You can’t lead by following others
It is high time we stopped thinking short-term, focusing only on what we must have right now, and instead think about who we want to be in Europe and in the world. What do we seek to accomplish as a society and economy?
It is high time we stopped thinking short-term, focusing only on what we must have right now, and instead think about who we want to be in Europe and in the world. What do we seek to accomplish as a society and economy? What values do we stand for that others can be encouraged to share with us? What products and services can we create to contribute to the development of the global economy?
Development is a long-term process. This is why what matters is what we want to achieve in the future. Each of us is motivated by expected future income. However, our admiration for sports personalities stems from their mastery, and not from the wealth they have accumulated. We look down on usurers, because they got rich at the expense of others. The same holds true for social and economic development. We measure it by income growth, but this metric cannot become the sole objective of economic development, because people are not indifferent to how income is generated. We want to be wealthier, but we also pay more attention to social inequalities, dignity of work and respect for the natural environment. Therefore, development means much more than just income growth – its objective should be more profound, measured by achievements.
Since the beginning of the transition, the objective (mission) of Poland’s growth has been to ensure security and bridge the development gap by building democracy and market economy. This mission has been tied to a vision of Poland in Europe and NATO, which has been pursued in stages: from the Europe Agreement (association agreement of December 16th 1991) to Poland’s full accession to the European Union (May 1st 2004) and the obligation to join the eurozone after meeting the convergence criteria. The Partnership for Peace (February 2nd 1994) and full NATO membership (March 12th 1999) also deserve a mention. We still have room to continue this development mission. On the other hand, the vision of Poland in Europe created at the beginning of the transition has been mostly fulfilled.
Poland is the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to join the world’s most developed economies. Our development goal was to join the global top performers, and we did achieve that at a record-breaking pace. It takes about as much time to create a globally recognised industrial product from scratch. At the beginning of the transformation, pursuing both of these objectives at the same time was not feasible. Poland is the only one in the group of developed economies which does not have its own global product, because at the beginning of the transition it was just impossible to pursue both of these objectives at the same time. Now, we do have brands, including ORLEN, which have become recognisable globally. Building an international brand involves presence on global markets and exposure to competition. We were among the first to see the need of transitioning the economy towards innovation as this is the only way to create genuinely Polish products with a global reach, integrating our country’s economy.
To date, there has been no need for us to have our own technologies and products. We have a track record of impressive growth based solely on imported technologies , and the economic policy, science, industry and we ourselves have been adapted to operate under this model. We gave up on developing proprietary technologies and products. We are currently making up for lost time and gathering knowledge and experience to be able to organise business processes for this purpose. We do not want the economic sphere to be dominated by short-term thinking and tried and tested solutions.
If we want to expand without suppressing growth in wages and incomes, we need to base this expansion on our own value centres, that is to leverage the advantages that can only be delivered by innovative in-house technologies and products (from an idea to commercialisation) which are not yet available on global markets. Such technologies cannot be purchased. They need to be created, which is neither easy nor fast nor cheap. That is why PKN ORLEN is building a modern research and development centre which will facilitate testing and implementing proprietary technologies and patents which will serve the Polish economy in the future, enhancing its innovative potential.
Innovation is born when people employed in state institutions, science and industry coordinate their efforts in working towards a clearly communicated, common goal. The vision of Poland’s socio-economic development, defining the goal we want to achieve in 30 to 40 years’ time, is a tool for coordinating long-term efforts undertaken by those independent entities and for creating conditions for cooperation.
What do we need to change to become a global leader in certain areas of the economy? First we have to change our mindset, that is the way we perceive development. Is it not true that we ourselves set boundaries which we are too afraid to cross? In the energy sector, the boundary corresponds to the energy balance timeframe, i.e. the 10–15 years which are the standard period of time required to design and construct a coal-fired power plant. If we need more power generation capacity in 15 years, we must begin planning for it today. We have no other choice but to use existing technologies, as only these are available. This way of thinking, where growth means investment in modern fixed assets which can be purchased on the market, is useful in the process of economic modernisation. Unfortunately, this does not give our economy any lasting advantage, because the same products and components are bought by other, often poorer, countries, more competitive in terms of labour costs. How do we change it?
It is high time we stopped thinking short-term, focusing only on what we must have right now, and instead think about who we want to be in Europe and in the world. What do we seek to accomplish as a society and economy? What values do we stand for that others can be encouraged to share with us? What products and services can we create to contribute to the development of the global economy? We need to work hard on an answer. Drawing on the experience from developing the PKN ORLEN growth strategy, we should begin with understanding the world around us and correctly identifying the long-term trends and challenges to be tackled. Then we should ask ourselves about our place in this process. Where are we now and where do we want Poland to be in 30 to 40 years’ time? Thinking about growth must be long-term, because a longer timeframe offers more options to choose from, which is a precondition for all change. At the same time, there is less conflict about defending the status quo as the pie grows with time. The path we choose should be divided into small stages to make it easier to control and monitor our progress. The world never stops changing, and we must be able to respond to change flexibly. We have already realised that following others limits us. There is a saying that you can’t overtake anyone by following in their footsteps. It is about time to change that, because we have achieved much in many areas and have a lot to offer.
The article "You can’t lead by following others" was published on November 9th at wszystkoconajwazniejsze.pl