Tuesday, February 26, 2013

“Merciless self-examination”

That’s from “Secret Ingredient for Success,” by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield, NY Times, 29th Jan 2013. “During the 1970s, Chris Argyris, a business theorist at Harvard Business School (and now, at 89, a professor emeritus) began to research what happens to organizations and people . . . when they find obstacles in their paths.”

Professor Argyris called the most common response single loop learning — an insular mental process in which we consider possible external or technical reasons for obstacles . . . LESS common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode we . . . question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.”

In interviews we did with high achievers for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role . . . The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to achieve them.”

Does the foregoing bring to mind our efforts to raise our global competitiveness? For example, we're looking at “the tedious system of processing business papers from registering a new business to getting permits and clearances where the Philippines was found to have the record of taking too long a time and requiring too many signatures.” But what about Juan de la Cruz subjecting himself to fairly merciless self-examination [to] prompt reinvention of [his] goals and the methods by which [he] endeavors to achieve them”?

Understandably it is not easy for Juan de la Cruz to be self-critical. Self-criticism doesn’t mean the absence of patriotism or love of country? Or even the evil desire to see our nation fail – granted that change is disorienting? Yet we don’t have to take it as countercultural or against our beliefs or our faith? We are well-informed people and for many of us this is not the first time we’re hearing about the different modes of learning or mental processes. For example, AIM was once the region’s premier business school; and MNCs highly regarded the caliber of our managers. Unfortunately, because our business and success models remain parochial if not defined by oligopoly, we take pride in declaring: “Our focus is the Philippine market where we have the knowledge and the expertise – and it’s a big market.”

By default we’ve chosen not to develop into world-beaters. And now that ASEAN integration is upon us (2015) we're cramming and pulling all sorts of master plans and road maps to be able to compete in this bigger market – though we have seen and experienced the transition into ASEAN as early as 20 years ago. Or why our neighbors over the last few decades have pursued stepped-up infrastructure development and industrialization (and in the case of China even begging for Western money and technology) and not surprisingly became the Asian tigers. Our claim to fame can’t simply be oligopoly and political dynasties – the classic formula of why nations fail?

A Filipino investor tells me that after learning the story about my Bulgarian friends who had to unlearn their business model – that they could only sell cheap products because “we are poor Bulgarians” – that he has done a self-examination of his business philosophy. And in no time he had his “man Friday” all ears while declaring: “We have to reinvent ourselves!" [Disclosure: he had read the book, and shared it with his business partners, that I published, "Learning to Reinvent Ourselves: How to Make the Philippines a Winner in the 21st Century.]

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