Sunday, July 28, 2013

A perfect storm

Living and working in Eastern Europe tells me that "to be proactive" is perhaps alien if not offensive. And recently they confirmed with me that in the local language there is no direct translation for the word "proactive". It would remind me of my first cultural edification: "Don't expect Stefan at 9 on the dot every morning." And from then on I would start my day in the cafe next door for my first cup of coffee while surfing the net until my ride to work is all set. Yet even in the US inefficiencies could spoil one's routine, and my wife would have her own litany that is probably longer than mine.

I have understood that these people are more accommodating of less than perfect outcomes. Yet, my friends have realized what is setting them apart: they’ve embraced the imperatives of the 21st century highly competitive, globalized world. After one of our young managers was named the country's manager of the year, I was interviewed by the local business journal: “What is it like in an organization that continues to reap accolades – from the country's top exporter to one of EU's best and fastest growing companies to manager of the year?” And my response: "While it was a struggle, the enterprise has evolved from a "value for money" mantra to one constantly striving to be a "world-beater" – i.e., "start with the end in view". And that worldview has expanded their “comfort zone” and turned the instincts of people from being inward and parochial to being outward and global." [Stefan will shortly earn his second masters’ degree; and today is in-charge of the company’s management information “dashboard". From the basic excel model that I showed him to capture critical day-to-day information to focus managers on the key business drivers and anticipate and proactively solve problems, he has developed a twice-a-day system-generated “dashboard” that pops up in every manager’s laptop. And when I “wander around” through the different floors I would see small groups huddled around; and every now and again would hear cheers of “eureka moments”. They're music to the ear.]

In the case of PHL, we have yet to navigate away from the perfect storm that has held us for decades? And while it may not be uncommon for Eastern Europeans to have a dim view of the future, Juan de la Cruz, for his part, appears unable to move the country forward? Consider: Our hierarchical system and structure and our parochial and inward-looking bias against the demands of a globalized 21st century. For good or ill, we have taken on “the privilege of rank” that was once the exclusive domain of our colonizers – represented by the friars? Thank God Pope Francis was brought upon us, reminding Catholics that the "Renaissance Prince,” by definition hierarchy, does not equate to our faith?

Hierarchical and parochial . . . That has been a continuing theme of this blog, because they are diametrically opposed to a globalized and highly competitive world. Consider: We truly believe that we are creative people yet we rank poorly in innovation. It is no secret that innovation comes from ideas and ideas need a nurturing environment – not one restricted by hierarchy. And in the 21st century competitiveness is defined by leading edge innovation and technology. And since we are deficient in investment, technology is something that we could only mouth? Yet we would rather stick our head in the sand and celebrate OFW remittances, BPOs, oligarchy and Filipino billionaires – while our monetary authorities continue to sing self-praise: "despite the volatility in financial markets, the country's foreign exchange income – linked to remittances from migrant workers and business process outsourcing (BPO) revenues – kept the country's external payments position robust." [Economy weathers financial market turmoil, The Philippine Star, 30th Jun 2013.] Translation: "pwede na 'yan."

And even worse, because of our inability to subordinate our individual instincts and biases, and to come around and pull together for the greater good, we have outsmarted ourselves to the point of inaction, reflective of the crab mentality and the perfect storm holding us hostage? For example, President Aquino appears dismissive of ideas to generate greater FDIs, but how does he propose to solve this nagging problem like that of power: who will do what, when, where and how? “Pwede na ‘yan” is a slippery slope – and we’ve been there and done that? And where are we – bottom of the heap, with Cambodia and Myanmar?

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