Thursday, August 29, 2013

Do we need a “cold turkey”?

Wikipedia: "Cold turkey" describes the actions of a person who abruptly gives up a habit or addiction rather than gradually easing the process . . . The supposed advantage is that by not actively using supplemental methods, the person avoids thinking about the habit and its temptation . . .”
We know our habits and addictions and precisely we’ve been nurturing them – and undermining our wellbeing as a nation? As we now know, even our faith is tested by our failings that even the Manila Cardinal would cry because of our latest drama, the pork scam – that has been lining the pockets of what appears a vast network? Could we still trust anyone? “What is happening to our country?” [Famous words from the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez.] Marcos and Arroyo supposedly brought us to the top of infamy being in the roster of the world’s most corrupt leaders. But even during the time of Erap, one would hear: “10% is passé, I want more!” And even Binay has not been spared?
“Rizal believed that the only justification for national liberation was the restoration of the dignity of the people, saying '... why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?' THE Philippines, which claims to be the first democratic government in Asia, is actually ruled by oligarchs . . . The oligarchs still rule the country, and Filipinos will forever be the victims of their profiteering,' says political science professor Benito Lim of the Ateneo de Manila University. Lim says the oligarchs can be controlled but it will require strong political will. Asked if President Benigno S Aquino III, who continues to enjoy high popularity and trust ratings, can do it, Lim responds: 'Mukhang hindi siya pinakikinggan. Maliit ang boses. [It seems nobody listens to him. Weak.]' Members of the oligarchy in the Philippines have 'little corners' of their own and hardly get out of their own spheres of industries, apparently realizing that if they resort to competition, one of them will fall.” [Third World Resurgence No. 251/252, July/August 2011, pp. 3-5] 
What the article didn't say is oligarchy finance elections to begin with and thus their hold is iron-clad? We seem to have learned from the genius of Marcos; that Juan de la Cruz is “too nice” and is naturally leader-dependent, autocracy not excepted? And so we have replicated Marcos across Philippine society, not just in politics? And does it all come down to our goal in life and, that is, to be higher in the hierarchy? And once we’re there we would see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil? Yet we are a dichotomy, and at home in our “kuro-kuro” culture? Is the absence of community spirit or the common good coming from “kuro-kuro” – because they are in fact deep-seated? Is it then why we seem unable to rally behind a common vision of the future – which demands true leadership, but not one that would use that weakness to his advantage like what Marcos did, e.g., imposing iron-rule was the only way to get us aligned? Perfection is not of this world but how come others especially our neighbors have progressed more than we have – i.e., they have a better sense of the common good?
But have our subservience and hierarchical system and structure, taken together as a culture, taught us “learned helplessness”? And so even our "kuro-kuro" is accepting of the status quo and of authority that Juan de la Cruz has all but lost his inquisitiveness – which is an insult even to our faith, i.e., our faith has stood the test of time? It's the hierarchy and its insularity that is driving believers away, to paraphrase Francis? How do we then expect to be innovative and competitive? Our fatalism does not equate to the world owing us – anything?
And blind obedience is not limited within the church; given our hierarchical system and structure, those higher up in PHL hierarchy expect our subservience as well? And we’ve wonder why we’re in the pits? I am writing this from the comforts of my Connecticut home but for over a month now my Bulgarian friends, without fail, at 6:30 PM, have been demonstrating in front of their Parliament, against corruption and cronyism, including its propaganda machine or what they call their local media. They don't take things sitting down and have won the respect of the French and German ambassadors. On the fifth day my wife and I had joined them – with my wife relating our own People Power which I missed, stranded in Singapore following cancellation of flights to Manila.

The left hand never knows . . .

And that is, what the right hand is doing. “A study by the International Monetary Fund undertaken last year shows that the existing tax structure applied in the Philippine mining industry for financial and technical assistance agreements “is not competitive internationally.” [Manila Standard Today, 17th Aug 2013]
But don’t we have the economic cluster within the cabinet in order to ensure alignment in policy direction all the way to implementation and, bottom line, drive economic growth and development? “But people don’t always follow a cost-benefit logic . . . The problem is basic human psychology.” [Sendhil Mullainathan (economics professor, Harvard University), When a Co-Pay Gets in the Way of Health, The New York Times, 10th Aug 2013]
I would only smile while reading The New York Times. It reminds me of my MNC experience and sitting with a group of managers while our CFO was presenting the “expectations of the analysts” as we were gearing up for the budget cycle. In my head, while Wall Street was concerned with the fundamental and technical dimensions of the numbers, our role as managers was to provide the flesh – which is where the rubber hits the road. And this reality may or may not match Wall Street's perspective. In short, we knew the business better. (It’s not a surprise that Jeff Bezos, a former Wall Streeter, turned into selling books and today, everything else besides – it is where tangible value is created, not through financial mumbo jumbo. Disclosure: my daughter and son-in-law come from Wall Street.) I would later organize a meeting in Asia for our new Asia Pacific team: “this is your baptism of fire,” I said in jest to the new president. But she was game and we all trekked to an island resort, with a group of us flying from New York – including those from support functions that we had to get on board and buy into our plans and budgets. And the new president would be rolling her eyes: this is so dramatic, now we know we must very quickly get everyone aligned. I would only smile.
Fast forward: Our model caught the attention of the president of the company and it became my claim to fame in the organization – the father of goal alignment. I've said this before and the emphasis is because it is a very crucial point if as a nation and as an economy we want to move forward. Isn’t it about time we demonstrate self-respect – and show the world that we know our economy better than Wall Street or the IMF? What has happened is we’ve been using their endorsements like a "Good Housekeeping" seal even when we haven't truly provided the flesh that would indeed drive the economy – i.e., fixing our failings in power, basic infrastructure, a modern airport, etc.; and a strategic and competitive industry base that will attract investments and the requisite technologies that will in turn trigger innovation, product development and market development. Ergo: garbage in . . . garage out.
And to be aligned means making trade-offs: Technically, deciding to do something new without killing something old is not a decision at all. It is merely an addition. Research has shown that making tradeoffs is so mentally exhausting that most people try to avoid them whenever possible . . . But this change-by-addition approach can be a death blow . . . [It] undermines [people] alignment toward the change. It is highly unlikely that [people] will independently arrive at the same conclusion about what to do and what not to do. Part of the [population] will choose to move in one direction while the other part moves in another direction — the very definition of misaligned . . .” [Nick Tasler, To Move Ahead You Have to Know What to Leave Behind, Harvard Business Review, 7th Aug 2013] 
But back to the economic cluster in the cabinet: Beyond the imperative of alignment is the prerequisite of benchmarking. It should not be the IMF doing the benchmarking for us if we were doing our homework? And that means tossing our parochial blinders and looking far and wide as the ‘parable of the talents’ taught us? But basic human psychology, as the Harvard economist points out, says people don’t always follow logic!
One of my protégés in Bulgaria was invited to speak before an industry group, and he asked: tell me again why consumers keep buying branded products even when they are more expensive? And my response: the ego will always be bigger than the mind. And he would smile and repeated it, saying, that will be my topic sentence.

