Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“Pinoy abilidad” and firefighting

The conflicting reactions to the DAP defense by President Aquino were understandable? Does the justification for the DAP then reveal the dysfunction in government? Of course, we’re not alone: Obama and the US Congress have been unable to work together either. And it confirms that in a second term the president is a lame duck? But the US isn’t the “best practice” model for us. They are a fully developed economy while we are underdeveloped. We are playing in two different fields. We may both be dealing with poverty, for instance, but the cause and effect of the problems are different. Every time leaders proclaim success in plucking the low-hanging fruit, like the president did, one could almost hear the chest-thumping: “I am a Pinoy, with abilidad”?

The low-hanging fruit must indeed be plucked, yet it must be more than a fire-fighting effort? Beyond addressing a short-term need leadership demands much more – the pursuit of longer-term and sustainable initiatives. For example, we have yet to hear about an energy roadmap and an infrastructure master plan with the requisite timelines and also one for industrialization that includes agribusiness like the 7 winners in “Arangkada” from the JFC?

If the president can be unequivocal and say “charter change is not a priority,” shouldn’t the administration equally be unequivocal and say “we shall fix PHL’s energy problem once and for all”? To Secretary Petilla, it’s not about emergency powers; we’ve had this “emergency” for decades? It is beyond insanity? In other words, if practice makes perfect, what’s the inverse? Is it about time we cast this albatross? And instead of asking developed nations for aid, should we ask for help that is truly relevant? Putting up an energy infrastructure is beyond us – let's get real! And it’s no different from Malaysia needing the help of others to deal with their own disasters? And it holds true for many nations for that matter. And I happen to have a ringside view being a development worker in Eastern Europe the last 11 years. 

In short, it’s about time we put up (with help from others) the requisite platform for PHL as an economy and a nation by getting the basics right on a prioritized basis? In the private sector such a dysfunction is taken as murder and thus the imperative to bite the bullet – like pursuing restructuring, for example. It is the lesser evil given inaction is “criminal” – as in risking bankruptcy. It ought not to be different in the public sector given the resulting PHL underdevelopment and thus persistent and pervasive poverty – where Filipinos can't keep body and soul together – while vested interests are guaranteed the spoils of the dysfunction. “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” We can all recite the quote in our sleep?

Satisfying populist demands makes politicians look bigger than life and which we justify and call retail politics – that all politics is local? But is that where the dysfunction begins, i.e., we’re pacified by lollipops? Which the Americans did too, but then we woke up and wondered whether we were taken for a ride? But that is why development matters – i.e., such reliance must be outgrown so that it becomes unnecessary and irrelevant? And that is not rocket science – which every adult has learned generation after generation? Afghanistan understandably talks about the Americans being a nascent democracy and free market. But are we?

It reminds me of my favorite Bulgarian taxi driver: “You know how stupid we can be? We elected the Communist Party before and we had a bank run (in 1996) with over a dozen banks going bankrupt – and a period of hyperinflation; and more recently we elected them again, and we had another bank run – with a bank going bankrupt. And so we had to get rid of them. I wish for good this time. We keep repeating history making the wrong choices, like siding and becoming allies with the wrong blocs like the Soviets. We still need adult supervision and so there is a faction of us that wants the ties to Russia and another that wants the ties to the US. In the meantime, oligarchy [made up of ex-commissars that took advantage of the transition to free market; does it sound familiar – we kicked Marcos out and on a dime we, given our acquiescence, became the looters?] remains the backbone of the economy. They control a major chunk of industry and have successfully kept foreign investments away by fortifying their hold on our monopolies. We’re like the banana republics of Latin America.”

In the case of PHL, does the dysfunction in government reveal our worldview as well as our values? But we don’t talk about it because we take them as a given – and thus would define who we are? But how do species become extinct? When they aren’t the fittest and don’t have the ability to adapt to the world? And thus says Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” And in the case of Juan de la Cruz, he grew up believing that the world was evil – and it explains our sheltered upbringing? But aren’t we then surprised that the CBCP is saying the church is a “sick institution” – a dogmatic, self-engrossed and authoritative sick institution?

Beyond our inability to prioritize – and despite our claim to the contrary – have we also undermined the ability to be critical and creative and innovative and competitive? Brainstorming, for example, is not about polite consensus; it is about disagreements and debates so that the outcome is not a compromise as we know it but the most creative thoughts from a group? In the private sector it is simply called “the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.” And the magic comes from: “(1) The right culture to foster and support innovation; (2) Strong visionary leadership; (3) Willingness to challenge norms and take risks; (4) Ability to capture ideas throughout the organization; (5) Capacity and capability for creativity.”[Business Innovation Done Right, 26th Sept 2013]

