Voting for Music

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The email below just came to me from Boom Networking in relation to the party this weekend. This has GOT to be the first party I have ever attended that asked me what music I wanted to hear several days ahead of time!

WICKED! (in the good way…)


We figured that you are already in a voting mood. We believe that you should always get what you want so we will “play what you say!”

Get ready to hear the music you want at SQUISH 3
This Saturday, September 8th at the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club
9:00 p.m. until we say stop!

Vote for the music you want to hear!

(if you can’t click on that link, just go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=ePk_2bGlnesewWG7WSQXxMlQ_3d_3d

Tickets are $3,500 all inclusive and are available from the usual suspects!

And of course we will have limited registration for TRIBE Carnival 2008

When to Sleep On It

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This is just a brilliant article — one of those that deeply resonated with me from the moment I read it and it goes well with that brilliant management/productivity tool so abhorred by corporations — “napping.”

Apparently, recent research is showing that sleeping on a problem is better than trying to consciously solve it.

In other words, when faced with a complex issue, if time allows, the best method to use is to spend a night to sleep on it, and then make a decision the following day.

Why does this work?

Apparently, the processes that the conscious mind uses are quite limited, and likely to introduce irrelevant information that produces poor decision-making. The unconscious mind, however, is a much better instrument and if given the chance, will do a better job.

According to the author, Ap Dijksterhuis, “The moral? Use your unconscious mind to acquire all the information you need for making a decision — but don’t try to analyze the information. Instead, go on holiday while your unconscious mind digests it for a day or two. Whatever your intuitions then tell you is almost certainly going to be the best choice.”

As someone who majored in Operations Research (and got 2 degrees in the subject) it seems to throw a huge spanner in the works of the profession… after all, we studied things like “decision theory” and “non-linear optimization” in order to bring more rational, WIDE -AWAKE thinking into the process.

I cannot remember a single thing from any of those hi-falutin’ courses.

I think it’s just much easier to sleep on it, and maybe while I’m sleeping my subconscious mind can run around and access the algorithms and heuristics I spent years mastering… that way, perhaps I can justify the thousands of dollars spent on an Ivy-League education, while still making good decisions.

I just might not make a good corporate employee, however, given the high importance I appear to give to sleeping (see my prior post on Nigger-itis.)

The relevant article from the Harvard Business Review List of Breakthrough Ideas for 2007 can be found here (as Idea #9).

The Thwarting of the Creative Class

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In an earlier blog, I wrote about how the Creative Class (the engine of economic growth) searches out and thrives in environments rich on the 3T’s: Talent, Technology and Tolerance. (see several blogs starting with Tolerance and Talent).

Strangely enough, we in the Caribbean do not encourage our ‘creatives’ nearly enough. Instead, perhaps out of a mistaken wish for our children to have an easier life than we had, we want our children to become doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers.

For example, I have the distinct impression that if I worked hard, long hours to create a successful patty or roti business, then I would not want them to grow up to be “only” shop owners. Instead, I want them to do better than I did, and become doctors, lawyers, etc. Furthermore, I would probably want them to live in Toronto, New York or Miami.

This particular priority might come from a good and sincerely loving place. However, it has two severe drawbacks.

One is that it breaks up families, and from a business point of view robs the company of the lifeblood it needs to live past the owner’s death. There are numerous stories of companies in which the founder would only trust his or her family to run and own it, while encouraging the same family members to enter “easier” and “more noteworthy” professions. The result is that businesses close when there is no-one interested in running them — not the outcome that the founders had intended at all.

The second drawback is that our societies encourage their members to pursue the high profile occupations, while at the same time discouraging them from starting and running their own companies. In other words, they discourage them from becoming creatives in the economic sense — entrepreneurs.

The result is that Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are difficult places to thrive as entrepreneurs.

This is not a situation that is unique to Jamaica, however, but it is one that I am about to deal with as I attempt to set up a Jamaican company as a wholly-owned subsidiary of my U.S. company. I can’t wait… I expect to deal with a bureaucracy that is inherently inimical to what I am trying to do.

