Bernardo M. Villegas
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Continuity and Disruption Go Together (Part 1)

          Recently in Philippine business circles, there is too much talk about disruption of existing business models. The mantra is “Change or Die” or “Digitize or Perish.”  I think this is another case of too much of a good thing.  True, with the very rapid trends of digitalization, robotization and globalization, a good number of archaic technologies and approaches to doing business will have to give way to new ones.  Analogue is out, digital is in!  But business is much more than technology.  This truism is what I have learned from rereading the last chapter of the most lucid book on the so-called digital age.   I am referring to Thomas Friedman’s “Thank You For Being Late:  An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration.”  I don’t think any author has described in layman’s language the so-called age of disruption better than this author who also first explained to the layman what globalization is all about in his trailblazing book published 13 years ago called “The World Is Flat”.

         As Friedman wrote in his latest bestseller, “The core argument of this book is that the simultaneous accelerations in the Market, Mother Nature, and Moore’s law together constitute the ‘age of accelerations,’ in which we find ourselves.  These three accelerations are the central gears driving the Machine today.  These three accelerations are impacting one another—more Moore’s law is driving more globalization and more globalization is driving more climate change, and more Moore’s law is also driving more potential solutions to climate change and a host of other challenges—and at the same time transforming almost every aspect of modern life.”  His main point is that the three largest forces on the planet—technology, globalization, and climate change—are all accelerating at once.  As a reminder to the uninitiated in computer technology, Moore’s law is the theory first postulated by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore in 1965 (the birth year of most Generation X people) that the speed and power of microchips—that is, computational processing power—would double roughly every year which he later updated to every two years, for only slightly more money with each new generation.  The experience over the last fifty years is that Moore’s law has actually held up.

         One cannot gainsay the importance of adapting to ever changing technology.  Mr. Friedman, however, ends his book with going back to the fundamentals for business or for that matter any organizational success.  When he returned to the small town in Minnesota where he spent his childhood, he rediscovered that in order to attain accelerated innovations in so many realms, what is most needed is sustained collaboration among people and above all, trust.  In his words, “So, I went back to my roots in Minnesota to see if this place—where, in my memory at least, people practice a politics based on that ‘common good’ and where trust was more the rule than the exception—still existed.  The place had certainly become more complicated than it was, but, all in all, I was not disappointed…”  He also realized that for organizations to change with the times, leadership matters more than ever:  “At the national and local levels, we need a leadership that can promote inclusion and adaptation—a leadership that starts every day asking, ‘What world am I living in? and how do I engage in the relentless pursuit of the best practices with a level of energy and smarts commensurate with the magnitudes of the challenges and opportunities in the age of accelerations?’  It is also a leadership that trusts the people with the truth about this moment:  that just working hard and playing by the rules won’t suffice anymore to produce a decent life.”

         The age of acceleration in which technology is being digitized, robotized, and globalized at breakneck speed requires solutions for helping people build resilience and propulsion which cannot be downloaded but have to be uploaded the old-fashioned way—one human to another human at a time.  Mr. Friedman recalled how on all his interviews for the book how many times in how many different contexts did he hear about the vital importance of having a caring adult or mentor in every young person’s life.  How many times he heard about the value of having a coach—whether you are applying for a job for the first time at Walmart or running Walmart.  How many times he heard people stressing the importance of self-motivation and practice and taking ownership of one’s own career or education as the real differentiators for success.  He also concluded that the highest-paying jobs in the future will be “stempathy” jobs—jobs that combine strong science and technology skills with the ability to emphasize with another human being.  In other words, soft skills of critical thinking, effective communication and ability to interact with others matter more than technical skills for business success even in the twenty first century.

         For these reasons, it would be important to learn from the “Captains of Industry” today, those leading the businesses that met the difficult challenges of the last thirty years or so when the Philippines was regarded as the “sick man of Asia” and grew their respective businesses against all odds to what they are today.  These “Captains” are generally in their sixties or seventies today and may be the original founders of their enterprises or the second generation that resulted from effective management succession programs put in place by the founders.   We should ask them what are the leadership qualities that accounted for their ability to convert into opportunities the many crises and threats as well as natural and man-made calamities that they faced.   Side by side with them, however, we should also talk to the “Trailblazers” of today, those who are in their twenties or thirties about how, while building on the enduring values that they can learn from previous generations, they can be effective “disruptors” of Philippine business by applying the new technologies and new ways of organizing business.  (To be continued).