Thursday, April 2, 2015

Problem-solving: address positives and negatives

Still, so that the exercise becomes a learning process – and contributes and builds knowledge – it is important to frame problem-solving in a thinking model that can be improved upon. The acid test clearly is: it must respond to the challenge. And so problem-solving is akin to designing an outcome – thus the techniques of design thinking or human-centered design. And yes, one must first have a good handle or a definition of the problem.

The world has moved from the era of the “knowledge worker” (from the guru Peter Drucker) to the 21st century’s “learning worker” and the larger “learning organization” which progressive global enterprises like GE have embraced, and where they have a “Chief Learning Officer.” Likewise, the imperative of continuous learning applies to creativity, innovation and competitiveness. In PHL we’ve been measuring our efforts against the yardsticks of global competitiveness but we need to figure out their underpinnings if indeed we are to move forward.

For example, if Singaporeans see complaining (and which as they’ve demonstrated connotes continuous improvement) as a national pastime, we Pinoys like to see a focus on the positive? That's sounds like a good self-help approach except of course if it reinforces “pwede na 'yan.” Many postings ago, this blog discussed “force-field analysis.” Wikipedia: “Force-field analysis is an influential development in the field of social science. It provides a framework for looking at the factors (forces) that influence a situation, originally social situations. It looks at forces that are either driving movement toward a goal (helping forces) or blocking movement toward a goal (hindering forces). The principle, developed by Kurt Lewin, is a significant contribution to the fields of social sciencepsychology, social psychology, community psychology organizational development, process management, and change management.”

We can just focus on the positive at our peril. The principle simply is: step up the positives or driving forces; and depress the negatives or restraining forces. The key to force-field analysis is to toss “pwede na ‘yan”. The PPP, for example, must be about efficient execution of vital infrastructure projects; and FDI accumulation must be about the ability to attract foreign investment. And what about the driving forces that must be leveraged against the hindering forces that must be depressed? Try a less restrictive economy; and undo an oligarchic economy that drives FDIs away?

Let’s get back to defining our problem: Is it poverty or underdevelopment? If in forming a hypothesis we recognize the experience of the Asian Tigers (and they have drastically reduced poverty) we can define our problem as underdevelopment? What about designing the outcome so that in fact it responds to our challenge? For instance, Singapore's average income is that of a First-World nation and Malaysia's, while still behind Singapore, is 4 times more than ours. But we'd rather gloss over our GDP per capita because we like to focus on the positive? Yet the North Star for us must be: to raise our average income – to the level of our neighbors!

And it is not about coming up with a healthy dose of “kuro-kuro” especially when we all insist that what we offer is the solution. They may well be but crab mentality undermines the imperative to prioritize – and thus our inability to get going. And that's why there is Pareto, the 80-20 rule, but it demands a commitment to the common good and a community sense.

And we won’t learn from the experience we've gone through if there is no thinking model that we can improve upon. Without such shared parameters and given our inward-looking bias, it isn't surprising that we aren't pulling together as one nation and designing and pursuing a shared outcome. For example, are we crafting an economy that has the right mix of services, agriculture and industry?

But because we are getting a big chunk from OFW remittances, and with the incremental output coming from the BPO industry, we believe we must be singing hosannas to them? When what we need is to design the economy with the requisite outputs beyond services?

Similarly, we dropped the JFC’s ‘Arangkada’ like a hot potato even when it’s our first real attempt to develop an industrialization program. Granted it was an effort initiated by the foreign chambers. Is that then (a) a reflection of our lack of experience and heritage as an industrialized economy; or (b) lack of political will given the influence of oligarchy on our economy?

How do we overcome these limitations? Try clarity in our traits and values and societal norms: do we or don't we accept a feudal, hierarchical system and structure? In other words, we cannot be committed to attracting foreign investment if our instincts are skewed inward? And it is something we struggle to understand and accept? Not surprisingly, we struggle to attract them?

And saying something doesn’t make it so? “‘We are very conscious that manufacturing is more stable than services,’ Aquino told me. This is one opportunity his country can’t afford to miss.” [Aquino wants to make Philippines into Detroit, William Pesek, Bloomberg, Manila Standard, Today, 29th Mar 2015]

“The challenges, however, are immense. Carmakers aren’t going to show up until the Philippines improves its ports, roads, airports and its notoriously expensive and unreliable power supplies. Clearing logjams to infrastructure projects will be hard; paying for them will be harder. Last month, Aquino greenlighted six transportation-related projects totaling about $8.4 billion; those costs will grow exponentially. As great as the record $6.2 billion of FDI last year sounds, it’s still half what Thailand has been getting in recent years.”

To recap: Positive thinking makes sense yet we can’t close our eyes to our shortcomings. And the bigger the shortcomings the bigger our response must be. The laws of physics, and not of man. We cannot on one hand be concerned with the poor (or close to 50 million Filipinos claiming hunger and poverty) and on the other see only the plus side of the ledger.

And if our thinking model calls for designing an economy with the right portfolio of services, agriculture and industry, we can’t be fence sitters. Ambivalence will not suffice in the pursuit of major endeavors that demand a North Star – a focus and a commitment. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” so says John F. Kennedy.

Which presupposes stepping up infrastructure development – clearly a driving force in the rapid development of the Asian Tigers. And we better embrace ‘Arangkada’ beyond pinning our hopes on our one time at bat, i.e., the auto initiative which is largely incentives driven as though we can buy our way out of the abyss – like a silver bullet or Pinoy abilidad? But where is the ecosystem? We cannot raise our average income 4 times or move towards becoming a developed economy if we remain unable to learn from decades of experience, of being the regional laggard.

Thus the imperative to measure our efforts against the best and the brightest. Unfortunately, a parochial bias robs us of that sensitivity. And in the 21st century – being the era of innovation – those models move at warp speed. The world won't stand still . . . there is no free lunch. And why even Francis is battling the Curia?

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