Friday, September 29, 2006

The Perils of Being Perfect

In the book, “In Search of Excellence” written by Tom Peters, one of the “traits” of successful companies is in their passion to excel in their endeavor. It is suggested, “that outstanding performance often demands dedicated, even passionate, single – mindedness”. However, another author disagreed with the observation. Danny Miller believes that though passion can ultimately leads to success. It may also be the very reason of their failure and their ultimate demise. Danny Miller in his book, The Icarus Paradox described 4 main trajectories stemming from the passionate pursuit of excellence. They are:
· The focusing trajectory takes punctilious, quality driven Craftsmen, organizations with masterful engineers and airtight operations, and turns them into rigidly controlled, detail obsessed Tinkerers, firms whose insular, technocratic cultures alienate customers with perfect but irrelevant offerings.
· The venturing trajectory converts growth – driven, entrepreneurial Builders, companies managed by imaginative leaders and creative planning and financial staffs, into compulsive, greedy Imperialists, who severely overtax their resources by expanding helter – skelter into businesses they know nothing about.
· The inventing trajectory takes Pioneers with unexcelled R&D departments, flexible think – tank operations, and state of the art products, and transforms them into utopian Escapists, run by cults of chaos loving scientists who squander resources in the pursuit of hopelessly grandiose and futuristic inventions.
· The decoupling trajectory transforms Salesmen, organizations with unparalleled marketing skills, prominent brand names, and broad markets, into aimless, bureaucratic Drifters, whose sales fetish obscures design issues and who produces a stale and disjointed line of “me – too” offerings.
What all this trajectories have in common are that all of them tend to focus on their excellence and pursue it to perfection without considering the practicality of such mindless pursuit. They may produce the most perfect cell phone in the world but the market really doesn’t want a perfect phone with all the loaded features but just simply a phone that they could call their love ones. They could pursue an opportunity so aggressively and so mindlessly that they didn’t realize that they had overstretched their own limits and that such “conquest” is ultimately unsustainable. In the real world, many a company is guilty of one of the 4 trajectories. Companies big or small inevitably fall for the “trap”. It is not that they deliberately walk into it rather they became so obsessed that they lost touch with reality or worst, they refused to accept reality thinking it only as a temporary fad or simply a glitch. And in the end, they pay the price of their hubris. However, such passionate pursuits aren’t really mistake. For it is in their pursuit that these companies attain their success but such passion should be tempered with practicality, prudence, and pragmatism. After all, the dough still comes from the customer and as the saying goes, “The Customer is Always Right…….”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Last Saturday, my professor texted me, enjoining me to listen to the radio where he is being interviewed for his prize winning and critically acclaimed masterpiece, “Setting Frameworks: Family Business and Strategic Management”. I did turn on the radio and listen to him briefly before being interrupted with work. During that short time, I heard him saying that “Passion and dreams aren’t enough to make a business succeed (for entrepreneurs). You need good management in terms of planning and control.” I had to agree wholeheartedly with his statement for I personally experienced the truth of such words. I grew up listening to elders (not only my parents) that the secret to success lies in hardwork, determination, patience, perseverance, and most importantly, dedication. “You only reap what you sow” was the popular phrase of that ethics of hardwork. In fact, the Chinese has a word that embodies all the aforementioned noble qualities and that is, “Pha Phiyaa”, meaning to fight and struggle. They even immortalized it in the Fookien pop song, “Ai Phiyaa Jia eh Ya” (Success can only be attained through struggle). Passion is the indomitable spirit that drives people to excel, to achieve feats deemed miraculous, to sustain their effort in spite of reverses and to continue down a path that many laughed as foolish, crazy, and impossible. And for some people, passion is what they lived for. Passion and ideals are so many times that seized me when I was a lot younger but often times things don’t turn up what you hoped for. And the rewards received seemingly don’t commensurate with the amount of effort you’ve poured into. That is when I realized that there is more to success than simple passion alone. Wisdom gathered through learning and experience is equally critical to success. As my professor pointed out in his interview, 90% of start – ups eventually fail not because of the lack of passion, or the lack of hardwork and perseverance neither was capital an issue. Rather it is the lack of foresight and planning that ultimately did them in. In life as in business, passion is important but not the only ingredient to success. If we compare passion to an adventurer who took his boat to the unknown ocean in search of El Dorado, then wisdom is the sun of the day and the moon and the stars of the night that tells our journeyman the time of the day (therefore the tide), the season of the year (and correspondingly the direction of the wind blowing), and the direction we are to take. To possess only passion is like going to the sea without a map or a knowledge of the stars. Though valiant and heroic in facing the perils of the unknown, one often either ends up at the ocean floor or in a distant land far, far away from the paradise that one sought. Conversely, to wield only wisdom without passion is like a landlubber looking at the moon at night in the safety of the shore speculating what the moon looks like at it’s other side from a place beyond the horizon where the sea meets the sky. A landlubber can’t go to places even if he wishes to. Passion is not enough nor is wisdom. You need both to succeed.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I read this news item the other day from a local Chinese newspaper. It tells a story of a 15-year-old girl in China. She was abandoned by her birth parents in a grassy lot when she was just a newly born baby. She was later found by a villager, an old lady who in turn gave baby to her son and daughter – in – law to take care of whilst they try to find the young girl’s parents. 