Whether we are talking of economic policy, foreign policy, business, education, culture, arts, or what have you, setting a high standard is most important. The global village shows no mercy to the mediocre — it may spend some times to talk of, and to give aid to such countries, but that is only so that they could close their eyes and ears to a nuisance, a pain in the neck, and be able to spend the greater amount of their time on other matters.
That is no exaggeration, and it is a brutal reality that sadly many Filipinos don’t give much thought to. It is that lax attitude, which is made evident by a relaxed way of life and by the ‘bahala na’ mentality, which is what is killing this country. We have to forgive the hoi poloi for not understanding this; they have their own problems. We can’t however, forgive ourselves when such attitude could be found within our thinking class, our elite, and our business and political leaders.
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Let us consider the 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Noynoy Aquino to demonstrate what we are talking about. We don’t want to be beating a dead horse (Jarius Bondoc and other journalists have already done some fact-checking and confirm PNoy was simply lying through his teeth over a good part of his speech), but it is as good as any from where we could learn a lesson, especially since it was just very recent.
Would you compare yourself against a vagabond or a yuppie; with a drop-out, or with a summa cum laude; with a reckless driver, or with a defensive driver, etc? Would you compare the rice you are buying with rotten rice, or with the best quality rice, in order to see the reasonableness of the price you are paying? We are talking here of benchmarking, and against this, PNoy was committing mortal sins line after line for 2 hours and 10 minutes, to the applause of legislators and dignitaries. Media and public opinion had already long ago discredited Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). Justified or not, the point is she has been discredited; why would anybody benchmark versus one who has been discredited? But that was precisely what PNoy did, beamed live nationwide. He wanted the country to go for the lowest standard.
PNoy was, for more than two hours, all vacuousness (to borrow Benign0’s favourite word). He talked of this and that achievements, peppering it with a looooooong lists of details and trivia (which, of course, is the technique of scammers and liars in order to discourage fact-checking). But, achievements against what standards, bastard?
There is nothing mysterious about benchmarking. It is part of the culture of successful companies. It is a formal process that companies do quarterly and annually, and it becomes an informal process daily, so that with time, benchmarking becomes ingrained in the subconscious, becoming a way of thinking of employees, conscious of it, or not, after a while, whether one is using deductive or inductive reasoning.
There is totally nothing wrong in benchmarking against the best as, say, Singapore and Japan, for that is the only way to start the process. Benchmarking of itself can’t accept anything less than the best if it is to be a serious process. It might in interim terms go for lower standards as a result of studies, research and surveys, and as a result of facing the realities of core expertise, available resources, outside parameters, and stakeholder interplays. Lower standards can be accepted in the interim, but if it is properly applied, every next process will result in an ever-increasing ratcheting up of standards. But, it becomes apparent now that government, agencies, and individuals will have to take it seriously; otherwise, it will just be a waste of a lot of money to even start.
Above may give the impression that benchmarking is only a formal process. That is not exactly accurate; humans by nature do benchmarking even without knowing it (“keeping up with the Joneses” is something familiar to us), but we need the process developed by academics in order to utilize the positive, and discard the negative, in that which is already natural, and so that we may be able to use it organization-wise, as one organic body. It is interesting that even without formal guidance, this thing comes intuitive to results-oriented, and thus, successful individuals. (Now, one can also see that even if we only had his SONA to go by, assuming we went in hiding under the rock and heard nothing for 10 years, that we would already know that PNoy was a non-performing legislator, and by the time he steps down, people will ask: “Meron ba talagang nagawa si PNoy?” Management science is a very developed science if you are not aware of it.)
The Philippines has to take benchmarking seriously. This the secret of Japan, Korea, and Singapore. This is the secret of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Pfizer, P&G, McDonalds, Singapore Airlines, BMW, Toyota, Samsung, you name it. Best, of course, is if the process starts from the Office of the President, for political power seems to be almost fully concentrated in that institution.
Serious benchmarking is benchmarking versus quality, or standards of quality (and that is why there is now what we call ISOs, to make it easy to see what we are up against). Quality is such a big topic in industries that it can’t be covered here sufficiently. Suffice to say, what we refer to as competition in the world is really about competition of quality and about getting a particular niche for the quality we are able to produce. We cannot compare Toyota with BMW, for each has its own market, but they have something in common, both are of world-class quality. You could say the same thing for iPhone vs Huawei, and yet both are selling in their respective niches.
Filipinos are afraid about competing in the world market. But that is only because we have not been benchmarking. When we benchmark, we can have a target to shoot for. When we have a target, we can formulate a vision to aim for. When we have a vision, we have a destination to go to. When we have a destination, we can produce a map to that destination. When we are producing a map, we will know our priorities, what products to support, what infrastructure are needed for that support, etc etc. (You see why the achievements that PNoy has been claiming don’t mean a thing, because it could not answer the question WHY are we doing that?; it might just be for show and have no utilitarian value if measured against priorities and over-all destination. That is also the reason why they have not been forthright with what their priorities are.) There is a million of niches out there that Filipinos could have seized. It is just a matter of identifying them.
We can do anything if we know what we want. What we want is to be world class, no doubt. Because benchmarking will not accept anything less than that. But then if we vote again somebody who is counter-intuitive to benchmarking, as the incumbent today, then we might as well say goodbye to the Philippines.
GRP Featured Comment hall-of-famer. Former executive of the Far East Regional Office of a US-based multinational company living out of a suitcase covering the market from Tokyo to Mumbai to Melbourne, and all the countries within that triangle. Got tired after logging 300k air miles per year. Now, I just have a little trading biz on specialty chemicals.