Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beyond optimism

You know what happened to this once dominant enterprise," begins a friend, "they thought they were invincible and kept pushing into unrelated businesses until they got burned. They had to unload a few if only to preserve a good chunk of their wealth.” Could it also be why old-Filipino families are no longer the kingpins of Philippine industry? Could our cacique orientation – beyond optimism – have blind-sided them from the modern-day challenge of competitiveness?

The writer – as part of his efforts to share what the outside world is like – was with a group of consultants, who were working and developing their practice road map. They defined their ‘nirvana’ (to be the first Filipino MNC in their practice) but at first wondered how a ‘product architecture’ (that spells out a firm’s product portfolio, from basic products and on to high and even higher value-added) could equate to a consultancy’s ‘service-product architecture.’ It is important for a consultant to switch from passive to proactive mode – and thus be truly valuable to a client? A consultancy is expected to have a perspective that the client is probably missing. And a proactive consultant could, for instance, assist the client sharpen the definition of their own nirvana – e.g., a growing income stream sustained by competitive advantage and thus healthy margins. And they must then ascertain the gaps in the business – measured against the yardsticks of investment, technology, and innovation, and talent, product and market development – and, as importantly, which of these gaps are critical and thus the priority. And the consultancy’s practice would then have a wider arena, moving across the service-product architecture – or offering a range of services: from being an ‘outside ad-hoc service provider’ all the way to being an ‘in-house extended- if not full-service provider.’

Nine years ago when the writer first met his Eastern European friends, he was truly impressed by their optimism – especially given the horror stories they shared about being under Soviet rule. Yet when the writer was to wrap up his month-long engagement, they lobbied the local US-AID representative for him to return. The writer extended his engagement sensing that they were sincere in their desire “to create their new world": they were (a) committed to be a ‘white business'; (b) seeking help to turn their ‘dream’ into a plan – that must be executed with discipline and hard work; and (c) recognized they could trip if not in fact stumble and wanted their attention called whenever they did – “because we may not even realize we are messing things up.”

Optimism is a must yet Juan de la Cruz must face reality squarely. We know we lag our neighbors in gross investments and it behooves us to seek clarity of purpose, define our nirvana, and be single-minded in the pursuit of economic development. And while we must apply rigor in crafting road maps, execution remains the acid test, that is, to successfully put critical initiatives on stream – i.e., power generation, basic infrastructure and identified strategic industries! Inaction has undermined Philippine economic development – and yet where is the fire in our belly? [“Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo”?] We have to move beyond spinning wheels – or “papogian”! On the other hand a slogan doesn’t equate to branding? 'Pinoy abilidad' can’t be neither here nor there; there is something between 'cutting corners' and spinning wheels – and it's called ‘common sense, but beyond intuition’?

An algorithm that is constructed on the back of an envelope is . . . certainly good enough to outdo expert judgment. This logic can be applied in many domains . . . Obstetricians had always known that an infant who is not breathing normally within a few minutes of birth is at high risk of brain damage or death. Until the anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar intervened in 1953, physicians and midwives used their clinical judgment to determine whether a baby is in distress . . . Without a standardized procedure, danger signs were often missed, and many newborn infants died . . . Apgar jotted down [what she called the simple] five variables [of heart rate, respiration, reflex, muscle tone, and color] and three scores (0, 1, or 2, depending on the robustness of each sign) . . . Apgar began rating infants by this rule one minute after they were born. A baby with a total score of 8 or above was likely to be . . . in good shape. A baby with a score of 4 or below was probably . . . in need of immediate intervention . . . The Apgar test is still used every day in every delivery room.” [Thinking, fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate.]

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