Riot on the Job

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At the Spanish-owned Fiesta hotel construction site in Hanover yesterday, an employee was shot, the workers rioted and burned a building and several vehicles, and the management team had to be airlifted out by helicopter.

The reason?

The reports listed in the press gave conflicting causes: it was either workers arriving late and being locked out, or a lack of ID badges, depending on the newspaper one happened to read.

Needless to say, the company’s culture is probably in a mess and the managers are probably meeting somewhere right now trying to figure out what went wrong.

I imagine that the issues had been building for some time, and only came to a head yesterday morning, resulting in nothing short of a riot, and bloodshed.

Unfortunately, the outcome is not all that strange for our region — all it takes is a management team made up of foreigners that do not understand the environment in which they are operating.

Whereas in Barbados and Trinidad, the result might be a sudden loss of productivity, in Jamaica the result is often physical protest, to the surprise of managers who are not versed in Jamaican work culture, or ignorant of how volatile local workplaces can be.

Here in Jamaica, workers have something of an all or nothing approach to management — either overly revered and trusted at one extreme, or hated and reviled at the other.

Successful managers know the techniques for staying at the prefered end, and the very best managers know how to go beyond it — but the job is not an easy one.

Self-Interests and Selfishness

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Framework cultural interventions rely, in part, on assisting employees at all levels in seeing their self-interests more clearly.

One criticism of this approach comes from a fear that if the pursuit of self-interests are the means, that the result might be mayhem as people do what they want selfishly.

The typical response is a moral one: “people should not be encouraged to be selfish.”

Unfortunately, moral reasoning rarely works, and seems to generate more guilt than anything else. Guilt is more often than not paralyzing, so the repetition of the morality of unselfishness produces little more than a stasis.

Instead, our approach is to deepen self-interest, trusting that if it is pursued wholeheartedly and rigorously, the result will actually be the same as that of the moralists. It is just that the pathway is much easier to follow, and is more likely to produce results than repeating the greatest sayings from any of the moral writings produced to date.

To illustrate, let us look at President Bush’s war in Iraq.

He honestly believes that the war in Iraq is morally correct – of that there is little doubt. However, what he could perhaps be persuaded to see is that continuing the war is not in America’s best self-interest.

The country seeks to live in a peaceful world, and it is obvious that the Iraqi occupation has and will continue to generate more opposition in the form of jihadists, terrorists, nationalists, Islamists and others who are growing up learning to hate America. He might also see that it is in America’s interest to demonstrate that the use of force is not the best way to resolve differences, as it tend to breed further force. Instead, it is in America’s best interest to demonstrate what peaceful approaches can accomplish in the hope that others may be persuaded to follow suit.

I am not saying that this will work or not with President Bush, just that it is more likely to accomplish the result, merely because the self-interests from which he is making decisions is just too narrow to succeed.

The book Freakonomics, makes the case that most drug dealers live at home with their mothers. They cannot afford to live on their own as the vast majority of them “earn” less than the minimum wage from dealing drugs. Only a tiny percentage “make it” to the top (as in any corporation,) and along the way the risks of being killed by another gang member, imprisoned or overdosing is considerable.

Perhaps the only reason that young men choose to be dealers is that they are unaware of the true nature of their full self-interests, and therefore, how to accomplish them. To say it somewhat differently, their choice to enter the gang is based on a very thin slice of self-interests.

A drug addict who takes the very first hit from a crack pipe does not do so with the intention to kill themselves slowly, painfully and publicly, even when there is abundant evidence around them that this is their likely fate. Instead, at the moment before they inhale their true self-interests are hidden from view, or obscured by their need to feel good, be accepted or to numb themselves from inner pain.

Their choice to do drugs is based on a small subset of their true self-interests.
Unfortunately, in today’s world we suffer from accusations of selfishness, and this prevents us from pursuing self-interests openly. Instead, we cover them up by pretending that our actions have nothing to do with us.

All it actually reveals is that we have been thwarted in our thinking, and stopped from pursuing our self-interests a far as we could.

