Friday, July 22, 2011

The ‘half-pregnant’ myth

In marketing lingo, it means conviction! But would we rather find comfort in ‘the grey area’ – because we don’t want to be labeled ‘yabang’ or ‘hambog’? We’re expected to be unassuming? It’s in fact very Asian! In the US, beyond the ‘glass ceiling’, there is also the ‘bamboo ceiling’ (New York magazine, May 16). If women are still fighting for equally, the conventional wisdom is Asians also have a fight in their hands. And it is traced to what has been labeled the ‘timid culture’ in the East – and why Easterners are sometimes called ‘inscrutable’. And Westerners, Americans especially, are uncomfortable when Asians don’t speak up. Unfortunately, it has been taken against them especially in leadership. The Western mind presupposes that leaders must have the conviction and the passion to lead in both good and bad times – and since the true test of leadership is when the chips are down, it is assumed that to be timid is a liability.

The writer encounters this reality with his Eastern European friends. And so he would remind them that in every major undertaking, it is important to be passionate – and would tease them not to use words like ‘maybe’ or phrases like ‘we will see’ especially after an agreement is reached no matter how tough the challenge is.

In one business review after the writer had just flown in, he was horrified that the group was taking the shortfall in sales for the period indifferently. They had concluded that it was insurmountable! And so he played an ‘old song’ they had heard before: ‘To be faced with famine or persecution must be insurmountable? But who said we can’t create our own country?’ Fast-forward: In the short period of less than 2 months, they were able to pull together stepped-up efforts to overcome the shortfall. (Progressive enterprises train their people to develop especially the instinct ‘to make things happen’ – and overcome ‘taking the path of least resistance’. And why developing a culture of competitiveness is indeed an immense challenge – it’s far more than reducing red tape. It starts in the mind, and then the heart before it gets to the gut and be instinctive. Many years ago, the writer learned that beyond teaching Chinese engineers how to run a hi-tech facility, they also had to be equipped with problem-solving skills. But we, Filipinos, know it all?)

Why is the Philippines poor? We can’t be half-pregnant? We must have the conviction and the passion for nation-building? It means not compromising our principles even when the personal is tugging us wrongly? Inefficiency and corruption are products of compromises – whenever we compromise principle and mistake it for compassion?

We have humongous challenges; and we can’t define and prioritize impactful solutions if we don’t seek conviction? The JFC has tabled a roadmap, ‘Arangkada Philippines’, but it will only be impactful if we bite the bullet for principle’s sake? For example, we need a similar roadmap that defines and prioritizes the execution of ‘Philippine Agriculture 2020’, no doubt an excellent piece of strategy. But a strategy is only as good as it is executed! We put together great plans – even world-class plans – but we have to be serious about execution! And it takes conviction!

We can’t be half-pregnant in defining our economic goal, that is, to be a developed nation; in defining our strategic industries and in spelling out the priority initiatives that will bring them to fruition; in partnering with foreign investors or in negotiating trade agreements; and even in pursuing populist initiatives, e.g., land reform or CCT – and simply, it means we must seek sustainability and not waste scarce resources like the 50 years behind our failed land reform program.

The writer has done business in many parts of the world yet is still dumbfounded when he’s told how blatant corruption in our country is. Does the ‘weather-weather’ phenomenon mean that when our time at the helm comes, we must abuse it to the hilt? In fairness, we have plenty of honest-to-goodness efforts, but they’re undermined by insidious corruption? Invariably, Juan de la Cruz lives in an environment with ‘low trust levels’ and thus has little confidence in his future? And for a nation it equates to perpetuating underdevelopment and poverty – e.g., a worker or a farmer won’t give it his all? In the private sector, that is recognized as an outcome of failed leadership – unfortunately veiled in hierarchical environments?

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