The Fallacy of Achievement


The mistake that many make is to put achievement above all else.

I remember when I lived in the U.S. and I met people who would gladly do anything to get ahead, and effortlessly step on others’ feet, heads or any other body part to get ahead. It seemed strange and out of place in my Caribbean-based reality where people were pushing hand-made carts to sell sky-juice and shaved ice for a few dollars each day.

This brilliant article at 43 Folders, a personal productivity focused blog, captures the feeling perfectly. It looks at the pointlessness that we call accomplishment and how hard it is for us to break out of the immediate world around us, and to realize the context that we in fact live in.

For example, the obvious poverty here in Jamaica constantly reminds me that I am lucky, especially at those moments when I think that my life should be as it was in South Florida.

Advice from a Giant


George Phillip was a quiet giant of Jamaican industry, and his recent passing away was a blow to most who knew him.

I had the chance to interview him for our recent study “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica” before he passed away, and he was generous and insightful — so much so that he was someone I wanted to do an audio interview with, until I heard the news. He was the most successful Trinidadian executive to work in Jamaica.

One unverified piece of advice he was known to give had to do with terminating Jamaicans. He said something to the effect that when one is terminating Jamaicans, one needs to go an extra mile.

“Johnson, as you know we are doing some downsizing and unfortunately your name has come up as someone to let go. As part of your separation, you are due to receive $X for each year of service. However, to help ease the transition we have decided to give you an extra $Z, just to acknowledge the work you have done in the company and to help make things easier.”

His point was that that little extra step is critical in leaving a Jamaican worker feeling respected.

George was right on the money — what we Jamaicans call brawta (a little extra) goes a long, long way.

During my interview with Douglas Orane at HRMAJ, he mentioned a study that was done at the U.S. Embassy. It showed that the Americans complained that Jamaicans were too casual, always late, etc. The Jamaicans had one complaint — Americans were rude, never said hello or good morning and left them feeling disrespected.

Whether this is a true story or not is to be discovered, but I am sure George would agree with the finding.

Low Trust in the Caribbean Workplace


I have written before about the low level of trust between employees in companies, and especially between managers and workers.

I thought that this article ( from the Feb 4th, 2007 Jamaica Observer was not only useful for Jamaicans, but all of us in the Caribbean. It makes me wonder what the cost of broken promises is in regional corporations.

It also ties in with Kenneth Carter’s “Why Worker’s Won’t Work.” More on this later.

Coke Prices


I recently heard that a US$500 kilo of cocaine in Colombia can be sold for US$10,000 in Jamaica.

By the time it gets to the US, it fetches a price of US$30,000.

If it reaches the UK safely, that goes up to $35,000.

Given these prices, and our location right between Colombia and Miami, it does seem as if we have a problem of geographic proportions.

This flies in the face of Caribbean Practice


The following excerpt was used as the basis for an article to be published in next week’s issue of JobSmart: follow the link

To add a comment on the JobSmart article, click on the link below this article saying “0,1,2… comments.”

From an article in HBR, August 2003, by Larry Summers, ex-President of Harvard University:

“But what is most special about the American research university is that it is a place where the authority of ideas, rather than the idea of authority, reigns supreme. At Harvard, we consider it an extremely important accomplishment when a 25-year old graduate student who has been here a mere 18 months makes a discovery that disproves the pet theory of a 55-year old professor who has been here 30 years. Indeed, the professor whose theory has been disproved might be the first to congratulate that graduate student.”

Hmm… food for thought, as this applies so far and wide in Caribbean societies — in business, academia, the church and elsewhere.

The Put-Down: A Guy Thing


I read the following excerpt of an article on humor from the 2003 Harvard Business Review that I find interesting.

“Female executives in this research consistently used more humor than their male counterparts, but men used more put-down humor. Women were more likely than men to use complimentary humor or humor that otherwise expressed caring, warmth, and support; they used significantly less humor that put down subordinates and marginally less that put down superiors.

Researchers have shown that in interpersonal relations, men tend to assert rather than downplay status differences, while women do the opposite.

Although people of both sexes use humor largely to build bridges, some organizational psychologists believe that for men, put-down humor may also be a way to establish and maintain hierarchical status.

