Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Never let up"

That is courtesy of John P. Kotter from his article, Accelerate, Harvard Business Review, November 2012. "Keep learning from experience. Don't declare victory too soon." And in the New York Times magazine article (23rd Dec 2012) about Jerry Seinfeld, he talked about a one-liner that he'd used for three years before he found his "aha moment." And to paraphrase his explanation: if he is like no other it is because as a craftsman he keeps on polishing his craft.

It reminds me of one of my Bulgarian friends who more than once has said, "You've been talking to us for years about why margins are key to sustaining a business and attaining competitive advantage, yet every time we take time to pause new doors do open." And more recently, after a series of classroom sessions, two of them separately said in so many words, "Indeed we can refresh our approach to product innovation.” I have been saying the same very fundamental things about the drivers of the business for ten years now; although I could imagine I have said them differently at different times. And teachers could easily relate to that?

This blog will very soon be on its fourth year; and I have been saying the same very fundamental things. If Jerry Seinfeld took three years to polish a one-liner and if one Bulgarian entity has had ten years working on the drivers of the business, PHL with a hundred million people would require decades to work on its development? But we must never let up? Given where we are with our GDP per capita it would take more than four administrations to lift us to developed-nation status? The evidence: our nagging poverty. It is a consequence of the many facets of our structural deficiencies, including basic infrastructure, the absence of a strategic industry base and our value for hierarchy, e.g., oligarchy and political lords. And the latter has given those in the lower echelons the license and thus our culture of corruption. We can give ourselves a pat in the back as "Daang matuwid" attracts the attention of the world, yet it's too soon to declare victory? We have our work cut out for us: we need a greater and a truly concerted effort to prioritize and fix our structural gaps?

Our energy crisis dates back to the Ramos administration? And NAIA 3 still hugs the headlines? There was a lot of fanfare when we received "Arangkada Philippines" and its "seven industry winners" from the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC). But we have yet to move the peanut forward because we’ve unwittingly preserved our power structure dominated by oligarchy and political lords – and thus are trapped in a vicious circle with its spoils coming our way as well? And worse, it reinforces oligopoly, not competitiveness in the egalitarian sense, and thus explains why we struggle to move up the competitiveness rankings – we’re not attacking the root of the problem?

Every nation takes pride in their beliefs and assumptions yet in any universe, take the 200-odd nations in the UN, for example, only a minority would be developed economies. In the 80’s the US was tops in every global competitiveness measure. And Spain, relatively a laggard before the EU infrastructure-building efforts, became the showcase and inspiration to then non-EU members to join the union. And in Eastern Europe Bulgaria and Romania witnessed their own transformation, following a similar EU exercise.

Then the US, behaving like masters of the universe, led the world to the Great Recession while tumbling down the competitiveness ladder. And across the pond global enterprises pursued countless initiatives to capitalize on the EU formation and poured massive investments across the continent. And today many countries have lots to show from that era; unfortunately, that would include the over-building not just in Spain and other countries in Western Europe but also in Eastern Europe. And as the world knows, the Asian tigers showed how rapidly they could transition from underdeveloped to developed economies, yet they were not spared by the Great Recession.

"Keep learning from experience. Don't declare victory too soon." Where do we situate PHL against this global reality – i.e., we generate a mere fraction of the above-named countries’ economic output per person? Do we reality think it is time to declare victory? Let us not follow other countries shoot themselves in the foot?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Even Japan can't be archaic

Japan is still grappling with the fallout from a decade-long, seemingly unstoppable decline of its electronics sector, once a driver of growth and a bedrock of its economy.” [NY Times, 28th Dec 2012] . . . “But for more than a decade, these technology companies have experienced little growth . . . To blame are plunging prices across the board for their products, brought about by intense competition from rivals in South Korea and Taiwan as electronics increasingly become widely interchangeable. Overstretched and unfocused, Japan’s tech giants also ceded much of their cutting edge to more innovative companies like Apple.”

The way forward for Japan’s embattled electronics sector, for now, is a globalization strategy that shifts production and procurement from high-cost Japan to more competitive locations overseas. As Japan’s manufacturing giants become truly global, a country that has so depended on its manufacturers for growth must look to other sources of jobs and opportunity, like its nascent entrepreneurs — a transformation far more easily said than done.”