15 years has since passed and the baby girl is now a teenage girl. The hopeless search for her parents became a distant murmur and what was once a temporary arrangement of care by her foster family became a permanent bond of family. The foster parents treated her as if it was their own. So much so that even without a formal adoption, the young girl was given the adoptive parents’ surname. Then one day, the little girl discovered her true biological parents and began secretly meeting with them and then she ran away from her foster home and stayed at her true parents’ home. Her foster parents frantically searched for her but when they found out that she had returned to her biological parents, they gave her up and let her go albeit grudgingly. Perhaps hoping that she now finally found her peace. That is until 28 days later, the foster mother learned through a neighbor’s daughter that her “adopted” daughter looked pale and ill at school. Concerned, she went to see her “daughter” only to discover that she wasn’t really ill but was actually starving. The teenager’s biological parents never gave her enough money for sustenance during the day when she was in school. Pitying her, the foster mother took back the “daughter” and at same time, the foster parents sue the biological parents for child support claiming that they abandoned their daughter in the first place and that they didn’t really adopted the young girl but was forced to feed her. Furthermore, the foster parents claimed that the biological parents weren’t really financially incapable to feed the girl since the biological parents have an orchard and 2 fish pens to boot. The biological parents refused claiming that it was the foster parents’ “freewill” to feed their daughter and the latter are not constrained to do so especially if the foster family’s financial strait doesn’t warrant it. As the lawsuit got ever so heated, things took a nasty turn. The act of “betrayal” by the girl in leaving her foster home in favor of her biological parents has left a deep scar in her relationship with her foster family. She wasn’t “accepted” anymore like before. Things got to a head when she decided to go back again to her biological parents, which proved to be the last straw for the foster parents. As a result, the foster family formally disowns her. This time legally. The biological parents on the other hand didn’t take in the young girl either claiming that she was in cahoots with her foster parents to extort them. The biological father even used the analogy of “the dog doesn’t bite the hand that fed her but does it’s master’s bidding” to bolster his claim. And so with this, the young girl is now an orphan not because her parents are dead but because nobody wanted her at all. Poor girl. What did she do to be punished with such a terrible fate? I couldn’t help but felt incensed at it. Incensed at the injustice of it, incensed at the fact that parents could forsake a defenseless and helpless child! I felt even more outrage that a parent would compare their daughter to a dog! Is a person of one’s own flesh and blood be no better than that of a dog? How could people be some cruel to such an innocent child? How could this thing happen in the first place? As my anger simmers down and my logical self returned to the fore, I began to try to figure out how things like this come about. And my logical deduction has led me to the conclusion that they are all guilty of crimes and that they are mere victims of the system as well, all of them are. China is world’s most populous country with more than a billion people and sometime in the early part of it’s communist history, the government has tried to curb the country’s population growth rate through it’s one child policy. So drastic was it’s policies and so ruthless was it’s implementation that China has manage to successfully “tame” their population growth. The population control was not only an outgrowth of practical necessity to curb population size but also as a result of the dire economic necessity prevailing at that time and the geopolitical scenario as well (China was surrounded by the USSR and US allied states at that time and that a simple trade embargo of food supply by the two blocks would trigger widespread famine and chaos if population growth was left unchecked and eventually allowed to outstrip it’s food supply). However, to many Chinese families, having a direct male descendant is of paramount importance more important than one’s life. For without a male descendant, the family line becomes extinct and this is considered a very grave and highly unforgivable offense against the ancestors. Limiting the offspring to only one child increases the risk of extinction of the family line (should something bad happen to the male offspring) and that fate of extinction became sealed once that only child was born a girl. Abortion and infanticide particularly of baby girls became widespread as a result of this policy (in fact, China’s sex ratio is out of balance with more men than women whilst the global sex ratio is slightly in favor of women) and the young girl of this story could had become one of the statistics if not for that kind old lady who found her and gave her to her foster parents. Having said this, the “crime” of the true biological parents is that they made a choice, a terrible choice; a choice that is forced upon them both by the law and by tradition and made with no other viable alternatives. Still, the biological parents could have made amends to their daughter who was thought to be lost but was again found but they didn’t. Years of separation prevented the healthy establishment of a true parent – child bond. They could have worked for it but they chose not to and for that, they are doubly guilty. The foster parents although laudable in their acts of kindness are also guilty of crimes. They are guilty of being poor and hence, the unnecessary incident of asking for child support from the biological parents. They felt that they are being cheated and they wanted compensation for all their trouble, a trouble that they unquestionably assume 15 years ago or was it? They are also guilty of being human, easily hurt by the betrayal of someone so close and dear to them but couldn’t come to terms to forgive the ones who hurt them. To err is human, to forgive divine. They are humans, not saints. They are the young girl’s foster parents not her true parents. They could choose to feed her, shelter her, heal her but aren’t really obliged to do so. And this they lately realized rather coldly. And how about the young girl? What crime does she commits as to deserve such dastard fate? Her crime was that she was born a girl and a human being at that. If she were born a boy, nothing like this would ever have happened but as fate would have it, she was the poor baby girl. She was only human to long for the truth, to long for her true parents, to long for her true parents’ love. With that, she made the grave decision of hurting the persons who truly cared for her. I could only lament for her and at the same time felt little and helpless as well. Oh fate! How cruel is thy joke!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Day The (Book)Worms Feast

