Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How predisposed are we to change?

Between “materiales fuertes” and “fear of God” that were instilled in us, how predisposed could we be to change? It appears we are not alone, that receptivity to change is indeed not universal. In theory everyone can change, but in practice most people don’t . . . As a consequence, deliberate attempts to change are far less effective than we like to think, which is why most New Year’s resolutions are never accomplished . . . A seminal review showed that we become more prudent, emotionally stable, and assertive with age, while our energy and intellectual curiosity dwindle after adolescence. In other words, as we grow older we become more calm and mature, but also more passive and narrow-minded. [Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, If you want to change, don’t read this, Harvard Business Review, 26th Dec 2013]

“So, how can we change? The recipe for self-change is fairly straightforward — it is just hard to implement. In order to change, we need to start by building self-awareness, which is best achieved by obtaining (and believing) honest and critical feedback from others. Next, we must come up with a realistic strategy that focuses on attainable goals, such as changing a few specific behaviors (e.g., more eye contact, less shouting, more smiling, etc.) rather than substantial aspects of our personality (e.g., interpersonal sensitivity, empathy, and sociability). Finally, we will need an enormous amount of effort and dedication in order to both attain and maintain any desired changes — or we will quickly revert to our old habits. In short, change requires self-critical insight, humble goals, and indefatigable persistence. It means going against our nature and demands extraordinary levels of willpower.”

Indeed change takes a lot of doing – especially to learn to cut to the chase and the imperatives of execution. The test of the pudding is in the eating. But the era of innovation – with the coming of the 21st century – brought my old MNC company to Edison and Gates and Jobs. Their thinking process was the reverse of what people learned in school, i.e., they were not into linear thinking; they would “start with the end in view.” [Is it a coincidence that Gates and Jobs dropped out of college?] And that allowed them to separate the wheat from chaff. It is not a natural thought process and which is why innovation continues to be elusive, even in the West. And it took my Eastern European friends eight years to appreciate it and eleven years to truly be committed to it.

[Gates and Jobs are not unique: From Amazon.com: “Don't Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything (Paperback) by Kio Stark. “Here is a radical truth: school doesn’t have a monopoly on learning. More and more people are passing on traditional education and college degrees. Instead they’re getting the knowledge, training, and inspiration they need outside of the classroom. Drawing on extensive research and talking to over 100 independent learners, Kio Stark offers the ultimate guide to learning without school . . . Kio Stark has interviewed a roster of amazing, self-taught talents about how they did it, and distilled those observations into an essential guide,” Clay Shirky, NYU Professor . . . And from her website: “[T]eaches at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program; a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and did doctoral work at Yale University’s American Studies program . . . focused on the history of science and medicine, urban studies, and underground economics, and then dropped out.”]

But back to cutting to the chase and the imperatives of execution: From Booz & Company; Strategy+Business, 24th Aug 2010: “Growth through focus: A blueprint for driving profitable expansion. “. . . [G]rowth through more” strategy diffuses the organization’s efforts. It increases the complexity of the organization and its operations. We have found that “growth through less,” or more precisely “growth through focus,” is the best prescription for growth, regardless of the economic environment. This conclusion is based on our own experience in three well-known companies — Kraft Foods, Unilever, and Fonterra Brands (a dairy products business based in New Zealand) — on three continents over 10 years. In all three cases, a deliberate strategy of focusing on a few markets, brands, and categories produced impressive revenue and profit expansion. We have learned that seemingly mature businesses can be energized by making fewer but larger bets and by focusing relentlessly on executing a simple but powerful vision.”

“Growth through focus is not as easy as choosing what strategic bets to make. Rather, it requires the leadership team to follow a systematic approach that spans everything from strategy and vision to execution and measurement . . . Our framework is grounded in three key ideas: focus in strategy, simplicity in communication, and empowerment in execution.”
Should we wonder why despite churning out comprehensive, holistic and inclusive economic development plans for decades, our neighbors left us behind? For example, we keep hammering at poverty but poverty is a given when an economy is underdeveloped, severely in our case, and with an average income of $4,500. (And taking our eye away from the ball of development and its imperatives; which in PHL are: competitive levels of investment, infrastructure and industry.) To be inclusive is not about charity-giving. To be inclusive presupposes that interventions or initiatives have a systemic character. And surprisingly, we seem to conveniently forget that CARP or comprehensive land reform is an example of why we have not attained our desire for inclusivity. Because to be systemic, the design of an economic activity must ensure that the output will be absorbed by the economy in terms of usage or consumption – together with a surplus element – that can then loop back as an input thus creating a virtuous circle. And that is a simple illustration of how innovation could be central to the holy grail of the virtuous circle. High-value added or innovative products can command a market and generate a surplus.

Why are our neighbors able to produce 21st century products, for example? They opened their economies to foreign investment and technology, such that China, for instance, is already into space technology. Yet over 30 years ago Deng Xiaoping had to appeal to the West: we need your money and your technology if we are to lift our people from poverty.

Why can’t we wrap our heads around Deng’s logic? The HBR article would in fact confirm that Deng was a rare specimen. And he was in his early 20s while overseas, first in France and then in Russia, when he formed the belief after he saw how Russia could also use foreign investment and technology. And in those days whatever bit of technology China had was courtesy of Russia. We had a Rizal over a hundred years ago, would we have a Deng in this generation or the next? 

“In short, what the Philippines yearns for is a more “effective” state and more “competitive” market at the same time.” [Richard Javad Heydarian, Philippine electricity crisis: How regulatory capture undermines emerging markets, Huffington Post, 23rd Dec 2013] “. . . [O]verlooked are the perils of privatization in underdeveloped markets, where you have a tiny, oligarchic private sector, which lacks capital, expertise, and – above all – appreciation for collective interest, but has an unshakeable political grip on the political economy.”

One could say Amen . . . more so if the article explained how to address the capital and the expertise lack and that of the collective interest. Wasn’t government supposed to provide all that before? But as we know we’ve had the crisis since the time of President Ramos. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel but rather benchmark and recognize what our neighbors have done. 

And we can’t have an “effective” state if Juan de la Cruz doesn’t grow up – we are part and parcel of our culture of corruption . . . which comes with the culture of impunity? They are two sides of the same coin? And if we are to acquire the capital and the expertise, we can't be an island unto ourselves? Deng saw the light when he was in his early 20s . . . And wrote a Moldovan journalist: “Like America, Moldova is a young nation. The difference is, we act like one. In contrast to Americans, who strive towards their dreams, Moldovans prefer just to dream. Like teenagers, we want all the privileges of grown-up life but without its responsibility.” [Vladimir Lorchenkov, The New York Times, Op-ed, 26th Dec 2013]

Unlike the Moldovans, we Pinoys shouldn't prefer just to dream? I could relate to the journalist having spent most of the last eleven years in Eastern Europe; these people are no less patriotic than Pinoys yet they don't mince words to criticize themselves. And so I talk about them because they keep teaching me about “reality” – which was what my late Jesuit friend tried very hard to impart to our smallish Friday club.

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