Monday, August 26, 2013

PHL: yesterday, today, tomorrow

When my maternal grandfather (May he rest in peace!) talked about Juan de la Cruz being “backbone-challenged,” I had no clue what he meant. But recently I coined “self-esteem-challenged” because I’ve been searching for an explanation why we seem not to have embraced the interdependence of nations, and much less, hegemony. There must be a reason why we haven’t internalized the reality of the 21st century world? And so it was refreshing that some of our opinion writers would acknowledge that Cambodia and Myanmar may be on a faster clip development-wise than we are? Sometime ago I talked about “critical thinking.” [Wikipedia: The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.] In the private sector it is key to internalizing knowledge – but indeed it takes some doing. And I’d talked about “bringing it down from our head to our heart and finally to our gut.” It comes from my MNC background. [“Every bit as troubling is the performance of colleges in developing the critical thinking skills and capabilities so important to life and work . . . Colleges can't fix things if they . . . have access only to half a conversation. Business can, and must, supply the other half,” writes Alan Kantrow, The missing half of the education debate, Harvard Business Review, 13th Aug 2013.]
My maternal grandfather was yesterday, and we are today. What will we be tomorrow? We’re still demonstrating against US military presence. My wife and I were recently in Hamburg for a couple of days and I opted to spend another day after a cruise that we took because I realized that I’d always taken Germany for granted. That must be from watching countless episodes of “Combat”. Although I remembered the then president of Europe of my old MNC company coming back to New York with a piece from the fallen Berlin wall.
And in Germany they are host to the US Air Forces in Europe. It is what hegemony is, but to Juan de la Cruz that is alien? Germany is the wealthiest nation in Europe and I finally appreciated that Hamburg, for example, is a pretty city that I'd liken to a vast central park with a much larger lake than New York’s Central Park. It is organized, efficient but not perfect. The restroom in the Central Train Station charges a euro but is a lot more civilized than that of New York’s Grand Central Station, which is free-of-charge; but outside, the latter has no stench – but perfection is not of this world! But because we’re not wealthy like Germany our self-esteem can’t handle US military presence? We're screaming sovereignty while the Germans/Europeans, cool and pragmatic, are laughing their way to the bank – let those naïve Americans pay for our insurance policy? 
Finally the EU is technically out of recession. But it does not spend to the level of the US in defense – which is where a big chunk of the US deficit is coming from. At its highest because of Iraq and Afghanistan, US defense spending was roughly $700 billion – and the total bill for the war on terror is estimated north of a trillion. So we think the US wants to retain us as a colony? The US will first want Singapore before us – being a wealthier state per capita-wise. If we read the transcripts of the debates in the US Congress and discussions in the White House about granting us independence, the cost of rebuilding PHL was a very major consideration, i.e., it was going to be a financial burden. (They're as pragmatic as the Germans/Europeans after all?) Today, we would still be a financial burden if the US takes us as a colony – because they have to raise our standard of living starting with infrastructure like what West Germany had to do with East Germany. And we have no globally competitive industry that could pay for that. We don’t even have the forest anymore; and finally we want to preserve our mines? Of course mining could be bad for the environment. And so we like to say that we want to balance things; but then there seems no clarity in our problem-definition and problem-solving – and so we can’t get anything done (because of "Pinoy abilidad")?
How could we employ critical thinking, say, in hegemony when we don't employ critical thinking in prioritizing our development needs – starting with power, basic infrastructure, a modern airport, etc., etc.? We have done so much damage to the nation, to quote Cardinal Tagle, yet we’re nowhere near changing our worldview and our mindset? And while a DNA is constantly changing through the process of mutation, the DNA of Juan de la Cruz seems cast in stone – and so he is in the past, of the past, and for the past? The bottom line: PHL tomorrow will be oligopoly-ruled – which as we now know comes hand in glove with pervasive poverty?

" . . . Huge damage to the nation"

"What kind of Filipino who loves his country would not be bothered, especially if he is a follower of Jesus? Your heart would be crushed further. Can someone do that to his fellow man?" [Pork scam moves Tagle to tears, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 14th Aug 2013] "Could those behind this stomach this huge damage to the nation?" That is about a Ps 10 billion scam.
My wife and I were fortunate to listen to then Archbishop Tagle (before he was named cardinal) discuss our OFW phenomenon in a retreat – and that would open our eyes to an even bigger damage to the nation. What have we mortgaged in exchange for the over $20 billion in OFW remittances that is the engine of PHL economy? In the simplest of terms, it is the future of the nation. It goes beyond the increasing HIV/AIDS incidence that it started (which has gotten worse albeit because of a later phenomenon, i.e., MSM, as a doctor-friend would explain to us, and also by a recent Manila Times special report) and that is, the nation contracting our version of the "Dutch disease.” And it goes beyond its impact on the currency, i.e., on our psyche and our mistaken belief that our economic fundamentals have been strong – stemming from the strengthening of the peso and our increasing foreign exchange reserves (we could even contribute $250K to Hurricane Sandy which was not lost to US Ambassador Thomas) and our robust consumption economy. And that has been generating a windfall for the 50 wealthiest Filipinos – to the extent of owning over a quarter of the nation's wealth – and reinforcing the lopsided character of PHL economy. Simply put, the Pinoy Dutch disease has been worse that the original Dutch disease because it took our eye away from the ball, e.g., infrastructure and industry, a double whammy, and has stunted economic development by at least one generation. If that is not a huge damage to the nation, what is?
We see pork as a scam but we don't see influence peddling as a scam because transparency is not in our DNA? For the longest time even the Vatican did not see that the absence of transparency was at the root of Vatican scandals. And for the longest time Juan de la Cruz did not see oligopoly as a scam. And the response to that is not land reform or party-list, not even EPIRA, i.e., they didn't move the needle? "Hunger worsens," reports Business World, 15th Aug 2013. The absence of transparency demands simply that, transparency. Even our professed nationalism can use transparency. We have gone to bed with oligopoly under the guise of nationalism (and shutting out foreign investment and technology) because we in the elite class have partaken of its spoils. [I worked with one for 8 years; and my father, all his working life.] Of course we strongly believe, from our history, that foreigners only want what they need, not our welfare, and we're too small and poor to negotiate with them. Granted that during primitive times that was true, progress and education have altered that dynamic. (It is also the natural law as in mutation.) Singapore is a very tiny city-state but negotiates with and is treated like an equal by others, because everyone wants to be identified with a winner. But because we are self-esteem challenged that is totally alien to us?
I came to Eastern Europe as a development worker and over the last 10 years have preached the reality of the 21st century world and the imperatives of a transparent, open and global competition. And my friends did not disappoint: (a) they’ve beaten the world's biggest consumer products company in its biggest business in the local market which the latter had dominated; and (b) they’ve been named one of the best and fastest growing companies in the EU. And they’ve expanded well beyond their home market and region, even into Asia and had recently opened an office in Singapore. And what is the secret? Plain and simple transparency – and thus there is clarity in how they view the world and their own future and how to get there. They've understood what to be forward looking is and what it demands – and not be tied down to the past courtesy of their former Communist masters.
In the case of PHL, we want to be a developed nation. Not one that is cacique- or oligopoly-ruled – our past, present and future master? If we've understood what transparency is and have such clarity, then we don't blindly scream "nationalism"? We could be like a Singapore – or like all our neighbors that have understood the interdependence of nations, if not hegemony – open to foreign investment and technology, and then some. Until we learn transparency, we shall be blind to the huge damage we’ve done to the nation?

