Friday, April 29, 2011

You Are What You Are

Went to an interesting press briefing conducted by an Insitution of Chartered Management Accountants today. This British based educational body is now on a mission to make accountants and other finance professionals part of the "business" process. The main theme was this - accountants are no longer the boring bean counters who tell you that you can't do this or that but partners who work with you.

In theory, this very nice. In a business, everyone should share the same objectives. When everyone from the CEO to the cleaning lady share the same objectives then everyone has a common goal to give heart and soul to. Accountants are in this respect, no different from the rest of the crowd in the same business.

There's also alot to be said for the need to make accountants and other "suite" type professionals walk around the shop floor. The problem that most of us in the "suite" world have is the fact that we are often so caught up in our status as "professionals" or "experts" that we forget how the real world functions. PR and advertising professionals are particularly guilty of this - to put it crudely, we preach advertising and PR so much that we end up losing our grip on reality.

McDonald's got it right when they made all their managers, including the very senior ones work on the shop floor. The best way to create a common culture is to start everyone on the same level and give them the same experience. I also believe that you need to serve time on the front line if you want to lead an organisation. A paper pusher can only affect change that suites the art of paper pushing.

Having said all of that, I do believe that there is a reason why certain people are in the professions that they are in the form that they are in. The inner workings of a person make them suiteable for certain professions and not for others.

My favourite littigator told me recently that he thinks I'll never sit down in an office job and "work" in the conventional sense. One of my key mentors also said the same thing - "Be an income man, you'll never be to explain your patchy work history."

Other key figures in my life, like my parents, would shoot themselves if they realised I had been given this advise. However, the littigator and mentor may have a point. When I've been within an organisation I've been incredibly dense. I move around organisational politics like a statue in a ballet - as the mentor said," I couldn't protect you anymore." However, I've worked much better outside organisations.

I am also involved in the media relations business because - well, speaking the same language as reporters comes naturally to me. I can translate reporter speak to clients.

I am not a lawyer for a good reason. I don't have the patience to deal with vast amounts of paper work. Although I've been described as having an analytical mind, I can't bear the thought of reading through tomes and tomes of paper to look for a two sentence conclusion. I also make a poor politician. I have a problem sacrificing people for my personal gain and although I've enjoyed having power - it doesn't give my self-esteeme a boost.

So, I am where I am and other people are where they are because they are made for certain things. Although self-employment has suited me, it is not for everyone. I used to dread it whenever Joyce talked about self-employment. The girl didn't have the joy to chase for business and she didn't have a feel for doing things like chasing money. Self-employment and entrepreneurship by contrast suites Han Li very well - she has a talent for turning everything into a business and woe betide anyone who thinks they can get away without paying her.

Organisations have to accept that as much as they want to gel everyone together, there are reasons why certain people are where they are and rather than trying to "meld" them into the "one unit," they should concentrate on how to utlise their talents and their idiocyncracies. Chutia Bhai, for example, is a brilliant forensic accountant. However, he's an arsehole of a person. In a way, this makes him so good at what he does - he's not going to get let wooly things like friendship and back scratching get in the way of what he does best - check other people's books. Don't let him near your clients but by all means let him do the books.

There is such a things known as distance. Sometimes professionals need a bit of distance - call it they need to be a little further from the trees to see the forest. This is especially true for accountants. There is a good reason why you don't want your bookeeper too close with the factory floor people or the CEO. Think of every big scandal that's happened this century - the accountants and auditors were a bit too close to the top management. PwC was too close to Satyam (The CEO claimed he had a $1billion in cash - he didn't and nobody checked that fact) and there was of course Authur Anderson which got too close to Enron - less said the better.

There is lots to be said about sharing vision and getting everyone to bond together. However, there is a case accepting that individuals have idiocyncracies as well as talents and you need to accept the idiocyncracies in order to get the talents to flourish.

One of the most stark comparisons can be seen in between the Royal Marine Comandos of the UK and the US Marines. The Americans believe in breaking you down and building you up in their own image. The British work around your individual talents. The US Marine Corp is a tough fighting force well suited for missions that require brute force. However, on a man-to-man basis, the Royal Marines are better and they're used for covert missions.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I am Fat and Bald - I have an Agenda - the Fat and Bald Agenda

The issue of agendas is back on the backburner again. A Minister has now accused one of the more prominent candidates from the opposition of supporting the "Gay Agenda" and the usual flurry of "He must be gay" and the Minister is a "Homophobe" postings are burning away quite furiously in the online world.

Anyway, since there is a "Gay Agenda" I better make sure that my agenda does not get overshadowed by the Nancy Boys. I declare that I am Fat and Bald and I have every intention of making sure that the Fat and Bald agenda is well publicised and given a sympathetic hearing in this agenda. While I'm at it, I am also going to promote the "Short" agenda since some of my best friends are also very short.

In short (forgive the pun) I intend to promote what you can technically call the SFB agenda. We the members of the SFB group want our rights heard and we will stand by our principles until someone in government listens to us.

