Saturday, July 28, 2012

Culture, morality and transformation

Are we taking transformation for granted because of our culture and our faith? Given our faith has defined our morality are we then at home in our certitude? Take land reform and our wage index – compared to the global norm – i.e., we value skilled work less because we want a living wage for the unskilled?

And these two examples have impacted our productivity, our competitiveness, our economy – and, unfortunately, have to live with elevated poverty. Disclosure: the writer has negotiated and/or directed numerous labor contracts beyond the Philippines. And as a consultant in Eastern Europe, given his MNC experience, has sought that businesses be competitive – and that does not mean suppressing compensation but ensuring that it is in fact competitive, i.e., talent and talent development is a pillar of competitiveness. As Jack Welch proudly proclaimed while he was GE CEO, "we made loads of millionaires within the company."

And the writer remembers how the jaws of his Eastern European friends dropped when he first saw their facility, and declared that they had to mechanize their packing lines. Their jaws would drop more times: from being asked to relocate offices from the middle of nowhere to the central business district to putting up R&D labs next to marketing to developing 3-year product development plans to establishing margin goals of 50% to erecting state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities to posting financial measures in the intranet on a daily basis to spending periodic time in the classroom to never ending product, budget and business reviews to developing markets to celebrating success incessantly, etc. Ten years later the writer and the wife's greatest joy is visiting their Eastern European friends in their Western-like homes and joining them for holidays overseas. The wife had to fight back tears when she first saw their communist-era apartments and wondered how people tolerated them for decades.

We are a long ways away from raising ourselves from economic laggards – and we won't if our certitude keeps us tied down to our assumptions, derived from our culture and morality? Land reform ought to be a platform for a competitive agribusiness. Wage determination ought to be “a productivity and competitive weapon” for greater economic output – i.e., generous and competitive wages come from a competitive economic activity.

"Arangkada Philippines" has agribusiness as one of the strategic industries meant to attract foreign investment, spawn intermediate businesses and activity, and generate appreciably incremental GDP and greater employment. And we now have an agribusiness road map, but it needs dogged efforts to translate it to reality. We cannot turn our back to the challenge of competitiveness. As we now know our run-of-the-mill agricultural produce could easily lose out to foreign produce – given the 21st century interconnected world – and so it demands a competitive mindset if we are to transform our agriculture orientation to a globally competitive agribusiness.

For example, Eastern Europeans have partnered with a German MNC to put up a milk processing plant – with feedstock coming from local farms – that then paved the way for other downstream products, e.g., the writer's friends established a cheese business, their 4th business unit. And it is consistent with their core competency of consumer packaged goods marketing: from putting up an R&D lab next to marketing to developing a 3-year product development plan to establishing margin goals of 50% to erecting a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to posting financial measures in the intranet on a daily basis to spending periodic time in the classroom to never ending product, budget and business reviews to developing the local and overseas markets to celebrating success incessantly, etc. They wear a competitive mindset – inquisitive, dogged, spirit-driven – not certitude!

But is that too simple for our complex culture? Or is it improbable because of our “bida” (hero or heroine) culture, thus our certitude? Memo: Even the Vatican is subject to “trust and verify” when it comes to money laundering and the demands for transparency. Change is the only thing constant. Even the Vatican has to change. But Juan de la Cruz is stuck with his culture?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


"Matagal na itong pinag-uusapan . . . This was taken up a long time ago. We have been holding public hearings at the Energy Regulatory Commission even during the 14th Congress [2007-2010]." [Inquirer, 26th Jun 2012] How would Juan de la Cruz take that? God willing, someday we would resolve this? We are the happiest people on earth; we should not let this bother us? So long as we care for our family, everything would be alright? We have a president who is committed to fighting corruption and is attracting foreign investors, we are the new "breakout nation" and will be the next Asian tiger? [As he writes these words the writer breaks into a smile having read a Salon article, 25th Jun 2012, “Antonin Scalia, ranting old man” in reference to the judge’s dissenting opinion re immigration.]