I have been “officially” informed that setting up a company in Jamaica takes only 2-3 days.

As I read this, it makes me think of that crucial distinction made by Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat, in a chapter named “The Virgin of Guadalupe.” In this chapter, he talks about how cultural icons in Mexico and Egypt that are big-sellers to locals and tourists are not actually made locally. Instead, they are made in China.

Mexican officials, he explains, are quaking in their boots because it has become cheaper and more efficient to mass-manufacture many products in China, even with the advantages granted by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and obvious geographical advantage of being located next door to the greatest mass-market on earth. This includes the religious and cultural icon that is sold in the thousands to Mexicsn adn foreigners alike: The Virgin of Guadelupe.

What is going on here?

Check out this quote from today’s Jamaica Gleaner:

The conundrum faced by the IDB researchers, and the Finance Minister, Dr Omar Davies, is the country’s continued weak economic growth despite its high levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) and relatively strong capital formation, averaging four per cent and near 30 per cent of GDP in recent years.

In other countries with these levels of investment, annual growth would be expected upwards of six per cent a year. Jamaica has struggled to achieve GDP expansion of two per cent or more.

Ms. Currea and her colleagues at the IDB offer an important and perhaps insightful perspective. Bureaucracy, they suggest, impose high transaction costs on business, leading to informality and anaemic growth in the formal economic sector. Indeed, prior to this recent analysis of the performance of the Jamaican economy, the IDB had estimated that the informal sector accounts for about 40 per cent of the country’s economic activity.

Basically, this is saying that it is so hard to do business in Jamaica on a formal, legal basis that it is better just to keep things small, informal and illegal because the benefits of starting an official business are just too insignificant. It makes sense that if I am interested in manufacturing my own “Virgin” that I would try to do so in a country in which it is easy to do business.

Reading this paragraph made me run for my Friedman book, and to this chapter.

In it, he talks about reform wholesale, which was an era of broad macroeconomic reform. Countries, such as Jamaica, China, Russia et al pushed their countries into more export-oriented, free-market strategies. Some of the changes that were made included “privatization of state companies, deregulation of financial markets, currency adjustments, foreign direct investment, shrinking subsidies, lowering of protectionist tariff barriers and the introduction of more flexible labor laws.”

Companies that refused to make these changes (such as North Korea) actually saw their GDP’s shrink.

However, reform wholesale, according to the strategies outlined above is no longer enough, because aggressive countries like India and China have gone well beyond the basics, to offer what he calls “reform retail”.

Reform retail involves looking at a country’s infrastructure, regulatory environment, education and culture and upgrading each one to “remove as many friction points as possible.”

Friction points.

This describes the general difference, for me, of doing business in Jamaica and the region, versus doing business in North America. In the US, as a business owner, I experienced very few friction points, relative to my experience of doing business here in Jamaica.

In a recent blog I mentioned that it took me three days to get someone to answer the phone at the Ministry of Justice. Luckily, the matter was not an urgent one or else I would have had to visit in person, and burn several hours in line waiting only to hear that my papers were still not ready, and that I should have to wait longer.

In the news recently, a judge entered a judgement against a local Jamaican government agency — the National Environmental Planning Agency — when he discovered that they had not followed their own process in granting a permit to build a 2000 room hotel in an ecologically sensitive area. (Full disclosure: my father, Dr. Barry Wade, is the chairman of the company that performed the Environmental Impact Assessment.) The judgement may have the effect of halting construction, which would not only be costly to the builders, but put two thousand workers out of a job.

This must give the investors, a Spanish company, a severe case of “bureaucracy burn” as they felt the friction of doing business in Jamaica. If you cannot trust a governmental agency to give the right permits, then who can you trust, and who can you believe? I am sure that when they are assessing where to put their next hotel, this catastrophe would rank high on their list of concerns.

Taking away friction points like these is not just a matter of throwing cash at problems, either. In fact, that might make things worse.

