Sunday, December 22, 2013

“Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good”

Pope Francis didn't claim originality but could it be one interpretation of Pareto's principle? And the thought of picking and choosing brings to mind the “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), an America theologian: “God, give me the courage to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other . . .” Acknowledged [c/o Wikipedia] as one of the most influential thinkers (in public affairs) in the 1940's and 1950's, his words have been quoted and compiled. 

In PHL is picking and choosing a no-no? For example, our bias is for comprehensive, holistic and inclusive such that we assumed that we could address inequality via a land reform program that was “comprehensive” as in CARP, only to find out that it wasn't comprehensive after all? My wife and her siblings inherited a rice farm in central Philippines, and for several years now, they've been trying to help the tenants to own their respective shares. Yet, the latter have been unable to commit to any arrangements for one reason or another, their debts owed middlemen being one of them. And my wife could only sigh, “How could they be free from such bondage.”

In fairness, it is human nature demonstrated as early as the biblical times by the scribes and Pharisees, and in more recent times captured succinctly by Niebuhr: “The tragedy of man is that he can conceive self-perfection but cannot achieve it.” While the educational system as we know it has taught the world linear thinking; and not surprisingly, our economic plans, for instance, have been models for their comprehensiveness – such that a neighbor like Thailand adapted them. “Poverty is a complex problem that needs a comprehensive, multipronged, multisectoral solution involving many stakeholders . . .”[Government: Poverty reduction slow, threatens MDGs, Business Mirror, 9th Dec 2013]

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so says Pope Francis. Translation: Or you will succumb to crab mentality or simply be frozen to inaction – as in the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution or the neglect of basic infrastructure, starting with energy, or bypassing industrialization or failure to support the JFC's seven industry winners? [And why a consistent theme of this blog is the imperative to prioritize.] And running out of parties to blame, we couldn't help but conclude that the global community especially the developed nations are playing bully in global trade at our expense? Of course they are! Aren’t we going to do the same thing if we were in their shoes – or why do we tolerate social injustice as in the PHL cacique, hierarchical system and structure? But we grew up expecting perfection from the world around us courtesy of Padre Damaso?

My Eastern European friends are a consistent theme of this blog because they're relatively new to free enterprise – and grew up expecting inevitability and helplessness courtesy of their communist masters. And over the last eleven years, they've committed themselves to pursue the promise of a market economy; yet they recognized at the outset that they could trip or unwittingly undermine their own efforts. “We appreciate your praises whenever we deserve them . . . but please tell us whenever we are astray. We are learning and are proud of our ourselves, but we're relative newcomers to free enterprise.” And so while we have mutually defined my role as akin to a navigator, there were times when I had to roll up my sleeves. 

But it was not different when I was with my old MNC company. After a few subsidiary business reviews or even regional meetings, for example, where “action points” were minuted, there was no certainty that the desired outcomes would materialize and so follow up visits were called for – and certainly rolling up sleeves was demanded; and in extreme cases restructuring had to be pursued. And so anticipating challenges became the route to nirvana – meaning, equipping people and the global organization with the skills-set to become truly globally competitive.

What has that got to do with PHL economy? For example, strategic planning, as a tool in the pursuit of an enterprise, has long been discredited and so was management by objectives, among others. And the reason simply is that they became an end in themselves – when it was the thinking not the mechanics that was supposed to be the magic. For example, a business model can't be static and must constantly be challenged and renewed to be relevant to a fast-changing world. Yet in its heyday, strategic planning was construed as bible-making, thus evergreen, until the likes of IBM and Xerox found themselves adrift. [And indeed Einstein was ahead of his time: “the value of education is the training of the mind to think and not the learning of many facts.”]

Still, if we Pinoys could get our act together – i.e., learn to prioritize and overcome crab mentality, which in its strictest sense is anarchy – we could get this nation going. “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul,” so quoted The Economist to profile Nelson Mandela. [“Invictus,” William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)]

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