Reality has hit home?

Three years into the Aquino administration, do we see PHL bound to where we are – and always have been? Do we truly want it to be otherwise? I started this blog four years ago and after reading roughly 50 columnists for about a year in order to catch up since my family had relocated overseas 20 years prior. And I continue to read them to keep abreast with current thinking . . . And I’m still discussing the same theme . . . The challenge we face is beyond one or two administrations; it is generational and more precisely, it would take us at least a generation to approximate a developed nation. And that is the simple math economists from international institutions have shared with us, if we were paying attention? Will Roxas or Binay be our savior then – or Marcos? None of the above? Fatalism isn’t faith, and faith comes with works?
“The Philippine state is in the predicament of having to face globalization while at the same time undergoing the painful process of nation-building in a highly diverse society. The weakness of the Philippine state in facing these challenges is causing the pervasive poverty that results in ethnic, socioeconomic and religious tension. To overcome these challenges, there is a need to strengthen the Philippine state and its institutions of governance through bureaucratic, electoral, party, and socioeconomic reforms.” [Rommel C. Banlaoi, Globalization and nation-building in the Philippines, Growth & Governance in Asia, APCSS, 2004, p. 214]
Amen! But where do we start? We like to think that the answer lies in the administration or someone other than ourselves? But ours is a generational problem because Juan de la Cruz is the problem? Those involved in fixing (the hard and soft elements of an enterprise) and growing businesses if not economies, chances are, would recognize that the culprit are enterprises fixated by activity while missing their reason for being? Like the US missing its cherished values, i.e., in the war on terror or the greed that brought the global recession? And, not surprisingly, in my old MNC company, the mantra has been to get the global organization and individual businesses to establish and keep an eye on the "north star" – and we transformed the budget exercise from an activity into a goal-alignment process. And it’s the same simple exercise that my Eastern European friends have embraced since I consulted with them ten years ago. And, not surprisingly, they’ve beaten the competition, the world's biggest consumer products company, in its biggest business in the local market – and why some of their people have joined us. Size doesn't guarantee winning, e.g., Vietnam war? Unfortunately, in PHL, and we’re paying a heavy price, we celebrate oligopoly, not transparent, open, global competition!  
If we don't know where we're going, how would we ever get there? Simply, we must establish where we are, where we want to be and how we will get there? It is the GPS analogy – everyone would be able to drive to a defined location with a GPS, including my wife who has a problem with directions. "Daang matuwid" may have a nice ring to it like "It's more fun in the Philippines" but neither satisfies the GPS analogy. And even President Aquino had to admit that corruption hasn't disappeared. And we won't optimize tourism as an industry with a catchy slogan per se.
What we want is for PHL to be a developed nation! It doesn't start with pursuing an activity, but defining the outcome. A developed nation is a vibrant, confident nation. It can't be one where more than a quarter of the wealth is owned by 50 out of 100 million – i.e., a lopsided economy can't be a vibrant and confident nation? It must be an open, not a closed economy – i.e., we rank poorly in ease of doing business by design? Why is Juan de la Cruz the problem? Is it (a) because he loves his country and rejects what is foreign; or is it really (b) because of our hierarchical system and structure and cacique culture, transparency is not in our DNA – the root of PHL corruption and failed efforts in good governance, e.g., land reform, EPIRA, party-list, etc.?
And so we'd miss even the first turn on the GPS? And we'd not get very far because beyond power, we don't have the roads, the bridges and modern airport to begin with? How do we get 21st century technology? How do we learn innovation? How do we create a strategic and a competitive industry base? And precisely . . . our export receipts are a pittance? And with due respect to our monetary authorities, to manage over $20 billion from OFW remittances is a nice activity, but where is the GPS? And what is media talking about? We’ve been lost for decades? Too bad . . . so sad . . .

The imperatives of rural development

It is important to spread out economic development. But then again, there are fundamentals that we can’t ignore – the road to failure is paved with good intentions? Let’s keep our failed land-reform program [and EPIRA, party-list, etc.] in mind? We can’t be operating from a guilt complex. We have to start with the end in view. A successful economic activity must be sustainable: it generates a surplus; it is market-driven, the product meets the needs of the market; and it is efficient and productive because of economies of scale, among others. And that is not unchristian as espoused by Bernard Lonergan, SJ. [Wikipedia: He set out to do for human thought in our time what Thomas Aquinas had done for his own time. Aquinas had successfully applied Aristotelian thought to the service of a Christian understanding of the universe. Lonergan's program was to come to terms with modern scientific, historical, and hermeneutical thinking in a comparable way. He pursued this program in his two most fundamental works, Insight and Method in Theology]
It brings to mind Albany in upstate New York and Shumen, Bulgaria; and also the regionalization of Spain that added fuel to their recession fire. Albany is from where New York State is governed and it is a great example of how parochialism could produce local and political lords. And because of the political genius of the Clintons, Hillary focused her campaign in upstate New York; and, not surprisingly, it helped elect her as the junior senator from New York. “Hey let's ask her what happened to those 200,000 jobs she promised New York back when she first ran.” [Rochester Forum, 2nd Jul 2008] Has Albany changed? Despite a Cuomo, born and raised Catholic, as governor, it remains a haven for local and political lords. “Political corruption boils over in Albany! [The Village Voice, 17th Jul 2013]
Communist rulers, consistent with their planned economic blueprint, put up a truck, an aluminum and a gunpowder factory in Shumen, Bulgaria [population 80,000]. That was their way of spreading economic development and employment. Today, the truck and gunpowder factories are gone. And the aluminum factory has survived owing to the country’s accession into the EU and the accompanying economic revival as Western money poured in – creating a property boom that, unfortunately, went bust.
“Only 11 of Spain's 48 regional airports are profitable and its newest project has yet to see a single passenger through its terminal. The gleaming new air traffic control tower shimmers in the midday heat, visible for miles around, it rises up above groves of orange trees in the agricultural region of Castellón, north of Valencia. But it has yet to guide a single aircraft onto the 3,000 yards of virgin runway at Spain's newest airport, inaugurated in March (2011) at a cost of 150 million euros. The metal clad terminal stands empty, its vast car park untarnished by a single vehicle, weeds growing up through the pavements, the only sign of life. It is the newest example of infrastructure "white elephants" that litter the Spanish countryside, huge projects often funded by taxpayer money that helped drive Spain's economic boom and that have come to symbolize the wasteful spending contributing to its spectacular bust. Castellón Airport promised to be a gateway to an undiscovered region, providing jobs for locals in a country struggling with 21 per cent unemployment rate, and delivering tourists tempted by cheap deals to some of Spain's most beautiful white sand beaches.” [The Telegraph, 5th Oct 2011]
The Pareto or 80-20 principle can’t be ignored. Whether it is the US or Europe or China, there will always be economic hubs that are a must for a sustainable economic activity. For instance, the Guangdong, Shanghai and Beijing hubs remain the gospel for investors in China to this day. The challenge is how to expand the reach of these economic hubs like creating a network of sub-centers that can logically be linked to the central hubs. It is not easy, but it is economic suicide to apply socialist principles and thinly spread out scarce resources, e.g., crab mentality (which we see as being "inclusive," and thus explains our inability to prioritize in pursuit of the common good?) And why the right infrastructure is a must. Yet retail politics and retail commerce remain preeminent in PHL? But nation-building demands more. And it starts with transparency which we can’t muster because of our cacique and personalistic culture – and bias for our favorite lords in politics and oligarchy, for example? Without transparency we can banish the thought of the common good – and economic development? Have we ever defined where we are, where we want to be and how will we get there? We can't keep giving ourselves too much credit given how we've turned into economic laggards?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The folly in charity giving . . .