But if indeed we want to arrest our being economic laggards – the outcome of half a century of poor economic performance – we can’t just take the good with the bad! In a major undertaking (reference: Kurt Lewin) we must recognize the driving and restraining forces. And the key is to exploit the positives and fix the negatives – or the outcome will at best be sub-optimal. [The writer could hear himself speaking to the Eastern Europeans.] And given where we are, we can’t keep setting the bar low!

What is reality? ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God which are God's.’ This is about Caesar, not God! This is about incompetence, not about God's mercy! [Even the pope just fired a bishop for incompetence.] This is beyond family, it is about nationhood! This is beyond one president! It will take us (if we grow at a constant 7% per year) over 30 years (or more than a generation) to raise our per capita GDP and move from an underdeveloped economy to a developed economy. Ergo: we are already the lost generation! Juan de la Cruz would not want to represent 100 million supposedly smart people tolerating the absence of something as basic as power – given its knock-on effect on the economy, the root of our underdevelopment and elevated poverty?

“The “real debate,” according to Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, over the issue of renewable energy was between existing power producers and the proponents of renewable energy, saying that the former were barring alternative energy in order to protect their interests.” And is that why supposedly competing oligarchies are now partnering – and they don’t want to be partners in crime? And as one legislator revealed, vested interests have been fighting foreign investments. Or if the good congressman is exaggerating, it still doesn’t absolve us from the blatant incompetence of Juan de la Cruz – i.e., his inability to provide something as basic as power? [Or his failure to provide the requisite ecosystem to support land reform and promote agribusiness.] Of course there is no easy answer but what is reality? Our GDP per capita is $4,100 (at PPP or purchase price parity) while Thailand is at $9,700 and Malaysia is stratospheric! Aren’t we supposed to be the smartest of the lot? We can’t just talk about how great we are we have to act it!

Indeed we’re earning brownie points (good global citizenship) by making the billion dollar pledge to the IMF. But we must remain planted on the ground – i.e., it’s no different from our legendary hospitality yet our tourism industry has been miniscule compared to our neighbors. Our goal is to attract foreign investment and, as importantly, technology and that means making PHL an attractive economy. We can't take our eye off the ball – from the restrictive economic provisions of the constitution to the continuing efforts of vested interests against foreign investments to our pathetic power situation to our inadequate if not crumbling infrastructure to our inward-looking bias, etc. Thus, while we must be proud of our advocacies it should not turn to leadership pandering, which is akin to populism that is ungovernable. Representative democracy must be purposeful. We can’t remain a rudderless ship!

We're the only Christian nation in this part of the world and proud of it. We've been endowed with nature's beauty and its resources that were the envy of the world. We’ve had an education system that our neighbors looked up to – and taught our neighbors the right way to produce rice. We’ve had industry ahead of the rest of the region except Japan. We’ve had the three branches of government, a model democracy and a dynamic press. We don't want them all thrown away – if we want those following us to see a better PHL? If it’s our culture, cultures are not static as demonstrated by the writer’s Eastern European friends – and even by our neighbors.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

“A system is only as strong as its weakest point . . . “

Europe is trying to deal with the euro crisis one problem at a time. That approach is doomed to fail,” The Economist, 23rd Jun 2012. The quote reminds the writer – who was fortunate to have him as a mentor – of the late Anacleto del Rosario, an educator and considered the first Filipino marketing consultant, and who (in the early 70s) brought to the Philippines Louis A. Allen’s “The profession of management,“ and Edward de Bono, who originated the term lateral thinking, and exposed Filipinos to creative thinking.