Of course, not every enterprise gets it right: “After years of denial that surgery was needed, optimism is rising that Japan’s consumer-electronics firms are facing up to their steady loss of global market share. In 1982 we published a briefing on how “The giants in Japanese electronics” were set to keep conquering the world with all manner of exciting new gadgets: Video cameras! Fax machines! CD players! And they did, for a while. But now they all struggle to compete in the most important categories of consumer electronics against rivals such as Samsung of South Korea and especially Apple of the United States.” [Eclipsed by Apple, Electronics companies in Japan are starting to turn themselves around, but they are a shadow of their former selves, The Economist, 12th July 2014]

In other words, if we Pinoys aren't willing to undo our “sins of omission and commission” as the church seems to want to do, we ought not to expect a better life for Juan de la Cruz? Consider what the world reads about us, and no doubt potential investors read them too: “Manila toll road project stop” or “Youth vs PNoy file 2nd impeachment” or “Plunder complaint filed vs VP, Junjun, 22 others”.

In the era of meritocracy – which is what the 21st century is about or the age of innovation and competitiveness – we shall get what we deserve? Simply put, we shouldn’t be surprised why we are unable to attract foreign investment? Beyond our being governance-challenged, are we being dogmatic by embracing our brand of nationalism as in being an island unto ourselves and self-engrossed – if we are to take a cue from the bishops? And are we unable to prioritize even the most basic of infrastructure projects as in “Manila toll road project stop”? What more of strategic industries where we need visionary leadership – not populism and crab mentality that preserve and perpetuate feudalism?

Should we reflect on what the Bulgarian taxi driver sees in them, “We're like the banana republics of Latin America”? News items: “Joker slams Noy's dictatorial tendencies” . . . “No coup, says AFP chief Catapang” . . .

Saturday, July 26, 2014

It’s resiliency, not complacency . . .

Is that the mental model of Juan de la Cruz? And does it explain our inability to move forward as a nation? “I like him because he says not what we want to hear but to share his perspective.” That was my Bulgarian friend comparing notes with me and talking about the Dutch manager we recently hired to cover a big piece of Western Europe where we’re stepping up investment. If it’s not yet obvious, this blog often talks about “thinking” and “mental models.” It was what I realized 11 years ago that my then new Eastern European friends needed if they were to leave behind their socialist-communist past and learn the ropes of free market.

“Mental models are how the brain makes sense of the vast amount of information to be processed every moment of every day. They are the lens through which we see the world. The filter that separates the signal from noise. The framework for attributing cause and effect. The ‘sorting hat’ to decide what makes into our conscious awareness.” [Don’t Sell a Product, Sell a Whole New Way of Thinking, Mark Bonchek, Harvard Business Review, 18th July 2014]

“To understand the power of mental models, consider Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, an Austrian physician working in the 1840s. He observed that the death rate for puerperal fever fell tenfold when doctors washed their hands before treating patients. He shared his findings with his colleagues to introduce handwashing as a standard practice. Despite the data, his fellow doctors dismissed his findings. In fact, his colleagues and even his own wife thought he was losing his mind. They had him committed to a mental institution where he died shortly thereafter.”

We don’t like unsolicited advice – and so we claim resiliency instead of owning up to complacency? The good news is it appears we are waking up to reality? “Are we prepared? Are our buildings and other structures strong enough? Do we have the necessary systems in place so that we, and our leaders, would know what to do in its immediate aftermath? Exactly 24 years later, on July 16, 2014—last Wednesday—another natural disaster battered the country. This time it was typhoon Glenda (international name Rammasun which also pummeled some parts of China afterwards) bringing with it winds of up to 120 kilometers per hour with gusts of 165 kph.” [By land, water and air, Adelle Chua, Manila Standard Today, 21st July 2014]

“Unfortunately, the Yolanda experience also highlighted how politics could mess with the supposedly non-partisan efforts to save lives, help survivors, and help victim gets back on their feet. Did we learn the lessons and apply them to Glenda? Can we use them for the next disasters? It’s a certainty: there will be earthquakes and typhoons just as strong or even stronger than what we have experienced. These are different times, more difficult times. We have to go beyond traditional ways of looking at disasters and find a way to anticipate them, mitigate them, refuse to be distracted by other fleeting, self-aggrandizing concerns.”

Put another way, we need to revisit and examine our mental models so that we are able “to go beyond traditional ways of looking at disasters and find a way to anticipate them, mitigate them, refuse to be distracted by other fleeting, self-aggrandizing concerns”?