[A]s long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine. It’s an old story; we really need a new one . . . Because of who my father is (Warren Buffett) I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in.” [Peter Buffett, The charitable-industrial complex, The New York Times, 26th Jul 2013] “As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” – feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity . . . But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place . . . Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.”

There were recent articles about how “corruption” has already invaded the expected power supply in Mindanao? With the anticipated surplus, given the frenetic construction of new power facilities courtesy of the big boys, cooperatives are now receiving offers – i.e., no different from electricity [and water] in Manila, franchises [and concessions] expect rate-adjusting mechanisms in their contracts. Arguably, if they are transparent, there is no issue. The real damage to PHL is the heart of oligopoly: the interest groups – well-entrenched and woven into the fabric of our cacique culture – that have shut out foreign investment and dominated the local market while we turned into economic laggards! It is a vicious circle. “Shops were closed and hospitals ran on generators Wednesday in a Philippine province (Albay) that was plunged into darkness when the national power grid operator stopped its supply due to unpaid debts.” [Associated Press, 31st Jul 2013]

My wife's friend from Sofia, who was having dinner with her, was already amazed thinking how it could happen to an entire town, much less a province! Translation: Even at their worst their former communist masters, that forced them to resort to self-immolation, never committed such an egregious act! “The combined net worth of the Philippines’ 50 richest totaled $65.8 billion, more than a quarter of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product,” reports Forbes. It brings to mind Peter [and Catherine] the Great. And not surprisingly, despite the red scare being passé, we still have leftist extremists in the Philippines – even when we Filipinos don’t have firsthand experience of communist rule? Eastern Europeans precisely tapped the outside world to learn the ropes of free market. And despite the global recession (and with EU fumbling the ball to boot) and thus the elevated unemployment in Europe, majority wouldn’t want to go back to what they call their ‘dark ages.’

There is no doubt Metro Manila’s perennial traffic problem can only get worse each day . . . But unless and until we all cooperate and have discipline in our streets and in the long run ultimately develop an effective mass transport system – this Metro Manila headache will never go away. As a matter of fact, it’s already a giant migraine!” [Babe’s Eye, Babe Romualdez, The Philippine Star, 14th Jul 2013]

Is that a microcosm of PHL underdevelopment, and our widespread poverty? We have even institutionalized “learned helplessness”? “The incoming president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Monday issued the call to lawmakers, saying the pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), had made public governance a system of patronage.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 30th Jul 2013]

Learned helplessness [loosely translates to “ganoon ‘yon talaga”?] occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action . . . When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change. The concept of learned helplessness was discovered accidentally by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier.” [What Is Learned Helplessness, Kendra Cherry,]


It is human nature . . . and confirmed by social scientists as being influenced by one’s or a people’s ‘comfort zone’. People don’t take on challenges that are beyond their comfort zones. Yet Americans have talked about ‘exceptionalism' and, not surprisingly, have accused President Obama of failing to measure up to the ideal – i.e., in demonstrating leadership at home and abroad – thus his rating recently dropped to below 50%.

It appears Pope Francis would satisfy American exceptionalism. “Shake up dioceses, Pope urges” while he was in Rio de Janeiro recently. “I want a mess . . . There would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing off ourselves within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!”

We Pinoys have never looked at ourselves as paragons of exceptionalism and would feel more at home with incrementalism? Are we wondering how a pope could say, “I want a mess” – in the church where transparency was taken for granted? If there was one thing we weren't supposed to tolerate, it was a mess, and so all the way up to the Vatican the norm was to sweep things under the carpet? And a veteran American Jesuit who is almost 80 years old, and who surprised everyone by leaving the priesthood, did not spare the Jesuits of the same criticism. And we’ve assumed that the Society of Jesus equals liberal? [Veteran Jesuit explains choice to return to lay life, NCR, 15th Jul 2013]

Given our respect for hierarchy, we’ve never considered that ours is an innovation culture or an innovation economy, but one of oligopoly reflected in our largest conglomerates? And so we don’t see ourselves competing in the global market? But now – surprise, surprise – Francis speaks precisely about ‘structures,’ recognizing how structures have resulted in the parochialism of the church – “a mundane church that lives within itself, of itself, and for itself.” [In fairness, it applies to both the private and public sectors, including economic managers – and why MNCs benchmark globally?]

But weren’t we proud that as true Christians we were evangelists? [My wife and I were picked to lead a Christian community while we were still based in the Philippines, and were put through a crash program in evangelization. And as we went through the chores of community leadership, we experienced how mundane it could be – and what it was to live within ourselves, of ourselves and for ourselves. And I refer to the leadership group. And it was not uncommon to hear from those in the leadership circle about “dying to oneself” – and I had always wondered if that meant people could swallow their egos?]

Where does our comfort zone lie? For example, despite dominant conglomerates (sending the signal to the rest of the world that ours is a “closed economy”?) and their influence over our way of life, we rank in the lowest tier investment-wise in the region. And when we extend that to its full import – beyond infrastructure – we rank in the lowest tier of technology, innovation, education and training, product development and market development. Surprise, surprise, in the 21st century, we've remained an underdeveloped economy – that comes with widespread poverty! (And that is the kind of structure referred to by Francis?) And we’ve been barking at the wrong tree, because our definition of reform has been reduced to populism, like pork or patronage? True reform to be sustainable must be transparent and market-driven, not charity- or livelihood-driven? [And why I talk about my Eastern European friends.]

