Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Finger and Hand Analogy

This is an interesting excerpt from Indra Nooyi's (CFO of PepsiCo) Graduation remarks at Columbia University

As I grew up and started to study geography, I remember being told that the five fingers can be thought of as the five major continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Now, let me issue a profound apology to both Australia and Antarctica. I bear neither of these continents any ill will. It's just that we humans have only five fingers on each hand, so my analogy doesn't work with seven continents.

Clearly, the point of my story is more important that geographical accuracy!

First, let's consider our little finger. Think of this finger as Africa. Africa is the little finger not because of Africa's size, but because of its place on the world's stage. From an economic standpoint, Africa has yet to catch up with her sister continents. And yet, when our little finger hurts, it affects the whole hand.

Our thumb is Asia: strong, powerful, and ready to assert herself as a major player on the world's economic stage.

Our index, or pointer finger, is Europe. Europe is the cradle of democracy and pointed the way for western civilization and the laws we use in conducting global business.

The ring finger is South America, including Latin America. Is this appropriate, or what? The ring finger symbolizes love and commitment to another person. Both Latin and South America are hot, passionate, and filled with the sensuous beats of the mambo, samba, and tango: three dances that -- if done right -- can almost guarantee you and your partner will be buying furniture together.

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, the United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg up in global business since the end of World War I.

However, if used inappropriately -- just like the U.S. itself -- the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I'm talking about. In fact, I suspect you're hoping that I'll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I'm not looking for volunteers to model.

Discretion being the better part of valor...I think I'll pass.

What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. -- the long middle finger -- must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand...not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. -- the middle finger -- sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally.

Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand -- giving strength and purpose to the rest of the fingers -- but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal.

I'd challenge each of you to think about how critically important it is for every finger on your hand to rise and bend together. You cannot simply "allow" the other four fingers to rise only when you want them to. If you've ever even tried to do that, you know how clumsy and uncoordinated it is.

My point here is that it's not enough just to understand that the other fingers coexist. We've got to consciously and actively ensure that every one of them stands tall together, or that they bend together when needed.