Monday, December 15, 2014

Where we are . . .

The GPS has become ubiquitous that we take it for granted. Yet its concept is a great teacher in the pursuit of undertakings, big and small. And if we would pause and ask ourselves where we are as an economy or as a people or as a nation, chances are we will realize we’ve taken the GPS for granted: where are we, were do we want to be and how will we get there?

I’ve used the GPS analogy for many years as an MNC manager. And I have used it in my development work in Eastern Europe. And I remember agonizing with the question: why’s there always the risk of failure to execute? Even when people would be in endless meetings and conferences to get things done. And in an MNC, these sessions are not only in small groups, but across functions in the subsidiary organization, if not in a regional or global setting.

And in this blog I’ve shared that my claim to fame as an MNC manager was to move our budgeting process to a goal alignment exercise. And later I would be involved in fixing problem businesses or what the world especially Wall Street knows as “restructuring.” And from those experiences I would internalize the imperative to be proactive – not to wait for a challenge to snowball into a major problem necessitating a restructuring.

Where are we, where do we want to be and how will we get there? I would develop a simple model – and as academics like George Whitesides of Harvard would confirm, simple is not the perspective of higher education, yet Steve Jobs saw “simplicity as the ultimate sophistication” and Apple would swear to simplicity in the pursuit of creativity, which Jobs would define as “connecting the dots” – akin to an ecosystem comprised of: (a) the marketing mix; (b) the resource mix and (c) the execution mix.

Simply put, an enterprise must have a product and/or service that must not only be acceptable but preferred by the consumer, and generate healthy returns – and thus attain sustainable growth. But to get there, the undertaking must be able to assemble and employ resources efficiently and, as importantly, execute the thinking accordingly.

But I’d find myself constantly going back to the question: “where are we?” It is no different from the golf swing as both golfers and hackers know it. A good swing starts with what is called the “proper address.” Or simply, where is the golfer when he or she starts the golf swing? And that is why a golf instructor would always want to check the “stance” of the golfer because it informs how he or she is “addressing the ball.” And the golf stance is counterintuitive and requires a deliberate thinking process – “what was your swing thought when you hit that ball,” is a typical question from an instructor – and why the game is called “mental.”

Where are we as an economy or a people or a nation? And that can be captured by our long-held assumptions, beliefs and values? For example, many of us sincerely believe that to be critical of who we are or of PHL is unpatriotic? Sadly, we have taken the GPS for granted when Juan de la Cruz ought to behave like a mature person, not a juvenile or “onion-skinned”?

Take the FOI. What we enact into laws are a reflection of our assumptions, beliefs and values. And the fact that we do more talking than doing re FOI speaks volumes. Put another way, openness, transparency and diversity aren’t compatible with our assumptions, beliefs and values?

Where are we? Are we committed to an egalitarian society which is what openness, transparency and diversity are about? And that is pretty evident in our institutions – beyond the church and including the school, the government and our oligarchic economy? In other words, to be inclusive which is what we claim that we want to be is mere rhetoric because it cannot be fostered in our culture? Yet even Communist Vietnam and earlier China would embrace capitalism. In other words, how come we Pinoys see our culture as gospel truth – and cast in stone? And following the GPS analogy, we’ve heard that voice constantly: “recalculating!” Because we are neither here nor there?

That said, how can we establish where we want to be when we have yet to come to terms with where we are? If we can’t establish the fact of where we are, all the more we can’t define the intangible and more complex, where we want to be? Add to that the reality of leadership being a scarce resource with visionary leadership being more so. And given our culture of impunity, we need even much greater leadership.

Sadly, despite the absence of a predicate, we’ve chosen to offer solutions – or how we will get there – and that would explain the follies behind our efforts to move the nation forward? It is the classic example of the blind leading the blind?

And as we get deeper in the hole, the more efforts we exert the deeper we seem to find ourselves – as though in a quicksand? For example, while we’re supposedly knowledgeable in marketing, we have yet to become regionally if not globally competitive. And why is the point important? An economy is as big or small as its aggregate output of goods and services. We cannot speak of regional and/or global competitiveness if we don’t address the imperative to produce competitive products and services.

In other words, we cannot move the debate to social issues as the panacea or the road to progress and development when we are unable to feed the economic hopper with the requisite inputs that will yield regionally if not globally competitive products and services.

And our failings don’t end there. Given all the foregoing, we have demonstrated our shortcomings in execution. And that would explain why despite PPP, for instance, we remain regional laggards in infrastructure development. And if we mustn’t move the debate to social issues when we’re faced foursquare by the shortfalls in economic output, we likewise cannot move the debate and skirt the infrastructure challenges of metro Manila because it has become unmanageable. We need to create a much broader (mega-metro Manila infrastructure) vision like the Japanese experts recommended. They know what they’re talking about.

We’re back to Pareto’s principle – i.e., metropolitan areas will account for the vital few drivers of the economy while recognizing there is a compelling need to develop for the rural areas their requisite ecosystem. We know the US has its economic hubs – in the east and west – and so does China and every other country. And in the case of the US, Warren Buffett made one of his biggest investments in rail transport to get Middle America connected to the nation’s economic centers. And it proved a very wise investment indeed.

In sum, we have failed to establish the environment and the platform of an ecosystem. And so we constantly find ourselves in a maze – with no sense of where we are, where we want to be and how we will get there?

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