“With an average of 20 typhoons a year, one would think that with the amount of experience, we should be better in dealing with typhoons and calamities by now, but we are not. We have consistently focused on ‘Disaster Preparedness’ as in stock piling food and water, preparing relocation centers, evacuating people and sending emergency response teams. Instead of operating on Disaster Preparedness I realized that we have to start thinking about ‘Storm-proofing.’” [Storm-proof, CTALK, Cito Beltran, The Philippine Star, 21st July 2014] “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

Is that why we seem to keep piling up our challenges? Consider: “The power industry has been neglected by a succession of presidents, Senator Osmeña said at the Kapihan. And yet power is a major requirement in the economy. The economy will not grow if there is not enough electricity. Factories and other businesses need electricity to be able to operate.” [Osmeña: power industry neglected, Neal H. CruzAs I See ItPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 21st July 2014]

“Even just the increase in population requires more power. More people use more electricity. The overabundant shopping malls alone require so much power. We invite other countries to invest in the Philippines, but they will not do that if we have insufficient power. Electricity is a major necessity of any business, factories especially, which we need to provide work for our people. Our available power is not only insufficient but also very expensive. We have the second highest power rates in Asia. High power rates means high production costs for businesses. So why would investors come to the Philippines in a situation like that?”

“As a nation with one of the most backward electricity industry structures in the world, unchanged for decades, we are indeed mad. Every year since Marcos fell in 1986 we suffer power outages throughout the summer, and then when the typhoon season comes, we again suffer power outages, this time around purportedly due to the power of nature. We even use the private power industry’s euphemism, to make the phenomenon acceptable: “brownouts,” which, however, refers to drops in voltage and not the total loss of electricity we suffer so often.” [Screw Indonesian-controlled Meralco, Rigoberto D. Tiglao, The Manila Times, 20th July 2014]

“Philippine banks have been advised to strengthen their risk management efforts, put in place more good governance policies and focus on consumer protection in preparation for the regional economic integration, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said.”[ASEAN banking integration: Phl banks need to step up – BSP, Kathleen A. Martin, The Philippine Star, 21st July 2014]

“BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said late last week domestic banks would need to step up amid expected increased competition from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ banking integration framework, and the imminent reforms they will need to implement under the Basel 3 accord. ‘From a realistic standpoint, there is only one thing that banks must do and that is to become better banks.’”

Should we then be surprised to read the following? “The Philippines dropped 10 notches in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014, now ranking the 100th most innovative economy in the world out of 143 economies surveyed this year.” [PH drops 10 places in global innovation rankings, Amy R. RemoPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 19th July 2014]

The bottom line: We can't keep invoking resiliency and instead own up to complacency? News item: “Petilla presses Palace to avert power shortfall”. We can't either keep claiming happiness while sweeping our misdeeds under the carpet? How far are we willing to take our fatalism? Yet as a priest-columnist has written a few times, God helps those who help themselves . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Taking a hierarchical system and structure as a given

Is it because it is our normal? It is our culture and tradition that we must respect and be proud of? But does it explain the dysfunction in PHL society? On the one hand where the family is the nucleus of society, is it also where we derive a nation’s ability to develop? And on the other our hierarchical system and structure has been reinforced by our institutions: political, educational and more so by the church? Defining what truly matters would clarify the paradox? For example, transparency doesn’t assume the absence of respect? Yet respect is suspect if not misplaced when transparency is absent? And is it why the bishops acknowledged that the church is a “sick institution”?

“We’ve sunk even lower than the jungle beasts – for the Law of the Jungle at least mandates “the survival of the fittest,” while in our society it’s the misfits who are rewarded.” [When power becomes evil, Sara Soliven De Guzman, As a matter of fact, The Philippine Star, 14th July 2014] “We’ve been reading about powerful politicians and businessmen who think and act like they are above the law . . . It is so easy for these narcissists to disobey the law and most of the time they get away with it . . . The sad part is that even government officials try to create their own laws. When the law is already very clear in black and white, they still have the audacity to go around it to justify their actions . . . Why do powerful people become evil?”

“The term ‘public service’ has become the sickest joke of all time. What public service are you talking about? Nobody is serving the public anymore . . . The prohibitory norm against nepotism in public service is set out in Section 59, Book V of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 (also known as E.O. No. 292). Section 59 reads as follows: Nepotism. – (1) All appointments to the national, provincial, city and municipal governments or in any branch or instrumentality thereof, including government owned or controlled corporations, made in favor of a relative of the appointing or recommending authority, or of the chief of the bureau or office, or of the persons exercising immediate supervision over him, are hereby prohibited.”

But then again, the focus on family is something we’re proud of. And between family and the church it is not surprising how our values have been shaped – unfortunately, not necessarily for good?

“AS HE unveiled an extensive shake-up of the Vatican’s financial structures on July 9th, Cardinal George Pell said Pope Francis would soon name an auditor-general, free to ‘go everywhere and anywhere’ in the walled city-state to root out pecuniary lapses. The appointment of the new official would help the Vatican work towards “transcendency”, the cardinal added, before correcting himself to say ‘transparency’.” [The Vatican bank, Managing Mammon, A shake-up of Catholic finances, The Economist, 12th July 2014]

“Religion and finance have always sat together uncomfortably, nowhere more so than in the Catholic church. The Vatican City is a natural tax haven. Its Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR)—better known as the Vatican bank—has been wreathed in mystery and tainted by scandal since its involvement in the collapse in 1982 of Banco Ambrosiano (the bank’s chairman, Roberto Calvi, was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in London).”

