CSME — Offense or Defense?

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In a recent conference on the impact of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) there was a presentation by a representative of CSME. During her presentation it struck me that the reasons being given for the implementation of CSME were defensive rather than offensive.

In other words, the CSME was being formed to protect the region from the adverse effects of being very small countries. It seems that in key negotiations, our territories have suffered from not having sufficient clout in important international negotiations.

In short, CSME will enable us build a trading bloc that will enable our governments to accomplish more.

There is nothing wrong with this rationale, except that it’s all about reacting to circumstances, and attempting to right a weakness.

As a business-person, however, I think that while that objective is a worthwhile one, it doesn’t do a whole lot in the short term for my business.

And this is the challenge — CSME is not being sold with enough of a vision to attract the average man.

I am sure there are people who are creating such a vision, but they are yet to be heard from.

I wonder if this has something to with Federation, and whether it was not fulfilled due to Jamaica’s 1962 withdrawal? Are people feeling that if they create too big a vision for the region, then the old suspicions will be rekindled, and a collapse would ensue?

Or is it that there is a subtle fear that if CSME is too successful, then our countries will be overrun by foreigners from the countries that we are not so fond of?

There needs to be a much more clear vision for the new world that CSME is creating, and I’m going to get the ball rolling by painting the picture for myself.

Caribbean Time and Jamaica Time

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“Jamaica Time” isn’t all that bad, actually.

Once upon a time there was a tourist on a fishing visit to Mexico, who heard about a lake that was well-stocked with edible fish. In a few days, the tourist found himself sitting on the side of the lake, beside a Mexican who was also fishing. He recognized the man from the night before, when he had seen him chatting with his friends over drinks, having a good time relaxing and enjoying their company.

He started chatting with the fellow, in between catches, and as the time passed he realized that he had caught much more fish than he had expected. He was excited, because in all the fishing he had done in his home country, he had never caught this many fish in such a short time.

He asked his new Mexican friend whether this was normal, and he confirmed that, yes, this was always an excellent lake to fish in. He could count on being able to catch enough fish to take to the market to sell each week to meet his expenses, which were not much as he pointed out his modest home on the edge of the lake. He was able to do all this even though he could only afford a single rod and line.

The tourist, who happened to be a successful millionaire and entrepreneur, got even more excited. He said, “Why don’t I help you? I could help you invest in a boat and some equipment, and if we hire the right people, then you could catch enough fish to make some real money!”

The Mexican seemed interested, but a bit confused. “What would I do with all that money?” he asked.

“Oh, then you could really live! You could retire to a nice place in the tropics, and spend time with your friends eating, drinking and fishing each day to your heart’s content. You’d be successful!”

The fisherman sat silently for a while and stared into the sun as it set into the waters of the lake. He replied quietly,

”Why bother? That’s the life I’m living now.”

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This story made me wonder about coming back to live in Jamaica and work in the Caribbean.

Many Americans think I was nuts to live in the US for even one day, when I had a beautiful country to live in and move back to. Of course, most Jamaicans (and especially those that live in the US) are quick to explain that “all that glitters is not gold.”

However, there is a reason that Americans are willing to save up for years to come to Jamaica, and it’s not only because of the flora and fauna.

Part of it has to with how time is felt and experienced in Jamaica.

My wife gave me a clue by asking me a few times “did you get a lot done today?” and “did you have a productive day?”

Now, this is a normal question to ask in the U.S. It’s so normal and everyday that there is no reason to do anything other than answer directly.

However, it sounded strange here in Jamaica and it drove me to think more deeply about what time is for. It’s clear to me that in the US, time is for getting stuff done. It has utility, and its utility has to do with getting tasks done and producing results. It comes in part from viewing a human at work as a factor of production, and as a tool for work.

Time spent talking with others is seen as something to get through quickly, and pleasantries are necessary evils to be dispatched with as soon as it’s polite to do so.

Here in the Caribbean, however, I sense a very different relationship with time. Instead of an obstacle, time is seen and experienced as a resource, but not as a resource to get stuff done, but one in which the gift of life is to be savored and enjoyed to its fullest.

The Mexican fisherman story illustrates the difference to some degree. Time is seen by the tourist as something to be spent to create a future experience. The Mexican is right to question the logic, implying that the joy of retirement could be experienced in this very moment, and not after it has been “earned”.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that a friend of mine passed away. He did so while jumping off his boat at Lime Cay, when his head hit a rock and fractured his spine and skull. He died with those he loved, doing what he loved.

That is, he died in the middle of the activity, probably anticipating the feel of the fresh, cool saltwater on his skin at one of Jamaica’s best getaway spots.

In my time working and consulting in US corporations, there certainly was an overriding feeling that the job one was in at the moment could not possibly be a source of enjoyment and excitement. If anyone loved their jobs, they would hide the act from their colleagues, as that was how cynical these environments had become. Furthermore, anyone who was enjoying their jobs was seen as being “drunk on the Kool Aid” (a reference to the Jim Jones cult suicide of 1979.)