Globalization, at the end of the day, came about as a matter of necessity? Why is the premise important? Development is not static nor can it be confined within parochial walls. But in the same manner that the US could not anticipate how globalization would play out, the Japanese likewise are learning the lesson – that competition can come from anywhere in the world, for example. And so the key is for a nation to be equipped to adapt to its challenges. And which is why Einstein, inquisitive and forward-looking as he was, thus preached: “the value of education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”

While Japan learned from the Americans how to rebuild their economy after the war, and even writing up their constitution for them, the Japanese did not surrender the entirety of their culture and heritage. What they did was take on what was useful. For instance, they embraced the mantra of American quality guru W. Edwards Deming and developed their manufacturing prowess that became the envy of the world. Still, both Japan and the US have to reinvent and transform themselves. And even China, newly minted as the second largest economy, has to face the reality of a slowing global economy that has yet to play itself out. These countries have indeed demonstrated their strengths but clearly "nobody is perfect.”

In the Philippines where rank gives many of us privileges, we seem to have found our nesting place? And we see that as a blessing? But have we unwittingly confused faith and responsibility and not surprisingly hierarchy has become preeminent in our value system over dynamism? Dynamism – the antithesis of “pwede na ‘yan” – is central to development and competitiveness as the above countries learned. And so while we are prudently addressing the global measures of development and competitiveness, we may be mirroring a pilot going over his preflight routine? But we're not poised to fly yet while the ecosystem of flying has all been figured out?

Our economic, political and belief systems, on the other hand, are a throwback to "our old jeepney culture": a local lord owns the jeepney that isn't guaranteed to run the entire shift yet the driver is subservient and grateful for the opportunity. And he drives on streets that aren't functional and efficient. And before he knows it a cop stops him for morning coffee or "after hours" beer? He then suffers a flat tire and limps back to the garage of the local lord; he scratches his head with barely enough to cover the rate or "boundary" for the day. He piles his IOUs and stops by the church to pray on the way home. [That’s a translation of Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s book, “The Price of Inequality," about rent-seeking – which we’ve embraced as nationalism and promoting local investment?]

What are we missing? A community sense to espouse an entirely different paradigm; it starts not with hierarchy but with "men are created equal" and thus premised on respecting Juan de la Cruz; it means creating an economic and a political system that is designed for the common good . . .

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not stuck in the sand

SEN. Francis Pangilinan on Monday underscored the need for “inclusive and sustainable growth” as the Aquino administration continues to rally support for good governance and fiscal measures, buoyed by the 7.1-percent growth in the third quarter of 2012.” [Business Mirror, 10th Dec 2012.] “While there is cause for us to be thankful for the 7.1-percent growth experienced in the third quarter, we must be mindful that we have been there before,” Pangilinan said even as he added that “more than simply reaching such growth rates from time to time is the question of sustaining it.”

Start with the end in view. We need to lift our GDP per capita tenfold if indeed we are desirous to be a developed nation. And as international agencies have figured, that will take a generation at a constant 7% annual growth. It is not a cake walk. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And indeed it can’t be done if we continue to be led by long-held beliefs and assumptions? Nor will the answers come from others? The answer is in our head, our heart and our gut – i.e., our perception is processed internally and translated into our worldview that we ought to revisit? And it is beyond an intellectually crafted initiative when it is measured by the activity per se and not but by the outcome it must deliver.

Is Sen. Pangilinan very much aware of our reality: (a) a culture of corruption, (b) poor infrastructure, (c) lack of competitiveness and (d) a restrictive economic environment? And one manifestation of the "perfect storm” they have generated is our energy conundrum. And it also explains why we have no strategic industry base to speak of. But then again, the answers cannot come from others like the Joint Foreign Chambers – or their seven (7) priority industries? Because Juan de la Cruz goes for the activity he wants to pursue as opposed to the outcome he must deliver? We want to satisfy our values of inclusion and populism and then turn fatalistic when the outcome does not meet the yardstick of the common good?

