Sunday, November 8, 2015

Our best efforts are failing us?

“In the end, everybody leaves the room with some foreboding, aware of just how big and how complex this nation’s problems really are. There are hints of solutions here and there, but it’s obvious nobody’s really got it all figured out. Even these men and women who run their own corporations—profitable, global and at the forefront of their respective industries—are at a loss as to why we’re still here, still only here, given the richness of our resources and the potential of our people.” [‘Muddling through,’ Adelle Chua, The Standard, 2nd Nov 2015]

“Such was the scene during the General Membership Meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines held Tuesday 27 October at The Peninsula Manila. The topic of the forum, ‘Bayan o Sarili,’ was lifted from a line out of the film ‘Heneral Luna.’

So “Heneral Luna” has had more than its share of “flavor of the month”? Are we then unwittingly indicting the Church? That we need a Heneral Luna as a moral compass despite our being a churchgoing people – and proud of it? Which we can’t say of the West and why we’re critical of their culture? And didn’t we pull out all the stops when Pope Francis visited – we, being the de facto evangelists to the world? But did we miss his message and lesson that hierarchy is not what the Church is – and why he didn’t want the Philippine elite to be in Tacloban?

But we still don’t get it? What about our leadership past, present and future? Why do we struggle to define “individual” vis-à-vis the “state”? “The individual is nothing without the state . . . [W]e had long been confined to the idea of the nation state and it is time to break out of that. So is the idea of pitting personalities versus issues as the basis for choosing whom to vote for. There will always be a consideration for the kind of people candidates are; this cannot be divorced from the kind of leader they would eventually be. 

“One personality trait, for instance, is being morally upright. To be not corrupt is necessary . . . but not enough. Furthermore, what is sorely lacking from all the candidates, is a national strategy and vision.

“Rex Drilon II, chairman of the Management Association of the Philippines’ National Issues Committee, agreed. ‘The first thing any elected president should do is to design a road map for the country.’ It sounds commonsensical—too, when you get behind the wheel of your vehicle, you have to know exactly where you are going so you can figure out the best way to get there.”

So where are we? “[B]ut it’s obvious nobody’s really got it all figured out.”

“As the deadline for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) nears, business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan said the Philippines remains unready for the economic unification of the regional market. ‘No, we’re not ready... People keep talking about integration but what does it really mean? I’m not saying it will not happen one day, but not in our lifetime. Let us be realistic that it won’t happen because politics will intrude,’ Pangilinan said.” [Philippines not ready for Asean integration – MVP, Richmond S. Mercurio, The Philippine Star, 3rd Nov 2015]

“‘Like sugar, it is cheaper to import sugar, that will be good for Filipino consumers but you will displace four million people from their jobs. If you’re a sitting president, can you afford that, turn away four million of your people without the livelihood? You cannot. It will be suicide. And any sitting president, whether in Indonesia or Malaysia, will have the same issues,’ he added. Pangilinan chairs the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Metro Pacific Investments Corp., and Manila Electric Co.”

“Even these men and women who run their own corporations—profitable, global and at the forefront of their respective industries—are at a loss as to why we’re still here, still only here, given the richness of our resources and the potential of our people.” [Chua, op. cit.]

Should we lay blame – but where? Is it our culture and the complexity that is inherent in our way of life? Like personalities versus issues and leadership? Moral uprightness and national strategy and vision? Politics as an intrusion? Regional integration and its impact on competition? Livelihood and populism?

When all is said and done, the reality is we are at a loss? Because we have long been suffering from “learned helplessness”? “Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

“While the concept is strongly tied to animal psychology and behavior, it can also apply to many situations involving human beings. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change . . . The concept of learned helplessness was discovered accidentally by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier.” []

Sadly, Juan de la Cruz believes that our culture is set in stone? And that Western-style democracy is not meant for us? But why can’t we create something like Japan, Inc. or China, Inc. or Singapore, Inc.? It is not enough to say that Western-style democracy is not for us. We have to adapt to this changing world! And this is where in our heart of hearts we part ways with Francis whose papacy is characterized as bringing the Church to the present?

This blog as some would know was inspired by the writer’s Bulgarian friends. And others, too, have taken notice. And very recently he was invited to share with a group from the retail industry the success story of his friends. He joined 5 other foreign speakers representing a wide range of expertise: from a member of the core design team of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner to SAP’s solution portfolio to IBM business development and product innovation to retail insights out of London, etc.

What makes the writer’s Bulgarian friends special? Recalling their recent history, as the country transitioned from Communist-rule to a free market, 3 families took control of industry and gave birth to their version of oligarchy. But today two of them are gone. As the writer would clarify with his friends, free market is not free. It is responsible. It is to be defended . . . and pursued. It is competitive, not oligarchic.

To be competitive they had to rapidly develop a sense of purpose – to be the best in the business. Which demands a commitment to a set of values if they are to be driven – and realize their vision. At the end of the day, their success stems from their ability to connect those dots: their purpose . . . and their values – that is, to be uncompromising in investing in their people, their products and brands, the consumers and their partners, both in the private and public sectors.

In the company’s recent budget review meeting, the writer recalled for the group how one of them asked if they could beat a major brand from the West in a business they just entered. It was not a smooth 13-year run yet they demonstrated their ability to adapt. And, of course, they beat the Western behemoth such that another global competition has been wanting to partner with them. If you can’t beat them, better join them!

That’s why this blog talked about the Philippines’ Carlos Chan in a recent posting. If Juan de la Cruz is suffering from “learned helpless,” the Chinoys aren’t? We must learn to internalize that our culture is not set in stone. And it doesn’t take a lifetime to step up and go toe-to-toe against the world’s best and brightest. But that demands shedding hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy Philippine-style. And if our goal – or purpose – is to be a developed nation, we need an economy that is wealthy. And precisely why industrialization is the bedrock of wealthy nations.

Yet that has never been front and center in the Philippines and it explains our pathetic levels of investment. Instead we nurtured and perpetuated a parochial, insular and restrictive economy because of a false sense of patriotism. And it goes back to our instincts – or values – of hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy?

Not surprisingly, our captains of industry are themselves at a loss? “Why [are we] still here, still only here, given the richness of our resources and the potential of our people”?

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