Outlook 2007

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This has nothing to do with the Caribbean, but I have to add my own words of frustration regarding Outlook 2007.

It is SLOOOOOOOOOW.

I am shocked that some development team in Microsoft let it out of the lab and into production.

The only thing it offers of value that I have found is a prettier interface, and a few slightly better options.

Other than that, I am amazed that I upgraded from Outlook XP to Outlook 2007, skipping 1 upgrade, only to arrive here … with a much slower program that bogs down my entire computer when it’s running. I actually cannot afford to run it all the time due to the time it wastes.

Unbelievable.

Recession and Productivity

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Talk of a recession in the U.S. is now fully underway.

In the Caribbean, we have just begun to talk about the fact that when a recession hits the U.S., the after-effects are felt here. As if the increase in oil prices were not enough, we can also expect to see a drop in tourist visits and a decrease in average tourist spending. This affects our bottom-line in Jamaica and other countries in the region that are dependent on the tourist industry as the biggest earner of foreign exchange.

If a recession is to come to the region, then we can expect to see redundancies as companies cut their payrolls to keep their costs in line with a reduction in business.

It’s a good time for employees to start to think about a strategy to make themselves invaluable to their employers. An employee would do well to find ways to do more with less, as the chances are good that their managers are going to be turning to them to ask them to do just that.

If a redundancy is announced, it’s likely that the least productive employees are the ones that are at the greatest risk. In turn, the most productive ones will be assuming the workload of those that are laid off.

While most managers won’t give their employees anything new to deal with the extra load, the smart ones will start now to give them tools, training and alternatives that help them get the job done.

For example, elance, the outsourcing service, offers an excellent value for money, and now would be a good time to get used to using the service. Also, Framework’s NewHabits-NewGoals productivity programme would be an alternative for professionals looking to boost their ability to deal with more each day.

It also might be a good time to buy that extra memory for the laptop, or to set up work-at-home arrangements wherever possible — all in favour of boosting productivity.

The current estimates say that a recession won’t be felt here in the region until 9-12 months from now, so there is still ample time to prepare.

Building an Environment that is Open for Business

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Now that we are ten days away from election day, I am remembering an article (http://urlcut.com/dchuck) that Delroy Chuck wrote about creating an environment in Jamaica that is business-friendly.

Beyond the politics of what he has to say, there is a truthful point. I recently opened a business here in Jamaica, and I finally received the legal papers in August 2007 after waiting from December, 2006.

In an earlier post entitled “The Thwarting of the Creative Class“, I shared some research that showed that Jamaica’s ranking among countries in terms of how easy it is to do business is terribly low, even after years of efforts to make things easier.

When Everything Becomes a Business

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It is unfortunate that in today’s world that everything has “become a business”.

Test Cricket — “nothing more than a business”
Professional Football — “a money-making venture”
Fine Art — “basically a form of entrepreneurism”
etc.

While it is accurate that these and other pastimes can be seen as businesses, I think it is a mistake to argue forcefully that they can all be reduced to mere financial concerns.

It is true that they all have commercial aspects, but untrue that they should be seen through this lens exclusively. Everyone suffers when this happens, and when it happens too often a certain cynicism creeps into even the most altruistic activities, such as volunteerism and donations.

It is almost as if there is an accusation that if a cricketer is not viewing, for example, his career as a business, then he is not being realistic, or not being professional.

This might have a grain of truth, but it is also true that a test cricketer is not a mercenary. To think of what they do as “just a job” is to reduce the activity of playing cricket at the highest level to the most empty kind of employment.

The greater truth is that business-leaders are desperately trying to move their companies away from being entities whose only relationship to their people is one of trade — my money for your time and effort.

Instead, companies are at their best when people are able to lay aside such interpretations and are able to approach their jobs as if they are volunteers, with the kind of fervor and commitment that enhances their experience of being human, and deepens their working relationship with their co-workers.

It is tragic when a young professional allows the “commercial trade” that is a necessary part of their relationship with their employer to override all over concerns, even the concern for their own frame of mind.

Individual Brilliance, Collective Stupidity

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I just got up from in front of the television, where the West Indies is, once gain, disappointing this cricket fan.

At the moment the score reads 48/3 against Sri Lanka, and it looks like we are in for our third beating in a row.

So, I thought I would take a break… Lara’s recent soft dismissal was the icing on the cake. Onto other more uplifting topics…

Yesterday’s Boys and Girls High School Champs was yet another triumph, not just for the winners (Calabar) but for the Jamaican sporting fraternity. Last year, I wrote about my experience at Champs, and why attending it was so absolutely inspiring.

Not coincidentally, Patrick Robinson’s new book: “Jamaican Athletics: A Model for the World” was also launched, describing how the structure and spirit of our homegrown athletic system that has produced more currently top rated athletes that any other country in the world apart from the United States. At the heart of our system is our Boys and Girls Champs — the greatest athletic competition in track and field in the world for high school students.

What impresses me, however, is that Champs stands out as an exception to what I would describe as a general Caribbean weakness in our ability to work together in groups. (Trinidad’s Carnival is also another exception.)

