A question for you: do you remember something called the “Zune”?
Another question: do you remember something called the “iPod”?
Both were MP3 music players. Here’s the thing, though. The Zune, made by Microsoft, was the far superior product, in most respects. And yet it failed miserably and was discontinued a couple of years after its launch. The iPod, made by Apple, was the dominant device of its time.
The story is told to very good effect by Simon Sinek in his new book, The Infinite Game. Mr Sinek spoke some years back at a Microsoft event, and then at an Apple event a few months later. The Microsoft of the time, under the leadership of Steve Ballmer, was obsessed with beating the resurgent Apple. The Zune was part of that strategy, to take on the iPod that was then so popular with the youth of the world.
The product was great, reports Mr Sinek. He was given a Zune as a gift after the event, and found it elegantly designed with a simple and intuitive user interface. And yet he gave it away — mainly because he could not connect it to iTunes, which housed most of his music collection.
After the Apple event a few months later (in which Microsoft was never mentioned), Mr Sinek was sharing a taxi with a very senior Apple executive. He couldn’t resist telling this gentleman: “You know … I spoke at Microsoft, and they gave me their new Zune, and I have to tell you, it is so much better than your iPod Touch.”
The reply he got was a smile, and a single sentence: “I have no doubt”.
Mr Sinek’s reflections on that response led eventually to his excellent new book. In it, Mr Sinek surmises that Apple plays an “infinite game” in business — a game without end. Mr Ballmer’s Microsoft was playing a “finite game” — one that tries to win by achieving arbitrary metrics over an arbitrary time frame. Finite game players try to win in the short term. Infinite game players try to stay in the game — even after they personally have left the field. The former are fixated on quarterly targets, market share and personal bonuses. The latter have a bigger deal going on. Their aim is to stay relevant and useful in perpetuity, not to suck value out of the market for personal, short-lived glory.
Apple was not concerned that a competitor had a “better” product. It recognised that the infinite game produces many ups and downs, many wins and losses. Its aim was to help people listen to their music, and carry it around. To that end, the iPod also lost out. After a sterling run, it faded away — killed by Apple. When the iPhone launched, a music player was integrated into a smartphone, and the need for a separate iPod rapidly weakened. Apple lost its iconic product of the time, but so what? The consumer was happy with even greater convenience; Apple was happy to lead the consumer into the new world.
And guess what? Microsoft also found its mojo again. Under a different leader, it abandoned the negativity and defensive posturing of its past and tried to refocus on its consumers — by playing long. It has become a cause again, not just a company. It is trying to deliver utility and benefits, not just numbers. And it shows. Great products are flowing again; new platforms are being built. It is neck-and-neck with Apple.
The iPhone, too, is no longer the best product out there. And yet it is the most desired. It too will fade away, replaced by something better, and those doing the fading will be the folks at Apple — as long as they stay focused on the long game. If Apple also plays short-term, it will eventually run out of ideas.
What about you and your organisation? What game are you in? Does your leader ever talk — sincerely — about cause and purpose, or just whip everyone into a fear-filled and greed-driven frenzy about targets and deliverables? Are your meetings fixated on benchmarking and catching up with your competitors, or on your own unique plays? Does everything change when the CEO changes, or are CEOs selected to continue the distinctive values and timeless ethos of the organisation?
Is your strategy stuck in former glories and antiquated norms, or does it stay ahead of the curve by anticipating the needs of the future?
Are you working on anything that will outlast you?
Sunny Bindra’s new book, The Bigger Deal, is now on sale. www.sunwords.com
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.