In other words, how do we Pinoys learn to embrace transparency? That the absence of transparency breeds tyranny . . . and at the same time undermines and emasculates critical and creative thinking? In sum, it explains our inability to put our house in order – from the basics of nation-building and beyond . . . especially including innovation and competitiveness demanded by the 21st century? “The Philippines dropped 10 notches in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014, now ranking the 100th most innovative economy in the world out of 143 economies surveyed this year.” [PH drops 10 places in global innovation rankings, Amy R. Remo,Philippine Daily Inquirer, 19th July 2014]

“Based on the results of the GII 2014, the Philippines’ scores and rankings declined in five of the seven main indicators, namely human capital and research, infrastructure, business sophistication, knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs . . . This index recognizes the key role of innovation as a driver of economic growth and prosperity, and the need for a broad horizontal vision of innovation applicable to developed and emerging economies. Amid the documented slowdown in the growth of global research and development, the theme of the GII 2014 is ‘The Human Factor in Innovation,’ exploring the role of human capital in the innovation process and underlining the growing interest that firms and governments have shown in identifying and energizing creative individuals and teams.”

“Rather than trying to preserve the past by propping up old industries, officials should focus on managing the transition to new forms of work. This requires a better understanding of emerging technologies, and how they differ from those that they are supplanting.” [How creative destruction revs up progress and jobs, Carl Benedict Frey, Business World, 17th July 2014] “The story of US steel illustrates an important lesson about what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction”: Long-run economic growth involves more than just increasing output in existing factories; it is also implies structural changes in employment.”

“We can observe a similar phenomenon in the current information and communications technology (ICT) revolution, which has affected most areas of the modern workplace, even those not directly associated with computer programming or software engineering. Computer technologies have created prosperous new businesses (even business clusters) while making certain manufacturing workers redundant and sending older manufacturing cities into decline.”

But it doesn't mean we should bypass manufacturing and leapfrog to BPOs like we did in the Philippines, and which Poland has realized. The same can be said of retailing without a manufacturing base to speak of. In both cases, these industries are akin to the low-hanging fruit, and the phenomenon has defined PHL especially when we add OFW remittances. Following our inability to do the basics right and to prioritize, we celebrated our failures after sweeping them under the carpet?

The evidence: our inability to erect basic infrastructure and a core of strategic industries – reflective of our failed institutions as in governance, learning and faith? The reference to basic and strategic must be underscored; meaning, with a solid foundation not only physical but human and thus creative, geared to innovation and competition and broad-based, thus able to optimize the multiplier effect and be inclusive. The reality: we continue to dig ourselves in the hole consumed by retail politics as in the DAP and populist agendas – and we wonder why we're running round in circles?

We have a much bigger problem than the DAP. Until we learn to look outward and forward we shall remain “too close to the trees that we miss the forest”? And it explains why we're riveted by politics, education and religion instead of governance, learning and faith?

Friday, July 18, 2014

We in the social media

“Social media has been given to us because traditional media has come into ownership and control of business and political interest. We in traditional media have become captives and damaged goods. In what we can only call a world and word war there are very few of us good or bad. To turn the tide God has created a democratic and more powerful media.” [About the message not the messenger, Cito Beltran, CTALK, The Philippine Star, 9th July 2014]

That piece from Cito Beltran made me go back to “The genesis of this blog”: “I started writing to engage columnists and newspaper editors at the end of a trip to the Philippines over Holy Week in 2008 – to echo the frustrations expressed by friends and relations that were much louder and more intense than prior trips. My first thought was: with so much talents and skills how could the country be the basket case of Asia? Are we simply too nice as a people? Since then I have kept abreast with local news and opinions . . . I have shared my reaction (at times strongly reflecting the frustrations I am echoing) to prevailing views through my letters to newspapers and am posting them in this blog; and will continue doing so in the hope that I am able to offer a different perspective . . .”

Those frustrations previously expressed by friends and relatives have become mine as well – and have turned some people off. And so while the blog has 16K “Facebook likes,” 7 of the over 50 columnists that I regularly share my postings with have blocked my emails. That is roughly 13%, and which in a universe is to be expected – not the 13% necessarily but we will always turn people off. Social media has made me public when for most of my adult life I was indifferent to the plight of PHL, focused mainly on family, career and church. And which is why the piece of Cito Beltran resonates.

I have become more concerned about the plight of PHL; and as I wrote in the genesis of this blog, “My first thought was: with so much talents and skills how could the country be the basket case of Asia? Are we simply too nice as a people?” As a once lazy student, I looked up to many outstanding Filipinos and simply assumed, even when I was already based overseas, that we Pinoys would make the Philippines truly great.

