Published on: November 24, 2015by Michael Sansolo
Sitting in a traffic jam last week in Rio de Janeiro, I spied a stark reminder of how technology is changing and shrinking our world. There on the dashboard was my driver’s cell phone, clearly displaying Waze, the exact same application I use in the US for traffic guidance.
When I mentioned this coincidence at the meeting I was attending in Brazil, a colleague from Singapore remarked that Waze is incredibly popular in his country too. The Waze combination of social networks, local information and mobile technology works everywhere.
With that in mind I urge you all to watch two extraordinary reports from 60 Minutes this past Sunday. Both demonstrated the incredible pace of change in our world and the need for new approaches to a range of challenges.
First, watch the segment about active shooter situations—from US schools to the recent Paris tragedy—to understand how police departments are rethinking their approach to such incidents. It will both terrify and educate you and will clearly demonstrate the need for new approaches to emerging challenges. Experience matters, but the ability to think in new ways about the most horrifying of problems has never been more important.
Incredibly, retailers may find even more to consider from a latter segment on the emergence of electronic money in Kenya. This second report will have you wondering if US retailers might yet find an alternative to the endlessly destructive relationship with credit card companies.
The Kenyan system, called M Pesa, has shockingly changed the rural economy of Kenya, enabling even those with little money or access to banking to jump far ahead of far more advanced nations. Created by the largest telecommunications companies in Kenya, M Pesa essentially relies on simple—not smart—cell phones to let Kenyans pay for an incredible range of products and services with electronic money.
As 60 Minutes showed, Kenyans can convert the currency they have to M Pesa at a range of locations, including small shops or even public restrooms. (Pesa, by the way, is the Swahili word for money.)
An official from the primary telecom company, Safaricom, likened the system to Uber ride sharing or Airbnb hoteling. In short, M Pesa leapfrogs the existing banking system with a solution that is creative, simple and largely works well for everyday consumers.
To be fair, it is not a perfect system. While M Pesa is widely praised in Kenya, there are reports of fraud, corruption and problems. Like Uber and Airbnb, progress is coming with speed bumps. But those issues aside, the M Pesa is helping Kenyans improve their lives in countless ways.
The Safaricom official explained that the finance community in many other countries uses every possible method to thwart such new and creative approaches and, no doubt, the US would be on that list. Yet the creative approach to this issue in Kenya merits understanding at the very least, especially when given the endless rounds of retail-finance lawsuits here.
There may be no similar approach available in the US. However, the benefit of considering new approaches and solutions is never wasted, no matter what the issue - be it finance, security or whatever may come our way.
Sadly, even Waze can’t guide us through everything.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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