It also suggests system or model thinking – which, however, does not mean “dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s.” And a good model we currently have is “Arangkada Philippines,” developed by the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers). It is a simple model designed to generate $75 billion in foreign direct investments, focused on 7 strategic industries that would generate incremental GDP of over $100 billion and millions of jobs – i.e., these industries will spawn intermediate businesses and activity; and why investment has a greater multiplier effect than consumption. We have to keep attracting and driving investment and technology instead of making do with livelihood programs, indeed a characteristic of a failed economy and the unwitting condescension of our cacique culture. ["Arangkada" is not presented like the Balanced Scorecard model that international agencies have adopted and also by our public sector; but many successful global enterprises are biased to simpler models. And the writer while with his MNC employer piloted Balanced Scorecard in an Asian subsidiary before adopting a simpler model. Simply, the private sector has a bias for execution, i.e., it is keen to embrace the spirit and intent of a model and, as importantly, deliver its promise. Many foreign observers, when they say that in the Philippines we don’t have the rule of law, are reacting to our complex culture – i.e., we seem to forget the spirit and intent of even fundamental laws, especially because of our hierarchical instincts, compounded by “pakikisama” (to belong) or compassion, or is it misplaced compassion?]

And not surprisingly, we have yet to demonstrate a total commitment to “Arangkada Philippines” which is the most promising economic model we’ve had – given that after half a century we’re still underdeveloped? Are we mirroring the failed response of Europe to the euro crisis – and that is, we have been dealing with our economic underdevelopment one problem at a time, and that approach is doomed to fail? And it starts with recognizing that the reason we are unable to attract foreign investments is because our subconscious is indeed parochial? And which is why we have ourselves to blame if we continue to perpetuate crony capitalism and our cacique culture? But within that complex instinct is more complexity. We don’t embrace foreign investors but because of “Pinoy pakikisama” we have embraced Indonesian foreign capital represented by a Filipino. And more to the point, we ought to be embracing technology and innovation driven investments if we are to be relevant in the 21st century! [As the Iraqis have realized, “Consumerism alone will not drive the economy, analysts say . . . This is consumption; this is not production . . . Many investors are looking for guaranteed government contracts . . . and that dependence . . . raises questions of crony capitalism,” USA Today, 16th Jun 2012.]

Europeans continue to be turned off by American certitude yet recognized that a Bill Gates and a Steve Jobs would most likely come from America. And as the writer would explain, it is similar to the perception that Europeans know their wines more than the Americans. And this sophistication is represented, for example, by Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the new Freedom Tower or the New World Trade Center at Ground Zero. While a naturalized American, he was born and grew up in Poland. And as the wife would note, in Europe a staircase is designed as a work of art while in the US it is designed for efficiency and safety, for instance.

And so George Soros would say about the euro crisis: Social events . . . have thinking participants who have a will of their own. They are not detached observers but engaged decision makers whose decisions greatly influence the course of events. Therefore the events do not constitute an independent criterion by which participants can decide whether their views are valid.” [George Soros Remarks, Festival of Economics, Trento, Italy, 2nd Jun, 2012.] Does it also explain why we’ve had a failed economy?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beyond “inclusive”

Inclusive, like the Sunday collection, can’t simply be a token? Or dictated by political correctness? Modern-day buzzwords have become part of our lexicon and saw how we would throw around Millennium Development Goals or MDGs, for example, or Sustainable Development? What we don’t want is to be callous that could come with consistently missing these yardsticks? Where will the desire for self-improvement come from? And as the Greeks learned the hard way, the vacuum would attract leaders that will pander to the people – until the nation becomes ungovernable! For example, we like to talk about Binay; is he a reformer or a panderer? And given we Pinoys like ‘tsismis,’ many Fil-Ams have expressed concern (similar to the ‘tsimis’ that circulated about Villar before) about his rags-to-riches story. But they also believe in redemption – is he one to be believed in?

We’re 50 years behind in economic development. And the writer remembers the first time he and the wife flew in to Eastern Europe (i.e., Sofia, Bulgaria) on business. [Early on the family visited China and Eastern Europe on holiday.] And it was a dreary afternoon with the first snowfall of the season coming down as their plane was taxiing to the gate. And the decades of Soviet rule palpable from the dilapidated structures that dotted the way to the terminal building. It was the pits! But the writer had responded to the call for volunteerism following 9/11; and one month was all he was giving what he then thought was an adventure. And that was just ten years ago. “How could these people build a modern airport while we can’t”? The wife wondered aloud as they were waiting for their flight, traveling back to New York recently. [We like blaming others except ourselves and consequently we’re half a century behind in development?]

