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Monday, January 24, 2011

“Take this Cup away from me..?”

I’ve heard many Russian colleagues and friends speak a lot, and with excitement, about the 2018 FIFA World Cup ever since the awarding ceremony in Zurich last December sent Russia into euphoria. Some others I’ve heard were less sanguine. I also took thought about the developments the other day, and in speculating on them I reflected on issues, which are pretty far away from soccer—and still are intimately related to the prospective Cup.

First of all, let me say congratulations to Russia on winning the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2018! This marks another success for Russia in a global competition to highlight its newfound strengths and develop its potential in the 21st century.

There appears to be a lot of such successes lately, with Skolkovo, with the Sochi Olympics; new bridges in the Far East, large-scale techno-parks, special economic zones… and now this. And a lot of these successes are indeed very important infrastructure work. The question is how to prioritize developing such projects in the country; what are the main requirements and needs?

On the one hand, it’s very important for Russia to show itself off as a leader in the global economy. On the other hand, there’s a lot of domestic problems, pretty serious ones, that need to be fixed, and this involves infrastructure. This involves water purification, hospitals, roads, etc. It’s a matter of what the strategy of the leadership of the country is in prioritizing which project to accept and which to reject.

I’m not sure which of these projects are really more valuable. They are all infrastructure; they are all going to create jobs and opportunities for people to build things, and in Russia we all know what that means. So, it’s kind of hard to pick and choose, but I can say that in picking the priorities my suggestion would be to focus on what’s going to improve the efficiency of the economy and the quality of people’s lives.

I think the Olympics are very important because the event crosses very many boundaries; it is sports for all ages. The World Cup is a particularly political topic, and certain age groups are really focused on this sport and support it; it is a particularly ‘hot potato’ right now. And if Russia won this opportunity, it’s probably very hard politically for the power in Moscow to turn this opportunity down.

But to what degree will Russia pick and choose going forward?

Clearly, the country needs massive investments in water purification and other infrastructure projects. I think this is essential. I believe this country needs to develop the mechanism on how to award contracts. I’ve seen editorials of leading academicians from the New Economic School, the Higher School of Economics and others, which clearly point out the importance of Russia developing its tender process.

In any of these projects the first priority is to look at what this country really needs; the second is to really spend the money efficiently. In doing this, there should be a transparent process to evaluate different competitive proposals. This is where Russia really can improve itself and show itself off internationally by having fair open tenders that would allow participants from all over the world to take part in building roads, stadiums, hospitals, in supplying equipment for hospitals, etc. Domestic Russian companies need to be given an equal fair chance with international companies as well.

In such a case that the Russian elite decides to modernize their tender process, not only will they be helping to improve the infrastructure but they’ll be using the people’s tax money in a most efficient way.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Innovation has become a buzzword around here. Everybody keeps saying, “Russia must push for innovations to get rescued! Modernization can only materialize with innovators!” All that is true; I agree it’s high time we said bye to the commodity economy we have had. However, innovative ideas do not come out of the blue; they get conceived in the minds of the inspired.

Being innovative always takes change; one has to tear himself or herself away from the comforts he/she is used to. Who will want to work in uncertainty and high-risk conditions? That’s right; those are innovators. They are ready to move mountains to see their ideas accomplished. They make progress possible; they invent, create, try and improve goods, technologies and services that push the entire civilization upward and forward.

When we talk about “setting up a partnership” with a certain company we have in mind a very specific person representing it (the CEO, a sales manager, etc.). This is the person who is motivated to have anything to do with us. The same is with innovation; there’s a specific person behind each innovative idea. Who’s the guy? What makes him different from others? What dominates his character?

With more than ten years of experience in venture business I have a clear picture of the innovator I have worked with. This is how I view his personality:

1. Inquisitiveness. Innovators vigorously study the world that surrounds them. They look for opportunities everywhere.
2. Challenging a ‘status quo’. A current state of things doesn’t content innovators and pushes them to action. They tackle routine head on and oftentimes defy themselves.
3. Self-motivation. Innovators are pro-active in studying their environments because this helps such people develop. They are quick in hunkering down when they have an idea. They take action instead of just talking and are not always rewarded for the efforts made.
4. Vision. Vibrant imagination is innovators’ second nature. They peer far beyond today.
5. Risk. Innovators break free from their ‘comfort zones’ and experiment, undeterred by the fear of making a mistake. A failure is sometimes more precious than success.
6. ”I have a dream!” Innovators can identify opportunities where other can’t. Their great imagination helps them depict unimaginable things—things that they can turn into reality.
7. Sportiveness and a sense of humor. Innovators prefer the unanticipated and can piece together what others deem incompatible. They aren’t afraid of looking silly or acting childishly; they are venturesome and laugh a lot.
8. On the move. Innovators don’t ‘take root’ and prefer changing their working environments, moving from office or home to restaurants, libraries, forums, exhibitions, etc. They travel a lot in search of inspiration and new ideas. They are cut out for moving and embracing the world.
9. Seeing the backbone. Innovators can see links between seemingly isolated things and try new combinations to bring them together. Such people identify the core of a problem and make use of the fundamentals.
10. Reflection. They ponder a lot on problems and ways of addressing them. They can develop ‘clear consciousness’ and use their inner sight to find solutions.
11. Modeling. Innovators are astute and know everything that surrounds their ideas. They can discern trends where other can only see trifles and are therefore able to visualize the future in its entirety.
12. Defying uncertainty. Innovators feel comfortable in chaos and aren’t afraid of taking risks. They aren’t content with just one solution and seek as many options as possible.
13. Always learning to fly. Innovators need new knowledge just as flowers need the sun. With new information in hand they immediately try to apply it. What makes them efficient is quick move from looking for information to implementing ideas.
14. Balancing intuition and analysis. Innovators trust their intuition within reasonable limits but also scrutinize situations meticulously. They employ both cerebral hemispheres to do their work.
15. Wording ideas. Few innovators have the ability of presenting their ideas to audiences in succinct and comprehensible ways. Many tend to speak in abstract or overly scientific terms feeling no ‘wavelengths’ of their audiences. Stewing in their own ‘idea juice’ they find it hard to convey their messages to listeners.
16. Resilience. Innovators attract both positive and negative energy and use both to keep trying until success is achieved.
17. Flexibility. Innovators are like chameleons; with their openness to change they easily adapt to any environment.
18. Doggedness. Innovators are workaholics. They are persistent and persevere to get what they want. Their focus on end results helps them achieve success.

This is a ‘model’ innovator. Let’s try and look for more traits—or maybe question some of those mentioned above.