28 August 2007

Building a Solid Foundation for the Technopreneurs of Tomorrow (An Article Written in August, 2002 for the Manila Observer)

Allow me to build a case.

Progress --- the deep, dire desire of every organization, be it a budding startup or a deep-rooted enterprise. Why is so much importance placed on progress, and why do companies strive to be in this state at all? Because progress is an indicator of growth, and growth, in turn, is associated with increased revenue and hopefully, increased profit as well. One manifestation of progress may be by way of expansion into new markets --- product-wise or service-wise. When we see a tree increase in size, we know that it is growing, and the fact that it is growing tells us that one day this tree will be big enough to bear fruit --- and hopefully it does bear fruit. This holds true not only for the organization, but for the individual as well.

I have always believed in, and preached on, the benefits of being a business owner versus being a simple employee. Now, more than ever, considering the turn of events that tend to favor business owners over employees, I would recommend taking a serious look at the prospect. The fact remains, as the threat of events such as downsizing becomes hauntingly real, it’s the employee who suffers more than any other party. So, why put all your eggs in one basket? Diversify your life.

The Entrepreneur is the driving force; s/he is the individual whose motivation for innovation fuels progress. And in order to be an effective entrepreneur, one must learn to make use of technology to his advantage. This is true now, much more than it ever was. We see how technology changes everyday. What was relevant and very much ‘cutting-edge’ last week may be replaced and hurled to obsolescence today, giving us more reason to cope with technology. If we now see technology as a tool, then this is poised to be one very elusive, but indispensable tool. Technology can be harnessed and put to good use, it is not merely a tool for commercial or industrial productivity, but personal productivity as well. It allows you to do so much more with even less time. Let’s take notice of that and learn to make technology work for us. Now, if technology’s sole aim is to make processes more effective and efficient, that is to make life better, then this too leads to progress. Hence, we can surmise that one way, or should I say one of the fastest ways, to achieve progress is by way of technology.

What then must we do in order to learn how to survive tomorrow? We must learn to take advantage of technology AS it changes. We must learn to be Technopreneurs.

But first, let us vanquish the thoughts of “changing the way we do business”. You may change the methods, but the principles remain the same. The principles of accounting shall always govern the intricacies of any financial statement, whether it be online or actual. We must continue to be well grounded on solid, proven, tried-and-tested business fundamentals. And so it is for the fundamentals of marketing, production and finance…..Indeed, we cannot change the way business is done, but we must learn to play by new rules. Playing by new rules without changing the fundamentals is like driving a car in a foreign country. What you need to do is to learn the traffic rules in that country, you do not need to learn to drive all over again. Where do go to learn the rules? School and Industry --- Formal Education and Real-world experience in Real-world Scenarios. We can do without this, but it merely makes the learning experience less beneficial, incomplete, and in fact raw. I don’t believe in going into anything you know nothing of. Investing in stocks without understanding finance and investment, setting up a dotcom without understanding the technologies, going into business without understanding the basics of accounting, being a restaurateur without knowing food or how the business is run --- these are all exercises in futility. You might as well stand in the middle of Ayala Avenue and give your money away.

Let’s go back to that proverbial car. Now, if that car were the latest model, we probably should learn how to use newer options such as cruise control, enhanced audio and turbo speed enhancements, but just like in technology, we may opt to ignore these new options --- anyway, all it does is deprive us of the benefits the options would have provided us in the first place. If we look at our business in the same way, however, ignoring the latest technology may render us constantly in the pits. Business literacy is what we need to learn to play the game; otherwise we might as well be wearing blindfolds.

The skills needed by the technopreneur can be acquired from a variety of sources, but nothing beats the benefits derived from a good, solid institution like your brick-and-mortar school. Aside from the lessons in business literacy, the daily grind somehow inculcates in us a sense of value for discipline and a working knowledge of rules. This scene serves as a stage where we learn to play by and master the rules in order for us to invent new ones. Being part of an institution provides us with great benefits. On that level, we practice, little by little our newly acquired skills in an immensely forgiving and less conditional environment. We should maximize the use of that playground by making as many mistakes as we can before we jump out into the real world, hitting the ground with both feet running.

The acquisition of IT skills, however, should not be confused with utilizing technology in order to enhance business processes. Tech skills, if at all obtained, must not be acquired in order to isolate these, but must be fertilized and grown based on solid business fundamentals --- at all times. In fact, these skills must be limited or stunted so as to avoid the myopic perspective prevalent among skilled workers, which is essentially what they are. The routinary grind tends to inhibit one’s response to peripheral, much more general environmental, stimuli. The technopreneur must learn to manage his tech-skills, keeping them at bay and confining them so as to avoid the obsession to ‘go deeper’. He must put everything in the proper perspective, viewing how these skills relate to doing business. Let’s not forget that good implementors are not necessarily good planners.

How should we look at technology then? Let us open our eyes to the truth that technology is just a tool, a tool that we must learn to manage. Let not technology be any company’s sole purpose for existence, but a means to an end. The end, we must realize, being profit --- being progress.

In summary, we must first make the first step by deciding to grow; to diversify our lives and our businesses by being technopreneurs. Then we must recognize the potentials that technology offers, and how it relates to progress. It is then that we must learn how to make use of that tool we call technology as it changes, but not before learning the rules; studying them in order to change them. And through it all, we must always remain focused. Remember, it’s the business skills that matter, much more than the tech skills.

The fact that Globalization is now a reality, and is at our doorstep, forces us to rethink our strategies. No longer must we be limited in our breadth by parochialism, but we must learn to adapt to the constantly changing landscape.

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