For example, Trinidad is currently undergoing a rapid increase in wages, due to how it is spending the high tax revenues that are accruing from US$70+ barrel oil. The government launched a series of program for the poor under the name of CEPEP — Community-based Environmental and Enhancement Programme. Unskilled workers were paid a “decent” wage to clear debris, cut bush and do other manual tasks that included plenty time to take lengthy naps (this I know from personal observation).

The result? A labour shortage in Trinidad, especially at the lowest levels. A friend of mine who recently returned to Trinidad to run a business told me that he cannot find people to hire at the wage he needs to pay, because anyone who wants to work knows that they can do so with CEPEP, with more of an emphasis on getting paid, and less on actually doing any useful work. Here in Jamaica, we have had similar programs over the years, usually occurring around the end of the year… hence the name, “Christmas Work.”

So, spending money can actually help to create new “friction points.”

A study undertaken by the IFC in 2004 called Doing Business in 2004 has actually documented the differences. They have also updated their information on their website to 2006.

They measured how difficult it is to do the following basics, all of which I have had to do as a company owner:

  1. start a business in terms of local rules, regulations and license fees
  2. hire and fire workers
  3. enforce a contract
  4. get credit
  5. close a failing business

In Jakarta, Indonesia an entrepreneur must deposit minimum capital of three times the per capita income, and then wait a total of 186 days before he can start business officially.

In Panama City, a company owner finds it easier to keep underperformers on staff than it is to hire a high performer, due to union pressures and local laws.

A trader in the UAE must undertake 27 procedures and endure 550 days to resolve a payment dispute in court.

An entrepreneur in Ethiopia cannot access credit to expand her company because there are no credit information registries. She cannot use accounts receivable as collateral, due to local laws.

A businessman in India cannot make a profit and goes out of business. Due to the 10 year-long process of going through bankruptcy, he absconds leaving his workers, bank and tax agency with nothing.

It takes 2 days to start a business in Australia, 203 days in Haiti and 215 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The IFC report notes that excessive regulation tends to hurt most the very people it is meant to protect. The rich and well-connected just buy or hustle their way around onerous regulations.

It is no mistake, and quite sad, that the poorest countries have the most friction points. Perhaps they were even created by well-meaning government bureaucrats, but the result is the same — a weak economy that discourages the entrepreneur.

When Michael Manley gave his famous “five flights a day” speech that lead in part to the massive migration of Jamaica’s creative class, he had no idea what he was really doing — laying the seeds of poverty for years to come.

We Jamaicans (and I would say that this extends to the CSME countries) must start to critically examine our own thinking, and what we tell ourselves, and what we tell our children. I cannot believe that we consciously conspired to chase off our creative class, and encouraged our children to migrate and enter “high-profile” professions. We also did not consciously intend to teach them them to avoid nitty-gritty entrepreneurship.

I remember a few years a remark that was shared with me about a T-shirt company I had started: “look at how him get big Ivy-League degree and all him can do now is sell T-shirt!”

In spite of our unconscious actions, and their consequences, today we can consciously decide to teach our children the virtues of starting companies, staying to fight for our country’s welfare, returning to make a contribution, taking down barriers to business that make no sense, and see that these actions are critical to nation-building.

And this is not nation-building for the “big man”. Instead, this is mostly about that little old lady who sells sweeties at the corner from a box on top of a stone, who at some point dreamed of owning a store, but when confronted with the friction points that she would have to overcome, simply gave up. As a result, she remained poor.

In the US, it is the little old ladies who start small businesses that are the engine of their growth, according to this news report:

U.S. entrepreneurs are often described as one of the primary drivers of the nation’s economy. For starters, small outfits create some 75% of all new jobs, represent 99.7% of all employers, and employ 50% of the private workforce, according to the Small Business Administration.

That little old lady is one of the many creatives that we as a people need to stop thwarting.

P.S.

Here is Jamaica’s ranking in terms of its relative Ease of Doing Business (out of 155 countries.)