If you look at things on a National Level - we, the SFB's have done far more for the Nation than say the GLBTs or the Gen Xers. Where would Singapore be without the likes of Dr Goh Keng Swee who was Short, Bald and towards the end of his life - Fat.

When you look at the contributions of the SFB community to Singapore, you have to ask yourself, why the hell aren't we doing more to protect and promote the rights of Short, Fat and Bald people? We should be handsomely rewarded!

For a start, let's abolish or at least place a limit on diet and hair restoring ads. I mean, if you want to try and be something your're not - be my guest. However, we, the SFBs get annoyed everytime we turn on the telly and we get bombarded by ads telling us that we're not going to get laid if we stop being S, F or B! Please, please don't try and tell me the sad fuck on TV who can't get a date because he's belt size is an inch above normal is how we should be. Why can't I be happy being S, F, B or combination of the rest.

Then, let's give credit to people who make it being who they are. There should be a SFB Award given to the short, fat or bald man who dates beautiful chicks and finds his own path to success. We'll be much happier for it if we became a nation of cheerful secure people instead of a nation of insecure freaks. One of the guys who should be given a massive reward is the man who broke the celibacy of the PGF - he was short, fat and bald but somehow he managed to go to places where two Sultans, three Datuks and an Edison Chen look alike could not go to. - Way to go to the SFB.

I also promose that SFB children be given a special grant in school. As long as they study hard and grow to be self-confident adults who will do their darndest to run for political office when they are much older and therefore contribute the the benefit of society instead of whinning about how awful they look - get a life!

I hope to see that the politicians will fight to promote and protect the rights of the SFB community and rest assured the fight for our rights won't end on polling day - it will continue right to the end when we're all being cuddled in the bossom of a buxome blonde.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Hard Truth About an Election!

It's election season and it looks like I may get my first chance to vote in my own country, which also happens to be the only country in the world where I have taken a very public oath to die for. It's going to be quite an experience voting in this Red Dot. I mean, it won't be the first time I've voted. Voted three times in the UK (EU Parliament - voted Greens and referendum on a Mayor of London and for the candidate to be Mayor - Tory), so the experience of going to the polling booth is not new to me. However, the fact that I'm voting in my own country rather than in someone else's should be an experience.

However, I don't feel excited. Perhaps I've finally become a true Singaporean after a decade of living here. I've spent the best part of a decade making lots of noise about not voting in my own country as if it was a denial of something inherent to my well being. However, now that the chance may exist, I'm not excited. In fact I am down right annoyed. It may sound crazy but over the years the right to grumble about not voting has actually grown onto me and its actually more important for me to grumble about not voting than it is to actually vote.

I don't know may be, like the rest of the general public, I've developed a strange love-hate relationship with the ruling party. I hate the buggers because they seem to get everything. Yet, I can't do without them because, hey, they're just so familiar that the idea of trying something new or listening to something new seems alien. I suppose, I, like the rest of the Plebs relate to the ruling party like kids do to a parent - can't stand them but can't do without them.

It doesn't help that I live in Marine Parade, a constituency that has been exceedingly well looked after. Our HDB (Council Flat equivalent in the UK) flats look better than a host of condominiums, Our bus routes make the need to drive redundant and our facilities are superb. For me, I live on the 22nd floor and have a direct sea view that most private property owners would kill for.

I've enjoyed all of these goodies because the chief Member of Parliament in my area is the former Prime Minister and now Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong. If you want to put it in simple terms, Mr Goh has brought home bacon, eggs and caviar and as long as he remains our MP, why the hell should any of us want to boot him out?

Yes, intellectually, I'm all for having more voices and more debate. You're only going to get that if you have a credible opposition. However, how does one keep an MP with the clout to give you the goodies but still have alternative voices?

For most of us, the answer was simple - we voted the ruling party and allowed the opposition to single member constituencies. In short, we kept PAP because they delivered the goodies but also kept two opposition members there to irritate the hell out of them.

Will this election be different? I think it will. People are a wee bit more vocal. The governing party has also displayed a certain level of arrogance - particularly over areas in which it shown itself to be less than competent - let's think of Mas Selamat and floods along Orchard Rd. This arrogance does need to be checked.

However, do I really want to get rid of my MP who has brought home the bacon for so many years? May be I can do without some of the goodies - but why should my aunt and grandma be denied?

Humm, I wonder how many voters are starting to think about their self-interest above the national interest? I'm worried that I am already one of them.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Facts of Sport

You know that an election is imminent when the press can't talk about anything else other than the prospects of an election. Elections in Singapore are particularly interesting because....well you know the result and you get a glimpse into the way that the powers that be think.

It was particularly interesting to note that the front page lead of the Straits Times (National Newspaper) was the Prime Minister declaring,"The Two Party System Won't Work in Singapore." This actually perked my interest. Why does a Prime Minister of a supposedly democratic country feel the need to make such a statement - particularly when a "two party" system is the supposed norm for any democratic country.