Last Sunday was a double header, for there are 2 book fairs held simultaneously. One is the Chinese Book Fair held at the local Chinese School (Philippine Cultural High School) and the other is the Book Fair held at the World Trade Center at Pasay. For one whole week, I was looking forward for the events last Sunday but unfortunately, I missed the Chinese Book Fair. It happened that they’re open till noon that Sunday and it’s their last day as well. I only managed to get there at around 2pm. Blame that on the “catch up” sleep I usually had every Sunday morning for missing the book fair. Apparently, the old adage of “the early bird gets the worm” or more succinctly, “the early (book)worm gets the books” is never been true in this instance. Too bad, I was looking forward to buying some Chinese history books from the fair, i.e., the ones I didn’t manage to buy in China. Well, I guess I had to wait till next year. Anyway, I did manage though to visit the other fair and boy, oh boy! The place is teeming with “worms” errr bookworms to be exact. It seems to me that I’m not the only one who loved books. Well, the place to me was like a paradise. In particular, Islam’s version of paradise, a paradise where I was surrounded by a harem of 30,000 women except that instead of women I had books. Speaking of women, books are like women. You don’t judge them by it’s cover but what’s inside just like a book. However, the difference between a woman and a book is that one cannot sleep with a book (although I do sleep with my books beside my pillow). And second, books don’t talk back while women don’t stop talking. Anyway, I was so deeply mesmerized by the whole event that I got “dazed” to the extent that I almost didn’t recognize my friend and fellow blogger, Jaz Chan, who was also there to shop for some books (incidentally, Jaz kept a very interesting blog, I highly recommend that you visit her blog). I spent about 3½ hours browsing through every book in the shelves per publisher stalls (miraculously, my eyes nor my feet didn’t buckle under the intense punishment I put on them). In particular, I trained my eyes on history books and business books. I got a few nice picks along the way but I didn’t get to buy all of them because they are way, way, way to expensive. Most of the books I chose had a price tag of 4,000 pesos upwards! Not that I couldn’t afford the price or that I’m not willing to spend that much rather I felt that price doesn’t commensurate with “value” of the book. You see I have this intuition that I could buy a similar book for “less” or that the book doesn’t really offer anything interestingly new from what I already knew (but I still want to buy it for my collection if the price is right). As a result of this nit picking, I finally settle down and purchase 4 books that day for a total of 4,000 ++ pesos. They are:
1. “Peripheral Vision: Detecting the Weak Signals That will Make or Break Your Company” by George Day and Paul J.H. Schoemaker; Harvard Business School Press.
2. “Designed to Win: Strategies for Building a Thriving Global Business” by Hiroaki Yoshihara and Mary Pat McCarthy; McGraw Hills.
3. “Philippine Labour Migration: Critical Dimensions of Public Policy” by Joaquin L Gonzales III; De La Salle University Press, Inc.
4. “Chinese Traders in a Philippine Town: From Daily Competition to Urban Transformation” by Norbert Danhaeuser; Ateneo De Manila Press.
Another 4 more books added to my growing library; Another 4 more books added to my long list of books to read; And 4 more books added to my wealth….

