THE TANGIBLE BENEFITS OF THOUGHT LEADERSHIP
Thought leadership, trend identification, economic analysis and futurology are closely intertwined. I discovered this by accident. Back in the 1990s, I was a writer for a number of Indian business newspapers and published on themes related to economic reform, industry trends and future possibilities. The software industry interested me a great deal as it was evolving rapidly. The Indian software industry also had a sophisticated leadership well schooled in the art of influencing public opinion and policy makers. In just about a decade, beginning with its inception after the departure of IBM in the 1970s, the Indian software industry had made a mark on the world stage with its rapid growth. In the early 1990s, it had transitioned from on-site professional services for American companies to off-shore supply of software development services. The very success of the industry became the cause of its many problems towards the end of the decade of 1990s. As the volume of data traffic grew, the need for a robust telecom infrastructure was compelling.
My articles at the time anticipated widespread relocation of services production as cheaper telecom services were made available with fiber optic networks around the world. I also predicted that India would be the biggest beneficiary of the emerging telecom revolution given that it had the highest population of engineers in the world who were very largely under-employed. The antiquated telecom network in India at the time, largely in the public sector, barely covered the major metropolitan cities and it was completely inadequate for the needs of business customers. Technological advances had rendered the organizational structure of the Indian telecom industry obsolete and it was not hard to guess that it would be transformed soon and rapidly.
One simple rule of futurology is to look at the opportunity costs of existing practices and compare them with the benefits of adopting the best practices. Change is rarely accepted by humans and the benefits have to far outweigh the costs before the establishment will even budge. Thought leadership is simply articulating the opportunity costs of existing practices even if they are obvious and future possibilities based on an understanding of the benefits of transformation. Oh yes, people will find a way to spin away even the most dysfunctional practices.
I remember some nasty responses to the articles I had written criticizing the run down Indian telecom infrastructure at the time. The Chief Executive Officer of the then publicly owned VSNL instructed his public relations staff to call me at his office and he communicated his annoyance at my articles. He accused me of doing the bidding of the company’s known adversaries.
The maintenance of a public monopoly was then justified on the grounds that it had raised money in international markets and had based its future projections of earnings on the assumption that it would retain the monopoly for five years. When I did some research, I found that Singapore once had a public monopoly in international telecom communications. Like in India so also in Singapore, the incumbent had also raised money in international markets with future projections based on the assumption of a monopoly for some years. Singapore’s government, however, ended the monopoly after compensating it for the lost earnings. Even after the payment of a large sum to the monopoly, the net benefit of a competitive market for international telephony exceeded the costs.
After I arrived in the USA, I learned that the Indian Government used precisely the same method of compensation to end the monopoly in international telecommunications. VSNL was privatized and sold to the house of Tatas.