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?

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