For example, our favorite "big boys" continue to dominate the energy sector while we're debating about the Mindanao power crisis and the broader and bigger crisis we face today and tomorrow. And thus economists have recognized that the lack of a truly coherent energy intervention would continue to underscore our underdevelopment and undermine our competitiveness. But then again we are developing over 50 industry road maps because we need them to raise our competitiveness – but what they give is false insurance?

The bottom line: Will all the activity in the energy sector in fact address our shortage and cost issues and thus elevate our competitiveness? Will all the industry road maps we are developing equate to the outcomes set by the JFC's seven (7) strategic industries, and that is, generate $75 billion in incremental investments and deliver over $100 billion in additional GDP while creating millions of jobs? It appears several industry groups are working with government to pull their respective road maps. The intention sounds encouraging, but do they meet the acid test – i.e., the test of the pudding is in the eating? Specifically, are these industry groups committed to becoming regionally if not globally competitive? Are they committed to invest in technology, in innovation, in people development, in product development and market development – beyond expanding their local businesses? Will they generate at least $75 billion in incremental investments and deliver over $100 billion in additional GDP while creating millions of jobs? If not, then it behooves government to focus and prioritize industries that will give us the big and the quick wins.

For example, pursuing the JFC's seven priority industries and their requisite support-industry clusters will generate greater synergies and realize the JFC's end goal than 50 different industries. Unfortunately, we're stuck in the same "inclusive" mental model reminiscent of the failed land reform program. And it’s not our fault; we simply don't have the track record in the successful pursuit of major undertakings – and why we remain underdeveloped.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Understanding the competitive mind

We must seek to be competitive not because the rest of the world says so. It can be a force for good. Its influence is derived from the ability to create tangible value – not the influence of rank and its privileges as in an oligopoly. Thus it is not restricted by national boundaries. It has the ability to make things that "make a significant contribution to the society at large." Thus it has universal appeal. Apple is far from perfection yet it has emerged as a model to many – not to compete with Apple but as my Eastern European friends seem to innately seek, to understand how such minds work. And no one can talk about Apple today better than Tim Cook.

The first thing to realize is that all the things that have made Apple (AAPL) so special are the same as they have always been. That doesn’t mean that Apple is the same. Apple has changed every day since I have been here. But the DNA of the company, the thing that makes our heart beat, is a maniacal focus on making the best products in the world. Not good products, or a lot of products, but the absolute best products in the world.” [Tim Cook's Freshman Year: The Apple CEO Speaks, Businessweek, 6th Dec 2012]

My own personal philosophy on giving is best stated in a [John F.] Kennedy quote, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” You could almost place every product that we [make] on this table. I mean, if you really look at it, we have four iPods. We have two main iPhones. We have two iPads, and we have a few Macs. That’s it. And we argue and debate like crazy about what we’re going to do, because we know that we can only do a few things great. That means not doing a bunch of things that would be really good and really fun . . . That’s a part of our base principle, that we will only do a few things. And we’ll only do things where we can make a significant contribution. I don’t mean financially. I mean some significant contribution to the society at large. You know, we want to really enrich people’s lives at the end of the day, not just make money. Making money might be a byproduct, but it’s not our North Star.”

Creativity is not a process . . . It’s people who care enough to keep thinking about something until they find the simplest way to do it. They keep thinking about something until they find the best way to do it. It’s caring enough to call the person who works over in this other area, because you think the two of you can do something fantastic that hasn’t been thought of before. It’s providing an environment where that feeds off each other and grows.”

So just to be clear, I wouldn’t call that a process. Creativity and innovation are something you can’t flowchart out. Some things you can, and we do, and we’re very disciplined in those areas. But creativity isn’t one of those. A lot of companies have innovation departments, and this is always a sign that something is wrong when you have a VP of innovation or something. You know, put a for-sale sign on the door . . . Everybody in our company is responsible to be innovative, whether they’re doing operational work or product work or customer service work. So in terms of the pressure, all of us put a great deal of pressure on ourselves. And yes, part of my job is to be a cheerleader, and getting people to stop for a moment and think about everything that’s been done.”

