Have you seen the $35 touch-screen tablet computer from India that debuted in late July?
No matter its shortcomings, it's a true technical marvel at 1/20th the price of an Apple iPad.
Along with the $2,500 Tata Nano -- the world's cheapest car -- this new tablet is an example of world-class thinking from unexpected places.
Let's be honest: when you think engineering greatness, you tend to think of Silicon Valley, California; Cambridge, England; and Stuttgart, Germany -- centers of innovation known for breakthroughs in everything from computer software to medicine to cars. But the world is changing.
Not only do emerging market economies offer billions of new customers, they also produce a staggering amount of innovation and gifted thinkers. Last year, Indian native Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Chinese native Charles Kao won Nobel Prizes for chemistry and physics, respectively. More than prize-winning scientists, emerging nations are also producing an impressive number of entrepreneurs, too. In March, for example, Business Insider published a list of 20 billionaires, including Carlos Slim and Patric Motsepe, who have built world-class companies in emerging economies.
If your company does business overseas, or is considering it for the first time, then you might want to ask yourself: Are you leveraging all the innovative thinking that emerging countries produce? Smart companies not only develop products in the established world and transport that knowledge to emerging world, but they increasingly do the reverse as well. They prevail by doing both.
Take Nestle. One of the Swiss company's "trickle up innovations" in Australia and New Zealand is Maggi low-fat dried noodles, originally developed for India and Pakistan. A low-cost staple of urban dwellers in emerging countries, the two-minute noodles have been repackaged and repositioned as a healthy, 99 percent fat-free alternative established countries. Today, Maggi is a top seller in India, and one of the top brands in Australia.
Other companies leveraging the best of both worlds include Xerox, Nokia, General Electric and Renault. Because these organizations transfer knowledge and expertise more readily around the world, they can amplify their breakthroughs and maximize their investments in research and development. This multiplier effect is not only helping in product development, but also in business and market development. Take Nokia, for example, a market leader in several emerging economies but a smartphone laggard in many established nations. To improve its market share in Western Europe and the U.S., the company is trying to leverage success achieved in the emerging world.
In early 2010, for example, Nokia released the Express Music 5800 phone in the U.S. It features front-facing speakers that allow users to share music more easily. The idea for the innovation came from Africa, where Nokia provides front-facing speakers so customers can conduct low-cost conference calls. After the products were a hit there, engineers decided to upgrade the speakers and sell the device in more established economies.
The key to leveraging ideas generated in one part of the world with innovations created in another is rethinking how information is shared throughout your organization, and facilitating greater collaboration between geographies.
To get the most from these efforts, organizations must work through cultural impediments and institutionalized habits. This can only be accomplished by thoroughly understanding the massive differences between established and emerging economies. The two operate at different speeds and with different rhythms. Customers have different priorities, buying capabilities and usage habits, too.
By better understanding the nature of these differences, your organization will be better poised to make the most of all that the world has to offer. Where there was once a border separating your organization from new opportunities, there could be a passport to a brighter future.
Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.