Cheaper-Better-Faster: Jobs, Stress & Understanding the Eco-System

I have not since, written such a serious post. Let me start by saying that this is not aimed at any one company or individual, it is more of a collective mindset that everyone approaches consumption with.

However, after watching the BBC Panorama Amazon Documentary recently, I had some thoughts regarding corporate operational systems, and business administration in today’s tech intensive world. You can view the original video here.

The aim of most operational systems would be to achieve maximum efficiency & optimal solutions, however, people often forget that the “human” components of any chain have psychological and morale aspects of their selves.

Yes, business administration and operations has never been more traceable and enforceable, due to technological advances today, employees can be pushed every single step of the way to hit their targets. Businesses can better cater to customers, with lower costs and larger output and higher profits all the way round.

Most businesses complain that customers are getting more and more demanding, wanting cheaper-better-faster products and services. Although, why is that?

It is also easy for some suited executive to look through data and say, this is too slow, let’s put a tighter time limit on this process and ensure compliance by all workers, enforce disciplinary action and sack those who cannot comply.

But, I feel, if we take a step back out to look at the full picture, we’d find that this is a situation that may draw some similarities to the wage-price spiral.

Yes, I know that it’s an open economy and I cannot look at things in such a closed loop / controlled environment method.

However, when you consider Business-to-Consumer, often, your consumer population are employees of a business, small business owners, freelance workers, etc. However, a large portion of individuals still make up the employee slice of the pie.

This is the disconnect I see, why as a consumer, one would be so keen on cheaper-better-faster services, whereas as an employee, the less work the better yeah mate? I mean the obvious answer is everyone is lazy and greedy, which as a human being i’d have to agree with.

This brings me to the main point; are we as consumers and customers too focused on the business end of things? Cheaper – Better – Faster are the three main aims of any business, and often only 2 / 3 can be achieved without actual slavery or full automisation. If you want it cheap and fast it won’t be good, want it good and fast it won’t be cheap, and want it cheap and good, it’ll take awhile!

Slavery, yes as i know was abolished ages ago, however, even on wages, there may be working conditions that are down right unethical. As companies aim to achieve cheaper-better-faster, all 3 aspects of them, workers will be driven further and further towards being treated like slaves whether they work in an office or on an assembly line, although as it often goes, the ones to be hit hardest are the ones at the bottom of the pyramid.

People in the developed world often campaign for animal rights, “ethical” products and services, but they often forget that in both developed and developing worlds, there are unethical practices even towards employees. Sometimes, as consumers and customers we need to appreciate someone else’s work, be it the postal / courier guy, the warehouse sorter, etc., and understand the ease and difficulties of another individuals job. It seems that technology has truly put a barrier between people where they start to see other individuals as a part of a large, well oiled machine.

There is no need to be understanding or caring for a machine is there? Just fix it when it’s broken, swap out a part and throw the old useless part away. One day, if you are ever the part being swapped out, you would understand what I mean.

I hope that more people realize this fact, and as a customer and consumer on one end, worker, supervisor, boss, manager, employee / employer on the other end, practice more understanding and appreciation of each others jobs and industry. Always remember, no one is infallible, everyone makes mistakes, everyone has bad days, and yes, we do need to keep some minimum standards, however, we need to account for human factors as well.


3 Things about Business in Africa

2013 has been a kind year to me and I had the opportunity to do business in East Africa; miles away from home. Well it has opened up my eyes and changed my perception of things quite a little, here’s 3 things about conducting a business in africa

3) Time is important but not of the essence

The problem

Timeliness is often the no. 1 factor of businesses in Asia; Japan, Korea, Singapore and other Asian nations.Time in Africa though, is a whole different affair altogether. Meetings are often delayed anywhere from 1 – 3 hours if you’re lucky; they might be delayed or put off by weeks at a time.

The Solution

Send reminders about meetings a day before and on the day itself to try to avoid the situation. Patience as well in this case is important as often attendees will try to wriggle their way out of meetings with the worlds worst excuses. Logically, it also makes sense to try to adapt to their culture and work around it, i.e planning for buffer periods in your lead time and timeline. Risk cutting deadlines close at your own peril, especially if you are performing government tenders and projects, the incidence of blame will always fall upon YOU. 

2) Relationships are more important than delivery

The Problem

Business often cannot be separated from relationships. You have to take the time and make the effort when you are looking to develop a business. In Africa, this is amplified and often nothing is given to the best bidder or service provider, this is true no matter how professionally apt you think your firm is. Priority is always given to someone with a relationship to the decision maker and of course there is also the factor of reputation of an individual/entity, which is key, losing it means never coming back.

The Solution

Outlay some costs on business development, and by costs it means you have to spend both time and money. Either one on its on will not yield very much returns. Often, before doing business you have to do the whole wine & dine affair, often spending hours chatting and getting to know each other. Lunches and dinners over there can span over 3 – 5 hours per time. Do also get someone with good public relations and business acumen to handle your meetings, as people there often take offence of certain views or statements.

1) Don’t mean what you say, Don’t say what you mean

The Problem

In Africa, you can be promised one thing and given something else entirely during a business transaction; this is commonplace in quite a few economies, including Central Asia. People are cautious with the conducting of business and often, you will find that you face problems if you are completely honest about the business that you are conducting over there. This can be attributed to a host of differing subjective reasons; lack of potential, lack of funding, etc.

The Solution

Answer questions intelligently. When someone asks questions, do not listen to reply, listen to understand what their underlying queries are. Try to preempt these as much as possible by planning and giving specific responses that are secure in nature. Do not always mean what you say, and do not always say what you mean; even where they are potential clients or potential vendors, it does not matter. Framing your pitch or discussion is of utmost importance as once you lose your credibility over there, it is almost impossible to come back to the business scene.

A Photo Diary of My Time in Africa Part 1

A photo gallery of the time I spent in Africa, with captions. Part 1. If you like any of the photos in the gallery, feel free to use them, however, please credit with a link back to my site! Thanks!