And through my regular blog postings, realizing that we want a better life for Juan de la Cruz, I would offer ideas toward making the Philippines truly great. But if my ideas turn people off, then my blog is an exercise in futility. I’m not an expert in Dale Carnegie – or “how to win friends and influence people.” Though with what I do in different parts of the world, I have wittingly or unwittingly won friends and influenced people. And what I offer in this blog comes from that experience, in addition to playing back ideas from authorities on relevant subjects as well as news reports and opinions, local and foreign, that are like dos and don'ts of nation-building. 

And if I would take a cue from Cito Beltran, I ought to carry on. And to those that I would continue to turn off, I beg your pardon. And like we would hear from Juan de la Cruz, we have only one PHL, and we better put it in better order than we've done so far?

For the balance of this posting, please allow me to liberally quote from the following: Who can we trust (?), Lydia S. Enrile,MAPping the FuturePhilippine Daily Inquirer, 7th July 2014.

“It is unfortunate that the non-profit sector where I come, particularly the League of Corporate Foundations and the Association of Foundations, with decades of professionalism and dedication, and hard work, have been tainted by a few “rotten apples”.

“The poor perception of business though is perplexing to me. The drivers of trust in business are their treatment of their internal stakeholders and their employees, whether they paid the correct wages, adequate benefits. Do they comply with the law? Concern for others and payment of taxes are the least of their concerns. This data is telling, since more than 99 percent of businesses in the country are SMEs, employing 70 percent of the labor force. Should we presume that they are the basis for the low trust rating of business?

“Given the challenge of inclusive growth, it behooves our citizens to examine what the implications of these low trust levels mean for economic growth and the creation of prosperity for the majority of Filipinos.

“Do our strong family ties prevent us from professionalizing and growing our companies? I should know, I come from a family conglomerate that started after the war and grew to later become one of the top 100 corporations in the country. But we were slow to professionalize and relied mostly on family members to grow the business. I do not want to say that they were not qualified, I only know that what our fathers built is no longer there.

“How many of these SMEs will grow to become global brands, or even sustainable corporations without professionalizing, and contribute to lowering the 7.3 percent unemployment rate? Does the government truly support their growth or again, do we merely have slogans that do not actually work? If trust in government institutions remains low, this means higher transaction cost and uncompetitiveness for us, especially given the Asean integration.

“What kind of a future do our more than half a million graduates each year look forward to? Will they join the exodus of one million Filipinos each year to go abroad in search of a better future?”

“And shall our economy be continuously buoyed by the P4 to P5 billion in OFW remittances?

“Yes, our investment grade is attractive, our economic fundamentals sound but can we trust our institutions to be consistent, transparent and incorruptible. When will we stop giving “grease” money from the ordinary traffic enforcer to the clerk in the local government office to some of our “honorables.” All these cost add to our transaction cost and affect our competitiveness.

“In the words of Sec. Arsenio Balisacan, Neda Director General, “economic growth is necessary but not enough to reduce poverty.” The Agri sector, where the majority of the poor are, has been begging, pleading for structural reforms in the Department of Agriculture. While they admit that Land Reform is good as a concept, we have failed to implement it properly resulting in more than two decades of weak investments in that sector. There is a plea for the private sector to step in but will they, given the uncertainty of land reform and the high transaction cost imposed by some local government units? The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) continues to highlight these issues with its members. But they must likewise tackle this issue of low trust in business. We are after all the “engines of growth” and without this TRUST, our sustainability is greatly eroded.

“Sure, it is MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES, but is it more FUN only for those who can afford it.  These may sound like the angst of someone in midlife crisis (although I am way passed that), but really, WHO “CAN WE TRUST? And how can we truly restore the trust our parents once had in our institutions and in each other, and move our country toward real prosperity?”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is it Francis not Padre Damaso?

“CBCP chief seeks ‘Pope Francis’ approach vs. corruption,” Joel Locsin/LBG, GMA News, 5th July 2014. “Perhaps, we can reconsider our approach at solving the cancer of Philippine society which is graft and corruption by talking more about the beauty of integrity and honesty rather constantly denouncing the evil that we experience," he said.

“. . . The Church should follow the example of Pope Francis, who he said has shaken the old belief systems about spiritual shepherding . . . The Pope has so far ‘slowly moved the Church from being a dogmatic, self-engrossed and authoritative sick institution to being a gentle, outreaching, compassionate and persuasive Church through the power of love and mercy . . . Besides . . . the Church loses perspective when it loses its humility, and this makes the Church reactive. When we lose humility, we lose perspective. When we lose perspective, we also become too reactive. When we become too reactive, we become less effective and less credible as pastors. The loss of humility in Church ministry can be very costly.”