They squandered 20 years transitioning to democracy. We’ve squandered over 20 years since People Power. They still have corruption and organized crime (and against which the prime minister is waging war with help – i.e., resources and expertise – from the EU) but they have participated in and tapped what the world has to offer. Their showcase office/residence park is a German investment; and the individual who headed the local subsidiary is today the country’s president. And his challenge is to replicate the success of the project in the country’s infrastructure program – and the EU is behind the efforts too. They saw how Hong Kong and Singapore employed taxation to attract foreign investments and so they set their income tax rate at a flat 10%.

And as the locals would share with the writer: “Before it was all about mother Russia that we saw on government TV, but today the prime minister is fighting Russian oil interests – to ensure they pay the correct taxes – and even the Russian-sponsored green field nuclear facility; because there is a more cost-effective option, i.e., expanding the capacity of an existing facility. And we see more US personalities on TV, including the US ambassador. And those brands – from food to technology – that we only associated with the West have made investments here.” There is not much parochial thinking there? To them inclusive is not about livelihood projects but pursuing economic development, based on an open economy. They know what a closed economy brought them over decades. Of course, the older folks find the loss of their daily ration of bread and vegetables from their communist rulers disconcerting. But the younger set has effectively taken over.

The writer still remembers the decade he covered Asia. And these Eastern Europeans clearly are following the Asian template. But we Filipinos are still debating whether Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir is right or wrong? We want to replicate our last 50 years? Because that is what Philippine-style democracy and economic development is about? If a tiny country with less than 10% our population can generate almost twice in foreign direct investments or > $25 billion more, what do we call our efforts – a reflection of our cacique culture? How can we expect to be “inclusive” when we know full well that we don’t have the requisite levels of investment and technology? More to the point, “inclusive” comes from an open economy – until then, we’re simply paying lip service? "Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals . . . Individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue," writes Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus, Harvard University; Evolution and our inner conflict, NY Times, 24th Jun 2012.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Greed, arrogance and hubris

Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan CEO, skips letting the sun shine on his bank’s huge losses but admits to the human condition of greed, arrogance and hubris to explain how a bank can commit such egregious mistakes. And it was a great PR gambit that turned US senators into teddy bears. But he must have lifted a page from the play book of the US Catholic Church as he continued to push back on the Volcker rule – which he perceives as inimical to the financial goals of the industry. The church can't be greedy but it has been fighting state legislations (i.e., statute of limitations) in the search of truth re sexual abuse cases – because it perceives them as inimical to the financial stability of the church. [NY Times 14th Jun 2012.] The only difference is the church won't admit to arrogance and hubris (unlike Dimon) and so it continues to offend even deeply committed nuns, beyond learned theologians?

A group of psychiatrists have applied the rigor of their science to understand the seeming nonchalance of Mitt Romney to mouthing blatant lies that have been pointed out to him. [Time Magazine, 13th Jun 2012.] And they stumbled upon Mormon teachings that don't stand to simple scrutiny but which the faithful would utter matter-of-factly. It is about faith over evidence – which in fact shouldn't be mind boggling? As Catholics we aren’t surprised when people matter-of-factly express elements of their faith – e.g., unwittingly interchanging faith and institutions, for instance, is not uncommon? And thus those who run institutions become infallible – notwithstanding the risk that they have been clothed with arrogance and hubris that no longer represent the faith? And which is precisely why, given the human condition, that transparency in institutions is imperative!

The writer is brought down to earth when transparency, as a topic, is brought up by ex-socialists, his Eastern European friends. "Our school system is so old school. One of our smartest people had decided enough is enough and so after university he chose to teach. But he was pilloried by other faculty members: "You are still wet behind the ears; we drew up this system from knowledge gained over many years. Left unsaid is: "We're about subservience not academic freedom.” And worse, our teachers are like unmotivated factory workers. Given what we've been through – centuries under Ottoman rule and decades under communist rule, and then 20 years of transition, and counting, as a democracy – how could our educators cling to the old? For example, we were led to believe that we had a great system and a great life. There was no transparency at all. We never learned to question, only to accept. And so we even accepted the corruption that characterized the first 20 years of our transition as a democracy."

