Saturday, June 7, 2014

Beyond knowledge is focus . . .

It facilitates priority-setting . . . “To Lead, You Must Focus” is the title of a column by Raymond Edwin Mabus Jr. [the 75th secretary of the U.S. Navy] in the Harvard Business Review (June 2014). This blog posting was inspired by that article. “Leading a large, complex organization like the U.S. Navy, which is interdependent with similar entities, calls for a certain approach. You begin with a narrow focus on your organization’s unique strength and role . . . As the governor of Mississippi, I learned the power of setting a few specific priorities and relentlessly pushing them. As the CEO of a private company, I saw that creating a compelling vision and crafting an inspiring narrative are key to achieving results. You must never lose sight of the ultimate goal.”

Does it tell us precisely why in PHL – given our ‘crab mentality’ – we continue to miss “setting a few specific priorities and relentlessly pushing them”? This blog often talks about my ex-socialist friends and despite being born and raised in that environment understood, accepted and internalized the imperative of focus! Or have we Pinoys misunderstood our faith? And thus Rizal had to create Padre Damaso – in no uncertain terms – to shoot that dimension of our culture full of holes?

My Eastern European friends were surprised when I shared that much of the business principles [which by the way they saw as universal] I've passed on to them came from my being born and raised in the Philippines, including my education and 20 years of private sector experience. But they would probe, “what did you pick up from the West?” My response: I learned execution which comes from leadership and focus. And, granted, many of the knowledge fundamentals I brought from the Philippines were polished by their constant evolution that was to be expected in a developed-world environment.

For example, while the different functional disciplines (from production to sales to marketing to finance to computing & communicating to supply chain to customer service to consumer insights, etc., etc.) of an enterprise indeed had more than the proverbial “15 minutes of fame,” as the world kept its march to progress the more these disciplines became interdependent. And CEOs who were products of their functional disciplines and chose to demonstrate their bias would later realize – sadly belatedly for some – how they undermined the spirit and intent of the enterprise. 

And as the world now knows, the financial services sector wrongly assumed that they were the center of the universe. They had created supposedly innovative financial investment vehicles like derivatives (while incorrectly invoking the role of finance in investment.) What a folly! Yet man likes to ignore life's morals, “Only life can [carve your convictions about the world.] Books can give you vocabularies and frameworks to help you understand and decide, but life provides exactly the education you need.” [David Brooks, Really Good Books, Part II, The New York Times, 26th May 2014]

And so what should the focus be of an enterprise – or an economy, the latter being essentially an enterprise – for that matter? Simply put, it’s the common good! But the common good is not derived from the instinct of ‘crab mentality.’ For instance, we are now aware that constantly mandating a living wage is counterproductive. And that is because of the interdependence that is imperative amongst the functions of an enterprise. And, not surprisingly, people – including those from international institutions – who care about PHL are one in saying: we must truly be committed to good governance, in the rapid pursuit of infrastructure development and the dismantling of oligopoly. But, of course, we Pinoys detest unsolicited advice?

What is our challenge as Pinoys, again? We constantly “lose sight of the ultimate goal” and have yet to “create a compelling vision” for PHL, as in becoming a developed economy, and thus haven't had “an inspiring narrative” to rally Juan de la Cruz to strive for said outcome? In the vernacular we have a word for it, “sabog” – loosely translates to being neither here nor there. And a developed economy would have all and be characterized by the above elements: good governance, infrastructure and a free market. 

What about nationalism? I couldn’t say it any better: “We see vested interest masquerading as national interest. We should learn to distinguish between the two,” so said the ADB’s Stephen Groff.

And what about our sovereignty – i.e., are we really serious in making the Supreme Court the decider of our fate? Remember NAIA 3 – and so we still threw in Mactan airport? And now we added Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement)? Granted our legal minds intellectually believe there are legal infirmities in Edca, for example, do we ever stop to wonder: is our fate in our hands . . . or in the SC?

While democracy says we have three co-equal branches and institutions that we must commit to strongly build, we as a society must likewise be a strong institution, meaning egalitarian, not cacique and hierarchical in character? And we can’t aspire to be one until we dismantle our favored institutions – e.g., oligarchy and political patronage, for example? And we may find comfort that no matter how we think along the lines of permanence, Francis doesn’t think the Vatican Curia’s ideology, for instance, must be perpetual – even when our faith is? And more to the point, a nation that has made impunity – as manifested in the more recent PDAF fiasco and with two if not three ex-presidents named amongst the world’s most corrupt leaders – central to its culture is invoking love of country?

And what about crab mentality – thus our inability to move forward as a nation – and why we are the laughingstock of the world? Will we ever learn to shape up?

Consider: “Scholar Amitav Acharya associates the ASEAN way with ‘a high degree of discreteness, informality, pragmatism, expediency, consensus building, and non-confrontational bargaining styles, which are often contrasted with the adversarial posturing and legalistic decision-making procedures in Western multilateral negotiations.’” [ASEAN: The way forward, Kishore Mahbubani and Rhoda Severino, McKinsey & Company, May 2014]
Did we or didn’t we pick up the wrong side of Western influence?

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