My Professor, Elfren Cruz won the National Book Awards’ Best Book in the Business and Economics Category Prize last August 31. The award given by the Manila Critics Circle is in recognition of my professor’s seminal work, “Setting Frameworks: Family Business and Strategic Management.” Congratulations to my professor for winning such a prestigious award. As an added bonus to winning the award, he now joins his wife as a National Book Award recipient, probably the only husband and wife tandem to receive such a distinguish award. His wife, Neni Sta. Romana – Cruz is a National Book Award recipient for Children’s literature. Having said that, I can’t wait to see him come up with his second book if he ever plans on writing one. I wonder what topic will he write then but rest assure, the title will definitely have the word, “framework” (his column in BusinessWorld is titled, “Frameworks”). We had a joke in MBA, if it is about frameworks, it got to be Elfren (Cruz). “ )

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

And I Cried (A Teacher on Her First Term)

By Irrah Mari Nightlark

I got this email from a friend of mine and a fellow MBA. She is currently teaching at undergrad school. She didn’t write this story but this might as well reflect her experience as a first time teacher.

I preferred to be known as a terror teacher than one whom my students would love now and forget later. As a student, I've had quite a few teachers myself. Those who gave me sleepless nights and scared me out of my sweaters AND TAUGHT ME THE BEST LESSONS IN LIFE were actually the ones who inspired me to teach.

And so I dreamed... to become a teacher. Early in my adolescent stage, I vowed to take up masteral studies to make sure I'd be prepared for this thankless task. As I joined the corporate world, I had trainees under me (both students and co-employees). I was in heaven each time one would return to share the good news of getting a job, a promotion or a recognition. After a decade of corporate teaching, I knew it was time for the real thing.

