Thursday, January 31, 2013

Treading Risk

It doesn't really mean anything, but I love space and it's quite purty.

"The man who never makes a mistake always takes orders from one who does."  - Anonymous

Today is a special day for my family as it marks what would have been the 55th wedding anniversary of my parents.  Since my father has passed on almost 20 years now, the celebration has been muted.  There are many wishes, but mainly that I hope that he had lived long enough for me to start paying the favor.

I had started with a more jocular tone in this post, assigning blame on someone who deserves it, but it didn't feel right, so I decided to put that part away.  Once again I find myself showing off for others in writing instantaneously, and find that what I wrote doesn't make any sense at all.

So here, in the middle of watching a brilliant display of acting by Denzel Washington on the movie "Flight," time to recapture my thoughts.  Denzel is back at where he is best: deeply pained (and flawed) charming working man, an identity he achieved between his first Oscar win in "Glory" and one of his popular roles (one of my favorites as well) as Jake Shuttlesworth in "He Got Game."  As he has gotten older, it's a bit reassuring that he still manages to romance some of the best-looking actresses of the day - Milla Jovovich, Eva Mendes, Nadine Velazquez, to name a few.  He did star opposite Whitney Houston and Julia Roberts, but hmmm... never mind.

Barring the technical scenes of flying, the themes in the movie "Flight" are so universal I believe it can be remade into a Filipino setting, with perhaps Cesar Montano doing Denzel's role.  Not Robin Padilla - he doesn't communicate enough book intelligence to pull a pilot off.  Not Bong Revilla, because he can't act, unless acting like a Senator counts, for which he is doing an awards-worthy performance.  Not Jinggoy Estrada, he doesn't have the physicality of a pilot.  Not Aga Muhlach (much too good-looking to be insecure).  I have a ton of jokes about other actors, but we're getting away from point.

The climax of the film entails a decision the character had to make which would define his life.  While most decisions are not on the same nature as "game-changers" all kinds of decisions entail some amount of risk.

Risk is what makes people averse to making decisions that carry some negative but necessary consequences.  Inviting confrontation is one thing.  Volunteering to do more for the sake of the team, without expectation of credit is one another.  Asking to be recognized for that kind of voluntary work is still one more.

The willingness to take risks and make mistakes is what earns people's trust - few people make headway with squeaky-clean records.  This is not saying that deliberately doing something bad would give someone a better resume.  Rather, it's the willingness to do something that is unpopular, uncomfortable, or conventional that enables people to succeed.  It is said the best way to lose your head is to stick your neck out for something; on the other there is no way for someone to go forward unless you stretch all the way.  The same pose that where people get beheaded is the same where they get knighted.

I laud all my fellow expats who undertook great risks to get here.  At times, they accept demotions, take on additional debt, do something different from what they used to do, on top of being separated from their families, just to get here to the Middle East.

However, by the time they get here, something fundamentally changes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Setting the Norm

"Only knowledge put to use can create capital." -- Mikel Harry & Richard Schroeder, creators of Six Sigma

NBA Player Royce White speaks on mental health

I realize the whole issue being taken up by Chuck Klosterman in his article (short aside, I believe Klosterman to be a very insightful who is able to cross-reference sports with all other aspects of public interest) is not how I would like to preface today's piece.

It does, however, state a simple fact that we take for granted - setting a norm is the best way to determine how to go about accomplishing something.  If there are no norms, no standards, no procedures or precedents on major parts of activity society would fall apart.

In our office setting the lack of standards is one of the glaring issues we need to address.  I say this without any rancor for any particular manager, or for the management in general.  I am sure they are aware of the problem.  Without any specific standards for operational efficiency, there is a lot of difficulty of measuring how good our people are, or how much money we are actually making.  Sure, there is the financial bottom-line, but even with the best accountants, numbers can prove to be deceptive.  It's just like high-volume shooters padding their stats without any efficiency.

The classic NBA example is Allen Iverson.

I admit I was never a fan of Iverson's kind of game.  Sure, he was a talented player who can get off any shot he chose, but his career shooting percentage is just a little over 40%.  With simple math, it is easy to conclude that Allen Iverson misses more than half of what he attempts.  And if he's your best player, then you are in a quandary - necessity dictates you have to surround him with both good defenders to help stopper the opponent's offense, but who can also shoot reliably when needed.

Experience and common sense will tell you that if there is any player with that kind of combination of ability, they won't stay too long when all they have to do is stand around and wait for Iverson to get settled in isolation during your half-court sets.  It will be fortunate if Iverson gave up the ball, and he did so only under duress.  That is a bad combination for his teammates.

They need their shots too, primarily for their self-respect as players, but more shots also mean more opportunities to score, and therefore a chance to score a better payday.  Good luck on keeping them effective and happy at the same time.  So - hello and goodbye Jerry Stackhouse, Glenn Robinson, Tim Thomas, Toni Kukoc, Keith Van Horn, Chris Webber.  Did I miss someone?

