can we carve our path to where we want to be.

Focus at street level: Now is not the time for aiming too high, nor is it the time for looking too far ahead. The business environment is in a flux and we need to be intensely attentive to the kaleidoscope around us in order to spot the changes. We need to keep a steady gaze on the movement on our road and make a ‘street strategy’ to maximise the bends along the way.

Focus on being nimble-footed: We are only as relevant as our last action, or the impact of our last decision. In other words, we need to adapt ourselves to change – constantly. Similarly, to ensure that the products and services we offer stay relevant, we need to anticipate change. Gone are the days of the 5 year plans. Even an annual plan is a luxury. It’s more likely to be a monthly planning cycle for some time to come. Agility is no longer a choice, it is the only way.

Focus on abundance: The past year has seen us go round and round in circles debating scarcity and inadequacy.  But as Adrianna Huffington wrote earlier this year, we need to focus on abundance and surpluses instead. Let’s focus on the power of our collective intelligence and wisdom, the game changing advances in technology and the endless possibilities they open up.

As Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler point out in their book Abundance: The Future is Better than you Think, a Maasai tribesman living in Kenya today with a cellphone has better mobile communications than President Reagan had 25 years ago. And if it's a smartphone with an Internet connection, the tribesman has instant access to more knowledge and information than President Clinton had just 15 years ago!

Focus on trying even harder: The fact is that we need to sail through this storm. So throwing up our hands up ain’t going to work for sure. If we’ve been trying so far; we just need to try even harder. Whether it is our political leaders trying to work out a solution to avert the fiscal cliff; or our innovation teams trying to find technology solutions to new challenges; or even our marketing teams trying to find new business in difficult times. What is needed is that extra push to reach critical mass.

We need to be intuitive, even counter-intuitive and try uncharted routes.  As a case in point, in view of the economic and social re-set caused by the recession, we took a decision at HCL to invert outsourcing in its conventional sense, and create jobs in local communities of our market operations. We made a commitment to create 10,000 jobs over a period of 5 years in US and Europe. And to ensure we make good on it, we are investing in partnerships with local colleges and universities to impart the necessary skills to students who will then form our talent pool.

We have to do what it takes, make mistakes and risktakes, and be ready to think and rethink on the fly. The variables are new, the challenges unprecedented – we need to put on our blinkers and focus on just one thing – moving forward, one step at a time.