In my work in corporations I have noticed the same phenomena: very sharp people who are unable to work together.

In politics the same: very smart politicians who are rendered impotent by each other, effectively nullifying whatever interest they have in serving the people of Jamaica.

In communities our very high murder rate here in Jamaica is driven by disputes large and small between individuals, gangs, neighborhoods, schools and sports teams.

What is it about us Jamaicans that make working together productively so very difficult?

In a prior blog I mentioned the idea that the pursuit of self-interest is a good thing, if it is allowed to blossom and grow into a realization that your best interests are also mine, but turns into something dangerous when we either pretend that we have no self-interest, or we stop, and fail to take our pursuit past the point of a narrow selfishness.

Often, we are our own worst enemies.

Recently at the corner of Ardenne and Hope Roads thieves stole the controller to the traffic light, rendering it useless.

I can imagine the same thieves riding on the bus later that week, complaining that the government has done nothing to fix the lights… without any sense of irony.

Yet, this is often what we do. We create our own problems, at first for each other, and then for ourselves.

We are undoubtedly a smart set of people, but that kind of brilliance we show is probably not as important as the kind that we need — if there is a thing called “group intelligence” then that is what we need to order up as quickly as possible.

It is only now that I am back living in Jamaica that I can say that there is a kind of group intelligence that I observed in US companies that I don’t see here to the same degree — this in total hindsight.

From my recollection of working abroad:

  • In discussions, I often observed people make a deliberate decision to step back in order to allow a consensus to form.
  • In meetings, I remember participants willingly surrendering their positions, in order to allow the group to move forward.
  • When dealing with companies as a customer, a customer service agent would make amends in order to keep me as a customer.
  • At stoplights, drivers would yield the right of way.
  • Upon being introduced, people would start by finding common ground.

These might all be taken to be the marks of polite company, but I think there is more to it than that. After all, Americans are not altogether a polite people, in the sense that the British are.

They are a very practical people, however.

Perhaps one aspect of group intelligence is knowing when to yield, in order to maintain a certain cohesiveness.

If so, then it is a skill we are sadly lacking here in Jamaica.

Instead, our particular determination to succeed comes from our commitment to justice and on protecting our ” rights.”

These are powerful, potent points of focus — they have motivated the “creation”/revelation of a religion such as rastafarianism, the rise of a leader such as Marcus Garvey and the fame of Bob Marley, among others.

They also lead to protest, murder and mayhem, with our irrational sensitivity to being “dissed.”

However, they are not enough, as our economic failures have demonstrated.

The recent lawless activities taking place in our schools has had some commentators talking about our “insistence on having things our way.” When we all engage in actions designed to get what we want, others be damned, we doom ourselves, because in a small country such as ours what goes around, surely comes back around. The movie “Crash” comes to mind.

It seems that we need to develop an ability to think about the welfare of the group, in addition to our own, and to act accordingly.

However, Boys and Girls Champs are a clear exception to the rule, rising from a 6 school event with 70 athletes (all male) in 1910 to one in 2007 that that has 63 schools and 2200 athletes.

Sadly, I don’t have answers to my all my questions, but I will pursue them until something structured opens up.

Bombastic Trinidadians

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Dawn Rich started off her column in the Sunday Gleaner with the following:

Any reader will know that I think the country’s domestic financial sector was handed to Trinidad and Barbados on a platter. By any measure this is a strategic industry.

Also by any measure there is nothing more bombastic than a Trinidadian. The Barbadians are still conscious of the fact that they occupy a little atoll, even if its real estate prices now beat those of the Bahamas, which were high to begin with. Their sea-front villas are being snapped up by rich people from the industrialised world. As a direct consequence, the Barbadian prime minister has had to defend himself against charges of selling out the country to rich foreigners. In effect, he’s replied that he doesn’t regret it.

This is a heck of a diatribe, and is worth reading in its entirety, by clicking here.

Trinidad and the CARICOM Skills Certificate

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Letter of the Day – CSME certificate – the full story
published: Sunday | August 6, 2006

The Editor, Sir:

After seeking to benefit from the much heralded free movement of labour under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), I am most disappointed that the full story has not been told. I did all that was necessary, notwithstanding the bureaucratic encounter at the Ministry of Labour (where only the minister can sign the approval for the CSME skill certificate) to get my skill certificate to travel to work in Trinidad. All this time I was told that this was all that was necessary to be employed in a country signed on to the programme.

To my surprise, after being employed in Trinidad and travelling out of the country on business, I was informed on re-entry that the CSME certificate obtained in Jamaica is only good for six months and does not give the privilege of being employed in the country. The holder is expected in Trinidad to apply for a CSME certificate in Trinidad including, medical, police record etc. before being able to reside and work in the country. This I do think is absurd as the same procedure is required in each home country. Is this to say that if I need to work in five CARICOM countries, I need five skill certificates from each country?

Please, can someone explain to me what really is the usefulness of issuing skill certificates in one’s home country when it has no true value in the country that you are seeking employment? This is not free movement of labour, as I could have been debarred from entering Trinidad even if I had a CSME skill certificate from Jamaica.