So as his abilities started to decline Iverson became an even bigger problem.  He could no longer produce, but he still had the same tendencies, and was a growing liability at defense as well.  Iverson started as the point man, but because he was such a ball hog he was shifted to the shooting guard position, for which he was undersized.  Opponents could not only shoot over him, they can just body him up to bother his shots or for them to get off theirs.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mirrored, Darkly

"Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves." - James Allen

Day 3 of this new regime is coming up roses like the last two - I am rather semi-somnolent from ingesting my last meal - in this case breaded fish fillet and sardine sotanghon (ode to pad thai, natch) and the free-flowing sense of consciousness is ready to drift away with the next downloaded treat from the Internet.  So far banging on the keyboard feels oddly rewarding for some reason, and I am afraid that I will make no sense once I get to the end.

It was a stressful day today.  Lots to do but not necessarily lots accomplished.  We have gotten moving on a lot of things, but not fast enough.  My sense of urgency meter is on, but only with the pilot light.  The full satisfying whoosh and whoop of a steady flame just aren't there yet.  All our best ambitions and emotions are mirrored darkly- it's very difficult to put in words like "nobility" and some other high meanings given the occasional tedium of the work and the transactional nature of our field.

Today's quote is a good one for me, and for all expatriates based in the Middle East.  Nobody wants to be left out of the list of recipients of increments.  No one wants to come out a loser come the day when everybody else receives some form of reward from the Company.  The funny thing, it isn't so much whether the reward is deserved, it's that others are getting something.

My sense of justice is somewhat rubbed at this juncture.  Nobody gets a free pass at anything.  You want something?  Go out and earn it.  It isn't going to be given to you.  Second thought, of course, is that getting something you don't deserve through shortcuts is the surest way to lose your way.  Getting rewards because you happen to be somebody's friend or somebody's relative is the number one shortcut.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Posts On Which You Stand

"Never commit your team unless you are confident your team will support your decision." - Christopher Avery, Ph.D.

The simplest way I could explain this statement is this:  keep your decision-making process transparent as much as you can.  If you plan to play your cards close to your chest, make sure that you are prepared to do the things you would rather not do.  Because if others won't, somebody has to, and if you are the one bringing the change, you can only convince others to do the same if you are the first volunteer.

The second thing is that for certain things, letting the team come to a decision is sometimes more important than making the decision itself.  Of course, no leader or manager would allow his group to go around with no one at the reins guiding the way.  My experience in volunteer organizations has taught me this: no commitment is stronger than one reached by the members together.  There may be times one has to cajole, exhort, or leave subtle signs, but in the end, only buy-in will secure the commitment to a course of action.  In the corporate world it would be the rare few who would stick their neck out, so reaching a group decision is not that easily forged as it should be, even though the forms of "votes" are often practiced.  

When the vote does come, it normally comes as a form of lower agreement, voting for that which is least disagreeable.  Much like the United Nations, don't expect committees in this part of the world accomplishing something unless there is some form of benevolent dictatorship going on.

It cannot be avoided at times that in place of consensus a leader must make decisions because of necessity or urgency.  The most commonplace example is that when a father has to make a career move, everyone else around him is affected.  Funny that I should think about that since the Arab leadership and management models are mainly based on paternalism.  Every time I attend a leadership or management conference, one pervasive thought is to how to best handle the "needs" of  employees as if they were babes in a wood and could not decide for themselves.  In a sense, with the wide demarcation between "labor" and "management" the mindset becomes the reality in practice.

Yawn. But Good News Still.

Celtics beat Miami

Rajon Rondo is out for the season, which may be a good thing.  I'm decided - if trading Rondo brings in a big man with youth and upside it should be done.  He is not going to lead this team, or any team, to a championship.  They should have done Rondo for Westbrook when they had the chance.  Now?  Hmm.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Look up, Buddy Holly

"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." -- Zig Ziglar

In honor of the occasion of ... nothing, it would be apropos to preface this entire process to which I am trying to commit myself.  Instead of offering words of wisdom, why not offer words of... love?  I will attempt to post at least once a day, reflecting on a piece of truth.  In this fashion, I force myself to revisit my passion for writing, and then unburden myself of whatever it is that is troubling me at the end of each day.  Let's see if I  a) stay honest even just to myself as to what I am going to say and b) muster enough effort to see if I can actually do this.

I am in a bit of a classic rock mood at the moment, so I raise my glass to that pioneer of guitar-paced rock, Buddy Holly.  So here goes.

I can't pretend I'm any smarter than the people who pour forth these words of wisdom, so I'll just offer my take on what these words mean in my context.

First off, I would like to give props to Novak Djokovic for winning his third consecutive Australian Open tennis title.  This is the first time a man was able to do this in the Open era.

By no means am I a fan of Nole, but one has to tip the hat to him.  He has kept himself consistent, fit, and focused for a long stretch of tennis competition, which in this era has become more highly competitive than ever.  Perhaps only Pete Sampras or Roger Federer can claim to the same kind of consistency for a prolonged period of time.  Well, there is the brilliance of Rafael Nadal, who has struggled with his fitness over the past three years.   More on them.