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Brain circuits

Three things you need to do to play to win in Asia

Published 6 September 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

It’s highly likely that the next big thing may come out of Asia. Innovation is moving faster than ever as the continent develops new disruptive platforms. Before you lead your team into the competitive Asian market, there are three actions you can take to prepare.

Stop competing in the dark

The big Asian conglomerates receive a lot of attention in the press but these are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a massive group of very innovative companies hiding in plain sight, in addition to millions of smaller businesses you may not have heard of that play critical roles in the supply chain and are generating new concepts all the time.

It’s important to discern who you are really dealing with including who is behind a given company, because there are often all sorts of complex arrangements between businesses. There are a lot of hidden champions in the Asian sphere, so if you want to play to win, it pays to dig deeper to find out who is who.

Learn to localize Despite the size of the continent, the markets have unique characteristics that are significant on a local level. Even within countries, there are peculiarities to regions and it requires a lot of sophistication to learn how to cater to specific needs of a region. It is important to localize deeply, meaning successful businesses put an enormous emphasis on catering to the various needs of a particular area. This is one of the reasons partnering is the dominant way of building business and growing quickly. Companies need to be agile enough to localize the way the locals want them to be.

Build institutional competence

Some executives have reported spending as much as a third of their time on keeping up with regulatory changes across the continent. This has both a negative impact on companies, but can also create opportunities, for instance when it comes to climate change initiatives. To be successful institutional competence needs to be part of a leader’s skill set. It can be extremely beneficial to identify a local partner that can help you penetrate the market in the right way and connect you with the right people to guide you through the often murky waters of local and regional governance issues.

Institutional competence is as much a part of strategy in Asia as innovation plans. It’s also part of the reason that SMEs may actually fare better than the large conglomerates entering the market. While SMEs may have more limited resources, they have the competitive advantage of being more agile so they can change as quickly as the regulatory framework requires.

 If you would like to go deeper, you can sign up for the following program: Asian Innovation Strategies, starting on 19 April, 2022.


Mark Greeven

Mark J. Greeven

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Mark Greeven is Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD. Drawing on a decade of experience in research, teaching and consulting in China, Mark explores how to organize innovation in a turbulent world. He co-directs our Building Digital Ecosystems program.

Patrick Reinmoeller - IMD Professor

Patrick Reinmoeller

Professor of Strategy and Innovation at IMD

Patrick Reinmoeller has led public programs on breakthrough strategic thinking and strategic leadership for senior executives, and custom programs for leading multinationals in fast moving consumer goods, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and energy on developing strategic priorities, implementing strategic initiatives, and managing change. More recently, his work has focused on helping senior executives and company leaders to build capabilities to set and drive strategic priorities.


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