CSME — Is It for Real?

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I think most Jamaicans view the advent of CSME with some interest, but no real passion. After all, this is not Miami we are talking about… and truth is that we know more about Broward Mall, Pembroke Pines and Miami Lakes than we do about Long Circular, the Savannah, St. Lawrence Gap or Broad Street.

Our minds are firmly planted in Greater Miami.

This is a pity, because while the hoopla around CSME may not “grab us,” it is a timely reminder that the whole “10-1 leaves 0” business actually has left us poorer than our smaller counterparts in the Federation of old, and unlikely to catch up in the near future. We need to be careful not the make the same mistake twice.

While the changes initially planned by CSME are modest, they are a concerted move on the part of the region’s governments to bring us into alignment with much larger forces in the world.
These forces are stunningly described in the book “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, in which he talks about what he calls the 10 Flatteners, and how they are enabling China, India and other countries to experience massive growth in their economies.

His book serves partly as a warning to the United States, which is echoed by Richard Florida in his book “The Flight of the Creative Class.”

9/11 laws that make residency and citizenship in the United States more difficult are only hurting that country’s ability to compete at the heart of its strength — technological innovation. Scientist and engineers who are unable (for example upon completion of their PhD’s) to stay in the US and work are taking their skills and returning to China and India. This is leaving the US bereft of much needed talent in colleges, research laboratories and industries.

Furthermore, the US is seriously considering erecting its own Berlin Wall along its border with Mexico. Instead of flattening barriers, new ones are being created to keep America “safe.” It is no wonder that some are wondering if this is what Bin Laden was hoping for all along — the US drowning its own strength in its own fears.

It certainly runs counter to the direction that most countries want to move in, and the direction in which Caribbean countries must go. In particular, the poorest countries in the region (Jamaica, Guyana and Haiti) have experienced an exodus of their Creative Classes in recent years. In most cases, the emigre left their country of origin unwillingly, with its warm climate, familiar feel and spicy cuisine. It makes visitors to the region wonder why anyone would ever leave.

CSME is probably too late for those who left to live in the US and Canada for economic opportunities, but it is not too late for those of us who remain. Perhaps we might be able to leverage the 6 million people in our region, and the combination of skills and natural resources
to create opportunities that might attract back those who have left, and persuade those who stay that their best bet is not to join a long line to get a US visa, but instead to browse a website or jump on a plane, and learn what is happening across the region.

Perhaps we can join together in igniting some measure of economic success that we could not achieve apart. If so, then the CSME is an excellent start.

P.S. If you are visiting this blog after the IMCJ conference: Welcome! The presentation is available by visiting www.fwconsulting.com and clicking on Ideas and then Download(s).

A Man I Know Who Followed His Heart

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He had his light and phone cut off. He lived out of his car for a while. He was ashamed to tell others how little money he had. He told his clients to find someone else, and they refused. Everyone who knew him told him was crazy, and that he should cash in on his MBA.

Today he is the coach of the fastest man in the world — the holder of the record for the 100m dash, Asafa Powell.

The man behind it all its Stephen Francis, known to Wolmerians who went to school with him as “Clagga” (or was that “Clappa”?)

His personal story of sacrifice and achievement is a dramatic one, as the events I mentioned above all happened in the space of 4 short years, according to the story told in the Gleaner entitled: Creating World Champions.

I remember him well as a rather disheveled, bright guy who was a member of the Schools Challenge Quiz Team from the year he was in fourth form, and I was in first form. He was not athletic, and did not take part in sports, but like anyone who was on the Schools Challenge team he was able to study, and retain a tremendous amount of information.

He eventually got a degree in Accounting, and then an MBA, and somewhere along the line he decided that he was interested in something new: Track and Field. I remember hearing the news that he was coaching Wolmers Track Team — it seemed like madness to me, as Francis was a brains, not an athlete!

After his MBA, he got the kind of job you could easily retire from — a consulting position at Peat Marwick. I am sure his parents were proud. I imagined that they relaxed, knowing that he had “set himself up.”