"The good news though is that because poverty to us is normal the average household is not heavily in debt. And so while our neighbors are suffering amid the Great Recession because of their unaffordable debt levels, we are still soldiering on. In fact our banking system is strong and no bank has gone under. We’ve had our own share of the recession but foreign investors have not abandoned us – because we embraced them with open arms. [With a population less than 10% of PHL, they have almost 2X in FDIs, > $25 billion more; which makes our efforts to attract FDIs still pathetic?] And our prime minister seems committed to demonstrating to the EU that we’re serious about fighting corruption and organized crime that they have resumed supporting our infrastructure program. And we know the president. He is from the private sector. We in fact wondered why he wanted to be government and asked him point blank. He said he had accumulated enough wealth from his stint with a German MNC and national pride is driving him to fix his country. Beyond the massive infrastructure efforts, the president has met with the CEOs of the largest tech companies in the West and they have started coming – and they want to follow up on making us a technology center in the region.

"And the president regularly dialogues with the private sector. He acknowledges that he is one of us – no arrogance and no hubris. And he believes that together we should be driving the economy – and that their role is to create the environment that is conducive to investment and technology development. Our model must be small countries like Finland and Sweden, able to successfully compete globally in this day and age of technology. It’s a long road but we must stay the course.”  

Monday, July 9, 2012

From the mind . . . to successful realization

The distance between the mind where an idea sits and its successful realization is a great one. And, unsurprisingly, we easily dissected the recent UST lecture of Malaysia's Mahathir – like we had dissected the lecture of Lee Kuan Yew of years ago? But isn’t it time to demonstrate moving an idea, from merely dissecting, to something tangible for the common good? We are 50 years behind!

Is Juan de la Cruz too smart for his own good? And to confound our predicament, we pronounce green shoots as ready for harvest? And so we like to say: “The glass is half-full”! [Counting the chickens before they’re hatched?] If the typical factors of production – men/women, machine, materials, money, method – are a challenge to pull together, what more of an economy? Especially in this day and age of global competition where products and services must be innovative and competitive if a nation is to generate robust revenues? Even a Nokia and a Blackberry, once powerhouses in technology, could hit a wall; how can green shoots automatically translate to an appreciable increase in our national revenues? The bottom line: we have to exert our best efforts if we are to overcome underdevelopment – i.e., we need an incremental GDP of > $100 billion! And we don’t want to do ourselves a disservice by being lulled into complacency? Global competition is so many folds more intense than the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, for instance.

Of course, Mahathir, like Lee Kuan Yew, was a strongman. And we resent autocracy – and want more freedom! Yet we don't describe our ultimate value as one of nationhood – one that we could be proud of because it is directed to the common good? It is what nation-building is about. Freedom, despite its nice ring, can indeed be misguided when public servants – supposedly sworn to transparency – would claim privacy of foreign currency deposits to be a fundamental right . . . as we saw, for example, in ex-CJ Corona and legislators who valued our supposed sovereignty over the call for good global citizenship? Thankfully we finally got around to this reality. Indeed we have to keep working and learning about good citizenship given our cacique system – of rank, privilege and entitlement – which doesn’t hold it paramount, as is the common good?

And so what do we really mean when we say that we want democracy – Philippine-style – based on our history and culture? We want to preserve respect for elders or respect for hierarchy and the cacique culture? To be egalitarian was what our forebears fought for yet today we feel entitled to enlarge our own domestic staffs, and in the bigger scheme of things, our OFWs? They are the modern-day manifestations of our hierarchical history – and an utterly failed economy! They toil long and hard away from home and family while our businesses get the spoils, and why our economy is able to stay afloat! It is not to write home about, but we’ve set a low bar and so we celebrate it?

