Posts Tagged ‘value’

A Unique Path to Development Seen for the Informal Economy

Just recently I stumbled over this slim book < 60 pages that analyzed existing data sources in order to frame an answer to the research question they posed:

How did the informal economy―markets and the private sector―develop in the absence of legal and administrative frameworks to support it?

Some of the most intriguing insights extracted here:

And they echo my own statements regarding the East African Community that its the informal sector that’s growing faster and responsible for employing the majority of the population. This makes integration and bridging efforts between the formal and global together with the local and informal even more critical.

The path to integration as described in the book may not apply to the African economies but holds some unusual insights for those in eastern Europe which may struggle with some of the same issues of top down planning and grassroots income generation.

All in all, the step by step approach over the past decade to recognize, and thus integrate the informal sector was much appreciated and if you’re interested, you can download the book here.

Samsung took its commitment to the African market very seriously

This article in the Financial Times caught my attention first for it’s mention of Samsung’s seemingly innovative adaptation to the harsh operating environment prevalent across the African continent. It reminded me of the very first exploratory user research programme I had been part of, for Samsung, back in early 2008. That was a seminal trip for me, 3 weeks by Landy through the bleakest parts of rural South Africa, in search of how people lived, worked, and played with their mobile phones.

Mobile phone repairman, Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa, January 2008 (Photo: Niti Bhan)

We discovered what I would now look back and recognize as a whole new world. This fieldtrip was the turning point in my career, and the prepaid economy project was the outcome of questioning many of the assumptions around what were then called “Bottom of the Pyramid” markets, which had been shattered, in my eyes, by this journey’s end.

Life is hard” became my mantra for the next couple of years, as I illustrated the vast chasm between the mainstream consumer market’s mindset of credit driven consumerism, and the cash intensive hitherto ignored reality of the townships and informal settlements. The article I wrote on the mindset and values of Africans in their guise as customers for consumer goods – who had not been conditioned by generations of advertising messaging since the poor (the BoP, the bottom of the pyramid)- went on to be cited by the late CK Prahalad himself in the revised 2010 Introduction to his seminal The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Next came the development of a holistic strategy to reach these untapped opportunities, with a semblance of a value system rather than be driven by the pure profit motive alone.

The core values, then and now, for a consumer appliance, device, or hardware, any durable really, was the following:


If Samsung is established in its foothold in Africa today, and their appliances are designed to survive the environment and meet the needs of their African customers, then I am very pleased to read it.

That first photograph is of the slider that Samsung models being sold at that time had. And in Africa, as the repair guru holding the part was showing us – and two of Samsung’s own mobile design team members – was the weakest point of failure in their phones. Grit would get in and jam the part, and most such phones came in for repair within a few months of their purchase date.

Later, in London, where the Samsung Design Europe office was located, we walked into one of their phone shops – somewhere near Harrods, if I recall correctly, and asked about the longevity of their slider phones. The salesman gave us a long song and dance about how these parts had been tested to “slide” a thousand times before each model went on sale. Yes, I mused to myself, it had. In the dustfree laboratory conditions of their engineering unit, or the less harsh environment of London or Seoul. What about upcountry South Africa? Or Senegal or Kenya or even, India?

The 2009 models introduced for emerging market opportunities, such as those on the African continent almost a decade ago, were all candybars.

As for me, I’ve never stopped using a good oldfashioned “dumb” Nokia that stolid Finnish engineering and product development ensured would survive and endure anything – even being run over by a truck.

The true size of opportunity in Africa

The Africapitalist Foundation’s most recent issue of their Africapitalist Magazine has a cover story on the true size of opportunity in Africa.


Readers familiar with my exploratory user research and insights from the prepaid economy and the informal sector will recognize the key point being made – that we must look beyond the obvious when assessing the size and value of these opportunities.


Africa’s emerging consumer markets will provide that challenge to transform marketing in the emerging future. Bridging the gap between the formal and the informal will be key to growth, as demonstrated already by the telcom operators with their prepaid business model.








If this exciting new opportunity captures your interest, keep a finger on the pulse of this dynamic market by following hand curated news on African markets, innovation, enterprise and industry at @prepaid_africa or via RSS or tumblr at The Prepaid Economy: African Edition

The Value Creator’s Dilemma: Opportunity and Growth in a Dog eat Dog World

There are two mindsets – the ‘competitive’ mindset where the market is believed to be finite in scope and scale, that assumes that resources are scarce, an approach to strategy based on solely on the competitive aspects of fundamental frameworks like Porter’s Five Forces. Or as I see it, a zero sum game.