I suppose you could say that the man has read the ground well enough. We, the normally placid citizens, are grumbling and wondering if there's an alternative. So, on one level you could say that this is the Prime Minister's way of saying - "Stick with what you know works." This is also what usually happens. As much as we grumble, we actually keep the PAP in power because, well on the balance of things, they've done a good job.

You also have to look at the fact that the Prime Minister has a point. The PAP has a formidable grassroots mashinary and they've held onto the levers of power for so long that it's second nature to them.

Furthermore, the only kind word one could say for the opposition is that they're in shambles. Despite the fact that they've managed to maintain two seats in our 84 seat parliament for the last two decades, the opposition is a mish-mash of egos who can't work together.

In natures eco-system, small insects always work as a hive whenever they confront bigger creatures like bears. However, in the case of our political eco-system, the ants in the opposition can't seem to get along and so guess what - the elephant called the ruling party squishes them. As long as the opposition continue to behave like ants at a "frat" party, you can expect the ruling party to continue ruling for years to come.

Like it or not - the ruling party actually deserves to win the elections and the opposition in Singapore deserves to be where it is - somewhere stuck in the sewer pipes of the toilet of a successful curry restaurant.

However, the Prime Minister has a simple flaw to his logic - namely the fact that the PAP's right to rule is an entitlement. He argues that there is simply not enough talent in Singapore to field two "A" teams and so we the electorate need to support the only team on the field - his team.

As every sports fan will tell you - this logic does not work. There is no match if you only one team on the field. Then there's the fact that if a single team with the best players in the world never actually plays any matches - it tends to lose the ability to play. Talented sports people only remain talented when they're constantly competing. Look at the late Ayrton Senna in Formula 1, who is often regarded as one of the best drivers of all time. Not only did Mr Senna win just about everything, he did so against other great drivers like Alain Prost and Nigel Mansel - and he often did it in inferior cars. Sportsmen and sports people who are isolated from competition suffer. Look at the Springbok's entering international rugby just after South Africa rejoined the global sporting community in the early 1990s - they were rusty against World Champions Australia and also teams like England and the All Blacks. However, once they got back into competing with other talented teams - they bounced back to become World Champions in 1995.

Since the Prime Minister is so fond of sporing analogies, he might do well to study sports history more carefully. Teams that "own" the league and have no competition usually rust and implode. As such, sports officials go out of their way to ensure that competition is always viable. The two examples are Europe where the Champions League was designed for the top national clubs to compete against each other since they were overly dominant in their domestic markets and then there's the NFL, which ensures that lowest ranked team of the season gets the first pick of talented players entering the market.

I think the Prime Minister should do well to look at these examples. Instead of trying to be the only team on the field - he should look at trying to be the best team on the field. Sports has proven that competition is good for everyone and makes teams better. Why do we love to watch Manchester United versus Chelsea? Well it could be because we know that these are two great and talented teams duking it out to be the best on the day. It's entertaining.By contrast, Manchester United versus Manchester Grammar School team is not a competition and so nobody bothers with it.

Yes, the PAP has a certain grip on talent in Singapore. However, what's the point of having all the talent if that talent is not tested and developed? Then there's the assumption that talent will only want to join the PAP. In business as in sport, there are people who are motivated by more than just material gain. I know of people who make the point that being top management in a small company is better than being middle management in a big company. The same can be true in politics. What happens when you get good people who say that there's no challenge being in the team that always wins and join the teams that have the shit kicked out of them all the time and try to turn things around?

So what does the Prime Minister intend to do? At the moment it looks like he's trying to pull a fast one and convince the public that a match with only one team is good for them. Can you imagine turning up to a football match and being told that having one team on the field is actually good for football and you the fan should accept that as a given fact?

What the Prime Minister should be doing is to look for ways to make sure that there's a good match and his team wins as the best team. Now, this does not mean giving the opposition a free hand to get things done. Opposition needs to find a way of fighting back and getting itself heard. If the opposition ever comes to power, it will have shown it's mettle by winning against the odds. However, if the opposition wins because the PAP gives it a set number of seats to begin with, its not called competition. Is it competition if you make every player in Manchester United tie their left leg to their hips before they play?

What he should look at is giving Singapore alternative centres of thought and to create more debate in the existing media spaces. In Malaysia there is a dominant UMNO party but UMNO has to share space for the people's hearts and minds with the force of Islam.

However, Singapore has no alternatives to the PAP. Our Think Thanks for example, don't much thinking or at least thinking that provides an alternative voice to the existing PAP thought. Are there any other alternatives? So far you have a mainstream media which is to all effects a tool of the establishment. Then you have online sites like the Online Citizen and the Temasek Review that says that everything that the government does is wrong.

Where exactly is the "intelligent" middle ground that examines the pros and cons of every decision by the establishment? The Prime Minister should actually look to develop this space and look at developing the talent. If he does this, it will be good for Singapore and not just the PAP. It will make his a true statesman in the example of Ernesto Zedillo, the Mexican President who saw that his own party, the PRI did not win the next election - which was won by the man chosen by the people - Vincente Fox of the Opposition PAN party.