Saturday, March 5, 2016

Problem-solving: don’t put the cart before the horse

“A government for the people (?),” Rolando T. DyPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 22nd Feb 2016. “With respect to infrastructure development, the horror stories are many. The barangay captain along a major northern road will not issue a permit unless the company comes across a ‘once in a lifetime’ bounty. Or a provincial governor who insists that the gravel and sand be drawn from within his province, when cheaper supply can be obtained from an adjacent province.

“And what about temporary restraining orders (TROs) that delay infrastructure construction? As is, the Philippines is way behind Asean peers in infrastructure and logistics efficiency.

“Are Filipino politicians, their appointees and allies concerned about the welfare of the country’s citizens, many of whom contribute tax revenues into the government treasury? Do they serve the people? There are rumblings among the populace about national and local governance. This is out of frustration over continuing and new malpractices. They frequently ask the question: Why is this happening?

“IT WAS Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), 16th US president, who declared a: ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.’ Another revolutionary, Mao Zeedong (1873-1976), once said: ‘If we have shortcomings, we are not afraid to have them pointed out and criticized, because we serve the people.’

“The people have to wait for months for the issuance of their driver’s licenses. Vehicle owners wait for too long for their new vehicle plates. The supply chain process is very simple. Why the delay?

“We the people elect officials to govern well and to make society better. Who will sanction public officials for these wrongdoings?

“A director of the General Santos Chamber of Commerce laments: ‘Change can only happen if the populace makes an intelligent choice and companies have the political will to say no to corruption. Otherwise history repeats itself.’”

Ours are man-made problems. But jumping to conclusion in search of drastic solutions is not what problem-solving is about. It is not putting the cart before the horse. Problem-solving is disciplined. It is about human empathy – in order to understand the human need that it must satisfy in the first place. It is only when we have truly empathized that we are able to define the problem. Especially in a hierarchical culture like ours, what do we know about Juan de la Cruz? This also explains our shortcomings in creativity and innovation. As the blog has discussed, human empathy is at the heart of product development best demonstrated by Steve Jobs.

Are our economic managers telling OFWs to invest their money speaking from their own perspective? OFWs on cruise ships, for instance, have shared with this writer and wife that they spend a lot calling their loved ones – left at home and yearning for those calls. Who cares about roaming charges? 

Have we learned our lessons after a century of paternalism, if not tyranny, where rank has had its privileges and dictated solutions? Still, the operative word is disciplined. It is not anarchy nor reflective of crab mentality.

Let’s test if prescribing a federal form of government, for example, because we want to upend “Imperial Manila” once and for all is a disciplined problem-solving exercise.

What future do refugees from Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa see in wanting to get to Germany or the Scandinavian countries? These are developed wealthy countries. If the problem-solving journey of these refugees has an endpoint, it goes beyond being objects of charity – it is to share in the spoils of developed wealthy nations. And it is best described as joining the ranks of the middle class. As a group of new Canadians from Syria explained to the writer.

If we have a federal form of government, would we have more or less of the following problems? “From Arangkada Philippines:” [Dy, op. cit.]

(a) “In mid-2008, a mayor of a northern Mindanao town where a large Asian shipbuilder was planning to invest $2 billion and hire over 20,000 workers insisted that the foreign investor use a certain gravel supplier. A second mayor insisted all persons he recommended be hired. They told the investor he could not go ahead without complying with their demands. These problems and the global recession have delayed project start-up.

(b) A foreign computer animation firm located in the PEZA zone in Cebu considered moving its operations because the mayor was attempting to extort money.

(c) A relative of a politician set up an illegal association for truckers to join. Truckers who did not pay their dues had their tires shot as they approached a Batangas port.

(d) LRT-7 light rail project: In 2010, while in the stage of obtaining project financing, several newly elected mayors of municipalities through which the rail will pass requested that they approve the design and location of the stations.”

Prof. Dy discussed a few more. Oil palm producers have to pay “tolls” to every LGU they pass through before reaching the palm oil mill; Mayor acts as labor contractor to a piggery, when a new mayor gets elected, he replaces the workers in a piggery with his own recruits; Insurgents burned the Standeco rubber processing plant as the owner refused to pay their excessive ‘taxes,’ 250 workers lost their jobs; Revolutionaries burning the heavy equipment of a mining firm, of pineapple farms; torching construction equipment for a private airstrip of banana farm, and a road project.

Prof. Dy sums it up: How many jobs are compromised? How many potential investors are turned away? How can the high Mindanao poverty be solved without investment?

“With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worse! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

This blog recently discussed the ABC or barriers to problem-solving: (a) our assumptions; (b) our biases; and (c) our comfort zone. Are we assuming that a federal form of government is the end – or our vision – or is it only a means? Granted it has many positive elements. Yet in a paternalistic and tyrannical environment and where politics is local – as in political dynasties – will we eliminate the problems we attribute to “Imperial Manila” or multiply them? Will crab mentality get better or worse? Will insurgents seek peace?

In erecting an enterprise, an economy or nation, structure is only one element. Think of Lee, Mahathir and Deng – and what Singapore, Malaysia and China have accomplished. It is not about structure per se but leadership. Or think of the new world and the founding fathers. Even MNCs are not strictly organized around subsidiaries – that is, they are a matrix structure with specialists from the center bearing their influence as an extension of the global leadership.

The greatness of man has been demonstrated since time immemorial by his sense of purpose and values. In other words: Where are we? Where do we want to be? How will we get there?

Sadly, because of pervasive poverty, we like to believe that fighting poverty is our nirvana. Until we realized that poverty comes from the absence of jobs! But where do jobs come from? They come from a sustainable and competitive economy – which would characterize a developed and wealthy economy. (And the international institutions have acknowledged or confirmed more recently that growth alone will not address Philippine poverty.)

Aside from structure, what other elements are imperative if we are to erect a wealthy economy – recognizing that we need a leadership that can articulate a sense of purpose and embrace its requisite values – and edify Juan de la Cruz? We all know the importance of investment or FDI. And beyond investment – in order to attain competitive advantage – we need technology and innovation as well as people, product, supply chain and market development. Marketable products are what make an economic undertaking sustainable.

And these elements don’t pour like manna from heaven. They demand a platform that’s derived from good governance – committed to community and the common good. And the platform is one that provides the basics of an economy – e.g., vital infrastructure and strategic industries. If it sounds like connecting the dots, it is! In one word, an ecosystem. When we say “inclusive” do we in fact connect the dots – and begin with the end in mind? Crab mentality, on the other hand, is dysfunctional – a disaster waiting to happen – i.e., it creates a system rotten to the core: inefficient, ineffective and unproductive. Which is the mirror image of our failings in this day and age: creativity, innovation and competitiveness. 

Indeed structure is a critical element in nation-building. Yet problem-solving is a disciplined exercise. Does Juan de la Cruz want to be an object of charity or would he rather join the ranks of the middle class? We won’t get there overnight, but if all we wish to erect is a shanty instead of a proper livable house, then we can continue doing the same thing over and over again.

And that is why we need visionary and strategic leadership otherwise we will continue to undersell ourselves. We can compete against the best in the world but we must first undo our assumptions, biases and comfort zone. Consider: Juan de la Cruz is made in the image and likeness of his creator.

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“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]

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