Friday, November 30, 2012

Prescriptions and more prescriptions

With PHL going through its challenges – Asean integration and the Mindanao peace accord, among others – prescriptions running the gamut are in abundance. And I am reminded of the stack of research materials that I had to read through to assist a PhD candidate. We’ve been in development mode for decades yet are stuck in square-one – i.e., poverty has long defined us as a nation? It’s a tough nut to crack because the human condition gets in the way? For instance, hierarchy, something we saw with our Spanish colonizers, has remained a characteristic of our culture. And in Marcos we saw that on top of hierarchy, to perpetuate power one must reject transparency. And transparency is not how we would describe governance in PHL? But a US Appeals court has seen through it and handed Imelda and Bongbong an unfavorable judgment? And given that these characteristics are inherent to the human condition we would be unable to deal with them until we learn to be a bigger person – no different from what Occupy Wall Street was demanding? Greedy bankers may not, but can Juan de la Cruz prove to be a bigger person?

Clearly our underdevelopment poses fundamental challenges. But even countries ahead in the development curve like Poland (with a GDP per capita at PPP five times ours) can be faced with daunting challenges. "The biggest economy in Eastern Europe . . . is one of Europe's least innovative economies . . . Universities do not cooperate well with business . . . It has thrived on attracting low value-added businesses . . . That type of economy depends on low costs . . . To compete in the future, Poland will need to replace its low costs with innovation . . . It filed 8 patents per million citizens in 2010 ... compared with an average of 108 in the whole European Union and 266 in Germany . . . Poland has a long way to travel if it is to catch up on its more innovative competitors . . . Unless Poland turns itself into an innovative, knowledge economy, it risks heading down the same path as Spain, Greece, or Portugal . . . Those countries experienced rapid growth but failed to shift in time the structure of their economies away from low-cost industries." [Poland fails to move to high tech, Business World, 29th Oct 2012.]

Poland can use a mutually reinforcing relationship between industry and academe. In the US, for example, the academic community has the big advantage of being right next to global enterprises – i.e., they could be privy to real world challenges and how industry deals with them in the here and now even before a case study is available. But in developing countries, as another once mentee (who had received a PhD in economics) explained, the two worlds of academe and industry are not necessarily Siamese twins – i.e., the “shallowness of industry” is contrary to academic rigor?

In the US this supposed divide has been bridged in many cases. For instance, a Korean company had sent a group of managers to attend a program at an Ivy League institution many years ago and a major part of the program had the Koreans visiting R&D centers in the U.S. And one in particular was my MNC employer and we welcomed the Koreans with open arms. And the Koreans could not believe the openness of a US company to the academic community: “It would have taken us an inordinate amount of time – if we would even be spot on – doing research to gather what we picked up here in one afternoon.”

Developing countries can learn from this aspect of Western practice. A couple of weeks ago I sat through the successful thesis defense of an Eastern European friend. As the mentor I read through the stack of research materials that she assembled and I remember the first exercise we did was to develop an outline for the dissertation. As a practitioner (the subject was measuring brand loyalty) it was natural for me to separate the wheat from the chaff. And in the real world, there is no such thing as the ‘silver bullet.’ And hence I was glad my mentee immediately agreed to define the limitations of the study, the algorithms notwithstanding. And in the end it was a simple outline that she used and which she was able to test via the paper she published – a prerequisite before moving into the dissertation proper – following the green light from her professor. She added: “I would have approached the dissertation from a different perspective if no one kept reminding me that the test of the pudding is in the eating.”

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