In 1986, Thomas Brook from the US ran the fastest 100m, clocking 11.8 seconds and won the 400m, clocking 52.3 seconds at the first modern Olympics in Athens. Almost three decades later, at the 2012 London Olympics, Usain Bolt from Jamaica ran the fastest 100m, clocking 9.60 seconds, 0.06 seconds better than his timing at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Meanwhile,
Kirani James won the first gold for Grenada, clocking 43.94 seconds in the men’s 400m race. The speed of life keeps
increasing, pushing the world to spin faster.
Stories with universal themes or morals will never be lost in the libraries of time, and the knowledge these tales impart are passed down from generation to generation. But have we outgrown some of these tales? In an age where the new becomes the old in a matter of seconds, maybe it is time to re-evaluate some of the maxims handed down to us through the ages.
The hare and the tortoise
For eons, parents have recited the story of the hare and the tortoise to their children. It has been told in the classroom, during bedtime or around the dinner table, in different languages and in different styles. Yet, throughout, the moral that ‘slow and steady wins the race’ never changes. But should it?
To recall the great tale, the hare challenges the tortoise to a race to cement its superiority and the diligent opponent accepts the challenge although aware of the eventualities. The hare speeds off as soon as the race begins without the slightest glance back and establishes what is probably an unconquerable lead. But with victory in sight, the hare does the unthinkable and decides to take a break, and the tortoise, trundling along with all its great baggage on its back shuffles across the finish line first. Our mentors would then clap their hands and tell us to remember that “slow and steady will win the race”.
But is this really the lesson we must convey to the next generation? The turning point of the story is the hare’s doomed nap: not quite! The tortoise won the race not because it was steady though slow, but because the hare went to sleep when it had an unassailable lead. Today we should understand that we must race towards the finish line without a glance back and once we establish that unconquerable lead, we must stop – not to catch our breath, but to build barriers.
Kodak and Fuji
History abounds with the tales of great self-assured giants who have fallen because they fell asleep. One such story is that of the legendary Kodak-Fuji battle. Founded in 1880, Kodak established itself as a household name in a matter of four years and earned one billion dollars in profit in 1963. As the great giant, almost on the verge of earning a 10 billion dollar profit, celebrated 100 years at the helm, Fuji was born. And no guru could prophesy that this would be the fall of a legacy that had established over a century’s lead.
History records that in 1977, Kodak acquired 70% of the US market, 33% of the world market and 8% of the Japanese market. In retrospect, Fuji laid claim to 70% of the Japanese market, 33% of the world market and 17% of the US market. And in 1993, Fuji launched its killer campaign ‘Pictures should be nostalgic, your film shouldn’t’ and dealt one of its greatest blows to its competitors.
Kodak ran slow and steady, with a century’s baggage on its back, while Fuji barged into the market with an improved process which reduced cost and significantly improved the speed at which the product reached the market, and its high quality product stole the market share that Kodak assumed it would always possess.
When the victor of the battle finally emerged from the debris of competition, an expert said that while companies can live forever in theory, most die young because the corporate world, unlike society at large, is a fight to the death. Kodak, like the corporate legacies before it, appeared to have run its course and after 132 years at the helm, was poised like an old photo to simply fade away.
Meet the beast
That these corporate giants like the hare were complacent eventually led to their collapse because the compulsion to succeed is much greater. Now is therefore the time to gear up to meet the beast; your future.
No one knows what form the beast may take, what its powers are and how society must greet it. But we can speculate, and the World Bank believes the globe’s population will reach 8.5 billion, out of which 55% will be proficiently educated and 80% will reside in urban areas. The doyens believe it will be the age of the internet and predict global warming will increase further. Speculators speak of an era where there will be a shortage of food and a shortage in talent.
But the most stunning of all predictions is when Mackenzie research extrapolated that there will be an increase in qualified persons, jobs and also unemployment. This clearly illustrates that either the skill set provided to the workforce does not match the demand or that the speed at which talent is supplied is not sufficient to capture the opportunities. And it is obvious that society will need speed to tame the beast charging toward us
At the dawn of the new millennium, the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and one key aim was to reduce global poverty by 50%. Experts believe that this is the only MDG that will come to pass in 2015. However, the number does not stop there as researchers believe global poverty will be eliminated by 2030.
Whether Sri Lanka will be a part of this phenomenon is yet to be seen, as both the private and State sector must work hand in hand to see this through. Still, with the continuous increase in the speed of communication, the greater transfer of power and movement towards economic convergence, there will be several table-turners in the years to come.
But are the governments and states equipped and ready to keep the pace? Today it is clear that youth, irritated by the government’s incapability to change at the required speed, has created unrest across the globe. This does not apply to just the East, as the West too has dealt with various economic when it has not been quick enough to change. The recession is one such result of the lackadaisical approach of decision makers.
Less than a decade ago, Brazil, which suffered from 1000% inflation, now thrives because the country embraced the speed of change required, exemplifying the fact that the countries that thrived are the ones that changed faster.
Another country that has faced the beast with foresight is China. Although little has changed with Beijing’s political situation, the Communist country changed its policy in the 1970s and 1980s to transform the country’s economic position with unquestionable speed. Accordingly, come 2030, China’s Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) will spike to 18% and the US PPP will dip to 17%, whilst in 1980, the PPP of the United States was 20%. It is now apparent that we no longer live in a world where the big eats the small but a society where the fast will swallow the slow.
Currently, over 500 million of Asia’s 3.5 billion population belongs to the middle class, a number that will increase by three and a half times in 2020. The increase in the region’s buying power will be unimaginable and will the emerging East be able to address this demand? The world must then vote change to the moral of the children’s fable because slow and steady will no longer be adequate.
When the sun rises in the jungles of Africa, the lion starts the day with thought, “I must run faster than the slowest of you gazelles if I am to lunch.” Conversely, the gazelle wakes up with the determination, “I must run faster than the fastest of lions to avoid being its lunch.” You may be the lion or the gazelle, the predator or the prey, but when you wake up you will have to run faster because slow and steady will no longer win the race.
(The writer is CIMA’s Middle East, South Asia and North Africa Regional Director.)