In other words, work and the job were things to be endured and suffered through until there was some relief in the form of retirement, which would be spent visiting places like Jamaica, Barbados or Florida – and that’s when real life would start.

The sad thing is that many Caribbean people buy into this logic when they migrate to the US, Canada and England, where they get lost in the material aspirations of these cultures. One day, they too will return to retire in Jamaica.

It seems to me that one is prepared to work hard, and to invest in one’s career, that that might as well happen here in the Caribbean, where time is seen so differently.

Yes, the pace is slower here, but the truth is, that it only seems slower if the goal is to get a lot of stuff done. If, instead, the goal is to savor each and every moment, as if it were one of the few remaining moments, then the “pace” is irrelevant, and instead the quality of the time spent is seen as the variable to maximize over all others.

From my experience, Trinis and Belizeans are particularly good at this.

They seem to understand that the lime, or the time spent with others, is not just important, but to be prolonged as long as possible. I remember spending time in a Trini lime that went for about 5 hours, of just sitting in a circle and drinking mixed drinks (screwdrivers on my part) while eating snacks.

It would never happen in the US, and it would rarely happen in Jamaica. Belizeans and Trinis are willing to get together to just sit, talk and enjoy each other’s company. To say it differently, they actually plan to spend time together to just… enjoy time together, and nothing else. The food is secondary, turning on the television for the heck of it is thinkable, and taking it all to seriously is unforgivable.

Unfortunately, we in Jamaica are becoming more American – more rushed, more impersonal and more mechanical in our interactions with each other. Somehow, at some point we adopted the North American point of view regarding time, and began to relate to “Jamaica Time” as nothing more than being late.

Perhaps “Jamaica Time” has more to do with using time to savor life. Instead of saying “Sorry I’m late” and giving some excuse related to how busy we are, we might say “I’m on Jamaica Time,” meaning to say “I’m late because I was caught up in savoring my life and the people in it.”

Who You Are

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Blogging seems to have some similarity to me to writing a newspaper column, with one exception: I have real difficulty imagining who you are.

Obviously, the reason I blog rather than just write in a private diary is that I am writing for You, Dear Reader. All I know with absolute assurance at this moment is that you are reading this blog.

Are you a programmer living in New York City, taking a break from crafting some subroutine at 7pm? Are you a newspaper columnist from the Gleaner looking for ideas? Or a cousin of my wife who is trying to catch up with our lives? Or a Trini looking to move to Kingston from Woodbrook in the next month for business? Or a crook looking to see if I slip up at some point and mention my social security number? Or are you some lonely soul who lives in the apartment next door to me who saw me running the other day and has been stalking me ever since (I hope not, because I’m on to you if you exist! )

I suppose that You, Dear Reader, read blogs the way I read them, which is just for the odd moment when something goes click and a connection is made that leaps from my world into Yours. Those odd moments are well worth waiting for, and reading for, and the beauty of blogging is that the jump can happen quickly… without waiting for the book to come out.

And while I’ve met only a few blog readers in person, I imagine that You and I would click if we were to meet in person.

Unless you are a crook or stalker, that is.

On Transitioning to Work in Jamaica

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In the Caribbean Acquisition Project (CAP) one of the issues that surfaced was that of the built in assumption that the Caribbean worker is the same from country to country.

As my wife has been telling me – “It’s one thing to act like we’re all one Caribbean in New York or Miami, and quite another to take over a company in another Caribbean country.” In other words, if there are cultural issues when a company from Antigua takes over one from Barbuda, or one from Nevis takes over one from St. Kitts, or one from Trinidad takes over one from Tobago; then there must be issues when the differences are more significant.

I’ve seen senior executives moved from their home country to new countries in the region, and the only preparation they were given was a map.

There is no Department of Cross Cultural Management Studies at UWI.

Yet, with the advent of CSME, it’s likely that there will be more and more of these kind of executive transfers. At the moment, there is nothing like a “boot camp” to prepare expat executives. What would such a learning experience look like?

  1. It would be built on facts
    Many executives coming to
    Jamaica arrive pre-loaded with some combination of the best things imaginable, and the worst.

    Is this an island paradise? Or a breeding ground for hardened criminals? Is it the cradle of reggae and rap music? Or is it a place that encourages violence against gays? Does it have a full, functioning and vibrant democracy, or is it a place where vigilante justice takes place even in high schools? Should the relocation be welcomed, or cursed? Can ackee kill you? Is it safe to eat fruit sold at a stop-light?

    These questions can all be debated by an expat, and should be. Yet, there are hard facts are available to guide a working visitor, and they can be used to help make critical decisions.

  2. It would be experiential
    This could not occur in the classroom only. In the past few years, I was lucky enough take 3 ghetto tours. I took the first in
    Soweto, the second in Crossroads and the third in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

    They were all well off the beaten path, and were the highlight of their respective trips. The sights, temperatures, smells and scope of each place were unimaginable from text or video, and today they remain in my memory in a way that will never be lost. I once heard someone say that the most important things in our lives cannot be learned, but they can only be experienced.

