How to turn friction into opportunity
Francis Wade SUNDAY BUSINESS COLUMNIST
In a conversation with a potential time management client, I remarked that local business life is all about overcoming what I call friction: the surprising impediments to getting things done.
Business people who have travelled abroad might agree that in Jamaica, things that simply don't occur in developed countries can slow commerce to a standstill.
On further reflection, I realised that I might be wrong in my comparison, which is largely based on my move from Florida to Jamaica in 2005.
Instead, I have come to realise that different obstacles inhibit the flow of business in every country.
When we Jamaicans do business in developed countries, we are amazed at how much friction has been removed: potholes are filled, trains run on time, and traffic rules are enforced.
That world seems less crazy, and we long for its peaceful order. We imagine how easy it would be to make money there.
Our perceptions, however, are misleading. In some ways, doing business is hard in Jamaica, but it's hard in other ways in the United States.
Anyone who has ever dealt with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) knows how difficult it is to communicate with its 100,000-strong bureaucracy of faceless, nameless employees.
Dealing with them is a basic requirement for every US resident — even small businesses must often hire accountants to complete complex returns at the federal, state, and city levels.
But that's just one example. When I left Florida, I donated my car to a charity. When I returned a year later, my driver's licence had been suspended because I had cancelled the car insurance on my donated vehicle.
Computers spoke to one another, and they misunderstood something. A few frantic phone calls restored my privileges, but it was a major point of friction that stopped me from doing any business that day.
When travelling to a foreign country, you might think that things are easier overall because the points of friction you're used to don't exist. Those who have started up operations in different countries know differently. Here's what they do to be effective.
1. Manage a Set of Flexible Time-Management Habits:
The normal state of affairs in the new country may be quite different, especially when it comes the managing your time.
Adults who migrate to live in the US can often remember the moment when we realised that 'these people are serious' and there are harsh penalties for not managing your time well. Bosses just don't care about late buses or school projects.
In response, we migrants often taught ourselves a new set of skills. Those who couldn't do that suffered.
When I moved back home, I was surprised to find that the same applies to people who move to Jamaica from a developed country. Unless you enjoy disasters, you can't set tight deadlines and expect others to be timely.
Again, flexibility is required, and it's critical to know how to re-jigger your time-management system to survive.
2. Look for Business Opportunities:
On the whole, business people hate friction, but entrepreneurs love friction. It's not because they have a subversive need to waste time; instead, they know that friction breeds opportunity. For example, the difficulty of purchasing a decent patty led Lowell Hawthorne to respond by creating Golden Krust, which now has over 120 stores in nine US states.
My return to Jamaica and my struggle to adjust led me on a search for books about managing time in developing countries. When I couldn't find anything, I started blogging to vent my frustration.
The results turned into training programmes, which found their way to professionals in other countries. In a few weeks, I'll be publishing a time-management book on Amazon based on six years of research.
I could go on to recite a list of Jamaicans, more successful than I, who have turned friction into business opportunity, and their examples can inspire anyone to start by looking in their own backyards before embarking on business ventures.
The big lesson here is that friction isn't bad. Embrace it when you find it, work with it flexibly, and turn it into opportunity.
Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting. firstname.lastname@example.org