Or do we want to learn from the Greeks – they, who invented democracy? Writes the managing editor of the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini, NY Times, 15th Jun 2012, "We lost the self-discipline, moderation and inventiveness that once helped the Greeks achieved great things, and we succumbed to political expediency, delusions of grandeur and a fatal sense of entitlement . . . What I want to remember from Greece in 2012 is how laziness and years of intellectual sloppiness can waste the gift of freedom and leave open the gates of the city – how we allowed our leaders to pander to us until we had no one capable of leading us . . ."

We may realize that Mahathir makes sense when he speaks to the imperatives of education, industrialization and technology – beyond foreign direct investments – but we have yet to get our mind fine-tuned because to respect our history and culture means to factor in all the complexities in Juan de la Cruz? And it is what makes us intellectually superior? What about learning to be forward-looking? It is only after we are crystal clear that we want to successfully face the future – for the common good – would we then be able to figure out the rigors of successful realization: who will do what, when, where and how! And that demands both the leadership and the citizenry working together towards a vision, of an egalitarian society! But that’s our forebears, not us – too bad so sad – and which explains why we're a failed economy?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Beyond the intellectual mind

Intellectual superiority” is how a business educator would explain why Juan de la Cruz seems unperturbed that we’re economic laggards. Add our parochial bias and impulse to look backward and we have a picture of why we are where we are? The writer never for a moment assumed otherwise; that indeed Juan de la Cruz was intellectually superior than his neighbors – as he covered the region over the decade from the 1980s–90s. Yet, the reality of how these countries were pushing economic development was there for all to see. The airports the writer was flying into were getting far superior than Manila’s. And even the hotels were matching if not overtaking those in Makati. And their overall infrastructure development was moving higher for us to match. In sum, the GDPs of these neighbors were growing ahead of ours. We have elevated poverty for a reason – e.g., we were either sitting pretty or asleep at the switch?

The region’s face ceased to be the writer’s daily reality when he moved to a global role. But the thought that Juan de la Cruz is intellectually superior would remain. In the intervening period, the writer saw how the rest of the world was moving. And instead of reading about “critical and reflective thinking,” for example, he was living in it. Global competition is real and intense. And to allow competition the upper hand could have disastrous consequences. Once it was just corporate America that dreaded the word restructuring. Today the whole world knows it intimately. And it was when the writer was doing restructuring in different parts of the world that he was introduced to that one imperative: to be forward-thinking – there must be a way to preempt disasters! And it was precisely what he shared with his Eastern European friends – as they were gearing up for EU membership – and their receptivity encouraged him to assist them.

Critical and reflective thinking is not a lost art after all. It has remained for the more mature minds a process of thinking, questioning, problem-solving and decision-making – an approach which borders along the original idea of John Dewey. It examines things, events, circumstances and topics. It reflects on issues and practices – local, national, international. It asks not only what happened, but why. As such, critical thinking should not just be relegated to the background.” [Nilo E. Colinares, Ed.D; Educators Speak: REFLECTIVE TEACHING, Manila Bulletin, 3rd Jun 2012.]

The first and the simplest yet the strongest influence on the writer about thinking (in a serious way outside the classroom) came from a Filipino entrepreneur: “You must learn to be inquisitive”! While the writer was then too inexperienced to appreciate the wisdom of the Filipino entrepreneur, today he could recognize why we as a nation and as an economy have unwittingly allowed one disaster after another. We deeply believed that our intellectual superiority would magically arrest our economic underperformance? We can dissect our challenges and come up with solutions but for over half a century they haven’t worked? “Education [is meant to have] prepared [us] for the future life – given [us] command of ourselves; [we] had been trained to have the full and ready use of all [our] capacities.” [John Dewey; On education, Wikipedia.] But it takes the more mature mind to engage in critical thinking – to be thinking, questioning, problem-solving and [doing the right] decision-making, to paraphrase Nilo E. Colinares.

It remains difficult for Juan de la Cruz to call upon his more mature mind and accept certain realities? While Asians generally are uncomfortable with competitiveness Western-style, our neighbors have realized that their economies must be competitive if they are to generate strong national incomes. But we pin our hopes on softer elements like the growing interest of investors in our country. But there is a great distance between interest and actually generating appreciably higher national revenues. For example, beyond aggressive levels of investments we need the vital few industries that we can sustain – i.e., because we have the potential to attain competitive advantage.