We want diversity of thought. We want diversity of style. We want people to be themselves. It’s this great thing about Apple. You don’t have to be somebody else. You don’t have to put on a face when you go to work and be something different. But the thing that ties us all is we’re brought together by values. We want to do the right thing. We want to be honest and straightforward. We admit when we’re wrong and have the courage to change.”

On what Steve Jobs told him: “I want to make this clear. I saw what happened when Walt Disney passed away. People looked around, and they kept asking what Walt would have done.” He goes, “The business was paralyzed, and people just sat around in meetings and talked about what Walt would have done.” He goes, “I never want you to ask what I would have done. Just do what’s right.” He was very clear.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Christmas is a state of mind"

The Sunday just before Christmas, in his homily, the guest-priest in our suburban New York parish church talked about Christmas being a state of mind. And he made reference to Kris Kringle from the 1947 but familiar Christmas movie, "Miracle on 34th Street". That being generous and kind-hearted was why Kris Kringle was the real Santa Claus, and it's a state of mind that is not limited to Christmas Day.

And after arriving in Manila on our periodic homecoming, the first TV program I watched featured the CEO of the largest motorcycle producer in India. He talked about why and how he changed the direction of the company effectively undoing what then was the supposed success model started by his father. And that success model was founded on producing and selling cheap scooters. To one who instinctively resists change, his idea of producing more expensive motorcycles would be suicidal. And which is why he swears that innovation is a state of mind.

A serious student and being an engineer, he diligently studied modern management techniques like balanced scorecard, blue ocean strategy, six sigma, “the bottom of the pyramid” and others. But he found out that they were all superficial. "I had to think differently". Especially in a non-technology-driven business he realized he had to be different. He explained: "The consumers were effectively telling us that the success model of the past faced an uncertain future. If there were options they would prefer something they perceived as being of greater value. And that is why we had to undo something that practically everyone in the organization insisted was a success model – if it ain't broke why fix it?”

Given what has happened in the West, forward-thinking people have predicted that this would be the Asian century. “Over the last three years I’ve consistently stated my belief that Asia is emerging as a global innovation powerhouse. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons why I moved to Singapore in early 2010.” [The Asian Innovation Century, Scott Anthony, Managing Partner, Innosight (a Boston innovation consulting firm), Business Mirror, 6th Jan 2013] “While my long-term optimism remains, I think the region must overcome some serious hurdles before it can realize its full potential. Some of these, like poor infrastructure, are quite straightforward. More pernicious and harder to address are three critical mindset shifts:

First, there needs to be substantially higher tolerance for failure. Some of history’s most world-changing ideas were accidental discoveries. A fear of failure can choke off innovation. This fear is largely rooted in Asia’s regional laws, which include severe penalties for bankruptcies. But it also has to do with pressure from family, friends and co-workers. Second, a corporate culture reliant on hierarchical decision-making must open itself up to good ideas wherever they come from. Senior leaders with wisdom and institutional knowledge can certainly spark great ideas, but so too can 20-somethings without preconceived notions of what works and what doesn’t. Third, companies, particularly large ones, need a dose of humility . . . These mindsets won’t change overnight. Focused work by policy-makers and corporate leaders in three areas can help:

The more Asian leaders spend time overseas, the more Asians educated in the West return home, the more Westerners spend time in Asia, the more historical mindsets will shift in crucial ways . . . Many of the success stories in Asia over the past few decades have involved heavy government intervention, family legacies, or founders who muscled their way into resource-intensive industries. The more these stories are balanced by innovators, the more mindsets will shift . . . Many Asian countries have top-flight education systems. Yet, their overwhelming focus on facts and rote memorization can blunt students’ creative edge.

Asia’s people, cultures and religions are breathtakingly diverse. Imagine this diversity replicated in the business world. With the right mindset shifts, the vast well of innovation potential lying dormant in Asia has the potential to change the world.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Is it about being Pinoy or being Greek?