We may not be able to move from incrementalism to exceptionalism but we could work on expanding our comfort zone – to pave the way for change? Because if we can’t take change as an imperative, we've very little prospects to move forward as an economy? For example, we are an underdeveloped economy with a GDP per person at a mere tenth of developed economies! And our lopsided economy is akin if not worse than Occupy Wall Street, represented by the 50 wealthiest Filipinos! Clearly change could mean upheaval as Pope Francis has stressed, but hasn’t man (starting with Adam and Eve?) proved that he could handle upheavals despite the reality of his comfort zone?

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Turkish journalist calls it like it is . . .

In Turkey media bosses are undermining democracy,” wrote Yavuz Baydar. [The New York Times, 19th Jul 2013] “The protests that convulsed Istanbul and other Turkish cities . . . exposed, among other things, the shameful role of Turkish’s media conglomerates in subverting press freedom . . . The plague of sanitized media coverage goes far beyond Turkey. Across the globe, and especially in . . . struggling democracies like Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, Hungary and Albania, the lack of media independence is doing real damage . . . Media executives . . . kowtowing to governments to protect their other business interests are undermining the freedom and independence of the press that is vital to establishing and consolidating a democratic political culture.”

Dirty alliances between governments and media companies and their handshakes behind closed doors damage journalists’ role as public watchdogs and prevent them from scrutinizing cronyism and abuses of power. And those who benefit from a continuation of corrupt practices also systematically prevent serious investigative journalism . . . The problem is simple: one need only to follow the money . . . [M]ainstream media is owned by moguls who operate in other major sectors of the economy like telecommunications, banking and construction . . . [M]edia moguls have been given extensive favors through public-works contracts . . . It is not possible to conduct serious journalism in such a polluted system . . . An autonomous public broadcaster that serves as a focal point for good journalism, far away from commercial concerns and government influence, would enhance public debate in . . . a number of democracies . . . like South Africa and the Philippines.”

Why are our neighbors able to attract foreign direct investments at levels we couldn’t even imagine? The rest of the world is not as naïve as we think, like the Turkish journalist who was able to do research on our brand of democracy – and bunched us with the likes of Venezuela and Albania? Should the MMDA chief be offended and write the New York Times because the piece is reminiscent of Dan Brown’s “gates of hell” – which, by the way, was a work of fiction not a scathing rebuke of our reality, that of our “biggest success model,” oligopoly?

Are we on the wrong track . . . to the common good . . . that Juan de la Cruz ought to be in tears? How could we, for instance, be holier-than-thou and celebrate oligopoly on the one hand, while being proud of an economy that is riding on the backs of 10 million OFWs on the other? Surely there is ‘dignity of labor,’ but when a tenth of Filipinos have to seek employment outside the country doing low-skilled jobs, that is reflective of a failed economy, if not a failed nation? Yet our monetary authorities, among others, are boasting of PHL as a model economy? Do we have our version of the Turkish journalist who would call it like it is? But we would proudly pronounce the primacy of our freedom no matter how hellish the nation is while turning a blind eye on what is at its core – geared to reinforce and perpetuate a hierarchical system and structure that has undermined Philippine democracy?

As my wife would explain it, everyone we know believes the Philippines has a booming economy. We were on our periodic holiday cruise that, unfortunately, would remind us of the folly of our economic fundamentals that the financial services sector has called strong: 60% of the ship’s crews are Pinoys. After dinner one night the two other couples (they were Brits) in our table almost in unison asked Robert, our Filipino head waiter: How much break from work do you get; are you here again at breakfast tomorrow? Do you get to see these places that we go to?

I was chatting with the tour guide (while looking over a volcanic crater in the town of Akureyri in Iceland) who asked where we boarded the ship; it was in Hamburg and I added that people uniformly said that we were fortunate to have great weather. And the tour guide was quick. Believe me; they have better weather in Hamburg. In Iceland we take pride in our ability to deal with our harsh environment. And my wife would whisper to me: do you know that there is a fairly large Filipino community here? And collectively these OFWs drive the Philippine economy.

Robert, how much break from work do you get? If only those Brits have seen the documentary (about the lives of OFWs) that the then Archbishop Tagle put together . . . 

“To a hammer, everything looks like a nail . . .”

Justice Elena Kagan of the US Supreme Court in a recent decision wrote the quote. But it’s not an original. Countless would have already heard it before; for example, in leadership programs when different leadership styles are discussed and dissected. Unfortunately, in PHL, the import of the quote mirrors our go-to economic driver; and that is, OFW remittances, with the latest addition being hot-money, both of which are boosting our foreign exchange reserves. And, unsurprisingly, our monetary authorities have not been shy in boasting that we’re on a winning streak?

Classical economics looks at inputs like monetary and fiscal policies as economic drivers – and, of course, to this day Greenspan wouldn’t take responsibility for the outcome of his monetary policy yet had taken pride in uttering “irrational exuberance,” which was not even an original. But if we are to “start with the end in view” – as would characterize innovators (that created tangible values through tangible products) like Edison, Jobs and Gates, among others – we would be looking at . . . what precisely generates greater “good and services,” the aggregate of which spells a nation’s GDP?

Beyond infrastructure would be a strategic and a competitive industry base. And so It was refreshing to read: “Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima: Create local brands.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18th Jul 2013] “Franchising firms, he noted, must make an effort not to give in to the easy way, which is to import everything. Instead, companies must reach out to local suppliers, train them and teach them the necessary technical know-how that will allow these suppliers become partners in their businesses. Purisima likewise urged the creation of local brands “that can transcend cultures” and can represent the Philippines abroad.”

And beyond “amen” we could add, especially with reference to “import everything,” a very crucial qualification; and that is, “technology and state-of-the-art manufacturing.” Recall that President Ramos had talked emphatically about “Global Philippines,” yet it hasn’t had traction to this day? And in this blog I’ve made reference to the parable of the talents numerous times – i.e., we instinctively measure most things by local yardsticks as though we could be an island unto ourselves? And especially in the case of technology, we have to get off the “linear-thinking mode,” and worse, assuming that we could leapfrog global developments given where we are – a developing economy for the longest time?

It is critical that we start to be serious about R&D but it doesn’t mean that we have to let competition, or the rest of the world, access contemporary technology at our expense. Where does the disconnect lie? Because of our inward-looking bias it’s unnatural to imagine a scenario where we are able to market to the world? Because: (a) we think it is costly and/or (b) we recognize our own “uncompetitiveness”? That is why I talk about my Eastern European friends, because assumptions like those are simply that, assumptions! Fortunately they’ve learned over the last ten years that a people’s inherent or native capacity [i.e., like “Pinoy abilidad”] couldn’t overcome the world’s continuing accumulation of knowledge and experience. That they had to tap technology from the developed parts of the world; the key being, to “start with the end in view” – e.g., it is margins (which come from innovation) not costs that must drive the pursuit of competitiveness.

