Wednesday, December 30, 2015

“White men can't jump”

Can Juan de la Cruz? It's a new year, the time to turn over a new leaf? Old habits die hard. In America people find comfort in the status quo. And why despite its many advantages it keeps underperforming in today’s globalized world. But when the writer was hired by an MNC he was handed a clean slate. “This is your job description. The one thing I want to tell you is we make things and sell things.” And when the next assignment was New York, it again meant getting a clean slate. The writer would share the story with his Eastern European friends: (a) to equip them to compete against the best and the brightest – wherever; and (b) to stress that change is the only thing constant.

In PH our challenge goes beyond poverty; it is about development! And fundamental in development is the pursuit of industrialization. Even agriculture must be industrialized – like Malaysia has demonstrated – if it is to contribute its fair share of economic output and bring more returns to its constituents, especially farmers.

“We said, and we repeat it once more, and will always repeat it, all reforms of a palliative nature are not only ineffective but are even harmful when the Government is beset with ills that need radical remedy.” [Rizal’s prophecies fulfilled, Oscar P. Lagman, Jr., Business World, 28th Dec 2015]

Why industrialization? The ecosystem of an industrialized economy, feeding on each other as in synergy, generates a much greater knock-on effect. Beyond investment it includes technology and innovation as well as people and product and supply chain and market development . . . And they bring about greater employment . . . and higher economic output.

We’ve long been afflicted by our own Dutch disease – OFW remittances and the BPO industry. That is, we shut our senses from the travails of OFWs given they fuel PH’s economy to: (a) be among the fastest growing; (b) keep our forex reserves healthy; and (c) put 12 Filipinos on the Forbes’ list. And everyone wants to take credit? Precisely the nature of a Dutch disease – the failure to recognize the fortuitous character of the nation's income streams. Yet there is no free lunch. Ask the Alaskans!

Decision-making like life is about options, and sadly we accepted being a consumption economy: “puwede na ‘yan.” Eliminating options from the get-go is shooting ourselves in the foot, like bad choices do. And why design-thinking (a problem-solving and innovation model) mirrors the framework of brainstorming. But then again, in a hierarchical system and structure, hierarchy rules.

But back to industrialization. It must be founded on a simple mantra: everything starts with the product! [In PH it’s not about the product but franchising industrialization to oligarchy, the converse being over 99% of enterprises are MSMEs as we hold FDIs at bay? And we call it patriotism instead of tyranny even when our average income remains at Third-World levels?] That’s why there is product development (and crop rotation in the case of agriculture) and portfolio management. And fundamental in economics or enterprise is the scarcity of resources; meaning, portfolio management must pass the rigor of the margin or profitability test. Still, there is always the big picture or the ecosystem. 

And not surprisingly, notwithstanding our biggest enterprises and given their business models, we can’t raise PH global competitiveness index. Their common denominator is derived from our oligarchic – as opposed to competitive – economy. And our patriotic fervor gets knotted in this antiquated model, making us pushovers in the global competitive arena.

Thus we're stuck (also brought about by linear thinking as opposed to creative or lateral thinking) and left to deal with poverty and financial inclusion given our limited options. Either we make do or write our own rules, and ignore Darwin? That we don't even need FDIs being an island unto ourselves? Try telling that to the Americans or the Chinese, the biggest economies and largest recipients of FDIs!

Parochialism. Paternalism. Hierarchy. Political patronage. Oligarchy. They comprise our ecosystem as we continue to live in the past, wittingly or not, if not a throwback to czarist Russia or the ancient world of the Greeks or Romans. And it explains why we lag our neighbors in the Global Competitiveness Index, a key measure in 21st century economic development and nation building.

Enter Steve Jobs with his mantra of creating “insanely great products.” While a Yale professor (teaching a course in the study of geniuses) puts Jobs in the company of Beethoven and Einstein, among others, he “grew up idolizing the Hewlett-Packard ideal of an egalitarian workplace where ideas come before hierarchy . . .” [p. 62, Steve Jobs: the genius who changed the world, Time special edition 2015]

Ideas come before hierarchy . . . Should we dissect the value that comes with respect for elders – the excuses and its extension to hierarchy – and why the Church, including the Curia, struggles to comprehend Francis? Is Christ embracing the lowly incomprehensible to the holier-than-thou? Is egalitarian a Western invention that we must criticize? When hierarchy in tandem with parochialism is yet to exact its full measure on Juan de la Cruz – even when poverty has already confounded us despite the billions spent on CCT?

