One thing that struck me during a recent visit to China was this: In emerging markets and countries undergoing very rapid development, things like security matter a lot less than just getting connected and getting things to work. Naturally, it’s not that folks in China, India and elsewhere aren’t concerned with security at all, it’s just that it ranks fairly low on their Maslow scale. Why is that?
Well, I think that what’s going on in the developing world is analogous to building a house. When you’re building a house, your main focus is making sure that it’s structurally sound and that the basic amenities are in place. Do you have water? Do you have electricity? Does the roof leak? Etc. Although you may eventually want to have the whole place wired for sound or install a state-of-the-art security system, these are nice-to-haves, not need-to-haves on the day you move in with your family.
I see something similar happening in China and elsewhere. These economies are running and growing very fast and when it comes to building out their infrastructure it’s all about getting the lights on as quickly as possible. This means they are more worried about maintaining momentum than they are about fine-tuning the system. Will they fine-tune it? Of course. Will they wire their evolving infrastructure for security in the future? Certainly. It’s just that you have to build the house first and take care of that stuff later.
The interesting thing is that in the process of growing these countries have some distinct advantages, chief among them being that they can skip stages (the “copper wire” phase, for example) that we’ve had to go through in the developed world.
Similarly, as they are adopting the latest technologies, they don’t have to worry about integrating it with their existing infrastructure because the state of the art stuff can become their existing infrastructure. This dynamic repeats itself at a macro-business level insofar as they don’t have to rejigger things to embrace new business models; they can just take the ball and run with it.
Finally on this new business model front, I would say that they also have the advantage of being able to learn from our mistakes. I saw this most clearly in my discussions with our Chinese partners and prospects about the cloud. Everyone I spoke with was very fascinated with the potential of cloud computing and wanted to know everything they could about it with the emphasis falling on the glitches and “gotchas” that we’ve encountered that they are hoping to avoid. Imagine being able to start with what works rather than having to discover it through trial and error? We’d all like to be able to do it that way.
I don’t want to give the impression that these economies are years behind us technologically. They aren’t. In fact, I would say we’re talking about a difference of 12-18 months in many cases. And, frankly, things are moving pretty fast over there. Indeed, it may not be too long before we’re taking our lessons from China and India much as in the 80s the manufacturing sector took their lessons from Japan.
The question is will we be quick-studies or just slow learners?