Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pull rank . . . and kill creativity

“A classic model of the stages of creativity roughly translates to three modes of focus: orienting, where we search out and immerse ourselves in all kinds of input; selective attention on the specific creative challenge; and open awareness, where we associate freely to let the solution emerge – then home in on the solution.” [Daniel Goleman, Focus: The hidden driver of excellence, p. 42; Harper Collins, 2013]

How does that relate to Pinoy creativity? Does it make it a myth given that in our value system rank – with its privileges – takes precedence? Does it also explain why we can't arrive at a consensus especially in our search for the common good? Because he who has the gold rules – i.e., he or she will insist it is either their way or the highway? Think of NAIA 3 or the more current battles of the titans – and why instead of PHL as one nation pushing to catch up in infrastructure development we're seeing protests and challenges? And do they speak volumes as in incompetence or influence peddling or corruption or greed? “The liar's punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.” [George Bernard Shaw]

Does it explain why we seem unable to home in on the solution to a problem – and why, for example, we can't put the power crisis to bed? “Matagal na itong pinag-uusapan . . . This was taken up a long time ago. We have been holding public hearings at the Energy Regulatory Commission even during the 14th Congress [2007-2010].” [Inquirer, 26th Jun 2012.] “The “real debate,” according to Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, over the issue of renewable energy was between existing power producers and the proponents of renewable energy, saying that the former were barring alternative energy in order to protect their interests.” And more recently: "Committed power projects still inadequate to meet future demands," Manila Bulletin, 5th Feb 2014.

A friend whose overseas career was with a global engineering firm narrated: “Sadly, it is not only about ‘puro daldal, satsat, sitsit.’ You know why? Instinctively we would matter-of-factly invoke rank and/or infinite wisdom. Which I saw at close range in two projects: one in my alma mater to pursue a major undertaking and the other in a government agency that has been hard at work on a roadmap. With my old schoolmates, it was their way or the highway because everyone that had the means to bankroll a project would insist he had infinite wisdom. And the one with government, one would think that we were sending a man to Mars. Keeping it simple is not in our DNA! And later I would read that higher-ups in the department were allegedly tainted with corruption. And so we continue to take one step forward and two steps back.” 

Talking about roadmaps, how much does industry expect government to step in, and defer to Big Brother? It is important that industry's success model not mirror that of a monopoly and/or oligopoly where government as in political patronage is the critical success factor. That’s not what government is about – but committing to good governance and infrastructure and healthy competition, for example, if PHL would have a chance at nation building. Otherwise we would pay the price, if we haven’t yet, as in the collective failure to develop true, honest-to-goodness creativity competency demanded by free enterprise.

Take the electronics industry: How much role is government to play in the effort to move to higher valued-added products? It is important that the industry truly grow up, and understand and accept the realities of the 21st century world where the cost of entry, beyond investment, includes technology, innovation, product development as well as people and market development? There is no free lunch!

In the case of the food industry, it is reported that our national scientists are developing production equipment to support local enterprises. It is important that we don't embark on import substitution which in fact contributed to stunting the development of Philippine industry. It perpetuated the instinct to set a very low bar for ourselves! Will this equipment, for instance, be as efficient as those made in Germany? In other words, if a local PHL enterprise is setting its sight on the local market, this option would work – but not if it would compete beyond our shores. 

What is the object of the exercise? Is it to reduce the costs to a local manufacturer that will market the products locally? Or is it to develop our capability in becoming an industrial equipment manufacturer? But if what we want is for the output or the products to compete in the ASEAN market, then the key is to acquire world-class technology and equipment from wherever. On the other hand, if the object is to be a world-class industrial equipment producer then we better go to school in Germany, for example, and assess if we could leapfrog the process.

Or if we could not foresee the chance of reaching that level then we can focus on a narrower slice of the manufacturing process where we could aspire to be a world-beater. But are there other countries like Taiwan that are already doing that – and hence we must aspire and pursue beating them? How? If indeed we would define nirvana in that respect, then that is where we need a roadmap. Defining an industry starts with the products – not the equipment – that have the promise to win in the marketplace. (That is an example of interpreting “start with the end in view.”) And the choice of the requisite technology and equipment must reinforce the overarching goal of global competitiveness – i.e., it does not have to be homegrown which is why the Malaysians, for example, are seeking foreign partners to further develop their auto industry. And their industry is already more advanced than ours. And as China has demonstrated, it is the quickest way to develop local technology than starting from scratch! And why we need to pick the brains of our neighbors – they've been there and done that! The world has moved beyond linear thinking and into critical and creative thinking. And creative thinking is not Pinoy creativity as we know it.

It is heartening that we have a “select few” surgeons that have done exactly that: “[W]e had no choice but to study abroad,” says Dr. Allen Buenafe, Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery for Cardinal Santos Medical Center's Philippine Center for Advanced Surgery . . . “Their pilgrimage . . . was triggered by the absence of advanced training programs and medical technologies in the country . . . If you compare our hospitals with ones in other countries like Singapore, we are still lagging behind in terms of technology . . .” [Doctors prepare for ASEAN integration, Manila Standard Today, 9th Feb 2014.] Dr. Buenafe would remind me of my high school PE teacher, a doctor, who introduced the principle of cause and effect. And he would add: if you believe you are interested in cause and effect, you may want to pursue medicine. I did not want to be a doctor but realized that the principle applies to problem solving. And today even my Eastern European friends have embraced it. 

But to go back to product development: Should we wonder why Bill Gates, for instance, after decades of being poked by Steve Jobs, has realized that competitiveness is about competitive products that are founded on a value-proposition that responds to a consumer need? And so while stepping down as Microsoft CEO, he would in fact be the product development guru – very much like what Jobs did at Apple.

Yet years earlier, when Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple II, he would acknowledge the team members that worked with him and had them in the front row – with each person singled out in the audio-visual presentation. Not surprisingly, my Eastern European friends, in their commitment to the pursuit of competitive products, have realized that product development is a team effort. And, as importantly, the key to creativity is to stay with the discipline of the thought process.

I am in Makati as I write and have been away for over two months, yet I was grinning from ear to ear viewing photos of new products that my friends emailed the past couple of days. And beyond products they also shared the progress of experiments we’ve embarked on as we continued to challenge elements of our business model. Why? Change is the only thing constant especially in the 21st century highly competitive globalized world, but to us Pinoys it’s still same old, same old? Do we expect creativity to be nurtured in such an environment? Does it explain why we want Big Brother to take the lead in the pursuit of product competitiveness?

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