The irony is that the person who has a commitment to deepen their self-interest quickly discovers that (to the surprise of the moralist) it deeply involves and includes other people.

As a thought experiment, take anything or concept of value: love, money, work, sex, possessions, service, giving, having fun, etc. Think of how each of them only makes sense in the company and experience of others.

Getting more sex involves giving more money. Getting more service requires giving more service. Having more love means giving more love. Having more work means giving more work.

The pursuit of self-interest does not lead to an inward-turning selfishness – not if there is rigour and honesty. Instead it leads to the discovery that when I have more of what I really want, you have more of what you really want.

This simple line may take a lifetime to appreciate, but it need not.

Instead, we can accelerate how we all learn its truth by encouraging each other to learn how true it is from actual, first-hand experience, rather than from someone else in the form of a dictate.

There might be a shortcut available to all of us here. Gandhi said: “If you want to change the world, become the first change.” We might expand that here to mean, “If you want anything, pursue it, and discover the degree to which it involves and includes other people, then act freely to want it for all.”

That might be the way to know, deep in our, hearts that our interconnectedness is real, strong and true. Martin Luther King said “We are connected .. interlocking web of …mutuality.” In Africa there is a word: Ubuntu – which means that I am all I can be, until you are all that you can be.

Perhaps this all works because we humans are all so very similar – made from the same “stuff.”

I want to be loved, and so do you. I want to love, and so do you. Loving is much easier when we both know what we want, and that it is the same thing.

Selfish? Who knows… Motivated by self-interested? Absolutely.

Dem Too Tief

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It is a frequent cry in the commerce of the Caribbean. When confronted with what seems to be an unreasonable price, my people claim that the person selling it is a thief.

What is this all about?

Is this just a matter of ignorance about capitalist economics? Do we not understand and appreciate that profits are important for shareholders to continue to create companies, and jobs?

Perhaps we do not understand the principles of supply and demand economics. We are free to buy or to not buy. When we do not buy en masse, the prices adjust themselves to meet the demand of the market.

Maybe the problem lies someplace else entirely. This could be just a matter of “workplace emotional maturity,” in which a deeply held feeling is expressed loudly, but inaccurately.

It could be that “Dem too tief” is an expression of hurt (turned into an attack) in which the underlying sentiment is really something like “I am hurt because it seems to me that you care more about taking my money, than giving me real value, and that would mean that you do not care about me as a person, but only the money in my pocket. When I have this thought, I feel devalued and less than human, and the best I can cry out is ‘Dem too tief.'”

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.

More Evidence of Friction Points

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As luck would have it, there was an insightful article in todays Jamaica Business Observer about the cost that friction points are having on our economy here in Jamaica (and by extension, across the Caribbean).

In the article, the IMF has made the following observations about our economy:

  • it is probably 2.7% larger than we think, based on the growth in electricity consumption (this mirrors a similar assertion by the Minister of Finance)
  • this growth is unsustainable, as it is small, under-funded and under-organized
  • services are likely to be stretched, if the official figures are to be believed
  • financing and legal constraints are the two obstacles to starting formal businesses
  • employees hired by informal businesses are lower paid and receive fewer social services and training

Furthermore, a study of the IADB in 2002 showed that businesses in the informal sector are typically family-owned, small-scale operations, with labour-intensive production, low levels of productivity and a low capacity for capital accumulation

Basically, our system discourages the formation of companies, and there is only a disincentive to the small business-person to do things “the right and legal way”.

Of course, an informal business pays no taxes, which effectively places a higher burden on the official businesses, which must carry the burden for both economies.

In short, everyone suffers in the long-term.

And to think that the primary obstacle (legal restrictions) is one that would cost almost nothing but our own will-power to remove.

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).

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


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.

Starting a New Conversation

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In reading and listening to Peter Block’s brilliant book — “The Answer to How is Yes” — I was struck by a rather obvious statement.