In the meantime, given our ambivalence about oligarchy, we found OFW remittances as a counterweight, forgetting that in a consumption economy, oligopoly owing to their dominance would be the biggest beneficiaries of OFW remittances? And our real challenge is best captured in: “to a hammer everything looks like a nail”? For instance, the success model that we’ve grown up with and reinforced by our cacique culture is . . . oligopoly, and thus instead of moving up to an innovation economy, franchises like electricity, water, telephone, etc., have remained our biggest industry players.

And what is the fallout? We don’t think beyond the local market and we don’t think beyond oligopoly – and hence the “consuelo de bobo,” a consumption economy? And worse is we’re out of synch with the 21st century. And it is not destiny that has put us in this very untenable position; it is the natural outcome of our failure to be in lock-step with progress and development? And even worst is what we’ve mistakably believed: our ownership of old-world values – when even Pope Francis has taken the church to task for being ‘holier-than-thou’? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A challenge to institution

We must defend the country’s patrimony and economic sovereign rights from onslaught of foreign monopoly capital.” Who’d believe that today we will still hear what my contemporaries mouthed fifty years ago – if indeed we expect to matter in the 21st century? In the meantime, oligarchy is grinning from ear to ear and so are politicians (“We want a country run like hell by Filipinos!), and our elite class – because we all benefit from our hierarchical system and structure except Juan de la Cruz, the pariah? Our being archaic is the underlying reason why we are unable to attract foreign direct investments? If a cross-section of PHL remains wedded to the past, sooner than later, even Cambodia and Myanmar would shame us? Interestingly, Vietnam’s Politburo continues to lobby the West following internal assessments that their development goals are dependent on their participation in today’s globalized world.

Would a failure of institution explain why Juan de la Cruz became inward-looking and parochial? Beyond the parents, the church and the school have formed his worldview? And so Francis has warned of "a mundane church that lives within itself, of itself and for itself"? How could we not . . . have risen up [see “education” below] to a non-parochial 21st century world? Weren’t we proud of Carlos P. Romulo because we could lead the community of nations?

Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research . . . Any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational.” [Wikipedia] Etymologically, the word "education" is derived from the Latin ēducātiō ("A breeding, a bringing up, a rearing") from ēdūcō ("I educate, I train") which is related to the homonym ēdūcō ("I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect") from ē-("from, out of") and dūcō ("I lead, I conduct").”

Sadly, we still live in our cacique world as evidenced by our fear – i.e., the “onslaught of foreign monopoly capital”? In the 21st century world capital per se is not the be-all and end-all? Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, among others, did not have capital! How primitive could our worldview be? Yet we aren't like the Amish: we like cable TV, we use the internet, we're among the first to acquire smartphones, and we like to fly in today’s airplanes? And we've heard the parable of the talents many times over – i.e., we must look far and wide to do justice to our God-given resources?

Neither land alone can drive and sustain an economy. Our land reform program was bound to fail because of its parochial and populist orientation – i.e., it was not designed to meet the imperatives of a sustainable economic activity. Translation: Start with the end in view; not with the input like land but with the desired output, say, sustainable profitable growth. It is market-driven, not charity or livelihood; that is, the product meets the needs of the market and thus has pricing power that generates healthy margins. That will ensure that the cycle is uninterruptible, which is what a sustainable economic activity is. It is beyond charity giving and livelihood undertakings.

Likewise, CCT won’t lift Juan de la Cruz from poverty; not even CSR if it is not designed to be a sustainable economic activity. And even beyond land and the “factors of production” (men/women, machine, materials, money, method), are the “imperatives of global competition” (investment, technology, innovation, education and training, product development, market development) that we must satisfy in today’s globalized world. Clearly they are beyond our current capacity – and thus must strive to move PHL forward in progress and development.

But we cannot be reduced to pronouncing: “We must defend the country’s patrimony and economic sovereign rights from onslaught of foreign monopoly capital”? What we want – the end view – is to make PHL a developed economy. But we are way . . . way . . . way behind the times and need help – i.e., foreign direct investments that must come with the imperatives of global competition (see above.) Would a failure of institution explain why we have failed to rise up to a non-parochial 21st century world?

Recognizing collective self-esteem

We are poor Bulgarians!” I’ve been learning about self-esteem since coming to Eastern Europe ten years ago. And precisely because of this ongoing learning, I accepted the challenge of a consultant-friend to share my Bulgarian experience with the culture-management community of Europe in September in Tallinn, Estonia. I want to highlight the struggle they’ve gone through, that despite their many successes, newcomers to the company – those that had worked with Western MNCs – would say that it is remarkable that the organization is yet to fully shed that self-judgment.

And very recently, during a business review, dominated mostly by good news accounted for by the top ten brands, there was great interest to look at the next set of brands – especially given our ever increasing new markets. And when two brands stood out for their less than stellar performance, the country manager revealed that he was not surprised: “Even among the employees, these brands are not preferred. We must be proud of our brands.” And I remembered we asked the brand managers, some time ago, “to go out to the real world” and figure out how they could create a vision for their brands. “Take a week off from the daily grind, go visit a couple of first class lounges at the airport, the Porsche showroom, a few 5-Star hotels, the French revolving restaurant, the American University, even your favorite bars and restaurants. Look far and wide until you find your ‘aha moment’.” Yet the mental block – the image of a poor Bulgarian brand – refuses to go away in these two cases. And a lesson in another country, from another company, should have been heeded? But – surprise, surprise – it was with a similar poor Bulgarian brand that we beat the competition, the world’s biggest consumer products company, and which is why we have a few of their people today now working with us.

Jennifer Crocker and Riia Luhtanen were the first to study collective self-esteem . . . The idea of collective self-esteem rose out of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner). Social identity theory focused on an individual’s personal beliefs about themselves and beliefs that stemmed from the groups they were part of. Collective self-esteem described a more group-oriented idea of self-esteem.” [Wikipedia] “Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, "I am competent," "I am worthy") and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame.” [Ibid.]

In the case of PHL, we’ve been an independent nation for many years yet we’re still talking about it? It reminds me of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the latter being the consigliore to a young president only to lose his influence later on. While we Pinoys have remained ambivalent: do we look back or forward, but how? Instead of creating a vision for what and who we are and moving forward, we would constantly seek and put blame on others? Why can’t we have a modern airport? Is Spain or the US to blame?

I was talking to two young managers, one assigned to Asia and the other who is examining our options for the US market; and I was delighted that both were gearing up to “educate” our global marketing teams on how the latter must reframe their view of the world. The two have been working on the ground in these unfamiliar markets and it is their role to bring the rest of the organization up to speed – to their worldview. For example, our successes in the developing markets of Eastern Europe couldn’t be the model for the developed parts of the world.

In the Philippines, the church and oligarchy have been our models – they have ruled and dominated our psyche, our way of life and everything else besides? But the 21st century world has a new set of role models? For instance, Pope Francis has declared the demise of the “Renaissance Prince”. And even Steve Jobs had predicted his own obsolescence.  The key is for Juan de la Cruz to identify with contemporary role models. But then again, we’re ambivalent because we wouldn’t truly acknowledge that our neighbors – which the rest of the world had called “tigers” – are role models? We would rather cling to the past while viewing ourselves in isolation? Beyond K-12 is there something else that we need, like recognizing and dealing with our collective self-esteem?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cobwebs in our head . . .