Overall Ranking: — 43

  1. start a business in terms of local rules, regulations and license fees — 10
  2. hire and fire workers — 82
  3. enforce a contract — 39
  4. get credit — 95
  5. close a failing business — 92


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).

Copying and Stealing Ideas

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Good artists copy, great artists steal – Pablo Picasso

The other day I had a dilemma. I was looking for Caribbean-based consultants to work with that had something unique to offer. I knew of several firms and individuals, but I wanted to be able to bring some complementary and different skills to the client I was working with.

However, I discovered that there is a significant reticence among people in my profession in the region to share ideas, or opportunities, or clients. I think the same is true for other professionals, including lawyers, doctors, engineers and architects.

The stories I’ve heard go something like this: “I wrote an article in the newspaper on topic X and the next thing I heard was that my consulting colleague was out there selling the exact same thing, using my ideas and calling it theirs.”

Bitterness and hard feelings follow shortly after… along with a promise to themselves to “never let it happen again.” With that promise, follows a contraction. The consultant stops the free flow of ideas that commences from that bottomless, mysterious place that ideas come from, through the consultant’s mind and into the world expressed in either spoken words, written pages or projects.

The result is that the consultant is unable to become known as an expert, and deeply honed expertise is what clients are willing to pay a premium for.

I can’t say that this point of view has come to me easily – it’s taken some lessons in trust on my part to get here. Until recently, I also saw ideas as something to be defended, hidden or kept to oneself in some way to ensure that the maximum revenue could be made from them.

But that is a little like trying to grip beach sand in one’s palm. Sand that is scooped up in one’s hand stays safely in the hand when the grip is loose. Once the grip is tightened, the sand begins to leak out through the fingers, and as the grip is tightened into a fist, more and more sand escapes.

From my very recent experience this year in which I’ve written and published far more than ever before, I’ve learned that the more ideas I put out into the public, the more ideas I’m able to generate.

Now, who would have thought that?

I certainly did not think that way, and instead would “sit on” small innovations for months and even years, trying to “get them right” and afraid that someone would steal them. Now it seems that the opposite is true. Getting the ideas out of my head and into the public domain (such as this blog) has freed up my mind to come up with more ideas than I have time to put into words.

Recently, a friend of mine (Andre Bello) wrote a book that clearly established his expertise in the area of negotiations with some innovative ideas, presented in the form of a medieval fable (see the blog entry entitled “A cool book on negotiating with sword and spirit.”) The book established him in my mind as the “go-to guy” in the field, not just in the region, but also internationally.

That led me to think about the best consultants in the world. The fact is, they are masterful in not just coming up with ideas, but also in generating the courage required to continue to put them out there. I recently wrote a blog entry about Peter Block, a consultant who has taken gigantic strides in defining a unique area of interest. What’s interesting is that there is almost no connection between his first book and his most recent tome – the earliest book had to do with consulting skills, while the latest has to do with philosophical management. He’s shown a willingness to abandon his public and probably profitable area of expertise, in order to develop (and take a risk on) an entirely new area of interest.

I am rapidly becoming a proponent of people stealing my ideas.

In short, here is my invitation.

Go ahead. Use them. Take and give as much credit as you feel. Let me know what you do with them, or keep it to yourself. Repeat ideas word for word, or use only their essence. Make a ton of money, or make no money whatsoever. Come back for more. Or don’t.

As I mentioned on my website, A Course in Miracles makes the point over and over that ideas are strengthened when they are shared. Consultants are at their best when they are sharing ideas with wide audiences, and I, like most of my colleagues, want to be at my very best. I prefer to have my ideas (if they are any good) strengthened through actual use, than to just have them take up valuable real estate in my mind.

So, if you’re a consultant, and are inspired, send me what you’ve got, and I promise that I will steal it. Then, if you have not done it already, steal what I’ve got. Only then can we really talk about working together!

PS
An interesting link : How to (Legally and Ethically) Steal Ideas