“Did Steve Jobs ‘invent’ the incredible glass surfaces of the iPhone and the iPad? Certainly not—but he sure as heck invented the need for them and the vast potential behind the revolutionary touch-input archetype created by the combination of that glass surface and the applications and interactions sitting under it.

“Maybe we should think of it as invention through integration, or integration-driven invention. Either way, the fundamental point is the same: Steve Jobs saw things none of the rest of us saw, and he drove the creation of things no other company could create.” ['Steve Jobs Didn't Really Invent Anything.' Really (??), Bob Evans, Forbes, 12th Dec 2011].

And that would bring Beethoven to mind. “Beethoven’s innovation was the ability to rapidly establish a solidity in juxtaposing different keys and unexpected notes to join them. This expanded harmonic realm creates a sense of a vast musical and experiential space through which the music moves, and the development of musical material creates a sense of unfolding drama in this space . . .

“Beethoven’s music parallels the simultaneous development of the novel in literature, a literary form focused on the life drama and development of one or more individuals through complex life circumstances, and of contemporaneous German idealism’s philosophical notion of self, mind, or spirit that unfolds through a complex process of contradictions and tensions between the subjective and objective until a resolution or synthesis occurs in which all of these contradictions and developmental phases have been resolved or encompassed in a higher unity.” []

Innovation is about integration or a higher unity. At Apple Jobs had to rely on ideas from his team within and without. With Beethoven it meant borrowing from other art forms. And that is where hierarchy falls flat on its face, precisely why Francis keeps beating up the Curia? Neither does innovation reside in an inward- and backward-looking bias but an outward- and forward-looking mindset.

Should we fault President Aquino if he sounds he’s from the Curia when he is in good company – our elite class, including the candidates in the next presidential election? If Binay’s paternalism (or more dole outs campaign promise) can only accelerate our way down the abyss, what about Roxas? He’s from our elite class, a product of a Western elite school to boot. In our hierarchical system and structure he has the pedigree – and the brand name – and is a great choice?  

Brand names are no guarantee: “After five years of making predictions, we are proud of our record. Out of the 49 companies that have made our list, 24 have disappeared. Given that these brands were chosen from a universe of thousands, we think it's an impressive record.” []

We can clutch at straws yet how far we've come down the abyss is mind boggling! Are we predisposed to pursue transformation? Fatalism is a sinking ship as in to prioritize is alien to us. And we keep taking the path of least resistance – because of “crab mentality.” And they run counter to the imperatives of transformation.

We take it as a positive that we're negotiating trade with the EU. That is well and good. But if we can't develop competitive products we can't generate much economic output from trade agreements. The evidence? Mexico which is yet to exploit NAFTA or Greece which imploded despite EU.

Likewise it’s important for the business registration process to be more efficient to encourage more MSMEs. But over 99% of our enterprises are MSMEs yet we still lag in the Global Competitiveness Index. Because developing competitive products – innovation, in other words – must come first! Not franchising industrialization to oligarchy – which spells t-y-r-a-n-n-y by the few?

We can’t be like Steve Jobs but still we can’t ignore integration, the key to innovation. It is the North Star that we must keep an eye on. For example, in the beginning the writer’s Eastern European friends assumed he was there to hand them the rules. “What is the rule for this and the rule for that?” And they were disappointed even angry – their word.

They've since realized it's about the integration of the sense of purpose and principles and values. That must come from the team in an environment that is egalitarian. And very recently, visiting one of their countries, the writer worked with the local team to redefine their purpose . . . until they figured out that they must be three times bigger than their most successful market. How? Through the requisite principles and values. (That is despite being a poor ex-Soviet satellite or why in PH MNCs are profitable. It’s par for the course, not to crow about – if they’re to be a force for good otherwise they ought not to be around.)

And as Steve Jobs put it, it is the intersection of liberal arts and technology. And so it was fine with him when his friend Steve Wozniak (an engineer) did not see him as a technology expert. 

We have experts and technocrats in PH but where are we and why can't we move forward as a nation? White men can’t jump. Can Juan de las Cruz?

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

[My family joins me in wishing everyone the very best of the New Year!] 

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