And that is why the mind has to come into play – everything starts in the mind. And as the Americans would put it, everything must be on the table. But given our hierarchical culture, parochial bias and tendency to personalize, we can’t seem to put critical elements on the table, effectively cutting ourselves by the knees? We can’t start with the thought that as an underdeveloped economy we can’t be competitive. We must fully participate in and tap what the world has to offer: beyond foreign investments, we need technology, innovation as well as talent, product and market development. We can’t assemble them ourselves – our intellectual superiority notwithstanding!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It all starts in the mind

Pinoy ‘smugness’ blamed for failure to break through global markets,” screams Business Mirror, 7th Jun 2012. “We’re so much limiting ourselves to our environment. We never extend ourselves, never reach out . . . Local brands are shackled within the confines of the Philippines’s retail borders . . . The Philippines appear to easily accept not winning at all. And yet Filipinos are looked up to as the best ‘creatives’ in the industry . . . Amid [global economic uncertainties], companies still need to grow and survive and, hence, greater innovative ideas in marketing are required . . . Brands in Asia today are becoming really very aggressive and we can’t be left behind again.”

It all starts in the mind. And if we like to look inward and backward we undermine our ability to create a vision and pursue self-improvement – and development. And given that our cacique system and structure in fact rewards us – i.e., in an underdeveloped economy to be a big fish in a small pond is not uncommon – why even wish to undo the status quo?

Marketing is not simply a narrow slice of society and the economy. The convergence of marketing and technology has created the largest enterprise in Apple, for example; and, more importantly, brought efficiency and productivity to the 21st century. The partnership has created today's environment and culture of innovation. But it appears Juan de la Cruz has missed the connection? We believe that we are intellectually superior yet missed the imperative of innovation – and its impact on competitiveness? What the marketing community is talking about – that our brands are being shackled within the confines of the Philippine’s retail borders – is not simply about brands. It is about innovation and competitiveness. It is about national pride and nationhood. And it is about the heart of education. “Education [is meant to have] prepared [us] for the future life – given [us] command of ourselves; [we] had been trained to have the full and ready use of all [our] capacities.” [John Dewey; On education, Wikipedia.]

Edison is acknowledged as the father of modern-day R&D in America. “I want to see a phonograph in every American home.” He was Jobs and/or Gates before they were Jobs and/or Gates. Our challenge is indeed about nationhood which we have finally understood required investment and technology? But our parochial bias has created our cacique system and structure, and thus our inability to attract foreign direct investments. We have a bigger problem than our smugness re local brands! We must recognize that in an interconnected world the resulting bigger market creates the invitation for stepped up competition. And to appreciate the challenge, we have to start with the end in view!

It is more than marketing local brands beyond our shores through our creative skills. In tourism, for example, it means more that a slogan and billboards and TV commercials. It is about understanding the 21st century way of life and developing the corresponding products. And in tourism the visitor’s actual experience must meet her expectations of convenience and thus the imperative of infrastructure. Edison understood that the consumer would seek leisure time and for which he developed the corresponding product represented by the phonograph. And Gates understood that the fast-paced 21st century life demanded efficiency and productivity (i.e., a computer in every home) and for which he developed the corresponding product represented by the software; while Jobs did it via the hardware.

Competitiveness is not confined to hi-tech products. But the principle of understanding the demands of the 21st century lifestyle and developing the corresponding products is universal – and it can be expressed in different ways. It can be as simple as day-to-day consumer products. To bring innovation and product development down to the practical and tangible level, for example, the writer’s Eastern European friends have R&D working physically next to marketing and the sales force; given that the latter two groups spend inordinate amounts of time with customers and consumers – in more than a score of countries – seeking to understand what the 21st century lifestyle is about.

The bottom line: industry must be founded on man’s ever changing wants; not on political patronage, rent-seeking and local dominance – which feed injustice and undermine good governance. And worse, perpetuate our cacique culture that can generate only a “meager economic output” – and thus elevated poverty – compared to an open economy.