I can only imagine what they thought and said when he quit that job to follow his dream of training athletes…

The article is fascinating. In a way I should not be surprised as he has a combined background that can only be a powerful asset to his athletes — after all, not many track coaches have MBA’ s from top schools like the University of Michigan.

And there are not too many that have coached the fastest human being on the planet. In fact, there is only one.

Doing The Work

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This past weekend I attended a personal development seminar based on The Work of Byron Katie.

Byron Katie is actually a woman who, at the depths of a suicidal depression, developed a body of thinking that fits nicely into 4 questions and a turnaround statement, that is basically the opposite of the original stressful thought.

There is a great deal of information on her website: www.thework.org and I have been using these questions and the line of thinking she has invented for about two years now, with great effect in my personal life, and also in my business. I guess you might say that I used as much of it as I could on my own, before actually investing in a two day trip to DC to do it in person.

Through doing the work, I have been able to develop a stronger capacity to question the thoughts that come into my head. While I conceptually knew that “I am not my thoughts, but instead I am the thinker,” which is a fairly common statement in most personal development courses and books, her steps give ana easy way of quickly dealing with stressful thoughts at the moment they arise.

While we all know at some level that stress is not caused by life itself, but instead by our thoughts about life, this is a difficult idea to put into practice.

In short, her four questions are a way to meet the stressful thought with four quick questions, and over time I have noticed that the lag time between the stressful thought and the questions has only gotten shorter — which has lead to a more peaceful inner life.

Given that I know it works from experience, I believe that I’ll be developing some offerings for my clients based on The Work. I would say that it passes the first test for new ideas that I have, which is “Do they work for me?”

Books I’m Reading Now – -April

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Just a quick update on the books that have recently attracted my attention:

Reading List (paper books)

  • The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block
  • Home with God by Walsch
  • The Flight of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
  • The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
  • What God Wants by Walsch
  • A Course in Miracles (text)
  • The Sins of Scripture by Bishop John Shelby Spong

Listening List (audible.com mp3’s on Creative MuVo Slim)

  • 2 further talks / sermons by Marianne Williamson
  • Freakonomics — Jared Diamond
  • I Need Your Love, Is That True? — Byron Katie
  • Fast Company Magazine Monthly Summary
  • The Right Use of Power — Peter Block
  • The Funny Thing Is — Ellen Degeneris
  • The Energy of Money — Maria Nemeth

eBook list (Palm Tungsten eReader)

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

I got a new Creative Zen that has 30Gb of space, but I haven’t yet moved over my audible.com account to that device.

I am going through my usual list of magazines: Time, Runners, Bicycling, Tritahlete, plus the occasional others. And of course, there is my daily reading list of : Jamaica Observer, Jamaica Gleaner, Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad Express, New York Times, Sun-Sentinel — and now and then I read the Barbados Advocate.

An Excerpt from Tantie

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“Tantie” is a Trini word meaning Auntie, that in Jamaica means “Teh-Teh” or “older female relative, usually an aunt, who can really talk”.

This excerpt is from a weekly online newsletter called Tantie which is sent out in Trinidad. One section, “Backchat”, is an opportunity to folks to send back their impressions, and this Trini’s response caught my attention.

* T R I N I D I A R Y http://www.trinidiary.com *
* your source for events in Trinidad and Tobago *
* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ *
* *
TUESDAY 4th APRIL 2006 VOL:7 ISSUE:014

BACKCHAT: Issue 013

So wearing black as a sign of mourning I can live with.

But driving with car lights on to protest crime??? Walking against crime? Signing a petition to be delivered to our “figurehead” president? WHAT exactly do, or will, these actions EVER accomplish? To whom are we protesting? Neither the criminals nor the politicians care!

Volunteer your time and expertise to a civil society organisation working to alleviate our myriad social problems….and THEN talk to me about crime solving.

Donate a part of your paycheck to one of these same organisations, or to a family that can barely pay its rent and eat when the month comes, and THEN talk to me about crime solving.

STOP driving on shoulders, putting on your seatbelt only when you see a police officer, and breaking rules whenever you have the chance….and THEN talk to me about crime solving.

Sensitise your children to be compassionate for their fellow humans, to love everyone as they come, and to be generous with the gifts that the universe so bountifully bestows….AND THEN TALK TO ME ABOUT CRIME SOLVING!!!