That is not an original. But I haven’t sought permission so I'd just say, it's from a respected Filipino educator and technocrat. Transparency, or the lack of it, is at the root of our underdevelopment, because without transparency, clarity of purpose isn't foremost and shared? And as my wife would say it, “we like it gray” – that lends itself to compromises if not corruption, inaction, underdevelopment and poverty? Yet we're proud because we see it as “Pinoy abilidad”? It is likewise inherent in our value and respect for hierarchy, because transparency is short on sensitivity – thus equates to “suplado," like straightforward foreigners?

Consider how my Eastern European friends reacted after visiting China: “Must we really partner with a Chinese group to build a factory in China? Can we not do it by ourselves?” Compare that to: “The US is by far the most business-friendly market we’ve visited. The trade is open and unrestricted . . . and we will only be limited by our imaginations.” It is transparency, not cost, that is top of mind! There are two principles that they’ve internalized: (a) “Transparency” and (b) “Keep it simple”. And people we’ve hired from MNCs marvel at what they are discovering. “No wonder you beat us in our biggest business in this market.” That was from a person that had jumped ship, the world’s largest consumer products company – and so a few of them have joined us. They’ve realized that there is no regional and/or a head office in the US to come to and beg for action. We strive that everything we do is indeed transparent and simple – from the businesses we are in, to the products in our portfolio (and they are meant to be world-beaters), to how business plans and budgets are put together, to how they are executed. And the bottom line: everyone knows “what’s in it for me!” And what typically could be a circuitous if not confusing chain could be traced back to clarity of purpose.

In a war between China and the US where would you be, I asked my Eastern European friends? And I added: Because in the Philippines we are debating whether we should allow the US to have forces on the ground. And they showed me the following clipped article: “Bulgaria has asked the United States to place a permanent military force in the country aimed at strengthening security in the region . . . Bulgarian Defense Minister Anu Anguelov has discussed the opening of a US military base . . . with officials of the Pentagon . . . US troops have been present in Bulgaria for over six years under a Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the both states . . . Under the arrangement, Americans are allowed to train their troops at four Bulgarian bases, which remain under Sofia’s command and under the Bulgarian flag.

And they would explain: No country is perfect. But China is a communist rule. When there is no transparency like we had to suffer for decades, the common good is taken for granted. George Bush was not loved by Europeans and Barack Obama is not perfect either. But we would bet on transparency more than anything else. [Translation: bullies (and size given laws of physics makes a bully) will always be bullies – better the bully that is transparent than one who is not? Or we Pinoys can build our own armed forces and stare these bullies in the eye? Even Germany has learned from the Brits who lobbied the Americans to be an ally to counter the aggression of Germany – and so today the Germans are allied with the Americans, and are host to the US Air Forces headquarters in Europe, at Ramstein Air Base? The EU would rather focus on getting their union more robust and have effectively abdicated defense spending to the US. I am a US taxpayer and don’t cherish that. But that’s what hegemony is about? Or does Juan de la Cruz have a self-esteem problem?]

Life is complicated enough and “Pinoy abilidad” – i.e., cognitive dissonance – explains our confused, if not damaged, culture? And so indeed we want “a government run like hell by Filipinos”? In the meantime oligarchy is thriving in spades? And because of our brand of hierarchy, we have yet to embrace transparency? Should we learn a lesson from a tragic Korean experience? “[D]espite changes, including improved safety records, Korea's aviation sector remains rooted in a national character that's largely about preserving hierarchy—and asking few questions . . . The Korean culture has two features—respect for seniority and age, and quite an authoritarian style” . . . You put those two together, and you may get more one-way communication—and not a lot of it upward . . ." [Korean Culture May Offer Clues in Asiana Crash, CNBC, 9th Jul 2013]

Execution . . . Execution . . . . Execution

It appears we are working to get economic development and the country moving forward if we are to go by the slew of recent news reports: Neda’s Balisacan prods govt to spend more on S&T,” “Government to revive Industry Development Council by 2014,” “Manufacturing map out this month,” “Does the law serve development, “LEDAC to meet on priority bills Wednesday," etc.

The devil is in the details,” and which is why execution is such a challenge. And it demands “to prioritize and focus”. And as importantly, it is imperative “to start with the end in view”. And that means to be forward-looking as opposed to be backward-looking. We’ve heard that many times over: "the wife of Lot that became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom”? History is to learn from. And positive nostalgia can give meaning to people's lives and be a motivation in tackling life's challenges. [What is nostalgia good for? Quite a bit, research shows, The New York Times, 9th Jul 2013.] If we have laws that are undermining development we can amend them? Of course that’s not easy, but that is why “to prioritize and focus” must be overarching. We can’t bite more than we can chew.

If we go by our faith only salvation is perpetual, yet there are a zillion things, say, in our culture and heritage that make us accept “our destiny” and its inevitability? When a hundred million supposedly smart people can’t get basic infrastructure erected, that’s not destiny? But we like ‘looking at the glass as half-full’? And we are incurable optimists because that’s what our faith tells us? I was still in my shorts when our congressman told us that we would have a basketball court in our neighborhood that never came to fruition – and that was only one minor item from his “platform” that he had printed and distributed, and it was as thick at The Manila Sunday Times Magazine. It is about growing up as a people? That was my first serious impression about the US. Americans were behaving like kids.

That was 25 years ago. And it appears to be getting worse: “On Jan. 1, tax rates went up not only for affluent families, but also for virtually all workers when lawmakers looked the other way and let a payroll tax cut expire. On March 1, after leaders from both parties declared that automatic, across-the-board spending cuts would never happen, they happened anyway because of inaction . . . One hundred percent of Congress opposed it, and we’re doing it,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont. “That’s a sign of a dysfunctional institution.” [In Congress, Gridlock and Harsh Consequences, The New York Times, 7th Jul 2013]

Nietzsche ["He who has a why to live can bear almost any how"] and Rumi came to mind as I sat down to work on the abstract of the paper that I’ll present in September to the culture-management community of Europe, SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research), in Tallinn, Estonia. Abstract: This paper will show how a small business enterprise . . . in a country that had to make the transition from communist rule . . . transformed itself in just eight years into one of the best and fastest growing companies in the European Union . . . How the company succeeded in creating a vision-driven, transparent, focused, and disciplined business culture . . . did not happen . . . overnight . . . They had . . . to struggle . . . and . . . . evolve . . . from their innate “Bulgarian culture”. . . As the business grew, however, it became clear that the bigger challenge was . . . to grow . . . beyond their comfort zone . . . They had . . . to create a subculture within itself that could transcend widely differing national cultures and markets [if they were to be the best in the business. And they’re far from perfect, which is good because they’ve realized that they have to keep raising the bar.]

