If you’re responsible for the strategic direction of your business, then I’d like to suggest that you spend a little time memorizing it, because it’s possibly one of your biggest challenges.
‚But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.‛ If you’re from the Christian tradition then you’ll be familiar with this sentence. It is, however, fast becoming a sentence that is increasingly defining some of today’s business environment. If you’re responsible for the strategic direction of your business, then I’d like to suggest that you spend a little time memorizing it, because it’s possibly one of your biggest challenges.
In a recent BusinessWeek (March 1, 2004 European Edition) there was an advertisement for a book on creativity and innovation. I’d not seen this book before and asked a colleague to phone our two local book stores to see if a copy was available. I should mention that the 2 book stores in question are by no means insignificant in the book supply chain here in South Africa.
Store 1 is a well known regional store with a couple of branches established in 1865. One of its main customer groups are students from the local universities and Colleges.
Store 2 is a national chain, probably the biggest book store franchise in the country.
Let me briefly describe the conversation my colleague had with each of the stores‌

Book Store 1

Store: I can’t find it on any of our lists, I need the ISBN number to get the authors names.
Colleague: I have the authors names.
Store: I still need the ISBN number for the Publisher.
Colleague:I have the Publisher.
Store: Well I still need the ISBN number.
Colleague: I don’t have the ISBN number. Thanks I’ll go somewhere else.
Book Store 2
Store: Yes we have it on our list. However, we have no stock and according to our records it’s no longer in print. We cannot order it for you.
I was hoping to simply pick the book on the same day at one of the book stores. Obviously this wasn’t going to happen. I have however run into this scenario in the past, and it was solved by turning to the Internet. For me there are only 2 book stores (well they used to be just book stores) I use on the net. Either Amazon.com or Kalahari.net. I prefer the latter because it’s a South African creation, and, let’s face it, they have a great TV advertising campaign. So with no assistance from the ‘brick and mortar’ stores, I turned to Kalahari.net
Kalahari.net (www.kalahari.net)
Web Site: Delivery: UK supplier – Usually within 15 working days.
Can someone please explain this to me? How is it that the two ‘brick and mortar’ book stores were unable to help me with my book, and Kalahari.net was? Do they not all have access to the same information? Do they not all have access to the same books? Obviously the book wasn’t out of print. It couldn’t be. I read about it in a 1 March 2004 edition of BusinessWeek.
This is not an isolated example. In fact I bet you have your own to share?
Let me illustrate the ‘first-last’ principal with another example.
Which country has the best internet infrastructure? (described as bandwidth per user) � You have approximately 280 countries in world to choose from.
How many of you guessed Tanzania? (Africa) How can that be so you ask? Easy. The last to embrace new technology, embrace the latest technology, leap-frogging those who have gone before them. One might think that that USA has the best mobile phone technology being such a communication rich country. Wrong again. If you’re looking for the latest mobile phone developments, I’d suggest that the USA is one of the last places you’d want to look.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, the world is changing. The change is slow in some areas and rapid in others, but there is not doubt that change is in air and not on the way. The old rules are less and less applicable. The barriers to entry you’ve relied on for so long are fast becoming paper thin. Whatever your distinct advantage was today, you can bet it’s not going to offer much support in the not too distant future, if it isn’t already so.
Book stores, and Mobile phones are just the beginning. Banks, Doctors, Accountants, Architects, the Music and Film industry and Education (to name just a few) are all currently experiencing the ‘first-last’ principal.
And what about your business? Are you the first or the last?

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