Was that what Rizal said over a century ago – because Juan de la Cruz has taken his religion to mean subservience? Does the church need to do more to undo over a century of blind obedience? For example, have we unwittingly created a very soft culture that breeds tyranny? If we equate the West as being the opposite, the following ought to give us pose – even in America leaders must go out of their way to fight blind obedience:  I’ve seen the best of management and the absolute worst of management.” [Kevin Tracey, on Putting It Together (After Taking It Apart), Adam Bryant, Corner Office, The New York Times, 5th July 2014; Tracey is the president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.]

“The worst is when the team fears the leader, so when someone sees something going wrong, they’re afraid to point it out. I’ve also seen the best. It’s about clearly stating the purpose and asking people how they’re doing and really listening if someone needs something different . . . If the operating team can accommodate the needs of that person without deviating from the plan, that person will be a better member of the team . . . How do [I] hire? My favorite question is, “What do you want to do?” If you don’t know what you want to do, you’re letting chance dictate your future. Then I look for patterns in their life that show they’ve conceived of a plan in the past and accomplished it.” 

Sadly, in the Philippines, despite our being well-informed and contemporaneous in our knowledge of business and management, our leadership model is still reflective of our culture? And it mirrors that of our hierarchical church? And so transparency is not foremost in our value system; and, not surprisingly, political patronage, oligarchy and corruption continue to haunt us? And I am always reminded of our reality every time our extended family (here in the US) has a reunion. As I would explain it to my wife, I am convinced the Pinoy way of life indeed is not easy even to tweak. And I would point her to the way my son-in-law (who is American) interacts with his father. In our culture, it would be taken as disrespect – because my son-in-law would express his views as though he was talking to a friend and it didn’t matter if his father was in agreement. If we think that is unique to America, I also see it even in Eastern Europe, kids “arguing with their parents – even their grandparents.”

Should individual rights not be encumbered in a democratic environment – whether family or church? And did Rizal think so as he observed the Age of Enlightenment while in Europe . . . and thus the need for him to create Padre Damaso?

Does the church need to refocus – and why Francis and now the CBCP seek a different approach? A nation must focus on nation-building or the common good, for example, and that can’t be adverse to the church? If indeed we value life, should we value the rights of every person, including the right to speak their minds? [Valuing life does not begin and end with RH?] Especially given that person is made in the image and likeness of The Creator? The bottom line: subservience was meant for another time? Do we as a nation need to do more?

And among us mortals in the secular world, do we as a nation need to focus on nation building? “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God which are God’s.” “There are people who have lost their focus, not because they have not put on their glasses, but because they do not know how important focus is. This is a weakness that must be addressed. Here is the key:  Focus is not a skill; it is a decision.” [Focus is intentional, Francis J. Kong, Business Matters (Beyond the bottom line), The Philippine Star, 6th July 2014]

“Focus is intentional, it is not accidental. Not focusing meant that the person is embarking on a perpetual sense of useless energy. You need to decide to focus. Life is not a digital game you play on your tablet, that every time you feel bored, you swipe it away. Focus is discipline in action. Be like the champion archers, they do not aim at the bull’s eye, they aim and focus at the center of the bull’s eye. Every successful business person I have met is skilled in the art of focusing.”

“While our graduate education programs are needed to produce good teachers and good managers, it is critical to analyze how the country’s graduate education system can best serve the needs of the country to meet its development goals.” [PHL graduate programs should address country’s development needs–study, Cai U. OrdinarioBusiness Mirror, 6th Jul 2014]

And the West has recognized similar needs as well: to focus the education system on producing graduates that can communicate, work in teams and be creative. In the private sector to communicate means more than reciting in class or writing a paper. It means, for instance, getting the rest of the team to buy into an idea. And it is not just any idea, but creative ideas – and they come from the diversity of the members of the team where there is no pulling rank. And creative ideas are not art for art’s sake. There ought to be a context – to reinforce the enterprise’s role as a contributing member of society, meaning, it is sustainable and not a flash in the pan, and for the common good.

Of course, if the church could be a “sick institution” (see above re CBCP), all the more private enterprise? And that is precisely why development means to be egalitarian not hierarchical – where transparency rules, not tyranny? Beyond the fight against the pork barrel, should the bishops in fact address political patronage and oligarchy, the two sides of the same coin that we’ve nurtured, i.e., a cacique culture? But has the church given it a wink a nod? And is it the cancer that Rizal saw over a hundred years ago?

The Jews learned very early on that 300 tenets were not the context but the Great Commandment? What is the context for us Pinoys? If it is deference to hierarchy then we shall be regional laggards, not just now . . . but even beyond – precisely why Rizal had to dramatize his argument via Padre Damaso?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

More than AEC 2015, how do we face the 21st century?

The good news is we’re not alone facing the challenge. “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.” [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]

“Creative thinking involves calling into question the assumptions underlying our customary, habitual ways of thinking and acting and then being ready to think and act differently on the basis of the critical questioning.”[] In the same material, one would read the components of critical thinking as follows: (a) identifying and challenging assumptions; (b) recognizing the importance of context; (c) imagining and exploring alternatives; and (d) developing reflective skepticism; [and that] creative thinkers would consider rejecting standardized formats for problem solving; [and] have an interest in a wide range of related and divergent fields; take multiple perspectives on a problem; use trial-and-error methods in their experimentation; have a future orientation; and have self-confidence and trust in their own judgment.”

