DOZ: If you are asking, is there already an accomplished metanational that we can point to as an exemplary company, I don’t think so, except perhaps Nestlé. STMicroelectronics comes close. I think there are metanational behaviors, activities, and processes present in a number of companies, but what we did in our work was not to report on the best practice in Company X or Company Y. Our approach is really much more to develop a logical argument, and to say, “If you want to learn from the world, then how can you go about it?”
Our argument is that there are three core steps: a step of sensing, which is identifying and accessing existing knowledge; a step we call mobilizing, which is integrating scattered capabilities and emerging market opportunities in new products and services; and then we stress a third step, which is optimizing operations to maximize the return on these new offerings.
Then we use examples from the practices of various companies as a way to illustrate the argument, and also as a way to make it a more tangible process — to say, “There’s something really going on here,” not just a set of ideas in some academics’ brains. Some American companies, like Procter & Gamble, are moving in this direction. A lot of companies are building up metanational capabilities.
We are not saying that metanational capabilities are going to fully substitute for what companies already do. They are going to complement what companies already do. It is not an issue where you can say, “Tomorrow morning the flow of products and components and so on is going to be quite different from what it was yesterday.” The day-to-day operations, the worldwide operation or integration processes, all these things will remain the same. But the way you fuel and renew innovation is going to depend increasingly on your ability to accept knowledge that lies in different places, not just in your home base.
So our goal is not to suggest an entirely different type of company. Our goal is to find companies that do many of the usual things, yet nonetheless fuel and renew and learn in a more interesting and richer way, around new knowledge creation and innovative integration, than most companies do.
The mind-set we see now is almost turning the old slogan of “think global, act local” on its head. We are saying you need to think local and act global. In other words, you need to constantly ask yourself, “What can I draw from a particular local environment that is unique and different, that is going to best make use of its capabilities and competencies, that is going to best leverage this uniqueness on a worldwide basis?” So the approach is very much to think about the local uniqueness, think about the local rootedness, and think about how you can then take these things to a global level.
The role of management in metanational companies is to identify and connect the best from the various locations in which they are involved. Thinking local means saying, “We are going to leverage our local capabilities globally, in a much more effective way.” That’s not the same thing as leveraging your global capabilities locally. It is a change of mind-set, a change of attitude, and a change of perspective in how you look at the world. But it is not a fundamental change in the day-to-day operations of sales forces, manufacturing plants, or even traditional R&D labs.
It comes down to this: If you want to compete successfully, there is an unprecedented opportunity to pick up under-exploited, poorly understood innovative knowledge in all kinds of places. But you have to be looking for it, and you have to capture it, and then you have to make sure that it’s used.