Leave your comfort zones behind. Judge not, lest you be judged. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Increase the talents given to you by the universe, and use them for the good of your downtrodden fellow people. //Trinidad


Doing What is Loved

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A friend of mine from overseas was working in a client bank in Jamaica as a consultant on a major project. He needed to open a local account to do some transactions, and decided to open an account at the local branch of the bank.

He found a branch and tried to open the account, but ran into such poor service that he had to return several times, after which he just gave up in frustration.

He mentioned his experience as a matter of urgency to one of his colleagues in the bank, a vice president.

Her response was: “You mad or what? Why you never come to me first? I would never go into one of our branches to do any of my banking! And deal wid dem people deh? No sah, I only go to the branch manager. Here, next time come to me and I will take care of it for you.”

On a quite different occasion, I was eating my lunch while reading the Jamaica Overseas Gleaner, while living in New Jersey. As I turned the pages, I came upon a picture of a mad-man with his head full of live maggots eating his scalp alive.

That was the end of lunch.

I was so disgusted that I felt compelled to call the editor, who I happened to know because I had placed several business ads in the past. The editor was not in, but I did reach the Advertising Manager, who I also knew. Let’s say her name was Mary. She was second in command.

I made my complaint, including the part about the effect the picture had on my lunch. Mary said “Let me tell you something – when I went to pick up this week’s edition from the printer, one of the guys drew me aside and asked me how we could print this. I looked at it for the first time, and that was when I knew that this week’s Gleaner was not going to reach me!!” (In other words, she would not be reading it).

I was flabbergasted… and momentarily speechless and could only recover to ask her, quite weakly, to pass the message on to the editor.

The stories might be different, but the underlying theme is one that I find in too many companies in the Caribbean — too many people doing work they either do not believe in, or do not even like. At times, it seems to me as if all the people who love to serve customers were somehow secretly switched with workers in factories, and on farms, far away from people — while the ones who hate people are stuck in front-line service jobs.

Many Caribbean workers seem to be in jobs they either vehemently or passively dislike. Converely, very few seem to be enjoying what they are doing for a living.

And, we are not very skillful at hiding this fact from each other.

I don’t know yet what the cause of it is yet, but there is at least some lack of care that takes place when people are hired — managers and executives do not seem to be smart about hiring people who even care to use the products and services that the company offers.

In a sports store the workers don’t play the sports. In a shoe store, they don’t wear the shoes. In a health-food store, no-one knows the products because they don’t consume them. In a bank, no-one actually uses the branches if they can help it.

This is just bad for business, and worse for both the employee and the customer, who must now suffer in each other’s presence, while trying to get work done.

I do know that in a tight economy people are just plain afraid to pursue what their heart tells them to pursue. Some use the opportunity to migrate to finally free themselves of these mental chains, but sadly, many are not able to undergo the transformation required. It takes courage to believe in one’s ability, in the face of the culture that is screaming out the stupidity of doing so.

Yet, those who do are the ones who can make up the new Creative Class across our region.

If there is any fault, it lies in our education system, which asks a 16 year old to restrict his or her education to at most 4 subjects for A-levels/CAPE. I will never forget my own junior semester at Cornell in which I did Photography, the History of Art, Government and Philosophy — for full credit — even as I majored in Engineering. Doing these courses (which stand out in my mind as critical to my personal development) sounds bizarre to the Caribbean-trained professional, for whom education has been reduced to a mere instrument — starting at age 16.

This instrumentalism is a travesty, and as I type this I think that there is a certain sadness to see that a decision to pursue training in a career, will end up keeping someone locked in a job for which they have no passion.

One of my favourite authors, Kahlil Gibran says it quite well:

Work:

And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil.

And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”

But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;

And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

—————————————————————————
Brilliant.

Maybe the new freedom for our people, hopefully including our Creative Class, will be about a personal courage that transcends the culture’s rules.

Beating Our Backs to Stop the New Plague

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A few days ago I was reading the Trinidad Guardian online, and noticed that, in response to the recent rise in murders in 2006 (+37%) someone had called for a day for everyone to protest by wearing black, and putting headlights on for the entire day.

