Local Adaptation

I could have sworn that I wrote this before, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere! The following is a passage from the book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford, which had at that time (and still does) a great impact on me because of the scope of my work.

Any large organisation faces a basic dilemma between centralisation and decentralisation […] Decisions taken at the centre can be more coordinated, limit wasteful duplication, and may be able to lower average costs because they can spread fixed resources (anything from a marketing department to an aircraft carrier) across a bigger base. But decisions taken at the fringes of an organisation are quick and the local information will probably be much better, even if the big picture is not clear. [Most] people overestimated the value of centralised knowledge, and tended to overlook “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place”.

Allow me to elaborate a little on what I mean when I say this passage above had “a great impact on me because of the scope of my work”. I work at a Canadian company, and it does sadden me sometimes when I see how much resources Corporate HQ gets as compared to our Singapore office, and how much if not all of what we do here can be done over there as well (do the words “redundant” come to mind??)

But this passage has somewhat put things in perspective. Being physically located in Asia, I suppose it can be argued that we’ll have a closer, more Asian perspective. Certainly, being in the same timezone means we’ll be more agile in responding to our Asian colleague’s needs, and when there are fundamental regional reporting differences it’s a no-brainer: being Asia-focused, we’ll be the only ones willing and able to support (Corp’s certainly able, but not always willing).

I suppose there’s also a key message here: perhaps in order to differentiate ourselves from Corp, we should be focusing on our strengths in our “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place”?

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