Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leadership, focus and priority

During my early visits to Eastern Europe, I was reminded of “We’re the little brown brothers” every time I heard “We’re poor Eastern Europeans.” And so at every opportunity I would talk about “It always starts in the mind – what you can think you can create, what you cannot think you cannot create.” And ten years later during a recent meeting with the management team, I made reference to it again. As it was ten years ago, their leadership was painting for them the view of the future – moving the organization up another notch that meant competing in parts of the world that they have yet to face. And I could only be proud of the business teams as they presented their plans: "This brand will be at least equal if not better than the competition in every market we compete. These are the global trends and these are the innovations we will introduce this year and the next.” Ten years ago they would simply copy product ideas from the West but their R&D and marketing investments especially have developed to an advanced state that today they have the confidence to compete head-to-head against the world's best.

The noise is getting louder and louder about ASEAN integration in 2015 and how prepared or unprepared we Filipinos are. Recall that the ASEAN Framework Agreement was signed in Singapore on 28 January 1992 or over 20 years ago. [And straightway MNCs organized regional hubs across the region – I was there and hence have firsthand knowledge.] What have we been missing? To be more than “the little brown brothers” means that we would have wrapped our head around the reality that “everything is fair in love and war.” The world still applauds college dropouts Jobs and Gates for following the footsteps of Edison and “writing the rules” that the world would follow.

Has our hierarchical mindset unwittingly transfixed us to a passive state – being the little brown brothers? What are we missing? A leadership – “to take us from where we are to where we have never been before” – that will show us where to focus and how to prioritize? Being true to the hierarchy has always been our mental model that we may have forgotten that freedom and liberty – that we cherish and are proud about – means exploring beyond the here and now? The evidence: we have the least patents among the countries in the region.

We also have to move beyond “reinventing the wheel” – which was what we did with “import substitution” in order to reduce costs. Fair enough but that can’t go on forever – as demonstrated by countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. For example, UP is most likely looking at a lower-cost option and thus would build the Pinoy monorail within the campus – and that is fair. But the monorail is not a new technology and so unwittingly we are doing “import substitution”? A “substitute” implies that the original is far more advanced? The comment is directed at "nation-building." UP could also wear its hat as the nation's brain trust and look into the road map from the JFC referenced below, for instance.

Today's reality is no longer a secret: we have been left behind – and why we have widespread poverty – as we lag in investment, technology and innovation as well as in the development of talent, products and markets. Assuming the monorail project is a one-off shouldn’t we in fact put our minds into pursuing an industry where we have a shot at attaining competitive advantage? And which brings to mind the Joint Foreign Chambers – and the seven strategic industries they teed up. The JFC has given us a road map – Arangkada Philippines 2010 – to leapfrog industrialization by focusing on seven priority industries that will generate $75 billion in foreign investments, millions of jobs and incremental GDP of over $100 billion. But have we grabbed the ball yet? For example, what have we done about the power situation which is pretty fundamental if industries are to be erected? Where is the leadership? Where is the focus? Where is the priority?

Like in the ASEAN integration, we can’t be foot-dragging again? If dynamism is not us, we truly need leadership that will show us where to focus and how to prioritize – and “take us from where we are to where we have never been before”?  

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