That is, the mentality that thinks that ‘if the other guy wins, I lose’ or ‘If I win, the other guy loses’. That makes sense in poker, which is in fact a game, but not, imho, in the business of value creation, revenue generation and growth. It assumes the pool is stagnant.

The other mindset – one that is quite rightly gaining traction, but has yet to be wholly understood in the context of growing the market or generating revenue – is that of a ‘value creator’. The ‘value creation’ mindset believes that the market is infinite, in scope and scale, it assumes that value can be added, enhanced and created, it’s an approach to strategy that does not need ‘one right answer’ as the goal before it’s implementation. And due to this basic difference, there cannot, thus, be a zero sum game.

That is, ‘if I win, I would have created value, adding to the pool from which my wins come to me, therefore I’m not taking away the other guy’s wins which existed before I came along and added some more.’

Let me try to explain this thought a little further. Here is the basic ‘Competitive Forces‘ Model by Michael Porter, better known as the ‘Five Forces’:


This reference site offers a cautionary note however:

Porter’s model is particularly strong in thinking outside-in. Care should therefore be taken not to underestimate or underemphasize the importance of the (existing) strengths of the organization (inside-out) when applying this five competitive forces framework of Porter.

And quite rightly, since it’s a model that is used for analyzing the industry in which the company is a part of, rather than an analysis of the corporation itself. Better suited for the use by external management consultants than a corporate planner.

I would hazard a guess however that  ‘competitive strategy’ has been understood only it’s basic terms of competition without the nuances of strategic thinking behind it.

In 2001, Fast Company printed an article on Michael Porter’s contribution to strategic thinking and his opinions, which I find extremely relevant, particularly as we look to creativity, innovation and design as value creators for competitive advantage.

I’m reproducing here, a significant yet relevant portion of Porter’s insights, in order to support my viewpoint:

There’s a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness.

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.

Operational effectiveness is about things that you really shouldn’t have to make choices on; it’s about what’s good for everybody and about what every business should be doing.
… only strategy can create sustainable advantage. And strategy must start with a different value proposition.

A strategy delineates a territory in which a company seeks to be unique. Strategy 101 is about choices: You can’t be all things to all people.

The essence of strategy is that you must set limits on what you’re trying to accomplish. The company without a strategy is willing to try anything.

If all you’re trying to do is essentially the same thing as your rivals, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be very successful. It’s incredibly arrogant for a company to believe that it can deliver the same sort of product that its rivals do and actually do better for very long.

That’s especially true today, when the flow of information and capital is incredibly fast. It’s extremely dangerous to bet on the incompetence of your competitors — and that’s what you’re doing when you’re competing on operational effectiveness.

What’s worse, a focus on operational effectiveness alone tends to create a mutually destructive form of competition. If everyone’s trying to get to the same place, then, almost inevitably, that causes customers to choose on price. This is a bit of a metaphor for the past five years, when we’ve seen widespread cratering of prices.

There have been those who argue that in this new millennium, with all of this change and new information, such a form of destructive competition is simply the way competition has to be.

I believe very strongly that that is not the case. There are many opportunities for strategic differences in nearly every industry; the more dynamism there is in an economy, in fact, the greater the opportunity.

And a much more positive kind of competition could emerge if managers thought about strategy in the right way.

In sum, the much more positive kind of competition that Porter is talking about, one that demonstrates comparative advantage, offering different choices for different needs  can only emerge from the return to the basics of business.

That is, to create a strategy based on differentiation. Set yourself apart in the market, offering a unique product that no rival can offer, simply by virtue of it’s roots – it emerges from your understanding of your core value proposition, that differentiates you from any other, and then enhancing, creating and finally communicating that difference.

And that is where the basic principles of design methodology – design thinking, if you must – together with the basic principles of strategy can come together to provide you with the tools to observe the market, draw your insights on your intended ‘user’s needs, create a product or service for those ‘as yet undiscovered’ needs and so, create your market.

Which in turn, implies that you are then not taking away somebody else’s share of the pie, because you are baking a new pie.