CSME not working
published: Friday | August 11, 2006

The Editor, Sir:

I must agree with the letter from Mr. Carl Stewart, referencing the CSME.

It is one of the most bureaucratic pieces of legislation that I have ever run across.

I, like Mr. Stewart, moved to Trinidad and Tobago to make a better life for myself and family. This legislation was to aid in the free movement of labour within the Caribbean. I am here to tell you, that is not so.

I submitted an application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs three months ago and to date still have no certificate, even though I have a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Finance.

I have had to obtain police reports from everywhere I have lived, even places that I lived 18 years ago.

Mr. Stewart is absolutely right – the true story is not being told, the CSME does not work. It has been in existence for a few months and is in desperate need of an overhaul.


The above letters caught my attention, as it reminded me of a friend of mine who was facing almost the same treatment in Trinidad.

Then a few days later, someone shared virtually the same story in the Gleaner.

What is going on here? I posted the same question on CaribHRFoum, to see if anyone else had heard any stories about Trinidad not accepting the CSME Skills Certificate. Sure enough, both Jamaicans and Bajans reported that they had encountered difficulty in getting the CARICOM Skills Certificate recognized in Trinidad.

I placed a few emails to CSME offices in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados to try to find out what the story is, and what HR executives across the region need to be aware of.

We shall see if there are any responses.

In the meantime, if you or anyone else you know has encountered difficulty in using the CARICOM Skills Certificate anywhere in the region, please post your story as a comment to this post (it can be done anonymously.)

It might very well help someone who is operating under some false understanding that could be damaging.

Striking it Rich — a Curse

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What if all of a sudden Jamaica were to strike it rich, like we discovered a source oil, natural gas, gold or diamonds?

Evidence suggests that that could be one of the worse things we could wish upon ourselves.

Trinidad is currently undergoing an oil and natural gas boom that is fast becoming a source of concern to some of its citizens.

Why so?

Recent past history tells us that developing countries that “discover” a single source of a new mineral commodity end up wrecking their economies. Oil and natural gas are the most recent instigators, but gold, diamonds and other precious ores have also played their part.

How does this happen?

Well, believe it or not, it could be compared to hitting the lottery, which often involves

  • changing locks, phone numbers, addresses, names, etc. to gain some relief from the public
  • being informed of “new” cousins that claim kinship, and a cut of the winnings
  • family members and friends who refuse to talk to you after you refuse them their “share”
  • complicated new choices on taxes and investments
  • hiring a lawyer and accountant (at least)
  • new “friendships” based on what you have, rather than who you are
  • saying “No way” more often than “Yes” to worthy causes and needy people
  • being included by thieves and other dirty, rotten scoundrels in their short to medium term career planning

I have never won anything in my life, but I once met someone whose lottery-winning uncle refused to fund her continuing education once she decided to switch from Pre-Med… causing her to drop out in mid-semester.

The problem with a windfall is that it distorts things. Undeserved and unearned resources are placed in our hands. We have an instant material power that is unmatched with equal wisdom. Our capacity to live life productively remains unchanged, but Lady Luck has granted us the fruits of a windfall and fate demands that we deal with them nonetheless.

The new NBC series “Windfall” offers an interesting and dramatic account of one group of lottery winners.

Trinidad’s current windfall is actually its second, and the last one was bad enough and recent enough to have those with long memories nervous. Some of the effects of $75+ per barrel oil are already plain to see.

  • Rising GDP and government revenue have served to stimulate an appetite for instant wealth, leading to a startling increase in kidnappings. The disparity in income between the lucky and the unlucky expands dramatically and quickly.
  • Government’s desire to increase employment led to the creation of artificial employment in the form of the CEPEP program and others. In short, they provide a decent wage for a disproportionate (in other words, small) amount of value. The end result is an indecent one, however – first wage inflation, and now a labour shortage.
  • Increasing traffic, but few new roads being built. Several spots have become nightmares, such as the roads into Maraval and Diego Martin.
  • Port of Spain’s real estate prices have risen dramatically fuelled by the demand by expats related to the oil industry
  • While the oil and natural gas sectors are booming, the non-oil related economy is stagnant. In short this means that the only thing separating Trinidad from other developing countries is the price of oil on the world market – a commodity price over which the country has no influence

Could we expect the same things in Jamaica if we were to make the same kind of discovery?

  • Would our crime increase in the same way, as people’s expectations collectively rise more quickly than incomes?
  • Would our real estate prices also explode?
  • Would government policies also encourage under-employment, and a labour shortage?
  • Would the economy come to rely on unsustainable factors such as the price of oil on the world market?

Countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela have clearly suffered historically from their windfalls, leading some to say that the discovery of oil is the worst blessing that a country could pray for.

The remedy seems to lie in a commitment by government to the long term development of its people, increasing education and its sister, productive capacity, faster than expectations of instant wealth.

Would our politicians resist the temptation to forego easy spending to gain votes? Finance Minister’s Omar Davis’ recent admission that he authorized election spending to gain votes legitimized common, if unspoken knowledge. His words gave us no confidence that he and others would act any differently.