    A course for expats would have to put people in contact with other people, and give them a sense of an unfamiliar environment in the host country by immersing them in what might be a somewhat uncomfortable situation. In fact, there would have to be several such experiences. The key would be to manage them in a way that learning is possible, and transforming.

  3. It would be reflective
    Whereas it might seem that the process of learning to operate and manage in a new culture is a matter of learning information, the truth is that no two people experience with a new culture in the same way. In other words, the experience has everything to do with the interaction of two different cultures and not on one culture or the other.

    Also, different people within different cultures interact with new cultures differently, so that, for example, a Black American’s experience of Jamaica would be very different than a white American’s.

    Instead of trying to customize the course to every single possible variation, it’s much more powerful to teach the visitor some tools to understand their own background, and their own blind-spots. They would learn to be reflective in a way that would teach them to understand how they react to unfamiliar situations, and give themselves a chance to respond effectively regardless of whatever new situation they find themselves in.

I think that a course that hits these three elements – fact based, experiential and reflective would be a lot of fun to design, and to conduct for real-life people.

Meeting Kwame

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Recently I finally met Kwame.

The Kwame in question is not himself a famous freedom fighter, but an esteemed colleague. He happens to have made the upgrade from “cyber-friend” to face-to-face friend while I was at a conference in Barbados last week.

Lest you immediately get the wrong idea about Kwame, he is not the son of that Nigerian ”prince” who needs your help to transfer $10 million, “with your kind help.” Instead, Dr. Kwame Charles is a pioneer in the field of Caribbean employee surveys, and he has the best and most comprehensive data on what the region’s employees think about their companies. See his website Quality Consultants for more information.

My point here is not to shamelessly advertise Kwame’s expertise (although companies would be crazy not to use him, and I do have his cell phone number if anyone wants to get hold of the man himself AND he is coming to Jamaica to next week’s HRMAJ conference.) Instead, it’s interesting that Kwame and I have known each other for about 3 years, but only met last week in person.

How did that happen?

Via the internet we have become colleagues by:

  • lobbying on CaribHRForum for the establishment of a regional HR conference
  • sharing leads and contacts within companies for future business
  • visiting each other’s websites
  • talking on the phone from different countries and timezones
  • writing chapters of the same book (*note to self… start writing chapter of book, as promised)
  • trying to arrange a meeting over drinks

So, last week, we finally met.

And it made me think how much more rich my life is, due to the existence of the web, internet and cyber-space. Instead of finding a stranger sitting beside me, I found a new, old friend.

Tough Times in Creating the Customer Experience

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Customer pees in bank

BY KRISTY RAMNARINE

An elderly woman who could no longer control her bladder, urinated in the waiting area of the Independence Square branch of RBTT yesterday afternoon.

Eyewitnesses said the woman asked a teller to use the staff washroom because she needed to go very badly.

However, the woman, who was standing fourth away from the counter in a very long line, was reportedly told she could not use the bank’s facilities but could go to the KFC outlet next door.

A few minutes later, the woman went to a corner of the room, stooped, pulled down her clothes and urinated on the floor.

Other customers who were in the bank were reportedly shocked at what the woman did, but some supported her.

The incident caused a few customers to raise their voice in defence of the woman, who, after she finished relieving herself, rejoined the line to make her transaction.

The bank’s cleaners were then called to mop up the floor.

After finishing the transaction, the woman left without being questioned by security.

Contacted yesterday, head of corporate communication at RBTT, Paul Charles, said the incident was an unfortunate one which the bank wished could have been avoided.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

From the RBTT website:

“Welcome to the #1 … banking group”

and

“Building and maintaining long-term customer relationships based on mutual respect, trust, a superior service and confidence therefore remains the cornerstone of RBTT’s strategy.”

Yikes.

P.S. Since writing this post I have come to learn that this has also happened in other banks across the region, all coming from the need for banks to maintain security by limiting access to rest-rooms located behind the tellers.

Given the damage that it causes to the customer’s experience, is this really worth it?

Books I’m "Reading" Now

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I have no idea who out there might be reading the books that I’m reading , but I find myself reading lots of different kinds of books, all at the same time. The thing I’m wondering to myself is: who else is reading this stuff?

If you are someone who is reading or listening to the same authors, then I would love to know.

Reading List (paper)

  • Freedom and Authenticity by Koestenbaum and Block
  • Carnival by Antoni
  • Communion with God by Walsch
  • The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz

Listening List (MuVo Creative mp3)

  • 2 talks by Mariann Williamson
  • Guns, Germs and Steel — Jared Diamond
  • I Need Your Love, Is That True? — Byron Katie
  • Robin Williams’ Famous Friends
  • The Energy of Money — Maria Nemeth

eBook list (Palm Tungsten eReader)

  • She Comes First — Ian Kerner
  • Tomorrow’s God — Walsch

This in addition to about 7-10 newspapers each morning.

What are you reading / listening to / watching?