This follows a recent day of mourning where everyone wore white, and performed a symbolic act that involved lying in the streets of Port of Spain.

And there have been countless calls for prayers, fasting, a greater role for church leaders, condemnation for criminals, protests, etc.

I can tell the Trinis from experience: these things don’t work.

We in Jamaica have an abundance of evidence that they make no measurable difference. Our murder rate almost tripled in the past few years, and we are doing as many of these kinds of things as we can think of, including mass rallies of all kinds. I happen to live beside a church that insists on sharing the Sunday services with the neighbourhood through its loudspeakers that face out from the church. Every week, (and on many weekdays) there are loud calls for God’s redemption from the crime that has turned us into the Murder Capital of the world.

I cannot see that these tactics are working, and I doubt that they will work any differently in Trinidad.

On the History channel this afternoon, I happened to see a programme on the Black or Bubonic Plague in Europe, that wiped out half the population of the continent. Like us, people in the 1300’s sought to find religious solutions to the horror of the illness, which killed people within days after causing high fevers, chills, vomited blood and black boils. They sought refuge in the Catholic Church, and from the Pope, who of course was powerless to stop the carnage. There was one very moving picture depicted of a statue of the Virgin Mother being taken miles from one place to the other to help ward off the evil — to no avail.

At some point, a few in Germany decided that the priests were not being godly enough, and started a group they called the Flagellants. Membership in this group was restricted to those who were willing to spend days marching through the streets beating themselves (and each other for good measure) until their backs were rendered a bloody mess.

They eventually took to beating first Jews and then priests, at which point the Pope decided he’d had enough and brought out the troops to stop their fun.

From our point of view it is a curious sight — men beating themselves on the back with whips in order to… stop the Bubonic Plague. Given that the Plague was spread by a bacterium from person to person through bodily contact, it must seem to us to be a pretty bad choice of cures.

Which brings me to Trinidad. I think we Jamaicans can teach them a thing or two about some of the things that we have tried that just do not make any difference. In fact, it strikes me that reinforcing some religious beliefs can not only deepen crime and violence, but also further divide our societies.

How so?

There are lots of Bible verses, for example, that people use to sanction violent acts like beating children, discriminating against gays and promoting the death penalty. Recently, a group of Christian lawyers in Jamaica appeared to be protesting against the new Charter of Rights because it did not discriminate against gays sufficiently.

The book “The Sins of Scripture” by an Episcopalian bishop is a eye-opening excursion into church history that outlines many of these ways in which the claimed “inerrancy” of the Bible is used to justify all sorts of historical and present-day evil, in the name of God.

Furthermore, using religion is the quickest way to divide our people within the countries that make up the region.

For example, our new Prime Minister made a call yesterday at a Seventh Day Adventist church that pastors will be appointed to boards of government institutions across the country. In principle, having a spiritual viewpoint in positions of power is an excellent idea.

However, the truth is that we all have our favourite religions, including our new Prime Minister, and we would want our favourite pastors to be appointed to the more important positions.

Furthermore, we also have those religions that we either fear or despise. The great thing about the “Church of Satan” in the USA is that its very existence stops the government from going too far in the direction of mixing church and state.

While I doubt that there is a chapter in Jamaica, there are enough denominations and religions that exist that most of us don’t want to place anywhere near the levers of power. These include the old chestnuts such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Catholics, Rastafarians and the permanently crusading clap-hand tent church around the corner. To hear that the pastor who recently prophesied that Portia would win the race to become the next Prime Minister has been appointed to the board of the Electoral Office of Jamaica would probably worry everyone who does not belong to his church.

Perhaps Portia will come up with a short list of approved churches and pastors, to prevent the boards from making errors. Then, we could all know which religious leaders have received the stamp of approval.

But, that would probably put us all in even more trouble. I could imagine that fracas that would break out, as power is given to some and not others, and placed in the hands of some holy men and women, but not others.

Having said that, I do have a few ideas to share with the readers of this website from a prior blog: “The Source of Crime in Jamaica“.

More on this to come in future posts.