“I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing” – Ezekiel 34:26

Last Tuesday, The University of the West Indies (St Augustine, Trinidad) hosted a Distinguished Lecture by leading UK entrepreneur and business guru Alex Pratt, titled “Innovation and Enterprise in a Small Island Developing Economy”.  He began the lecture with the familiar image of “Obama and Romney facing each other” projected on the screen and commented “that is a prime example of competitiveness”.  For the records, in the light of the massive global support for President Obama, the election outcome was a manifestation of Ezekiel 34:26.

The Distinguished Lecture was jointly facilitated by the UWI Caribbean Centre for Competitiveness (CCfC) and focused on how businesses can survive – and even thrive – in tough economic conditions.  It was in the wake of two other equally stimulating, even though shorter, presentations by Alex on the same day at the CCfC’s first Regional Competitiveness Forum which was held on Monday and Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain. These presentations were titled: (1) Tools for building an Internationally Competitiveness Business under Austerity Conditions and (2) Technology and Innovation.

Alex’s philosophy is: Yes, times are tough, but then again, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and FedEx were all started during tough economic times. And he lives by the motto of Warren Buffet: “The first rule is not to lose. The second rule is not to forget the first rule.” Alex is a Director of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF) which promotes “Barbados – The #1 Entrepreneurial Hub in the World by 2020”. The Third BEF National Entrepreneurship SUMMIT takes place at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre on Friday 16th November 2012 from 8.15 am to 5.30pm.

The CCfC has been established to increase the institutional capacity of the region to generate and share world-class and Caribbean specific knowledge products on private sector development and competitiveness; and upgrade the technical capacity of academics as well as public and private sector officials on cutting edge approaches to competitiveness. This is important in the quest for economic growth in the emerging small state economies in the Caribbean.

Economic growth can only take place “one successful enterprise after another”. These enterprises may either be existing enterprises or start-up enterprises. The survival and growth of existing enterprises and the emergence and growth of start-up enterprises must embrace the transition from innovation, through productivity, standards of quality to competitiveness.

What is “Innovation”? It is simply the introduction of something new. As we have learned from Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese” – Old Beliefs do not lead you to New Cheese. We need to be innovative not only in finding new “DNA of an Elephant” ideas from which enterprises can emerge but we also need to be innovative  in employing good management principles as we expertly cope with the challenges presented by the corporate governance, marketing, production, human resource development and financial investment business systems of the enterprise.  In the context of new creative ideas, we must remember that the idea itself is not usually at the core of the enterprise but it is the innovation which converts this idea into a good or service for sale that is paramount. The entrepreneur then starts carefully, does it right, makes a profit and then expands the enterprise into a sustainable business in a dynamic shepherding environment which, in turn, mitigates the risk of business failure.

What is “Productivity”? It is a measure of the efficiency of production. Productivity is a ratio of production output to what is required to produce it (inputs). The measure of productivity is defined as a total output per one unit of a total input. We speak about “labour productivity” which can be optimised through training and motivational techniques; “process flow productivity” which can be optimised by critically examining the flow of activities in each business process; and “technology productivity” which can be optimised by embracing emerging soft and hard technology as it merges.

What is “Standards of Quality”? Standards of quality and documentation were originally developed for manufacturing businesses. Codes for all types of services are now maintained by standardization organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization. Standards of this type include those of the ISO 9000 series. Two years ago, ISO 26000 was released. This speaks to social responsibility. Business and organizations do not operate in a vacuum. Their relationship to the society and environment in which they operate is a critical factor in their ability to continue to operate effectively. It is also increasingly being used as a measure of their overall performance.

What is “Competitiveness”?  It pertains to the ability and performance of a firm, sub-sector or country to sell and supply goods and services in a given market, in relation to the ability and performance of other firms, sub-sectors or countries in the same market. Competitiveness is important for any economy that must rely on international trade to balance import of energy and raw materials. In recent years, the concept of competitiveness has emerged as a new paradigm in economic development.

Brian F. Griffith in last Saturday’s “Jewel for Today” drew our attention to an American proverb “the only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is the way you use them”. As we continue the journey towards sustainable economic development, one successful enterprise after another, may we skillfully interpret the hurdles that we encounter from innovation to competitiveness as stepping stones that lead on to fortune and avoid their threat as stumbling blocks that bound the voyage in shallows and in miseries.