Wednesday, August 17, 2011

‘Pinoy kasi’: A mental model

The Tea Party's battle cry, it appears, is simply 'Down with big government' – while the conservatives want to cut entitlements and cut taxes? And the democrats, on the hand, insist on preserving entitlements while raising taxes? Yet all claim that they hold the answer to America’s deficit problems? Of course they can't agree because they're unwittingly pushing conflicting ideologies instead of problem-solving?

The private sector has had its history of responding to opportunities and challenges – of problem-solving. Manufacturing showed the way through the baby-boom era; and as competition within industries intensified marketing developed as a discipline. And even in the Philippines, we saw this occurrence via the local airwaves as marketers helped popularize soap opera as a genre. And as competition deepened even more, the number crunchers then came with their sharp pencils that saw restructuring become part of the private sector’s lexicon, including mergers and acquisitions – to accelerate growth, buy brands and technology.

With competition continuing to escalate, more tools had to be developed: computerization, productivity and quality among others, and later even newer generations of these tools. These developments spilled beyond national boundaries and spurred globalization, with its own set of challenges – both to developed and emerging economies . . . And competition in a globalized economy imposes a greater demand for innovation. Nokia developed low-priced cell phones that captured large markets like India and China, and thus held global market leadership. Yet, Nokia is in more trouble than it ever imagined! While the pricier Apple has become the largest tech company if not yet the most valuable global enterprise, if indeed it would overtake Exxon-Mobil as anticipated.

And so the world has seen how progress has evolved? How did we in the Philippines respond to this changing world? By sheer inertia alone, we would not imagine that we'd be isolated from this reality? Even the Chinese and the Soviets accepted reality – and motivated the writer to make Eastern Europe a second home (though as a student his curiosity about socialism was limited to browsing Mao’s Red Book.) To our credit, we are hungry for knowledge – for example, we are among the first to always tap contemporary business and management thinking, i.e., seminars like education are a big business in the Philippines! But knowledge can’t stay in the head – it must come down to the heart and then to the gut before it becomes second nature, if it is to renew ‘Pinoy kasi’?

What does 'Pinoy kasi' mean? If it means parochial and hierarchical then we have our work cut out for us? And we have an even bigger challenge if we fold-in populism and faith – because they would reinforce parochialism and our hierarchical structure . . . in a world that is moving at warp speed? Ergo: we would remain out-of-sync? If our industry continues to invoke slivers of 'Pinoy kasi' instead of leveraging foreign investments and trade, for instance, then we shall indeed be frozen in time? We can’t speak from both sides of our mouth re foreign trade – but is it our comfort zone, a throwback to our ideals of hierarchy manifested by monopoly trade, for instance? And if in industry hierarchy plays a role, all the more in the public sector – where transparency is easier to elude, if not a given?

If we don't leverage state-of-the-art technology in our efforts to raise competitiveness whether in agriculture or industry, we shall remain of the past, with the past and for the past? If we see the route to innovation and competitiveness going via fabricating local machinery, for example, because of cost considerations, we would simply be recycling import substitution – something economist John Nye pointed out as folly? As Nokia learned the hard way, it is the dynamic of technology, innovation, talent, product and the global market – i.e., margins – that is key in global competition. We no longer can value local fabrication because of cost alone, like the writer’s Eastern Europeans learned – i.e., we can’t stick with the jeepney as our model for 21st century technology? We’re playing catch up and ought to accelerate the learning curve, not start from square-one – by seeking partnerships with technology leaders instead of going it alone, as China demonstrated? Our instinct can’t always be to look inward?

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