Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Complexity is folly

It is not our culture that is damaged. We even pride ourselves on our creativity – but which does not necessarily apply to the writer and wife? They are at the opening of a new gallery in SOHO in downtown Manhattan; and one artist proudly presents one of his works, an abstract piece, but neither can divine the artist’s mind!

While absorbing the weekend papers, the wife asks if the writer has read the article about the IBM CEO, explaining the simple strategy he devised that brought the company to even greater heights. And the writer remembers a Fortune 500 COO who would speak the same language – i.e., keep it simple, stupid! (And who saw to it that the corporate HQ took in talents with such skills from across the globe.) It took the writer decades to grasp the power of simplicity. And so he is amazed his Eastern European friends quickly embraced simplicity. Yet by their standards they are even rueful that it took 9 years for them to get there. Their focus on gross margins has crystallized the imperatives of technology and innovation – from R&D to state-of-the-art manufacturing, and beyond; that sharpened the clarity of requisite initiatives, and the simplicity of their execution, from talent to product to market development. Simply put, when 'margin is nirvana,’ so-so products are unacceptable! A complete 180 from their old 'price is nirvana' which they struggled to banish. (And why underdeveloped countries like the Philippines remain underdeveloped – and would likewise struggle to banish it?)

The Philippine economy is not to be proud of yet given our creativity we are able to speak to its positives – and we’ve been saying it for decades? And the writer is one of those! He remembers an expatriate-friend stopping him in his tracks: “Filipinos don’t know what they’re getting with Marcos; the country is in celebratory mode?” And that thought comes back when the Western press talks about how Tony Blair assumed that Jacques Chirac was totally off-the-wall for not recognizing the wisdom of the attack on Iraq! Beyond all reckoning, the justification on Iraq is too complex – and today there is consensus that it’s folly?

We’re spending a ton of money on poverty and the CCT has become a flagship initiative of the administration. And countless of us are doing our favorite advocacies. And we feel good about it! Except that for decades we haven’t really made a dent! So what gives? We unwittingly put the cart before the horse? And we would always fall into the trap because of our creativity – or more aptly, our complex thought process? Because we lead with our heart, our perspective is complex to begin with? Writes the master of perspective and geometry, da Vinci: “Perspective, therefore, must be preferred to all the discourses and systems of human learning."

Our neighbors are not smarter – and we like to think that we are in fact smarter? And we are proud of our ability to come up with complex and creative solutions? And so the writer saw it fit to remind the couple of PhD candidates he mentored in Eastern Europe to be circumspect especially with the use of quantitative models. He would look for the qualifications or the limitations of the algorithms – because a model no matter how impressive is no panacea. And in industry it’s called financial ‘mambo jambo!’ The evidence: the implosion of the global financial system and the global recession the world is yet to overcome! Indeed the test of the pudding is in the eating, and it is critical to be forward-looking especially in ensuring that the conditions for successful execution are present, including the reality that 'timing is everything.'

The writer is speaking to graduate students in an Eastern European university, one of those supported by Bill and Melinda Gates. And then the head of the marketing department speaks but rather defensively: “It takes forever for us to update our syllabus.” And so the writer says he is simply narrating the story of a recent multi-country product launch purposely designed to be simple – but would be unknown outside the company. And it happens all the time – and that should not be taken against education. And the professor breaks into a wide grin!

The Aquino administration is moving mountains to get our economy going. And it is a classic case where “less is more” – i.e., it’s about time we forego complexity and go for simplicity? Timing is everything – even in deciding when to do the Cha-Cha! The test of the pudding is in the eating, i.e., execution!

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