How do we reconcile that in a hierarchical system and structure like ours? A survey of PricewaterhouseCoopers spells out“the most important ingredients to successful innovation: (1) The right culture to foster and support innovation; (2) Strong visionary leadership; (3) Willingness to challenge norms and take risks; (4) Ability to capture ideas throughout the organization; (5) Capacity and capability for creativity.” [Business Innovation Done Right, 26th Sept 2013]

While the above speaks to business organizations, culture is a fundamental given if innovation is to be fostered and supported. And thus beyond the imperatives of roads and bridges or infrastructure, for example, economies and nations need to innovate with their products and services in order to be competitive. The days of comparative advantage are over; it is now about competitive advantage? For example, Filipinos speak English and are conscientious workers and so OFW remittances are the backbone of our economy. But as we now know, our neighbors lead us across the board in terms of competitiveness.

And critical to competitiveness and innovation is strong visionary leadership. Chancellor Angela Merkel comes to mind. Instead of succumbing to populist demands, she had the vision to lead Germany to embrace RE or renewable energy, for example. The average German was cursing her; that she was insensitive – as their utility bills spiked up – and promised she wasn't to lead Germany for long. She’s still around!

“We have our work cut out for us when it comes to navigating complex problems, in large part because we are hard-wired to seek certainty as quickly as possible. The research of decision scientists reveals that our best strategy for tackling these problems is to harness cognitive diversity, because groups do better than individuals, including those with the highest IQs. Complex problems are characterized by confusing systems of causal interactions; untangling these requires multiple different points of view. Diversity . . . trumps ability.” [The Hidden Enemy of Productive Conversations, Ted Cadsby, Harvard Business Review, 4th July 2014]

“But the benefits of cognitive diversity do not materialize automatically — they have to be engineered. And groups are just as vulnerable as individuals to the number one enemy of productive thinking: path dependence. Path dependence is the tendency for things (such as events, belief systems, personalities, evolution, and conversations) to unfold in ways that are constrained by the parameters of the path they are on. It represents the enormous influence of the past on the future.”

“When thinking does not stray from certain parameters, creativity and results are sacrificed. The more we’re aware of the paths that constrain our thinking, the less captive we are to them. To generate deeper and more creative insights, leaders have to push a group’s thinking beyond the narrow paths that otherwise take hold. High quality conversations require stewardship. Leaders need to create and encourage constructive dissent to open up new possibilities, expand insight, and generate better decisions.”

“Constructive dissent depends on two conditions: genuine independence of thought and constructive engagement between team members. Leaders must encourage their teams to speak freely and independently, to correct one another’s errors and build on good ideas, and to allow the insights of others to deepen their own thinking. Flexible, expansive conversations that resist path-dependent thinking are the best (and only) way to navigate an increasingly complex world. And fostering them is one of the most important jobs of our leaders.”

“No matter what your age or your life path . . . it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity. . . . I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.” [How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Unblock the “Spiritual Electricity” of Creative Flow, Maria Popova, Brain pickings, 4th July 2014]

The first time my Eastern European friends and I talked about how to win in the market place eleven years ago, they thought it was insane. “We don’t even have a plan for the balance of the day. We’re Bulgarians; we take it as it comes. We never talked about the future. All we knew was we had our daily provisions of bread and a handful of vegetables courtesy of our Communist masters – and not much else. And so we learned how to create different salads out of the few veggies, raise livestock and other vegetables and make rakia (an alcoholic beverage from fermented fruit) at home.”

Two days after I got back from New York recently, I attended a business review session between a business unit and a regional team, and they proudly presented the product development plans for several years. It was just the middle of the current year and I was asking about the year’s numbers. And the regional manager talked about their three focused countries and their respective business dynamics, with the largest one firing on all cylinders. And then the business unit manager grinning from ear-to-ear discussed the progress of the expansion of the manufacturing facilities “because we have to be ahead of the curve.” These ex-socialists were born and raised under Communist rule; and today they talk like Fortune 500 managers.

Even socialism/communism wasn’t cast in stone?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Spinning wheels

“Singapore first, the Philippines last.” [Fragile: Survey shows how precarious the Philippine state still is, Benjamin E. Diokno, Core, Business World, 2nd July 2014] Have we been reduced to spinning wheels? Does it have to do with “Pinoy abilidad”? That instinctively we like to take advantage of the low-hanging fruit while making “pa pogi” or declaring victory? And while OFW remittances are the biggest example and represent our own “Dutch disease” we have many others? “The 2014 Fragile State Index (FSI) results suggest that the Philippines, compared to its neighboring countries and the rest of the world, has a long way to go before it becomes truly competitive globally.”

