Four Mistakes LatAm Software Developers Make That Hinder Innovation

Creating an environment in which innovation can flourish isn't easy. Nearshore Americas examines four common mistakes Latin American software companies may be making that are hindering innovation.

Photo by Giorgio Montersino

It is a core theme in practically every company manifesto – certainly in the tech world – and claims of its pursuit are all too common place, yet true innovation remains mostly out of reach for the majority of companies. Good enough is not sufficient to generate the kind of disruptive change and new way of thinking required to truly innovate.

Who is the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of Latin America? Where are the Latin American companies pioneering new ways of being, doing, and using digital? While there are solid examples of good software development on the nearshore, tales of truly disruptive innovation are few and far between. In fact a 2014 World Bank report referred to “a chronic shortage of innovation within the region”. Nearshore Americas examines four common mistakes Latin American software companies may be making that are hindering innovation.

Having a Country-Specific Focus

According to Carlos Amaral, an Alsbridge Director, one major mistake is a country-specific focus. “Latin American software developers aren’t effective at pursuing opportunities beyond their country’s borders,” he said.

Amaral explained that language contributes to this, as Brazil, the largest country in the LatAm market, speaks Portuguese rather than Spanish. “In addition, Spanish is not the same throughout Latin American and there are variations from country to country. To be successful Latin American developers need to pursue a regional perspective and, beyond that, a global perspective,” he said.

Of course, many Latin American developers do look beyond their own country and quite successfully, but a broader focus affords better potential to leverage opportunities to innovate.

Amaral added that regulations are another issue, as Latin American markets are very restrictive. “Countries do not provide incentives for companies to grow beyond their borders. Brazil and Mexico have strong technologies, but their respective federal governments are not supportive. In Brazil, for example, the repatriation tax is both complex and high,” he said.

Not Creating a Safe Place to Fail

For Joseph Flahiff, leadership coach and author of Being Agile in a Waterfall World, the single most significant issue in creating a context for innovation, is the creation of a context where people feel confident to fail.

“Yes, Fail. Not in huge ways, but in small controlled experiments. Leaders have an irrational fear of failure of any kind. Large failure is bad but small failure is the only way you know you are alive,” he said.

Flahiff explained that every one who has ever won an Olympic Skiing race, was always on the cusp of falling. “As a matter of a fact in training, when it was safe to do so, they push themselves beyond their zone of control out to and beyond failure,” he said. “Every organization that wants to innovate needs to embrace failure. You have to remember, every innovative idea was once a stupid idea, a crazy idea, a bad idea. It was an idea that everyone else looked at and said, ‘That will fail’ and because of their fear of that failure, they never tried.”

Failure seems anathema to the innovation cause, but innovation is all about risk and an environment that abhors risk is unlikely to innovate.

Adopting a Laidback Business Culture

Business culture differs from country to country and from company to company, and often there is a correlation between the kind of business culture created and the level of innovation achieved. Highly innovative companies like Apple and Google tend to adopt cultures where competitiveness and innovation and coupled with fun.

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Amaral said that in some Latin American countries business culture and, specifically, a lack of a sense of urgency, can be problematic. “The Latin American market is perceived to work at a slower pace than the U.S., and there’s an element of truth to this. There’s a phrase in Brazil ‘Jeitinho Brasileiro’ (‘the Brazilian way’) which describes a different and more flexible manner of doing things that may be difficult for foreign companies to accept,” he said.

That being said, though, a different culture can yield different perspectives and as a result, encourage innovation in a way that is significantly removed from the US context. That is not necessarily a negative thing, but not examining the culture and determining the factors that may be impeding innovation is potentially costly.

Being Afraid to be Different

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but innovation requires difference, and while staying ahead of the competition is important, it can be just as important to sway away from what others are doing.

James C. Gibson, Director of Marketing at Highland Financial Advisors, LLC, noted in a blog post that a business owner or culture that “promotes, endorses, or accepts innovation or ideas that imitates solutions close competition is adopting instead of coming up with solutions that differentiate from the competition,” is unlikely to encourage true innovation.

Rather than following the crowd towards the same goals, innovators take their own path and pioneer new avenues in ways not seen before. Risking everything to take such a path, requires that safe place to fail mentioned earlier.

Latin America can lead; it is a region teeming with talented, entrepreneurial players, but it needs to align its processes, its practice, with its potential and its desire to innovate. Innovation does not come easy, despite the way the word rolls easily off the tongue. Avoiding these all too-common mistakes could pave the way for that innovation to reach fruition.

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