Think Global, Innovate Local

25 October 2017 | Thinking in New Ways

Global needs. In a recent post for the Drucker Forum [link], I wrote about a way for any company, team, or individual to begin nextsensing [link]:

Many economists speak of GDP, the gross domestic product of a country; a few economists even talk about the GWP, the gross world product. Yet, these concepts are numbers-based, not human-based. We can change this. What’s needed is a new index that measures the most imminent needs of the world and makes it a commonplace concept, a “Gross Needs Index” (GNI), if you will. But we need more than a list; that is just a target for people to aim at.

What’s needed most is the immersion of everyone into an appreciation of the positive role of enterprise in society and how to use the tools of entrepreneurship. Where to start? The answer is easy: anywhere.

Global needs. I find very few who are willing to view their own businesses via that unique lens. And while there are companies dedicated to such a point of view, not that many corporations are willing to think along these lines. For example, you have to admire the work of the Global Needs Foundation [link], “a nonprofit organization working to end extreme poverty in the world. We believe that education is key to empowering the poor around the world and to eradicate poverty at its roots.” Then there’s “Global Citizen [link],” described as “a community of people like you… People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.” Then, there’s the allnurses website, which tries to bring one set of global needs to the organisation’s doorstep: “How can nursing address and improve global healthcare needs?” [link]

Such entities are altruistic and admirable. They have a special place in world affairs, and they should not be dismissed. And they are a good place for anyone to start to think globally.

Relatedly, when I look at the website sponsored by DowDuPont [link], I am stirred by the endless possibilities that exist for the world of business to take on a world of immense needs. To be clear, DowDuPont is a for-profit, publicly-traded enterprise [link] that operates internationally. Its home page makes clear what its mission/vision is: “Working closely with our customers we deliver products and solutions that create value and competitive advantage while positively impacting the world we live in. Collectively, our efforts have lasting results, creating higher performance for our customers and reshaping the world around us to build a better future for everyone.” Yet what I admire most about its science and sustainability page [see link above] is the analysis it has given to the concept of global needs. Dow lists (and discusses) eight areas of concern to the company:

  • Building & Construction
  • Consumer & Lifestyle
  • Energy & Climate Change
  • Food & Agriculture
  • Health & Wellness
  • Infrastructure
  • Transportation
  • Water

You may look at the site and see only the “sell, sell, sell” side of DowDuPont (@DowDuPontCo). I want to be more generous, although I wonder if DowDuPont really has all of its 55,000 employees thinking about what they, in their respective business capacities, can do to address any of these eight focus areas. Because that is the point, isn’t it? If a company as large as this one can bring the attention, the experience, the smarts, the caring, and the imagination of 55,000 people to a distinct list of global needs, then the planet shows promise of being a better world tomorrow.

Global needs. In my experience, most companies tend to think local and innovate local. They are myopic and have it backwards. The trick is to think globally and then act from whatever base you have. The American president Theodore Roosevelt said it nicely: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” My challenge then if for everyone reading this post to prepare your own list of global needs and then to mull the endless list of possible ways you or your firm could start to address just one of those needs. Put another way, I wonder what other websites by other firms would look like if they, too, took on a global focus.

Note: The Drucker Forum holds its ninth annual meeting in Vienna in mid-November. Richard Straub delineates perfectly what people will be discussing at that time. Read his short essay, “Growth & Inclusive Prosperity” here [link].

Joseph PistruiJoseph Pistrui (@nextsensing) is Professor of Entrepreneurial Management at IE Business School in Madrid. He also leads the global Nextsensing Project, which he founded in 2012.