I believed... I finished my masters after seven (7) itchy years. And I made it through. Now, the next hurdle was how to get into the academe. It was one elusive dream. It was like killing a chicken, only you never did it ever in the past. Was I to pluck all its feathers, throw it in a caudlron with boiling water, or was I to bang it against the wall and pray that it would land a fried chicken on my plate?

My first day was horrifying. I left my things in the classroom and went back to the faculty room to get chalk or a whiteboard marker. Upon returning to the room, I saw two students reading through my book... including insertions! It was enough to me that they opened the book to see who owned it... but to leaf through notes I inserted? It was a violation of my privacy. And I'd hate it when one didn't respect mine.

I had the most absurd experiences.

Student: Miss, do you have handouts?

Me: It depends. Why? (just to get the cat out of the bag... and jump out it did)

Student: So, Miss, if you don't have hand outs, does that mean I have to take down notes?

Me: Will I dignify your question? (was so tempted to say stupidity)

Student: (rushing in late) Miss, so where are we now?

Me: We've been in the classroom for the past thirty minutes discussing? (sarcastic)

Student: Oh sorry, Miss. I just wanted to know.

Me: Maybe if you came in thirty minutes early, you wouldn't be asking me that question?

Student: Why, Miss?

I give pop quizzes within the first fifteen minutes of my class. Since it starts art 745. The quiz would be from 745 to 800. Grace period ends at 8, was hoping this would motivate them to be punctual. Would you believe this? I would give a pop quiz at the end of my lecture (10 items usually), then I would give the same quiz as a pop quiz for the following meeting --- and my recycled quizzes would even get lower marks?
As I saw their grades declining, I made them manage the class. We made it our KRA or our deliverables. You commit to it, you give me better grades. And they vowed they would... they didn't, majority of the class had lower marks in their pre-finals than in their mid-terms.

I told them they had to submit at least one written project for their pre-finals. But those who would ask for additional work to raise their grades are encouraged to do all four projects. There were two who didn't even make one. And they were the two lowest performers of the group.

My final exam? Look at how I wanted them to pass. I made a grid on which questions during the midterms did most of them get correctly. From this, I made 20 multiple choice questions for Test 1. Then, I gave a "diagnostic exam" just before the start of the second half of the term. I took the very same exam questions for matching type and just jumbled the order. This became Test 2. I gave "three easiest questions" for essay. This became Test 3. --- only one perfected Test 2. But not one of them got to perfect the exam.

One of them, not knowing the answer to essay 2 (which was supposed to be the easiest question) wrote this answer:

"Our Father, in heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us. Do not lead us to the test, but deliver us from evil. Amen."

As I wrote the grades in their class cards, I wrote with teary eyes knowing 5 of twelve failed. And when I was to transfer grades into the Final Grading Sheet (FGS), I stopped to cry for the first student who got a failing grade in my alphabetical listing of students. As I continued, I took a deep breath and continued entering the grades. This, I told myself, was to make sure I would not be swept by their pleading later.

Of the five who failed, only three came to pick up their cards personally. Of course I expected that they'd contest their grades. And while I had the documents to support my action, I still dreaded having to meet their pleading eyes.

I showed one of them how I tried to pull her grades up by giving bonuses. After raising her grades by almost 11 points for pre-finals, her midterms just didn't contribute enough to give her an over all passing grade. She pleaded three or four times stating I was the only one who failed her, unknown to her that as another teacher consoled me as I was distressed over failing her, he revealed to me that the same student failed in his class too.
And our reasons and observations were the same.

The other one was in total disbelief. But he later gave up the fight.

The other one, well, he was one of those boys who browsed through my books on the first day. While he was forgiven for his action, he didn't give enough output to raise his grades. A few hours after he got his card, I received a text from him telling me he would do anything just to get a 1 (equivalent to 70). In my mind, all I could say was... I gave you four projects to do it... you only did one haphazardly.

