Saturday, June 16, 2012

Incremental thinking

If we are to address our deteriorating education initiatives, we may have to first ask ourselves the question: “If fundamental to life is development, are we creating the environment that is meant to enhance development”? Industry around the world has been confronting – as a matter of course – the challenge of developing people especially those fresh out of the education system, but not only. And industry has relied on those demonstrating “extraordinary skills” especially technical and leadership. Yet, during times of crisis, problem-solving and execution demands would still confound supposedly talented people.

It appears that people associate incremental thinking with logical thinking – even smart thinking. If there’s one thing about a market economy that is absent in socialism, it is that competition drives free enterprise to unimaginable heights of innovation. The writer has met some of the brightest products of the socialist system and they admit that absent human motivation, the mind tends to be languid. A former rocket scientist from Ukraine is one talent the writer has watched. He would learn and appreciate the workings of a business enterprise assisting an experienced manager and between them they developed information templates that impressed more experienced colleagues – until it appeared they were moving into ‘art for art’s sake.’ But a talent is not to be wasted and so the former rocket scientist was given a business to manage. And he demonstrated that his skills extended to getting results, profitable results – until his one report mirrored a racing car hitting a wall and needed a pit stop. It is the classic case of the ‘low-hanging fruit’! And it is where the men are separated from the boys – i.e., problem-solving and execution are called for!

The Philippine economy, despite how much we celebrate its good elements, yields a meager output. Thus, while we appear to be thriving (e.g., the booming retail and housing industries) from its low-hanging fruit (engendered by OFW remittances) we’re still an underdeveloped economy. Our GDP is a mere ten percent of what we ought to generate if we were a developed economy. The positives that we see lull us into incremental thinking? And it explains why our neighbors have left us behind? We must pursue ‘out-of-the box’ thinking – e.g., ‘discontinuity’ or ‘creative destruction’ – if we are to generate innovative ideas that are simple to execute. [“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” da Vinci.] We have to break the mold from where we’ve been happily plucking our low-hanging fruit.

Unfortunately, we ‘haven’t been there and done that.’ And for half a century we’ve been in incremental thinking mode – which is synonymous to linear thinking? It is logical and it is not wrong. But breakthrough ideas come from breaking the mold. The ego, unfortunately, could get ahead of itself and wave ‘the silver bullet.’ As the writer’s Eastern European friends had believed, “with bread rationed at subsidized pricing,” socialism was ‘the silver bullet’ – and that their way of life was ‘to die for.’ They would later realize that it’s not about policies or “rules,” but rather “fundamental principles” that are tested over time. For example, after training the marketing folks, a new challenge clearly emerged: the sales force needed to understand and accept the fundamentals of marketing (i.e., the 5 Ps: product, pricing, placement, promotion and people) if the organization were to be single-minded and become a sustainable economic undertaking. And so beyond training the sales force, the writer would run the function for two years to ensure that . . . despite the different countries and cultures, the organization would be single-minded.

The former rocket scientist would revisit the fundamental principles and the object of the exercise; and, as importantly, would realize the need to break the mold that was informing his thinking. And that he needed to be forward-thinking and anticipate disasters in order to successfully deliver the undertaking.

The mind is capable of generating breakthrough ideas! And it could run the gamut, from the simple to the profound.

But it demands unfreezing the mind to break the mold and flush out incremental thoughts; and then to start with the end in view!

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