[The country’s] economic troubles are often attributed to a public sector packed full of redundant workers . . . Often overlooked, however, is the role played by a handful of wealthy families, politicians and the news media — often owned by the magnates — that make up the [nation's] power structure . . . The average [person] is growing increasingly resentful of an oligarchy that, critics say, presides over an opaque, closed economy that is at the root of many of the country’s problems and operates with virtual impunity. Several dozen powerful families control critical sectors, including banking, shipping and construction, and can usually count on the political class to look out for their interests, sometimes by passing legislation tailored to their specific needs.” [NY Times, 5th Dec 2012, For Greece, Oligarchs Are Obstacle to Recovery.]

The result, analysts say, is a lack of competition that undermines the economy by allowing the magnates to run cartels and enrich themselves through crony capitalism. “That makes it rational for them to form a close, incestuous relationship with politicians and the media, which is then highly vulnerable to corruption,” said Kevin Featherstone, a professor of European Politics at the London School of Economics.”

It is about Greece but could it be said of PHL too? “[The] anticorruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Greece [no. 94, ahead of PHL, no. 105] as the most corrupt nation in Europe, behind former Soviet states like Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia . . . But it remains an open question whether Greece’s leaders will be able to engineer such a transformation.”

Is it about being Pinoy then or being Greek? The New York Times article spells it out: For Greece, Oligarchs Are Obstacle to Recovery.” It brings to mind the book, “Why Nations Fail,” that the co-author, James A. Robinson, discussed with a cross-section of our society. Dr. Robinson says that societies that succeeded in achieving prosperity for most of their people are those that made both political as well as economic institutions more open and responsive to the majority of the population. These societies rewarded innovation or new and better ways of doing things, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities, not just a few elites, and had governments that were responsive and politically accountable to its people.” [Manila Bulletin, 3rd Dec 2012]

Unfortunately, Juan de la Cruz easily gets it in one ear and out the other? And so a news report like the following is to be expected? Investment goal likely to be missed,” reports Business World, 6th Dec 2012. Too bad so sad – we've had this challenge for decades and like a broken record it just keeps on playing? Garbage-in, garbage-out? Our pathetic economic output and thus poverty is visible from miles away – because we have been protecting ourselves from investments (and technologies) from the outside for decades, and proudly so because of our brand of patriotism?

And, unfortunately, man can defy the obvious? “We targeted around P400 billion [investments] but we will be happy to surpass -- just a little -- last year’s number of P369 billion because the baseline is high . . .” [ibid]. Sounds wishful thinking? Or is it our trademark "pwede na 'yan"? Perhaps we can learn from the new Apple CEO, Tim Cook: "Being gentle and being a pushover are two different things,” is how one analyst described him.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Start with the end in view II

"Infra bottlenecks spending solved” reads one news report. But the devil is in the details, and another piece, "Properly prepared projects," brought that reality to life. [Mario Antonio G. Lopez, Business World, 3rd Dec 2012.] What is the object of the exercise? Until Juan de la Cruz internalizes the pragmatic dimension of the Great Commandment or the Pareto principle, we will always fall prey to crab mentality – i.e., be activity-driven as opposed to outcome-driven. Put another way, we value inclusiveness and populism at the front-end and fatalism at the backend, the recipe for “que sera, sera”? What are we missing? Take land reform. Distributing land to poor farmers satisfied our values of inclusiveness and populism. Yet it was a colossal failure. Why? An economic activity must be designed to be viable in order to be sustainable. Simply, the output must yield healthy margins for the cycle to become sustainable thus virtuous and not vicious.

I keep talking about my Bulgarian friends because that is precisely what they've learned over the last 10 years. It is not only ex-socialists (as they learned the hard way, i.e., their old system did not sustain subsidized bread rationing!) that can use the lesson. It is what makes globally competitive enterprises competitive. In another news report, for example, the Ford Motor Company is pushing the "One Ford" strategy – in order to leverage economies of scale, and realize healthy margins. [Poor countries like the Philippines can learn from the Poland experience, among others. To narrowly view the world as a low-cost environment undermines what economists call the multiplier effect of investment. A cheap-product environment consigns poor nations to poverty. It is when people look beyond – to higher valued-added products generated by an innovation culture – will economic activity reach far and wide. Industry must learn what true portfolio management is. Low-priced products can’t be the be-all and end-all if a nation is to be globally competitive. They can be part of the portfolio but the key is to incorporate truly higher value-added products to be globally competitive – and recognize Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Unfortunately, decades of being focused on low-priced products has robbed us of the instinct to pursue innovation. It is a similar lesson that Nokia learned the hard way to the point of adversely impacting Finland’s GDP, i.e., their low-priced focus in China/India proved globally unwise.]

