Wednesday, April 4, 2012

‘You must learn to be inquisitive’

The writer was still wet behind the ears and did not heed that advice from a Filipino entrepreneur. Yet today, post-career as a consultant, it has become instinctive. That entrepreneur is long gone – May he rest in peace! But he would be proud of how his children have successfully carried on his legacy. Of course, people find something loathsome when others are overly inquisitive. And that’s why entrepreneurs are like no other. To them there is no such thing as overly inquisitive – which is akin to “deliberative discourse articulated in Aristotle’s Rhetoric,” from Daniel Sobol’s article, How to argue positively, Fast Company magazine. (More about that article in a future blog.)

The writer sat through a whole day of marketing presentations with 30 brand and marketing managers from different countries. The HR manager initiated the ‘best-and-worst-cases’ session with the view to rapidly adopting best practice models across the region and, as importantly, to avoid failures like a plague. The competitive spirit made people keep what they had to say close to their vests until it was their turn at the podium. They were also eyeing the writer who they saw as generous with his praises but as ‘generous’ with his criticisms. Unfortunately, they were not there to hear the Filipino entrepreneur speaking to the writer!

It is the inquisitiveness that the writer sees inherent in MNCs which makes them different from local companies. Local companies are the masters of their own fate and are not honed to fend off criticisms from visiting firemen from headquarters, for instance. There are exceptions, of course. And those used to critical visitors could find themselves still ‘too close to the trees.’ People find comfort in their routine. And so brand managers fall in love with their brands and miss danger signs like a brand ‘approaching its point of diminishing returns.’ And that is the argument Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman makes in his book, “Thinking, fast and slow.” Intuition can overpower reason – i.e., even doctoral students in statistics at Stanford University, relying on their intuition would err in their problem-solving, according to one of Kahneman’s numerous quantitative formulations.

Simply put, the mind plays tricks. People instinctively carry the framework of their comfort zone; and thus could completely miss responding to the challenge before them. And which explains why our failed economy has been around for half a century? Unfortunately, a failed economy adversely affects education and competitiveness. We would ask: which comes first the chicken or the egg – because that is how the linear mind works? We may be doing all the right things with education reforms, for example, from using the native tongue to going to K-to-12. But then again, would that translate to more of us becoming more inquisitive and expansive, and being awarded more patents, for instance?

And which is why the writer is putting competitiveness next to education. An economy must be competitive to sustain growth. And a growing economy opens up new avenues – e.g., provide a more expansive, outward- and forward-looking environment for education. But a parochial, hierarchical, deferential and even compassionate environment may not nurture inquisitiveness and expansiveness? Our neighbors are not exactly in the league of MIT and Stanford – both with a track record of generating breakthrough ideas – yet they have been awarded more patents than us.

And it is not about “gaining the whole world but suffering the lost of one’s soul.” [But we like to throw that around because we’re ‘holier-than-thou’?] We are smart people born to a land with such abundant natural resources; and we owe it to ourselves and the future to leverage those assets? Of course we must be compassionate especially to the needy. But it does not follow that we will not be inquisitive about developing ideas that have higher value-added because they are unaffordable? What has happened is we’ve accepted inefficiencies and substandard conditions (curiously only for Juan de la Cruz, but for the rest of us we access the best the world has to offer, i.e., score one for our value of hierarchy?) and thus struggle to appreciate what competitiveness is about? And why the writer is putting education, competitiveness, parochial, hierarchical, deferential and compassionate in the same paragraph if not the same sentence? The dynamic of these elements, for good or ill, yields the reality of Juan de la Cruz?

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