Saturday, February 22, 2014

Overcoming backwardness

How do we overcome what Rizal saw over a century ago when the 21st century world is moving at warp speed? “The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world you need to be creative,” says Gerard J. Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, which has the nation’s oldest creative studies program, having offered courses in it since 1967.” [Learning to Think Outside the Box, Laura Pappano, The New York Times, 5th Feb 2014] “That is why you are seeing more attention to creativity at universities,” he says. “The marketplace is demanding it.”

“Critical thinking has long been regarded as the essential skill for success, but it’s not enough . . . Creativity moves beyond mere synthesis and evaluation and is . . . “the higher order skill.” This has not been a sudden development. Nearly 20 years ago “creating” replaced “evaluation” at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. In 2010 “creativity” was the factor most crucial for success found in an I.B.M. survey of 1,500 chief executives in 33 industries. These days “creative” is the most used buzzword in LinkedIn profiles two years running.”

“Traditional academic disciplines still matter, but as content knowledge evolves at lightning speed, educators are talking more and more about “process skills,” strategies to reframe challenges and extrapolate and transform information, and to accept and deal with ambiguity . . . On-demand inventiveness is not as outrageous as it sounds. Sure, some people are naturally more imaginative than others. What’s igniting campuses, though, is the conviction that everyone is creative, and can learn to be more so.”

“Just about every pedagogical toolbox taps similar strategies, employing divergent thinking (generating multiple ideas) and convergent thinking (finding what works).The real genius, of course, is in the how. Dr. Puccio developed an approach that he and partners market as FourSight and sell to schools, businesses and individuals. The method, which is used in Buffalo State classrooms, has four steps: clarifying, ideating, developing and implementing. People tend to gravitate to particular steps, suggesting their primary thinking style. Clarifying — asking the right question — is critical because people often misstate or misperceive a problem. “If you don’t have the right frame for the situation, it’s difficult to come up with a breakthrough,” Dr. Puccio says. Ideating is brainstorming and calls for getting rid of your inner naysayer to let your imagination fly. Developing is building out a solution, and maybe finding that it doesn’t work and having to start over. Implementing calls for convincing others that your idea has value.”

Yet in PHL where we value harmony, we are more likely to succumb to “group think” or “shared blind spots? To be sure, we’re not alone. The world still remembers “President George W. Bush’s inner circle and their decision to invade Iraq . . .” as well as “the circles of financial players who fostered the mortgage derivatives meltdown.” [Daniel Goleman, Focus: The hidden driver of excellence, p 72; Harper Collins, 2013]

“[T]his tendency to ignore evidence to the contrary spreads into a shared self-deception, it becomes group think. The unstated need to protect a treasured opinion (by discounting crucial disconfirming data) drives shared blind spots that lead to bad decisions . . . [I]nstances of catastrophic group think entailed insulated groups of decision-makers who failed to ask the right questions or ignored disconfirming data in a self-affirming downward spiral . . . But group think begins with the unstated assumption We know everything we need to.”

But if Juan de la Cruz finds questioning discomforting especially given our bias for harmony – although we matter-of-factly invoke rank – how do we create ideas that are out-of-the-box? Worse is when we take it for granted that “we have infinite wisdom” and discount ideas that aren’t our own?

30 poorest provinces to get more funds–Aquino,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, Michael Lim Ubac, 13th Feb 2014. “At the meeting that mainly tackled the “action plan for poverty reduction,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan candidly admitted to the Chief Executive and his Cabinet that the administration had a dismal performance in arresting poverty and creating jobs. The 30 “priority provinces” will be categorized into three: Category 1 aims to create more economic opportunities; Category 2 aims to enhance mobility of labor and goods; and Category 3 aims to increase resilience since they are local government units most vulnerable to disasters. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma announced this new categorization or prioritization of provinces at a briefing on Wednesday.”

Question: Did we ask why “the administration had a dismal performance in arresting poverty and creating jobs?” If that is the outcome or the effect of PHL’s economic plans and programs, what was the cause? These 30 poorest provinces are likewise not the (root) cause but the effect? Years ago we trumpeted how successfully we set ourselves apart [an island unto ourselves?] from the global economy because we were inward-focused and proud of our consumption economy? Life is about choices and we made ours and we can’t run away from that – not when we are engaged in problem-solving! Reality bites and it hurts but we have to deal with it? The choice we made would have far-reaching consequences – and we ought to be the least surprised why despite being the fastest growing economy, save China, we are the region’s economic laggards? What are these consequences? Our investment rate is the lowest in the region as well as our stock of foreign direct investment . . . and export receipts . . . and savings rate, etc., etc.

We cannot undo our reality overnight – not in this administration and not in the next! “PH seen still lagging behind peers.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24th Mar 2013.] “The Philippines is lagging behind most of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in many economic and development indicators, and without sufficient improvement, it may be overtaken by the newer, less developed neighbors.”

“The major policy challenge the Philippine faces in its Medium-Term Development Plan is improving its infrastructure, access to education and development resources, and ensuring jobs for all. Both road transport and power are critical to a more closely integrated Philippine economy, helping to attract widely dispersed private-sector investment.” [Structural policy challenges - Philippines, Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013, OECD]

Clearly, we need something beyond populist pronouncements that may win brownie points over the short-term. To prioritize our efforts is a must yet moving government's limited funds around can’t be our go-to response to challenges when it risks perpetuating the pork barrel system – and thus influence peddling! And that's why we need to keep our eye on the ball of economic development – and enlarge the PHL pie. And in today's highly competitive world (manifested by the ASEAN Economic Community in the region) the key is for economies to be competitive in the strictest sense of the word.

In the case of Europe, The Economist, in their periodic technology series, would conclude that despite Europe’s consistency in generating more ideas, the US continued to come out with more real-world relevant tools as in productivity tools or 21st century lifestyle-relevant gadgets, among others. Why? Modern US R&D was inspired by Edison: “to start with the end in view.” But how would that translate in the case of PHL? If we want a richer economy – which is what economic development is about or the end view for Juan de la Cruz – we need precisely what we lack, i.e., investment, technology, innovation as well as product, people and market development.

Beyond the major policy challenge highlighted by OECD, the foregoing are the building blocks that we in PHL must assemble and pull together in a cohesive fashion, if we are to be a competitive economy and measure up to today's fast-changing world. And that is what our neighbors have done – or why, for example, Malaysia with a more developed auto industry than PHL . . . still wants the major auto brands to come to Malaysia . . . while our own continues to lag the region.
The bottom line: Our worldview is not as straightforward as the Malaysians? Consider: “Phl still SEA’s laggard in FDI flow,” read The Philippine Star. Yet, wrote a columnist: “His [Aquino] government’s refusal to build and strengthen Filipino industries and instead depend on foreign capital is the answer to his question of why the country seems to never generate enough jobs.” In other words, in our heart of hearts we’re neither here nor there. And it explains why for decades we’ve embraced sub-optimization a.k.a. crab mentality?

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