Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beyond the tangible

Bill Gates saw the imperative of software in the then emerging information and computing technology. And Steve Jobs through his early life experience and inquisitiveness grasped the convergence of science and art. Which in pragmatic terms is what reality is about? We've been hard at work in making the Philippines globally competitive. And the good news is we are finally marrying the hard and the soft elements of this humongous task. But it would pay dividends if we pause and recognize that instinctively our approach to problem-solving has been activity-driven? Put another way, we proudly come up with great ideas and when they fall short we throw in more great ideas? For example, how many advocacies are there in our fight against poverty? And as we now know, we haven't really made a dent! But finally . . . we are looking at the soft elements, that of our culture?

Culture matters, says the annual global innovation study of Booz & Company, Winter 2011: “Spending more on R&D won't drive results [That does not apply to the Philippines where we’re underinvested] . . . The most crucial factors are strategic alignment and a culture that supports innovation . . . Culture is the organization's self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing.” They likewise identified the critical elements of innovation: (a) a focused innovation strategy; (b) a winning overall business strategy; (c) deep customer insight; (d) great talent; and (e) the right set of capabilities to achieve successful execution.

How are we doing in pushing the agenda of the Aquino administration? It is reported that for 2012 the president will focus on the economy. It should not be a surprise to us anymore that focus is a mandatory in the pursuit of major undertakings? (Or are we still weighed down by the instinct of inclusion?) And with our economy coherence is imperative as we erect its requisite building blocks – e.g., sustainable power generation at competitive rates, basic infrastructure and strategic industries. And that these industries deliver the biggest bang for the buck – that their products are globally competitive, because they are preferred by target customers. But the test of the pudding is in the eating, and so our ability to execute with the right people and tools must be world-class. And so we can't go it alone – a reality we struggle to internalize?

Culture matters. So how are we pulling together our behaviors, feelings, thinking and beliefs? They must all converge and take us to our nirvana, of sustainable economic development? And that means we aren’t championing our favorite oligarchy whose interests may not be in sync with that of Juan de la Cruz – e.g., when they want special treatment versus foreign investors who could bring technology, innovation, and investments in talent, product and market development? It means growing up so that our personal preferences or feelings in politics are subordinate to the common good? And to reinforce those positive feelings we are thinking and believing in support of Juan de la Cruz?

The writer always talks about his Eastern European friends; and what they have done over the last nine years mirrors the model or the body of knowledge formalized by the Booz & Company study. And it is the same model that a New York consulting firm wants to see, through the writer, in their operations in Manila. We are well-informed people yet we seem to be ‘coy and cool’ when it comes to committing knowledge into practice? “Alam ko na ‘yan” – comes out of the lips of Juan de la Cruz more often than not? We’re masters of lip service? Is it because discipline is not our comfort zone, like the writer saw in Eastern Europe or as Lee Kuan Yew reminds us? Or is it simply misplaced pride?

And at the end of the day, leadership is indispensable. People could always pursue their own vested interests and it is encouraging that President Aquino is demonstrating resolve in the pursuit of his ‘daang matuwid.’ Obviously critics worry that he would undermine the rule of law. But if we keep our guards up, that should not be a real threat. For example, the fact that the Senate is manifesting independence is a healthy sign that in this particular case our democratic system seems to be functioning. We don’t have a track record in successfully pursuing a truly major undertaking like sustainable economic development – and that only means that we need to exert greater efforts to live by some pragmatic parameters like marrying the hard elements of economic development with the soft elements of a more positive and supportive way of life . . . or culture?

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