He spoke about the need for change to start in companies through the creation of a new conversation.

A new conversation.

That means going past stuff that has already been said, opinions that have already been shared, histories that have already been explored, facts that are already known, responsibility that has already been taken, roles that have already been defined, steps that have already been taken.

While the content of these existing conversations may be correct, they are not new.

A new conversation results in new actions that come from new degrees of personal responsibility.

This is why increases in praying and fasting and supplication have done nothing to reduce the crime rate across the region (which has been increasing).

At least, not through the prayers we have been praying!

Maybe a new prayer would be “Lord, show me where I am contributing to the crime.” That would certainly be the start of a new conversation between the Lord and the supplicant.

What kinds of conversations can we Jamaicans create around us to generate new dimensions of personal responsibility? He has mentioned a few in his book that I am eager to share in this forum, in some shape or form. His ideas are quite challenging, and quite applicable to us here in the Caribbean.

For example, he raises the notion that change starts with new conversations for personal responsibility, rather than ending with blame being assigned.

So… I ask myself… where have I contributed to the crime we have?

P.S. A recent study showed that prayer had no effect on heart patients, and in fact resulted in complications for some heart patients who knew they were being prayed for: Click here

CAP: An Early Surprise

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As promised in a prior entry, I’ll be building up the paper I’m writing through the more informal mechanism of blogging.

The first surprise is that the data is much richer than I remember. It’s been three years since I last went through the 5000+ data points that were collected in the surveys, and while the findings can’t said to be statistically significant, they are infinitely better than working with just a gut feel.

One of the findings that I’ve discovered confirms a suspicion of mine, which is that we Caribbean business-people live under a peculiar misconception that our territory or country is worse than others.

The survey showed that in response to the statement: Jamaicans as a people are more difficult to deal with (than people in the respondent’s home country), there was a 33 point difference in the responses. Outsiders felt that Jamaicans were just about average, scoring only 45 points on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being “Definitely Agree” and 0 being “Disagree.”

On the other hand, Jamaicans scored the response at 66 points.

The same trend continued in response to other questions:

  • Unions in Jamaica are harder to deal with (56 to 69 points)
  • Laws regarding employment are easier on the employee (58 to 80 points)
  • Business practices are more mature than in Jamaica (58 to 73 points)

In each case, the Jamaican response (from executives) was markedly more pessimistic. Without having any empirical evidence, but having the experience of extensive work in each of the three countries involved (Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados) I would say that a given set of executives from any country (without significant first-hand foreign work experience) would respond the same way.

In other words, the point differences indicate that this is a matter of self-esteem for the executives concerned. I imagine that this matter is only resolved when there is some direct evidence with which to compare one’s home country.

One of the frequent conversations I hear here in Jamaica, is one of frustration, in which a particular situation is blamed on some local or cultural failure. Often, from my point of view, it is nothing of the sort.

Often, there are numerous examples to which I have had first-hand exposure that show that the situation is not a local one, but is one that is either global or common to all developing countries.

For example, some Jamaicans talk about the traffic in Jamaica as if it is the worst on the planet. Here in CARICOM, however, Trinidadian traffic gets so bad at times that patrons are unable to attend a fete that ends at 4:30am because the traffic is congested enough to render the ticket useless (it happened this past weekend yet again).

Some would counter by arguing that the Jamaican driver is among the worst.

While I can’t prove this, I have been driven hundreds of times through the streets of Caracas, and can testify that I would never drive there, for fear of my dear life being lost in the mayhem I witnessed. I imagine that Caracas is only one of many cities of its ilk, and the streets of Kingston offer no comparison.

I can only think that the Caribbean Single Market (CSM) will help to resolve some of the ignorance that comes from a lack of “working exposure” (as opposed to “vacation exposure” from which little can be learned).

Perhaps the issues of self-esteem will go away when with an increase in commerce comes an understanding that much of what we experience in the CSM has less to do with territorial shortcomings, and more to do with historical forces, most of which are related to how our countries were under-developed by Britain.