Recently, the New World of Work blog ran a post about the developing nations of Africa that was really intriguing. In talking about the physical infastructure of an entire country, the author suggests that “infrastructure can be hacked.” It had my attention.
To summarize, the post essentially lays out that if African nations can mobilize, focus their resources and muster the courage, they have the huge potential to innovate and propel their countries towards progress by capitalizing on their opportunity to leapfrog.
In much the same way that Africa’s lack of significant telecom capacity was a boon rather than a hindrance to the emergence of mobile telephony, its lack of legacy infrastructure for everything ranging from waste management to energy utilities could provide the appetite — non-existent in the West — for genuinely transformative, future-friendly reconceptualization of the very notion of infrastructure.
Africans have a choice to either invest in the incremental infrastructure that is common in more developed countries (following the model of “Best Practices) or to skip that iteration of infrastructure and instead invest in some completely new and innovative solutions that are likely more resource efficient and effective. In essence, they can leapfrog an entire generation of innovation and go straight to the bleeding edge. This is possible because of new generations of tools and technologies that exist today that did not even a few years ago.
Leapfrogging is the umbrella name for the systems available to us today that make all this possible. Cloud computing, social media, new professional paradigms such as social entrepreneurship, below-the-line marketing and a host of novel realities have transformed the global context for Africans with their eyes set on continental and beyond-continental scale.
This idea of leapfrogging is really compelling. As we look at the state of management and leadership in our organizations and communities (admittedly something far less important than developing nations in Africa), it might be wise to abandon the idea of “Best Practice” innovation and instead replace it with a fierce dedication to leapfrogging. The same list of technologies and ideologies that open the opportunity for Africans to transform their countries provide us with the opportunity to transform our organizations as well.
In order to leapfrog, we must flip the script on “best practices.” Instead of considering the best practice as the target for our work, we instead must use the “best practice” as an example of what we DO NOT want to become and instead see it as the obstacle that we’d like to leap beyond in our solutions. This is not easy work but changing the world rarely is. And, this is the kind of thinking and innovation that we need to truly advance the practice of management.
Who’s up for some leapfrog?