Pride, national or partisan, would explain a people's ego and thus the struggle they go through? “In the Mevlevi tradition, samārepresents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at the Perfect. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey, with greater maturity, to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination with regard to beliefs, races, classes and nations.” [Rumi c/o Wikipedia]

Friday, August 2, 2013

Trust me . . .

Tragic as the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has been, it is shocking to discover that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while archbishop of Milwaukee, moved $57 million off the archdiocesan books into a cemetery trust fund six years ago in order to protect the money from damage suits by victims of abuse by priests.” [Cardinal Dolan and the Sexual Abuse Scandal, The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 4th Jul 2013] Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has denied shielding the funds as an “old and discredited” allegation and “malarkey.” But newly released court documents make it clear that he sought and received fast approval from the Vatican to transfer the money just as the Wisconsin Supreme Court was about to open the door to damage suits by victims raped and abused as children by Roman Catholic clergy.”

I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability,” Cardinal Dolan wrote rather cynically in his 2007 letter to the Vatican. The letter was released by the Milwaukee Archdiocese as part of a bankruptcy court fight with lawyers in 575 cases of damage claims. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. The law bars a debtor from transferring funds in a way that protects one class of creditors over another . . . The release of about 6,000 pages of documents provided a grim backstage look at the scandal, graphically detailing the patterns of serial abuse by dozens of priests who were systematically rotated to new assignments as church officials kept criminal behavior secret from civil authority.”

Former Senator Edgardo Angara said Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Company Inc. were not authorized to pass on their income tax payments to consumers, citing a previous Supreme Court ruling on the same issue against the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).” [MWSS may admit it erred on tax charges, says Angara,, 4th Jul 2013] “This is not new because Meralco used to pass on their income tax to the consumers and they lost the case in the Supreme Court . . . (The Supreme Court said) don’t pass it on to your consumers), that is your own responsibility,” he said. “(If you follow the principle of the) Meralco case, they are not authorized to pass on their own income tax burden to the consumers,” Angara pointed out.”

And while Senator Enrile says contracts must be respected, his personal view re income tax payments is similar to that of Senator Angara. This blog has consistently raised the hierarchical system and structure of the church and PHL. And in both instances “trust me” can only be taken with a grain of salt? "When the church does not emerge from itself to evangalize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick." [Francis Shakes Up Church Establishment, ABC News, 6th Jul 2013] “He warned of "self-referentiality" and "theological narcissism.” He also criticized a mundane church that lives within itself, of itself and for itself.” In the case of PHL, while we’ve been left behind by the 21st century highly competitive globalized world, we have no choice but to applaud the pillars of our industry even when they have grown unaccustomed to the open and competitive global market? That is the bigger issue than MWSS and the concessionaires!

It is not only industry that must be troubled but Juan de la Cruz as well. Because the challenge of “inclusive growth” will remain our albatross if we continue to operate in our “comfort zone”: If we, therefore, want to have inclusive growth, we should not only encourage the establishment of enterprises but prepare and train Filipinos to be true entrepreneurs. . . entrepreneurs who are deliberate and purposive in their strategizing; entrepreneurs who are innovative and have the capacity for creative destruction; entrepreneurs who are whole-brained and have mastery of the self.” [Entrepreneurship: A roadmap to inclusive growth, Prof. Antonio M. Del Carmen, PhD, Business Mirror, 14th Jun 2013]

As Kennedy had warned the American people, “our problems are man-made.” And in our case, we don’t want to be hiding behind the skirts of the church and the call of nationalism – i.e., have they narrowed our comfort zone and our ability to “think outside the box”? Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God which are God’s? Did not 9/11 narrow the comfort zone of the Americans – i.e., their response has undermined their professed commitment to advancing freedom and democracy? And hence the embarrassment that Snowden has brought upon the US? "Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions . . ." [President Barack Obama, US Dept. of State website]

The Pinoy comfort zone

When we get into times of social, political or financial instability, our comfort zones get smaller. The more afraid we are . . . the more impenetrable our comfort zones buffers become.” [Tiptoeing Out of One’s Comfort Zone (and of Course, Back In), Alina Tugend, The New York Times, 11th Feb 2011] There was a huge shift after 9/11 . . . in just how vulnerable people were willing to be in their personal and work lives. When we feel vulnerable . . . we often feel fear and shame. And, since those are some of our most difficult emotions, we want to avoid them.”

Our response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and international terrorism has been remarkable, including an intelligence apparatus in which some 1.4 million people (including, until recently, Snowden) hold “top secret” clearances.” [How Could We Blow This One, Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, 3rd Jul 2013] That’s more than twice the population of the District of Columbia . . . [S]ince 9/11, the United States has built new intelligence complexes equivalent in office space to 22 United States Capitol buildings. All told, since 9/11, the United States has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security . . .”

Some of that money probably helped avert other terrorist attacks (although some of it spent in Iraq and Afghanistan may have increased risks). We need a robust military and intelligence network, for these threats are real. An Al Qaeda attack is an assault on the political system in a way that an ordinary murder is not. And overseas terrorists do aspire to commit mass murder again, perhaps with chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, and our government is right to work hard to prevent such a cataclysm.

But there are trade-offs, including other ways to protect the public, and our entire focus seems to be on national security rather than on more practical ways of assuring our safety. The imbalance in our priorities is particularly striking because since 2005, terrorism has taken an average of 23 American lives annually, mostly overseas — and the number has been falling.”

Moving out of our comfort zones is supposed to be a good thing. We challenge ourselves, we grow and take on new risks. But is this always true? After all, over the last few years, many of us have been pushed out of our comfort zones, forced to seek new jobs, even careers.” [Ibid.] “The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral position. Judith M. Bardwick, author of “Danger in the Comfort Zone” (American Management Association, 1991) . . . cites a famous experiment conducted by the psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, way back in 1908. Using mice, they found that stimulation improved performance, up to a certain level — what is now known as optimal anxiety. When that level is passed, and we’re under too much stress, performance deteriorates.”

We need a place of productive discomfort . . . If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive. Like Goldilocks, we can’t be too hot or too cold . . . The objective is to reach that optimal level so that our skills increase and we become comfortable with that new level of anxiety — then we’re in an expanded comfort zone. And ideally, we will get more used to those feelings of “productive discomfort” and won’t be so scared to try new things in the future.”

I often talk about my Eastern European friends and from living and working with them for ten years, I’ve witnessed how much of a struggle they have gone through to “expand their comfort zone.” And so I would always say, “been here ten years and counting.” What more of one hundred million Pinoys? Friends have asked me, do you really think we could change our culture? Probably not, but over time we could expand our comfort zone and be more receptive to change? Man has proved himself adaptable since the time of Eden. And even Steve Jobs would admit: "All the work that I have done in my life will be obsolete by the time I'm 50," he said in a previously unreleased video recorded in 1994, when he was 39. “This is not a field where one paints a painting that will be looked at for centuries, or builds a church that will be admired for centuries.[The Times UK, 21st Jun 2013]