Dangers of staying the same in a changing world

 Steward Bank CEO Dr Lance Mambondiani (pictured right) is a strong advocate of banks without walls

Steward Bank CEO Dr Lance Mambondiani (pictured right) is a strong advocate of banks without walls

Delta Milayo Ndou# Digital Dialogue
There is a line in one of my favourite books written by Spencer Johnson that reads: “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”

The book is titled “Who Moved my Cheese?” and is premised on a fable about the dangers of remaining the same when one’s world has changed. I think there are two reasons why people remain the same in a changing world.

The first reason is they don’t sense the shift, they miss the warning signs and get caught blissfully unaware because the change was so imperceptible and gradual – they just didn’t “feel” a thing.

They wake up one day and the world they knew has unfamiliar terrain and the skills they pride themselves in are less valued or even supplanted by a technology they didn’t even know to watch out for. In other words, people stay the same in a changing world out of unawareness.

Then the second reason people stay the same when everything around them requires that they adapt is denial. These are the people who see the signs but refuse to believe what they are seeing is real or permanent or forceful enough to change the world as they know it.

So, they continue doggedly applying old concepts to new scenarios and hoping that existing business models can guarantee success even when the rules of the game have changed. Which of these are you?

Are you unaware or are you in denial?

There are a lot of mainstream industries and formalised activities that have been transforming over the years and will continue to do so in ways that will circumvent established norms.

When technology enables circumvention of the mainstream

The plight of media entities provides ready and rich examples of the impact of imperceptible change as digital migration of readers grows.

Much has been said about that the impact of migrating readers but less has been noted about the emergence of competing advertising platforms.

It’s one thing for media entities to lose readers but when they start losing advertisers or failing to attract them at all, then the financial bleed turns into haemorrhage. Digital advertising platforms in Zimbabwe have grown exponentially over the years and social media platforms dedicated to advertising have been largely embraced. From the prominent platfroms such as Classifieds to the Deepleague Lists (with over 180 000 followers on FB) mainstream advertising platforms face serious competition from online alternatives.

At a smaller scale, accommodation agencies have sprouted via WhatsApp and Facebook and make a tidy sum with commissions from as little as $30 to help desperate accommodation seekers find lodgings. Such accommodation agencies may not seem to pose a threat but they gradually eat into what is a lucrative revenue stimulator for newspapers’ classifieds sections.

Technology has also facilitated informalised occupations outside the realm of mainstream operations.

For instance, in Bulawayo one can purchase their car insurance from car insurance vendors on the street who use swipe machines to transact. Activities such as airtime and Zesa coupon vending have become commonplace but they also point to a shift in customers embracing alternative and non-mainstream service providers.

Even established laundromats have their small competitors like Avenues Wash and Fold who will collect a client’s laundry, do the laundry and deliver it to the client’s doorstep. What people want at the end of the day is a service and they will be inclined to opt for alternative service providers if doing so saves them money, time and proves convenient.

With the emergence and growth of influential digital communities like ZimVine on Facebook, where members seek and obtain referrals or recommendations for service providers, it is only a matter of time before mainstream businesses start to feel the squeeze. The cheese (i.e. the customer) is moving and if businesses don’t adapt they are in for a rude awakening.

“Banking is necessary, banks are not”

Last week, a tweeted comment that was attributed to Steward Bank’s CEO, Dr Lance Mambondiani, caught my attention. It read “banking is necessary, banks are not” and it was one of the most un-mainstream things I’ve ever heard a CEO say because it reflected the kind of futuristic mindset that few business leaders exhibit.

Dr Lance Mambondiani

Dr Lance Mambondiani

It is perhaps fitting that such a comment should come from a man heading the most unconventional banking institution in the country with its litany of “firsts”.

From pioneering the concept of a “branch-less” banking model in 2014 which attracted financially excluded low-income earners and popularised the concept of “agent banking” to the more recent novelty of having an online broadcast called “Square Talk” via its Facebook page to engage clients, Steward Bank seems to have been more preoccupied with finding innovative ways to simply provide the required services without obsessing about fitting into the almost ritualistic mould of mainstream bank operations.

The goal of any business should be to provide solutions and in a digital age many of those solutions can be facilitated by the right technology because if mainstream businesses refuse to adopt them small entrepreneurial operators certainly will.

Zimbabwe businesses, in many instances, remind one of the John Maxwell’s famous quotable quotes: “People are more comfortable with old problems than they are with new solutions.” It takes a lot to transform because risk is involved. I am never sure whether local entities fail to transform because they are led by people in denial or because they are led by risk-averse management?

Either way, as a business, figure out what service or rather, what solution you are providing and make sure you are adapting to meet the needs of the changing customer you are trying to retain, in the changing world you are faced with.

To borrow the words attributed to Dr Mambondiani on Twitter: “If we are not aligning what we are building today to the next generation, we will become obsolete.” In other words, the problem with staying the same in a changing world is that you will become obsolete.

  •  Delta is a digital evangelist who advocates technology-driven change. Find her on Twitter: @deltandou
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