“Looking at countries closest to home, the Philippines has remained the most fragile among ASEAN-6 countries. This bloc includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The ranking among ASEAN-6 countries has not changed since four years ago: Singapore first, the Philippines last. This poor ranking is especially true in terms of poverty and income decline and public services. The latter includes public infrastructure.”

“The short-term perspective of the current approach to Philippine tourism (there are virtually no initiatives or forecasts beyond 2016) might be successful in boosting the industry quickly, but in doing so mortgages the economic future of tourism communities.” [Tourism: Mortgaging the country’s economic future, Ben D. Kritz, The Manila Times, 2nd July 2014]

“To the extent that he has influence over the broader approach to tourism policy—an extent that may actually be limited, given that the physical development of tourism infrastructure and destinations relies on other agencies and the private sector—Secretary Jimenez should prioritize sustainability over volume. That means extending tourism plans by 20 or 30 years; matching target numbers to stages of development, and designing those developmental stages to be re-purposed effectively after the tourists disappear.”

“After all, those who need to be “included” in the “inclusive growth” Jimenez and his boss in Malacañang say tourism can provide will still need to be included, whether there are any tourists or not; there is no point where policymakers can declare the job done. The present approach, while admirable for its fervor, suggests the government is not clear on that point, and that’s something that needs to change if tourism is to be truly successful in the Philippines.”

As marketers know it, there is such a thing as the “marketing mix” and in the case of tourism, the first element or the product is PHL itself – and beyond its God-given natural beauty, the product includes infrastructure. In other words, promotion (which is another element of the mix; the others being pricing and place) or advertising cannot make up on a sustained basis for an inferior product. We can employ big data and analytics to optimize the marketing mix; but as Jonathan Ive of Apple would recall Steve Jobs, “focus on product,” was what he learned directly from Jobs. [Jonathan Ive on Apple’s Design Process and Product Philosophy, Brian X. Chen and Matt Richtel, The New York Times, 16th June 2014]

Does it remind us of CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) or DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program)? They are like the low-hanging fruit which in the private sector equate to tactical efforts – but they’re part of a broader strategic perspective that would connect the dots? In other words, short-term tactical efforts, logical as they may be, are not the be-all and end-all!“Steve Jobs talked about [connecting the dots] in his famous commencement speech. He said that creativity is just connecting the dots. Creative thinkers produce ideas by finding the relationship between facts.” [7 Habits of Highly Creative Minds, Antoinette, 4th July 2012]

“The once vaunted “Filipino First” policy has morphed into a “Rich Filipino First” policy, as much of the country’s resources and wealth have been gobbled up by economic oligarchs. Simply stated, the remarkable economic growth has not been inclusive, bypassing the poor and the unemployed.” [Strategies for inclusive development, Robert EvangelistaPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 29th June 2014]

“While it is true that our chronic twin problems of poverty and unemployment may not be solved overnight, their alleviation and mitigation can be considerably hastened with innovative, stimulating and productive transformational strategies that will significantly uplift the lives of all Filipinos, including the poorest of the poor. Our people cannot afford to wait for remedies that are agonizingly slow in coming. They need solutions with immediate and powerful impact.”

“The constitutions of other countries are wisely silent on economic issues and, thus, they retain great flexibility in enacting economic laws responsive to the demands of the rapidly changing times. But not the Philippines, where we have disregarded or overlooked this principle on constitution-making, for our fundamental law expressly embodies ultranationalistic economic provisions limiting foreign ownership and investments in vital sectors of the economy.”

“As a consequence, the Philippines has harvested the bitter fruits of this monumental constitutional blunder. Because of these misguided economic policies deeply embedded in our Constitution, for decades the Philippines has lagged far behind its Asean-5 neighbors in economic growth, foreign investments, job generation and poverty alleviation.”

And here it gets more confusing; it’s not simply reconciling the short- and the long-term but we have to dig deeper into our beliefs? At the end of the day, do we want to be an island unto ourselves notwithstanding the risk, if not damage, from being isolated from the bigger world – as in perpetuating a cacique culture that is parochial, hierarchical and paternalistic while undermining PHL’s competitiveness?

In other words, what is the context of our worldview that we seem to accept the label regional laggards matter-of-factly? We can’t run the nation that is PHL to the ground?  And it isn’t compatible with our sense that we Pinoys are creative? “Creative thinking involves calling into question the assumptions underlying our customary, habitual ways of thinking and acting and then being ready to think and act differently on the basis of the critical questioning.”[]

And settling for the low-hanging fruit does not equate to creativity? And critical thinking presupposes identifying and challenging assumptions; recognizing the importance of context; imagining and exploring alternatives; and developing reflective skepticism.” [ibid.]

It’s too bad, so sad if we’ve been reduced to spinning wheels – finding no traction in our pursuit of the low-hanging fruit?