Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Vision Thing

I had an interesting meeting today with the minister of Amiri Diwan in Kuwait (similar to royal court in other countries) who also happens to be the son of the Emir of Kuwait (the ruler). I went, along with a delegation, on a fund raising mission for a local non governmental organization (NGO) that I am actively involved in. I thought the meeting would be formal and stiff. It was anything but that!

The minister was very pleasant and entertaining all along. We discussed various issues but most interesting was the vision thing. The minister was probing us on how the NGO we are representing is helping Kuwait in achieving its vision. We responded generally about how we are very active in the public as well as governmental spheres to promote advancement. Then one brave member of our delegation asked the minister: but what is the vision?

I was not sure which is worse to be on the asking or receiving end. But the minister checked his watch for time and proceeded to explain. He explained how Kuwait was throughout history for two hundred years; some explorers wrote about the Kuwaiti people and how they were hard working merchants taking their business across the region. Then in the last fifty years we had the blessing and curse at the same time of oil wealth which turned the entrepreneurial spirit to be dependent and reliant.

He went on explaining that history should be taken as a whole and not just the last fifty years of abundant wealth and accompanying reliance on such wealth. Therefore the vision is for Kuwait to re assume its historical role.

This was an interesting conversation. I could not help thinking back to a book I read by Louis Gerstner the ex CEO of IBM about his experience with the company which was in dire trouble when he took over and he succeeded in turning it around (who says elephants can't dance?). Gerstner in the early days and upon taking over the helm of the company was asked what his vision was. He simply answered: I don't know. This generated a huge fiasco with the press and business community about this CEO taking over a troubled company who did not have a vision.

It turns out Gerstner was ahead of the rest. He did not claim to have a vision, but what he saw was a ship standing still. All he wanted to do at that point was to get the ship moving again before embarking on a certain direction, which he did ultimately.

I thought back to this example as I reflected on my meeting today. Perhaps the last thing this country needs is vision. We need to start moving again. We need an environment that encourages productivity for individuals and business, not stifle it. That's what's needed to start moving.. then we can figure out the vision thing.

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