Understandably, given our underdevelopment, we want to pursue a zillion initiatives but that doesn't change the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day. For example, we can’t pursue over 50 industry road maps. Not even Germany despite its engineering prowess or the US. When so many balls are up in the air dropping several of them is to be expected. The biggest hole confronting us is our very low national income or GDP which both the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) rightly want to raise by $100 billion – which should move us closer to a Thailand. While the JFC is pushing 7 priority industries, we have 13 under the BOI priority investments program. And one can argue that we need all 50 industries and pursuing a 3-tiered strategy is fine. But the rule of thumb especially in the planning and execution of major undertakings is the fewer the better. And not surprisingly, it was the advice the late Steve Jobs gave to his friends at Google. The Aquino administration had already ran the 2 years of its 6-year term . . . and where are we execution-wise? And where are we after almost 70 years?

Everyone wants a piece of the action. Those who champion rural development, for example, are pushing their priority projects; and it is understandable given poverty is greater in rural communities. Why can't we then focus on the 7 JFC priority industries that include agribusiness? Even this least number doesn't guarantee completion within the remaining 4 years of the administration? For instance, the priority PPP projects are basic infrastructure concentrated in Metro Manila – and don’t directly support the strategic industries we ought to push?

That is the reality we face and our inability to focus and prioritize explains why we can't light our homes and offices or build and operate an international airport? In the vernacular, we call it “sabog”! And our sad reality is captured succinctly in this news report: "RP fails in 4 major (Millennium Development) goals."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Transparency and beyond

Major undertakings that call for disparate groups and ideas to come to terms invariably demand transparency? And if we are to ever neutralize traditional politics and vested interests that have dominated our life as a nation, we need to set for ourselves a superior vision. And which in turn demands superior execution – i.e., hard work or more precisely, focus and discipline.

Unfortunately, transparency is among the values that we’ve least embraced because of our bias for a hierarchical structure? President Aquino’s “daang matuwid” is precisely meant to arrest corruption. But corruption thrives when transparency is not a preeminent value of a nation. How do we then create the climate conducive to crafting and articulating a superior vision when transparency is missing in the first place? We’ve created a low-trust environment that is reinforced by the belief that the system is rigged? We may not like to hear that when James A. Robinson, the co-author of “Why Nations Fail,” speaks to a cross section of our society. Our politics and oligarchy have created this rigged system that the rest of us have acquiesced to by sharing with them the spoils of a dysfunctional system? Simply, we are all part of the zarzuela?

The elements of transparency, vision-driven and focused and disciplined are the building blocks of major undertakings. But that’s not how Juan de la Cruz thinks? We like complex models. And in economics Juan de la Cruz is at home dissecting GDP growth rates [unfortunately, given our low base, even a 10% increase unless sustained over time doesn’t correct our structural deficiencies] and debate monetary and fiscal policies? They are very important, but as both Reagan and Clinton and Kennedy before them demonstrated, establishing an end goal is where it begins. But then execution has its own stringent demands like focus and discipline; again, not the way Juan de la Cruz thinks? What we value is “inclusiveness” – and fallen into the trap of crab mentality? Inclusive as Robinson will tell us is the antithesis of our comfort zone, a hierarchical structure where rank and privileges have kept us in bed with the 1% of our society.

And unsurprisingly critics contend that “daang matuwid” is not a guaranteed success? If “daang matuwid” fails, we have to recognize that its desired outcome demands more than the commitment of President Aquino. Its success or failure is dependent on our way of life which, unfortunately, we consider as cast in stone, i.e., it is what we are: “Pinoy kasi”?