Job Creation


As we enter the political season here in Jamaica, there is a growing topic of conversation about what the country needs to do to grow, and thereby reduce unemployment.

I found the following article to be quite interesting, and emphasizes some of my own concerns about hiring employees.

I consider myself to be a typical example — I have done business in Jamaica for years and am yet to hire a single Jamaican.

Not that there is anything wrong with professionals here. It’s just that my impression is that it is just too difficult a process to endure.

Click here to access the article entitled “Jamaican Job Creation — The Problem.”

Individual Brilliance, Collective Stupidity


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.

T’dad / Who Understands Jamaicans?


This, from an Editorial in the Trinidad Guardian:

The perception that is being spread in Kingston is that T&T businessmen are privateers or marauders just waiting to pounce on any available “meat.”

On a Jamaican radio station on Monday, one of the hosts asked me what I thought about the trade war that some elements in the north Caribbean country (including the editorial writers of a major newspaper) are pushing their government to declare on T&T.

Click here for the rest of the article.

HBR: Proving Some Common Sense


I like it when a source like the Harvard Business Review finds some evidence that backs up some hunch I have had. Here are a couple:

From the June 2006 issue.

When to Let Them Duke It Out

In a white paper I wrote a few years ago entitled “An Executable Strategy for Every Employee” (available by sending email to I argued that it is important to have executives fight amongst each other in order to come to consensus. We encourage that they do so in our particular approach to strategic planning.

This is the very opposite of dividing up a document into parts and then farming it out to different vice presidents.

In this short article, Tony Simons and Randall Peterson show that

  1. Teams whose members mistrust one another are less effective in implementing their strategic decisions
  2. Decisions imposed by a powerful executive are twice as likely to create distrust that damages implementation, than decisions derived by consensus

In short, politically driven teams, or those driven by mistrust benefit the most by making consensus decisions.

I witnessed a CEO fired during a strategic planning retreat (to his surprise.) In 18 months, his successor who was at the retreat was also gone.

It was an ugly situation that undermined any trust that might have been possible, and today the company still suffers from the aftermath of that inexplicable decision.

A the very end, the authors deliver a zinger — CEOs that think this doesn’t apply to them might be in trouble, as the vast majority of CEOs in the study “couldn’t accurately describe the level of trust among their team members. It’s as if they were describing a different team and did not realize it.”

The High Cost of Chinese Labour

Replace the word Chinese with the word Caribbean and all of a sudden, this article makes sense to us in the region.

Low cost labour measured on an hourly basis is an incomplete indicator of total costs.

In fact, the cheaper the labour, the more likely there is to be turnover because a 5 cents per hour difference might be small to someone earning US$10 per hour, but to a Chinese worker earning 75 cents per hour, it represents a big difference.

Here in the region, our workers seem to be quite inefficient, evidenced by the number of human beings sitting idle or moving sluggishly at any fast-food establishment, construction site or manufacturing facility.

Yet, we know that if you take many of those same people and give them visas to live in Toronto, all of a sudden they are able to work many times harder at 2-3 jobs at one time.


It seems that our managers do not understand the total costs of labour, as described in this article, and fail to take into account the costs related to turnover. Whenever a manager says “I can just find someone else,” they are probably ignorant of this cost.

Also, managers fail to see that hiring 10 people is not the same as hiring 5 at double the wage. It might be the same in the narrow sense of dollars and cents paid in payroll, but the principle of the mythical man month is well-known to software developers, but ill-understood outside that industry.

Here is the idea: doubling the number of programmers on a project almost never cuts development time in half. The reason is that while the number of people may increase linearly, the number of working relationships and communication channels to manage increases by the square of the number of people.

For example, increase the team by 1 person, from 3 to 4, and the number of communication links goes from 3 squared =9 to 4 squared = 16. Increase from 5 to 10 and the number of links goes from 25 to 100.

Managing these links becomes much more difficult very quickly.

To put it in more concrete terms, the number of ways in which one worker could diss another (resulting in the need for a managerial intervention to prevent a fight or a prolonged cold shoulder) goes up dramatically. Their job becomes radically harder extremely quickly.

By virtue of these socio-psychological economies of scale, it makes sense to hire very carefully, and to consider total costs (measurable or not) rather than just the unit cost of labour.