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The streets of Addis Abeba continue to change and look different by the day. A landmark of yesterday has made way for a new building or mall, while roads are expanded and allow a steady increase of traffic to flow through.
What is also changing is the kind of businesses that are set up along the streets. We have seen the rise of boutiques some years ago but now there are new developments. Some of the new business ventures are massage houses, burger restaurants and foreign employment agencies. There isn’t a street or corner anymore without some sort of sign for a massage or a hamburger. I haven’t been in either of them so I cannot make any statement about the quality and kind of services that are offered. I just find it curious why, all of a sudden, there are so many of them.
There must be money in it; so many opportunists are having a go at the new thing without having to invest much and without trying to create a new business idea themselves. And somehow I have the feeling that the kinds of new businesses we see coming up do not really reflect what this nation is all about, and what we are normally so proud of, to show our visitors. There is reason to be proud to be Ethiopian; to be proud of the national carrier which is growing in an ever tougher world of competition and mergers; to be proud of the national food enjerra, the tiny seed of which is capable of maturing under even dry circumstances unlike other grains, which were introduced from abroad; to be proud of the Ethiopian history, the culture, and so much more.
But then again, like every coin, this coin of national pride also has its flipside. It seems to me that somehow this pride to be Ethiopian hinders us from learning, seeing things differently, accepting that there is another world out there and that things can be done differently. We have a hard time changing and trying out something new. And this is true in doing business as well. We continue to do things the way they have been done for years, often using old fashioned and outdated processes and materials. A quick look at the construction industry for example, and the way buildings are erected here, shows that the techniques applied no longer compare to modern construction in other countries, saving on cement and concrete and using different materials and equipment. Admittedly, there is progress, but banking procedures and modes of payment are still manual to a great extent, while the rest of the world has already moved on to use modern electronic and digital technologies. Could it be that pride and the strong tendency to hold on to the way things are done here, is becoming a hindrance for progress and change? Culture has indeed a strong influence on people. Just consider the scores of people who have gone abroad for further studies and have learnt to do things differently. But with the photograph in their graduation outfit sitting on their desk, they soon fall into old habits upon returning to their previous work environment, hardly able to make a difference as their colleagues continue to do things the way they are used to.
And yet, the world of business and work is changing rapidly around us and it will continue to do so in the years ahead. In order to survive and prosper in this dynamic setting, organizations, businesses and the people who work there must be willing and able to change as well. For businesses, this means continuous innovation: developing and implementing new ways of operating, and creating new products to serve the needs of customers both in the domestic and export markets. For employees as well, this means relentless attention to planning and managing their careers under conditions very different from those of the past.
Innovation is one of the hallmarks of progressive organizations in today’s dynamic environments. The best businesses are able to innovate on an ongoing basis. The best managers are able to help people utilize their innovative talents to the fullest. Formally stated, innovation can be defined as the process of creating new ideas and putting them into practice. It is the means by which creative ideas find their way into everyday practice in the form of new goods or services that satisfy customers or as new systems or practices that help organizations produce them. Product innovation refers to innovation which results in the creation of new or improved goods or services, while process innovation results in a better way of doing things.
Today’s managers bear increasing responsibility for ensuring that both product and process innovation take place. In this regard, they must be concerned with two main aspects of innovation, which are invention and the application of the invention. Invention is the act of discovery, while application is the act of use. Both are critical to the innovation process. New ideas for improved products and services emerge from invention, but they achieve their full value only through application. In too many organizations, invention occurs, but application doesn’t. In truly creative and innovative organizations, managers are able to create a climate within which people actively work to satisfy both.