Beyond our local values there is the global community's overarching or umbrella of values which we have yet to appreciate because of the blinders of parochialism? Sadly, we expect perfection from the bigger world when we ourselves aren’t? The pragmatism of Mahathir is a lesson that has been lost to us – i.e., hate them but run with their money and technology – which was likewise embraced by Deng Xiaoping. And so we’re left clutching the empty bag – pushed around by the rest of the world because we have not equipped ourselves to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with them? [And it brings to mind my Bulgarian friends who would blurt out of the blue, “Thanks for believing.” And my response would always be: “it is your belief in yourself that you must thank.”]

We have yet to internalize why innovation matters and why the fuss about competitiveness given that our success models are our major enterprises that have been shielded from global competition because of the fortification we've erected to shut out foreign investments and, sadly, state-of-the-art technology? [The “rural development versus industrialization” debate of old is passé: we’ve always lagged in technology and thus failed in both, including land reform.] If we want to prudently address our rankings in "ease of doing business, competitiveness and economic freedom," we better keep our eye on the ball – something we sorely need. For decades we’ve kept up the barriers to foreign ownership yet with a stroke of a pen we brought in characters of dubious credibility in the gambling business, for example? We aren’t setting ourselves up for failure?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Beyond the challenge of Asean is a globalized world

President Aquino’s sincerity in pushing “daang matuwid” has caught the attention of the rest of the world. And we ought to be proud of that. But it doesn’t mean we can ignore reality. Indeed, his mantra to arrest corruption in order to address poverty is laudable. But by now we know that the challenge is not a cake walk. Our economic backwardness is a generational challenge and requires at least a generation to overcome. President Aquino’s tenure thus isn’t long enough to be equal to the task. And so his party and its bigger coalition would want that they are able carry on with his mandate. Their intentions may be noble. But as President Cory Aquino had quipped, “There are many indispensables in the cemetery.” Our challenge goes beyond politics. Our challenge is nation-building. We can’t have politics and oligarchy indeed entrenched to define who the Filipino is. We need to reinvent Juan de la Cruz and our institutions (our backwardness, unfortunately, doesn’t bode well) if we are to breed the right leaders. If it isn’t obvious yet, after decades of missteps, we’ve messed up plenty! Enough is enough!

Juan de la Cruz despite his professed Christianity can’t be holier-than-thou having failed in our basic calling as a people: to be good stewards to our God-given talents? The fact that the world and our neighbors have left us behind says we better come to grips with our reality? And that is where our problem starts because our knee-jerk is to invoke something totally alien to the challenge. We invoke our faith, trumpet our happiness and our talents; and conversely insist on highlighting the weaknesses of others if not the rest of the world. But our rationalization is suspect: if corruption, for example, is universal then our brand of corruption is truly egregious given our backwardness as in being objects of charity? And when all is said and done, we simply are sidestepping our challenges because we believe that is our strength: “Pinoy abilidad”?

No pain no gain. What could be the common thread shared by nations that have indeed moved ahead? Our group of expatriates (composed of different nationalities that have worked with other people in various parts of the world) would find ourselves comparing notes – and because of years of friendship we continue to do so to this day. And the following would fairly represent what we’ve observed over the years: (1) Self-improvement is beyond one’s comfort zone; (2) Setting higher and even higher goals is what the human spirit is about; (3) Universal appeal is above a people’s parochial bias and (4) “What’s in it for me”.

At the end of the day, the human condition must be satisfied via a reward. But the problem especially in underdeveloped nations like ours is that the human condition becomes paramount, superseding nation-building. In fairness, even developed economies could likewise stumble as the world witnessed with the bursting of the credit bubble, i.e., the human condition needs to be policed. Clearly the spoils of rank and privileges can be intoxicating. Unfortunately, that means self-improvement (as a people and a nation) is undermined given our already lofty posts in the hierarchy – with the desire to set higher goals expected to ebb. Thus the commitment to be a developed economy is remotely present in our psyche if at all. And in a confined, parochial world we lose sight of values that have universal appeal. Precisely, we would only recognize such imperative and thus seek the requisite values if we have cultivated a wider world. Conversely, to be parochial is to perpetuate a hierarchal not an egalitarian structure. And we can mouth “inclusive” but will only get blue in the face until we wrap our head around it?

Indeed we must be doing charity works but to lift an underdeveloped economy ten-fold and become a developed nation is beyond platitudes.