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In the world of business, there are managers who, unfortunately, drag their groups down so that they get ordinary results from extraordinary people. The whole, then, becomes less than the sum of its parts. These managers have little, if any, value. They don’t really manage much of anything. They’re ‘‘straw bosses.’’ After the worthwhile stalks of wheat and other grains are harvested, straw is what’s left over on the ground. Extraordinary managers, on the contrary, make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. They add value to their organization. They get extraordinary results from ordinary people. These managers view the ongoing shift in global economic activity from developed to developing economies, accompanied by growth in the number of consumers in emerging markets, as the most important for business and the most positive for their own companies’ profits over the years to come.
One of the critical positive aspects of globalization is the unprecedented development of innovative technologies, particularly the internet, which enabled a free flow of information worldwide. For the extraordinary manager, the internet and other related technologies are the “Eighth Continent of business” in which the Sun never sets. In the current global economy, the internet is indeed the business place without border.
Over seven billion people live in over 200 countries spanning 24 time zones. These people use hundreds of currencies to conduct business in thousands of different languages and dialects. Their business practices are all over the map, ranging from simple barter to cash to electronic payment to sophisticated arbitrage.
But when we look a bit harder at the concentration of trade in a few economic superpowers such as the United States, the European Union, and Japan, we soon realize that of these, only a few currencies and languages really matter to commerce on the Internet. Whereas in the nineteenth century, the Germans held that language and culture should accompany trade and armies on their march around the globe. In the second half of the twentieth century modern telecommunications and jet travel have enabled both businessmen and armies to march into new markets and territories with far less trouble.
More than anything, the Internet allows companies and countries instantaneously to project their language, culture, and economic might anywhere on the planet. There’s no Berlin wall or Ministry of Trade to keep out inconvenient ideas or different economic models; therefore, governments and citizens of less powerful nations worry about their loss of cultural and economic identity.
Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, hundreds of millions of people around the world cross national borders without a second thought and often without knowing that they have done anything unusual. This community scours the Internet for the ideas, products, and relationships that they might not be able to find easily, if at all, where they live.
This borderless community of Internet users comprises a virtual “Eighth Continent” racing toward a population of a billion inhabitants. It exists wherever a computer, mobile phone, set-top box, or personal organizer touches the Internet. Until the Web pulled together this huge electronic society, its citizens were unreachable without massive investment in local staff and infrastructure in each and every country where a person wanted to do business.
This borderless community confounds legislators and cultural purists worldwide who do not know what to make of the Web-based globalization phenomenon that threatens to make their geographic, political, economic, and cultural boundaries almost meaningless. It places new burdens on companies suddenly confronted with inquiries from far-off places.
People’s firms most visible online channel, the ‘corporate headquarters’ Web site, reveals its values and products to the inhabitants of the Eighth Continent every minute of every day. These people challenge organizations to make geography irrelevant in the name of satisfying customers. For many within these organizations, the Web has made this international demand transparent for the first time, because in the past their interest was always filtered through the noisy channels of local staff, distributors, and suppliers.
With the Web, the denizens of the Eighth Continent can bypass these middlemen and tell people directly what’s on their minds and on their buying agendas. This free-flowing communication imposes hefty new demands on companies that want to stretch beyond their domestic markets and become suppliers to the Eighth Continent.
One of the most common mistakes among companies today is assuming that being on the Web will make them an instant global success. Despite the Web’s potential in opening new channels, presence on the Web also may expose places where their company has nothing worthwhile to say or sell. Being on the Web may very well reveal that their products and services offer no value outside their domestic markets because their company, its organizational structure, and its products, are profoundly local.
Success on the Web demands that one has worked to globalize one’s company, its products, and its market. Most executives spend their days trying to increase revenue and improve customer satisfaction. This Eighth Continent of e-business and online commerce exists as an overlay on the physical world of brick and mortar, characterized by its reliance and general agreement on a common set of technology rules called Internet Protocol (IP).
Without it, the Internet is just a bunch of wires. Internet Protocol is the electric current that runs the Internet which is the necessary ingredient for powering Internet communication, commerce, and collaboration around the globe. Companies use Internet Protocol to manage their internal systems, reach into new markets, or provision their supply and demand chains.
Unlike the unrealized projections about dot.com bonanzas, this Internet electricity has demonstrable benefits that most financial analysts and pundits have failed to quantify. Just 10 years ago, getting two companies to transfer data between their disparate systems could take half a year and cost millions of dollars, and the notion of global supply chains was unthinkable.
Today, because of the widespread implementation of Internet Protocol and its supporting infrastructure of Web standards by both providers and buyers of hardware and software, a company can plug its external Web site into its internal fulfillment systems. Because of Internet Protocol, a teenager in Germany can look at an easy to-use interface at landsend.com, click once, and have a pair of jeans show up in three days. Internet Protocol makes it possible for two companies that decide to partner for a project to snap their corresponding applications together quickly. While not at all a simple task, it is being done every day.
It is this IP-defined Eighth Continent that has let companies extend their reach around the planet. At least for now, the Eighth Continent imposes fewer restrictions than do the Earth’s seven border-girdled continents. In fact, the only real borders on the Eighth Continent are mental ones that keep people from unleashing the global powerhouse inside their company.
Now that people can project their products and services anywhere in the world via this ready-made channel, the next step is to figure out how to appeal to the hundreds of millions of Web-based customers, tempering their plans according to the languages, different buying behaviors, business practices, and legal restrictions that exist in each customer’s nation of origin. Doing so will practically assert the fact that the Sun really never sets on the Web.