One of those who didn't come, the one with the lowest grade sent me a message... "Miss I just want to know my standing so that I could get an adjustment form if I failed in your class." And this student of mine, never even submitted a single assignment, did not pass any of her quizzes, was always late and would leave the room at exactly 830 pm sharp (to go to the washroom, to take a call, to pay, to do an adjustment, whatever!) each and every meeting PUNCTUALLY.

I know now why some teachers are just plain aloof to the point of being crabby. I know now why... why some are "ruthless"... why some are eaten alive.

....I survived.

Next term please.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Saturday’s are collection days. Until recently, I almost always am in charge of collection of the Divisoria area every Saturday but now, I do it only occasionally, my brother is the one handling the task now. Today is one of those “occasional” days wherein I do the rounds instead of my brother. Like most Saturdays, nothing much happened as the task is pretty much routine except that today, I got to meet up with 2 of my previous customers by accident, i.e., I just happened to pass by their storefronts and strike up a conversation. The first “ex – customer” used to be one of my major customer about 3 – 5 years ago. Nowadays, we don’t have any transactions or deals going on as they switch to a low – priced competitor and I retaliated by selling to their most nagging competitor, which I hitherto been refraining to sell back then. Anyway, like in all business dealings, our conversations touch on the usual sales talk and personal matters. I began the conversation by offering them my products and proposing to them the terms and conditions that I am willing to offer to them. Unfortunately, they rejected it saying it wasn’t enough. Inevitably after a series of banter, our conversation drifted into talking about “old times”, when the economy is good and the mutually beneficial and profitable cooperation we had. And along the way, it then turned to their kids, which I knew personally. I was surprised or more accurately “shocked” to learn that their youngest son is just two years away from graduating from college. Dang! When we were having dealings back then, the young boy was just finishing grade school and now, he is almost through with college? Was that a long time ago? Or was time flying past me so fast that I didn’t realize it was that long ago already? Regardless, I felt so old after hearing the news. I know that I’m not young anymore but until today, I realize that I’m old already and no longer the wonder boy that I was years ago (actually it is more like more than a decade ago). I feel so old. After the chitchat, I visited another of my “old” customer, a very “old” one indeed. This second “old” customer of mine was my father’s customer and I came to know them during my stint as a sales agent for the area during my high school years. Anyway, we don’t have any dealings for something like a decade already and I was there in response to an inquiry by the “son”. When I enter the store, I was again surprised to see the “mother” or the wife of the owner during my earlier stint. She looked pretty old from the last I remembered. She gained weight, her face has more wrinkles, a few strand of white hair are also visible, and her motion is cumbersome. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised about what I saw, for people age and they physically grow old eventually but nonetheless, the imagery stuck with me. It is not the fact that the person I knew is older than what I had pictured in my mind but rather, it is how things has changed over the years that struck me the most. When I was young and a novice, they are in their late forties to their early fifties. They looked “big” and “formidable”. They’re also confident and in “control”. To me back then, they seemed “powerful” and I was nothing but an inexperienced fumbling young man. They possessed such “power” that they could ignore me and they did ignore me at times back then. Even so, I had no choice but to go back to them. I had to. I need to. I need to make a sale. Today however, things are totally different and the roles are reversed and her physical state said it all. I was no longer the young inexperienced novice but an imperious, confident not – so – young man and she was no longer half as threatening as she was before. The balance of power has shifted. I don’t need them anymore. I could have just walk out of the door and ignore them as I did for the last 10 years. I didn’t do just that however. Ever the gentleman, I maintained my cordiality towards her. Besides, she reminds me of my mother who is just as old. I came out of the store wondering what would I be like a few years from now. Would I be like her? Maybe a couple of years later, I would be an overweight (I’m now slightly overweight) old guy slumping on a chair behind a descript desk at the back of the office and standing in front of me would be a brash, young, arrogant bastard who think he is the king of the world and is trying to pull a fast one over me. Would I be “powerless” again? Would I become “old”? Is that going to be my fate? But I never believed in fate before, not by a long shot.