Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are we bricklayers?

That’s one way to explain linear thinking – i.e., we can be bricklayers – as opposed to critical or creative thinking – i.e., we can be building a cathedral. The reality is most people are linear thinkers. For example, educators when they develop a course syllabus employ linear thinking – i.e., brick by brick – and which has been the convention of the Western educational system.

But that has been challenged given the mindboggling demands of the contemporary world. For instance, a Stanford University website ( reads: “Students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education find their way here to take on the world’s messy problems together. Human values are at the heart of our collaborative approach. We focus on creating spectacularly transformative learning experiences. Along the way, our students develop a process for producing creative solutions to even the most complex challenges they tackle . . . At the, we learn by doing. We don’t just ask our students to solve a problem, we ask them to define what a problem is. Students start in the field, where they develop empathy for people they design for, uncovering real human needs they want to address. They then iterate to develop an unexpected range of possible solutions . . . Our bias is toward action, followed by reflection on personal discoveries about process. Experience is measured by iteration: students run through as many cycles as they possibly can on any project. Each cycle brings stronger insights and more unexpected solutions.”

How do they relate to PHL? Addressing poverty – i.e., the symptom – is like bricklaying when what we’re supposed to be doing – i.e., the need – is to build a cathedral? Did we not, for instance, aggressively pursue “farms to market roads” to address poverty in rural Philippines but what we got instead were bogus projects via the pork barrel system? It is easier for unscrupulous political lords at the local and national levels to salivate seeing all the bricks we have to lay . . . when what we should be focusing on is the image of the lovely cathedral we want to build – or a wealthy PHL economy.

Focusing on the “cathedral” will facilitate prioritizing initiatives like infrastructure (e.g., power and roads) as well as doggedly attracting investments. Not just any investments but strategic investments where we could attain competitive advantage – and thus drive economic output as opposed to being a passive, dependent third-party provider whether of services or intermediate or low value-added products. And which means at the enterprise level committing to technology and innovation and people, product and market development.

The US private sector raises over $300 billion in annual charity funds (outside the government's social programs) but has not won the war on poverty. Not everything American works; nor should their example in turning inward as in economic nationalism be the model especially in global trade. On the other hand, our once poor Asian neighbors because of rapid economic development have drastically reduced poverty, and Singapore, once derided in the West for its non-Western-style democracy, has gained more and more adherents. 

Does Juan de la Cruz wish to be more straightforward and transparent in his thinking? Or does Pinoy abilidad mean having our cake and eating it too? For instance, we point at the folly of focusing and relying on foreign investors to explain our inability to move beyond underdevelopment . . . yet the whole world knows we have the least ability to attract FDIs – while our neighbors have become havens of foreign investment and technology? “[T]he total assets of the entire Philippine banking system is only equivalent to one big bank in Malaysia . . . [T]he total capitalization of the entire Philippine banking system is about the same size as one Singapore bank . . . [T]here is “no hard limit” to foreign ownership in Malaysia and in Singapore,” Business Mirror, PHL not ready for ASEAN financial integration, Bianca Cuaresma, 24th Feb 2014. 

We don’t like oligarchy . . . yet are in bed with them in our parochial bias? We don’t like hierarchy . . . yet pull rank at every opportunity? We prefer to be parochial than be citizens of the world . . . because we have a history of being victims of colonizers? But how do we learn to think like winners? Can we imagine being able to build a cathedral or is that ability reserved for the colonizers? Weren’t our ears bent over the years about David and Goliath – and the parable of the talents and the Good Samaritan woman and the Great Commandments, etc., etc.? Weren’t we trained to learn to face the world, warts and all? Or has that been undermined by our sheltered upbringing and why a priest said even corruption is Jesuit-based – beyond family-based and whatever else between them?

We like to believe we're eternal optimists and thus would still see the glass as half full? But haven't practically all our neighbors left us behind as an economy? “You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive . . . You need both, but in the right ratio . . . The most effective positive/negative ratio is 2.9 good feelings to every negative moment . . . There is an upper limit to positivity – above [what is called] the Losada ratio of about 11:1 teams become too giddy to be effective . . . A conversation that starts with a person's dreams and hopes can lead to a learning path yielding that vision. This conversation might extract some concrete goals from the general vision, then look what it would take to accomplish those goals – and what capacities we might want to work on improving to get there . . .  But dreams alone are not enough; you have to practice any new needed abilities at every naturally occurring opportunity . . .” [Focus: The hidden driver of excellence, Daniel Goleman; Harper Collins, pp. 172-173.]

The bottom line: What is the dream of Juan de la Cruz, to address poverty or for PHL to be a developed, wealthy economy? And to get there we need a learning path (not same old, same old?) and some concrete goals and then figure out the how and the skills we need to improve on. We cannot just be dreaming . . . It takes lots of practice . . . and commitment . . . to “focus on creating spectacularly transformative learning experiences . . . and develop a process for producing creative solutions to even the most complex challenges . . .”

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