The 8th edition of the annual Festival of Ideas came off recently under the theme "Strategic Repositioning." The one-day gathering of influential business leaders and CEOs sought to generate ideas on the chosen theme to provide direction for leaders and organisations in the pursuit of their strategic plans.

Speakers on various topics under the conference theme were Dr. Vikram Mansharamani and Prof. Ian Shapiro, both of Yale University, Dr. Mensa Otabil of the International Central Gospel Church, Ghanaian venture capitalist Mr. Sangu Delle, Mr. Charles Mensah of Trust Consult and Prof. Bob Hinson of the University of Ghana.

 

How do you settle down to the task of selecting the best ideas or most compelling thoughts after such an insightful and engaging conference? While the resource persons threw up a number of innovative ideas, I have taken the liberty to select my top fifteen. In order of appearance, I have summarised below my favourite thoughts from the six conference speakers.

  1. "A robust and intimate knowledge of your product is the non-negotiable foundation of every good marketing effort. You cannot succeed in selling a product or service you do not passionately know inside out." - Prof. Bob Hinson (Emerging Trends in Competitive Sales & Marketing Environments).
  2. "It is the marketer's job to keep innovating in order to procure and secure a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Once your USP, or that which makes and keeps you special is lost, it is difficult to generate a continuous stream of income." - Prof. Bob Hinson (Emerging Trends in Competitive Sales & Marketing Environments).
  3. "Cost management must be a lifestyle and a shared passion within the entire organisation. Critical areas where each business can focus for cost reduction include the design and service process, purchasing procedures, storage, transport (type of vehicles procured, their maintenance cost and the implications for fuel consumption), production and machinery, labour (the employment of multitasking personnel with a wide range of skills) and overheads. These are often permanent decisions and must therefore be carefully considered and deliberately taken." - Charles Mensah (Financial Repositioning - Managing Budgets in Uncertain Times).
  4. "Act with integrity and honesty. Cost reduction can be creative and aggressive but do not sacrifice your values along the way. CEOs must always lead by example in implementing agreed measures. Communication, education and openness with all stakeholders is critical for shared ownership and success." - Charles Mensah (Financial Repositioning - Managing Budgets in Uncertain Times).
  5. "One of the key areas that must engage us is identifying the difference between sustainable and unsustainable financial trends. There are five tools or lenses that serve as indicators of an unsustainable financial bubble. When you spot these signs in an economy, it is often a sign that the bubble will soon burst. 
    • Microeconomic Lens. This uses prices and demand as indicators. When prices keep going up and instead of going down, demand continues to grow you can tell that the demand is not sustainable.
    • Macroeconomic Lens. Continuously rising debts are not sustainable. When you persist in borrowing, you keep transferring resources from the future into the present. Borrowing is not right or wrong in itself. A related indicator would be the extent to which the borrowed resources are deployed in the most impactful areas, which also have the potential for generating future income. 
    • Overconfidence or Hubris (Psychological Lens). When you notice signs of overconfidence that are not backed by the fundamentals of an organization or economy, it is not sustainable. Sometimes when natural resources are discovered, it leads to overconfidence that everything will change. The bubble created does not often last. Another indicator of hubris is the initiation of ambitious skyscrapers and speculative real estate bubbles that are not financially justifiable. These projects are often followed by a period of economic decline. 
    • Political Lens (Economic Distortions). A nation’s leadership sometimes takes decisions that fly in the face of the facts on the ground. While these choices may be politically convenient, they sometimes do not work for the long-term benefit of the collective. When a government continually distorts prices and demand through subsidies, price ceilings and price floors, it is unsustainable in the long term. 
    • Herd Behaviour (Epidemiological Lens). This fifth approach borrows from disease infection behaviors. When the pool of people who have not as yet been “infected” by hype is large, there is more room to convert new followers and sustain the bubble. Like the “Ponzi” schemes, beyond some point, there is no one else left to convert and the bubble naturally bursts.  – Dr. Vikram Mansharamani (Spotting bubbles before they burst).
