Saturday, June 14, 2014

Boo-boos galore . . .

Left unsaid was: that’s our reason for being, to problem-solve. It was the first reality that I learned in the West. Just a few days after I had reported for work to a new boss in New York, and she held the title of President [for the region], she would blurt out, “I blew it!” And so it was not a surprise when one lazy Sunday there was this phone call: “Do you have something urgent to do tomorrow? How do you like flying to Toronto?” Or after arriving from Singapore the fellow who picked me up at the airport would sheepishly announce: “You want the good or the bad news first? You may want to call the boss’ assistant; she has your ticket to fly right back to Asia, like tomorrow, if I’m not mistaken.” Of course, it was our reason for being, to problem solve!

I would only smile while on the train (especially as it sped through his suburban New York town of Larchmont) reading Tim Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on financial crises: “We made lots of mistakes. Our interventions didn't always work wonders. Even Mexico, Korea and Brazil, the clearest successes, had suffered devastating economic contractions, because deleveraging after a credit bubble is always painful.”

“The money we helped deploy to countries in crisis was critical, but money can't compensate for the absence of political will. The choices we made in Washington were important, but they worked only when we dealt with competent and credible leaders in the affected countries. Brazil's central banker, Arminio Fraga, who also has U.S. citizenship, was so impressive that I later mentioned him to President Obama as potential Fed chair.”

That last sentence would remind me of another New Yorker, a friend, when President Arroyo was in the US; and he would say: “We need to make your president an American so she can take over from ours [making reference to “Dubya”], who can’t even put a simple sentence together.”

“What this company needs is new ideas, and I haven’t heard any coming out so far . . . It is a stark turn of fortune for a company that was started by Henry R. Luce in 1922 . . . The problems Time Inc. will face are not unique in an industry confronting steep challenges. But interviews with analysts and dozens of current and former Time Inc. executives suggest that a series of management missteps, a lack of investment from Time Warner and downsizing in preparation for the spinoff may have added to the degree of difficulty.” [Time Inc. to set a lonely course after a spinoff, David Carr and Ravi Somaiya, The New York Times, 8th June 2014]

“Today, however, a ‘Kodak moment’ has more to do with fear and failure than the familiarity and fondness that once came to mind. [It] calls to mind the failure of those at Kodak to realize the world has changed. One can imagine a slightly worried, anxious gathering of corporate executives dismissing digital cameras as a passing phase. A fad . . . And then they waited. And soon they watched. And eventually they realized that they had failed to understand the magnitude and nature of the change.” [Jim Burke, Reimagining English: The seven personae of the future; English Journal 99.2 (2009), pp 12-15, The National Council of Teachers of English]

It’s like déjà vu. I am commuting by train to Manhattan – like I did many years ago. But this time it’s to be with my Eastern European friends in their newest office. And we seem unable to stop to reminisce – amid laughter and banter – about the countless boo-boos we’ve made over the last several years. But they were a learning experience, and prepared the organization to strongly want to avoid falling into the trap of trial-and-error which before, then early in their life, they saw as its strength – of being fast and smart. The outlook has changed: This is the US of A; we may have had great products, great packaging and even great communications. But in this market we need more than that – we have to beat the next guy, and the next, and the next. We will make more mistakes but we can’t let the next guy win . . . Translation: the way to the Carnegie Hall is . . . ‘practice, practice, practice’.

“Businesses everywhere have to compete in a world that’s changing faster than ever. To keep pace they need people who can consistently generate new ideas and adapt to constant change. Many companies say it’s getting harder to find these people. One of the major reasons is education. All over the world, formal education systematically suppresses creative thinking and flexibility. National strategies to raise standards in education are making matters worse because they’re rooted in an old model of economic development and a narrow view of intelligence. For economic, cultural and political reasons, creativity should be promoted systematically at all levels of education, alongside literacy and numeracy. . . . Companies now face an unusual crisis in graduate recruitment. It’s not that there aren’t enough graduates to go around, it’s that too many of them can’t communicate, work in teams or think creatively.” [ibid.]

Can we Pinoys pick up something from these stories? Or does it go against the grain to admit that we struggle to face up to reality? And so while more and more we have learned to be critical of ourselves, is the balance of our self-assessment still tilted to save face? Philippine underdevelopment and poverty ought to trump the instincts to save face?

News article: “More investors want to invest in PHL.” Really? Did we not hear the administration very early in its term talking about the billions of new FDIs that were due to come? Sweeping problems under the carpet has caused us unprecedented sufferings as in decades of underdevelopment and poverty?

“No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled,” wrote Paolo G. MontecilloPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 17th April 2014. The Philippines remains a fragile democracy despite the Aquino administration’s gains that have not been enough to make up for ‘nearly a decade of regression’ during the previous administration . . . A new report by Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank, said true progress in the Philippines would be out of reach unless the improbable was achieved: Dismantling of oligarchies that control both politics and business . . . Bertelsmann said the dominance of entrenched family clans in politics and the economy should be reduced in order to make politics and economics more transparent and competitive. The antidynasty law, which has been debated in Congress since 1987, must be passed, it said. This, however, would be ‘highly unrealistic’ since President Aquino himself and about 80 percent of lawmakers come from these dynasties.”

“The horrifying thing about everything Ninoy said in 1968 is that if he were alive today, he would have written the same essay and with a minimum of statistical updating still sound like a disappointingly true description of our country today . . . Today . . . the same problem prevails, only worse . . . Of course, we should never lose hope. But we ought to recognize what seems like the hopelessness of our situation if we go on being like business as usual . . . What is wrong with the Philippines then is still what's wrong with the Philippines today.” [Boo Chanco, A blast from P-Noy's dad, Demand and supply, The Philippine Star, 6th June 2014]

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