Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We need prayers but not only

What would fatalism and a can-do nature have in common? Both are instincts? We've heard about the rigorous training US Navy Seals undergo, for instance; and the value and benefits of such preparation have in fact been translated into a body of knowledge. But it is not uncommon for these individuals to add prayers to the pursuit of their missions. Still, even a priest-columnist in a Philippine daily has said, not once, that faith alone isn’t enough? Beyond faith, where do we want to be? We've relied heavily on prayers while neglecting the demands of nation building? And while it hurts, we haven’t truly developed the instincts – and the resolve – of problem-solving? But because we were once well-trained [but our educational system has since deteriorated?] and in many cases had overseas training, we’ve assumed that we’re pros in problem-solving? Yet the reality in an oligopoly is that the absence of global competition robs us of the kind of rigorous training that the contemporary world demands? That is the curse Juan de la Cruz is yet to open his eyes to?

“And how about our propensity to become overly attached to the past?” [Noreena Hertz, Harvard Business Review, 11th Sept 2013] “You remember how huge Nokia was. From the 1990s onwards, Nokia dominated the mobile phone industry. At its peak the company had a market value of $303 billion and by 2007 around four in 10 handsets bought worldwide were made by Nokia. But when Apple introduced its game changing iPhone in 2007, Nokia was caught sleeping on the job . . . As a former employee working in the development team at the time said of that decision, “Management did the usual. They killed it!”. . . Despite having themselves developed an iPhone-style device . . . some seven years earlier.”

In an earlier blog I talked about the decision-making process; and also my introduction to the headquarters environment of my old MNC company, and it was largely through the enthusiasm with which people embraced problem-solving. It would pump their adrenaline because to them it was fun! And that came with the recognition that something was wrong or a mistake was made in the first place. Is that the big difference with us Pinoys because we would rather sweep a problem under the carpet? Despite the entrepreneurial spirit that was evident, I saw the same instinct – to take a problem for granted – with my friends in Eastern Europe. And so one of the first things they had to learn and embrace was transparency. “The sun must shine on everything we do so that we would see even a potential problem before it bites us!” That was too abstract for them because they were “input-oriented” and were accustomed to accepting whatever came out of the hopper. “Under communist rule we were told what to do and were paid the exact same wages no matter the result. Motivation was foreign, and we lived by the day.”

And one carry-over from the old rule was their accounting system, which was cash as opposed to accrual accounting. “You are deluding yourself if you believe this income statement is reality!” But because of their vision – and desire – to be the best in the business from their part of the world, they have plunged into rigorous training over the last ten years. We Pinoys are far-advanced in the accounting discipline, for example, but does it mean that we’re not deluding ourselves about PHL reality? Didn't we bypass industrialization? Why has no one taken responsibility for our decades-old power crisis? What about a world-class airport? What about even the rudiments of infrastructure? Have we created the PHL tsars given our cacique culture? What about more prayers? Yes, but we mustn’t ignore the overhang of social injustice that is the why of our underdevelopment – like Francis witnessed in Latin America? We’ve been caught in a vicious circle that we see the trees but not the forest?

Indeed we are resilient people as typhoon Yolanda once again confirmed to the amazement of the world. Yet we must constantly guard against complacency given how deep in the hole we are. For example, the folks that thrive in PHL political patronage – thus the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution, for instance – like it or not must flex their muscles post-Yolanda in the name of Christian charity, reflective of our cacique culture? Translation: the system is rigged which is why we get the least FDIs – and why we’re down deep in the abyss? Is it any wonder why the European Chamber is bugging us even on the less than ideal foreign investment negative list – which will yield sub-optimized outcomes, because we remain “narcissistic” [to borrow from Francis] in our worldview? There is a reason why we're laggards compared to our neighbors, and it is not God-made but man-made or more precisely, Pinoy-made?

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