  6. "In moments like these, you need the alignment of your key partners with your ideas and perspectives. If you find yourself continually saddled with a mismatch with your bankers, suppliers or other stakeholders, you need to make changes or see your ideas die." – Dr. Vikram Mansharamani (Spotting bubbles before they burst).
  7. "Until we rationalize the market for the acquisition of farm lands, the prospects for large scale commercial agriculture by private sector practitioners in response to rising global food demand will remain unrealized." - Prof. Ian Shapiro (Changing Patterns in State-Private Partnerships).
  8. "Our continued dependence on export of primary products coupled with the so-called oil curse has led to a winner-takes-all economics as well as an acrimonious loser-takes-nothing politics. In the medium term Ghana should aim at a radical overhaul of its economic structure to add more value to its exports." - Prof. Ian Shapiro (Changing Patterns in State-Private Partnerships).
  9. "Options available to companies in the turbulent Ghanaian market include recapitalization, strategic equity investment and Pan-African diversification, among others. Ownership of 100% of a company worth GHc10,000 is still GHc10,000 while owning 30% of a company worth GHc100,000 is GHc30,000. Mark Zuckerberg owns only 22% of Facebook but is worth $33billion. Selling equity or shares in your business spreads the risks and shares the rewards. Your best bet would be to craft agreements that do not totally wipe out your control." - Sangu Delle (Financial Optimization - Repositioning for Growth).
  10. "We need a financial and structural overhaul of the economy. Ghana needs, among other things, a cut in taxes and an expansion of the tax net. Egypt took a bold step, against the advice of the IMF, to reduce taxes to 10% and 20% and tax revenue rose by 50%" - Sangu Delle (Financial Optimization - Repositioning for Growth).
  11. Ghanaian business leaders must go on the offensive and seek for new opportunities rather than retreat and remain on the defensive.” - Sangu Delle (Financial Optimization - Repositioning for Growth).
  12. "Disruptions and uncertainty are often a source of new opportunities. Macroeconomic volatility, currency devaluation, falling confidence and other prevailing characteristics are perfect for businesses to venture into hitherto unchartered territories. It will require a planning process that systematically models various scenarios, both best and worst cases, and prepares to act accordingly. Business leaders must ask themselves what they would do if the value of a dollar rises to GHc10 or even if it falls to GHc1 in future." - Dr. Vikram Mansharamani (The Generalist Advantage).
  13. A careful analysis of the trend of growth of the middle class in a number of countries shows that within the next decade, a number of emerging economies contributing about half of the world population would have per capita incomes above $5,000. This would significantly change their consumption patterns and create demand and opportunity in five areas, namely; Agriculture and Aquaculture (Entire Value Chain), Energy & Power (Source to Delivery), Infrastructure (Airports, Water, Roads etc), Medical Facilities and high quality Education (from Pre-Kindergarten to university level). These five areas are strong potential growth points to consider for business and investment.”  – Dr. Vikram Mansharamani (The Generalist Advantage).
  14. Based on the story of the Titanic and the three ships involved, there are three types of leadership responses in every crisis situation: 
    • The first kind of leader is the captain of the Titanic. He is the one at the centre of the crisis but is so confident that he takes the basic precautionary measures for granted, dismisses the crisis when it first hits, responds haphazardly and ends up with a major loss of lives and property.
    • The second kind of leader is the captain of the Californian. He is very near to the disaster and sees the Titanic in danger. However, he fails to read the signals properly. He has so much bought into the idea of the unsinkable and impregnable Titanic that he sees the SOS flares as celebratory or party signals and ignores them.
    • The third kind of leader captains the Carpathia. He spots the signals rightly from afar off and races through the night to the scene. He puts in place the right mechanisms on the way and acts decisively to bring help to the situation. Even though, he arrived four hours after the ship sank, he was able to save over 700 lives. That kind of decisive leadership is needed at a time like this.  – Dr. Mensa Otabil (Leadership Mindset for Uncertain Times).
  15. While the economic challenges facing us are enormous, we cannot afford to be perplexed and so overwhelmed by what we see that we end up frozen into inaction. We have to act decisively, methodically and urgently to avert any possible disaster. – Dr. Mensa Otabil (Leadership Mindset for Uncertain Times).