Monday, September 29, 2003

Panama Canal: Lessons for the entrepreneur

Monday, September 29, 2003
Business Times p.B5

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Panamá Canal: Lessons for the entrepreneur

I wish I had my civil engineer son, Ronwaldo, with me when I crossed El Canal de Panamá from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. It is, indeed,one of the engineering marvels of all time. It took the Americans more than 10 years (1903-1914), a workforce of 75,000 men and women and US$400MM to construct this inter-oceanic canal across the Isthmus of Panamá. Awesome!

Every entrepreneur would also learn from the determination, will and teamwork of the people who built the canal and left an invaluable legacy to mankind. They are credited for eradicating yellow fever and malaria, setting up the towns and the supply system, organizing the all-important train system to haul rocky materials, pushing through the construction of the locks, Gatun Dam and excavation of the Cut, and for the final engineering designs. Groundbreaking!

Today the Canal's operation is a major contributor to the Panamá economy. Its watershed of treasured forests is of extraordinary biodiversity that serves as the primary fresh water source for the efficient operation of the canal and the supply of water for consumption by cities and communities. Captivating!

If there are metal elevators for people and goods, the Canal uses water elevators (52 million gallons of water per ship per crossing) to raise the ship in transit of the channel through the continental divide. The Canal is 26 meters above sea level. Wow!

More importantly, I was in the enthusiastic company of brilliant conversationalists K. Jayshankar of Empowered Learning Systems of India and Kathy Shurtee and Susan DellCioppia of Broward County Commission of Florida, USA.The three made very interesting presentations at the just-concluded ASTD Panamá Conference in Panamá City. We'll talk about that next column. We also traveled with this amiable couple Lucio and Terry Chueca from Peru and USA.

Some nuggets of innovation that I picked up mostly from Terry are:

* Don't be neutral. You may not change the world, but you can change something in your proximate environment. Don't be afraid to speak out what is in your mind and heart.
* Accept mediocrity. This will make you do things you want to do but you are not good at or to do things for the first time. Nobody will ever be perfect.
* In Peru, people express their anger with exclamation marks!!!!! They raise their voice, gesture emphatically or overemphasize certain words. But in the US, people use a lot of cuss words whether they are angry or happy. Terry feels it very disconcerting and bad for her spirit. So she banned the use of cuss words in her office. If they want to curse or express strong emotions, they can say "cacawaca!" Everybody knows what it means but nobody is offended.
* There is always a business opportunity wherever you are, if only you looked around. There was this immigrant from Japan who had practically nothing when they arrived in Peru. They settled in an area populated by the poorest of the poor Peruvians who could not even afford to take a decent bath as necessary. This Japanese family put up simple cubicle bathhouses that not only helped a lot of people maintain hygiene but also made them financially prosperous over a short period of time.

These immigrants used their experience of bathhouses in Japan. For affordable cents, one is given a small bar of soap, a sachet of shampoo and the use of clean, sweet-smelling towels and a shower of fresh, clean water. Innovative!

* Kathy talked about a creative way of having a car without spending so much. This new car-sharing program is becoming popular in the US. You pay a $20-a-year membership and you pay per hour every time you use the car. You call a certain telephone number to reserve a car and the operator tells you where to get the car nearest your location. After use, you can leave car at designated places or in your garage. You can't use the car one minute before or after your time slot. At the exact time, you can unlock the car and at the appointed time, the car locks.
* Kathy and Jay shared their experience in an ice bar in Sweden. When you enter the shop, you get a leather overcoat and a pair of mittens. Everything inside is made of ice-tables, chairs, glasses, mugs, plates, decors, etc. This idea might just work in the Philippines where already ice-skating has a big following. Any interested entrepreneur?
* Parents should love their children; but not necessarily like them.
* Don't take short cuts. Don't make corners round.
* Pray wherever you are, what ever you are doing.

There are lots more to share. Just wait for the Innovation Camp reopening early next year in Manila. Abangan!

Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and designs & facilitates innovation initiatives. She awaits your email at

Monday, September 22, 2003

Flexibility and human interaction

Business Times p.B5
Monday, September 22, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Flexibility and human interaction

IT WAS a big relief to savor adobo, sinigang, paksiw and Selecta Ice Cream again after several days of tacos, burritos, green chilis, red chilis, Haagen Daz y algunas otra comidas Mexicana in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Thanks to relatives in Berkeley, California, for their usual hospitality. These are the Aquinos: Joven, Gemma, Jennifer, John and Joseph and the Jacobs: Manang Nena, Tatang Jose, Liza, Beth, Jojo, Gus and Gooby. Gilman, Nielson and Peralta Streets in Berkeley are their territory and Tagalog is spoken there. It is heartening to know that people could change without changing. They are Americans outside, but remain Filipinos to the core. Uh-huh.

Let me share some more innovative ideas from the Seeds of Innovation Trainer´s Training Program I attended in Santa Fe, conducted by The Innovation Group led by Innovation Guru and author Elaine Dundon (Seeds of Innovation, AMA, 2002) and Dr./Prof. Alex Pattakos. I hope this would lead you into the road of innovation.

• The primary basis for creativity is a curious mind. The three curiosity questions that push individuals the farthest into new territory are: “Why?,” “What if?” and “What else?.”

• You must believe that everyone is creative because without it, there is no innovation. Some traits of the creative thinker are: willingness to challenge the status quo, curiosity, being adventurous, imaginative, able to make connections, observant, flexible, reflective, playful, tolerates being in the unknown, continuously learning, enjoys complexity and others.

• Try these creative-thinking exercises: Your budget has been cut in half, what would you do? Your budget has been doubled, what would you do?

• In today’s world, demanding customers are always looking for the extraordinary or the exceptional, surprising or unusually great. To shift from the ordinary to the extraordinary, these strategies could be used: target the most profitable customers, offer something distinctly new and better, set your innovation priorities, make sure it is easy, pick up the pace, systematize with modules, profit from the power of branding, add credibility and create magnet-works.

• Innovation is a transformational challenge as well as a creative and strategic one. It is not about statistical process control; it is about flexibility and human interaction.

• Some characteristics of an innovative organizations are: they encourage all employees, partners and suppliers to take an active role in innovation, they welcome new ideas and new approaches, they look to the future to anticipate the customers’ future needs, they redefine the rules of the game and challenge complacent competitors, they empower their customers with information and more control over the purchasing process, they embrace new technology to strengthen their competitive advantage and others.

• Your company is in Innovation Rut and needs to take corrective action immediately if: your products and services have lost their competitive edge, you lack consensus on what you would like to see happen within your organization in the next few years, you spend more time discussing the present and the past than you do on looking to the future, you spend more time on internal issues than in pleasing your external customers, you rarely discuss and acknowledge your weaknesses, valuable information is being held too tightly and not shared, innovation efforts are not rewarded or recognized, people are not really enjoying their work and others.

• The three P’s of innovation are passion, patience and perseverance.

• Remember, if you want others to believe in your idea, you need to be passionate about it yourself.

• Innovation is about the courage to stand alone for a while until others catch up. Do you ever wonder how Alexander Graham Bell felt when he invented the telephone and people criticized his idea. People then thought he was crazy when he said that voices could travel through a wire. Thanks to the passion, patience and perseverance of Mr. Bell we are now enjoying our mobile phones. Thanks to its international roaming capability I am in touch with my family and friends anytime, anywhere I am. (Unless very important, don´t start sending text or calling me because that could send me to the poorhouse.)

• Finally, here´s a list of what innovation is not: just a new technology, sector-specific, just for the research and development department, isolated to special teams or “skunkworks,” a creative playroom, a one-off event, just a creativity training and just applicable to new products.
I am excited to do another “Innovation Camp” again when I am back in Manila. Let me put on my creative, strategic and transformational thinking cap to enable me to bring the Innovation Group to Manila. Abangan!

Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and designs and facilitates interventions for innovative organizations. She awaits your reaction and comments on the topic of innovation at

Monday, September 15, 2003

Innovation is successful only if implemented

Business Times p.B5
Monday, September 15, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Innovation only successful if implemented

If you are going to the US, be sure to spend ample time in Sta. Fe, New Mexico. It is indeed an apt venue for an innovation workshop. Life here is serene and laidback. No rush, no stress. People walk leisurely at any time of the day. No traffic. There seems to be more art pieces in so many museums, galleries and craft shops than people and cars. The most famous is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. And the best place to stay is the Hotel St. Francis on San Gaspar Street.

Walking the streets of Sta. Fe is like feeding the soul. It heightens your spiritual feelings.

The real reason I am here, though, is to attend the “Seeds of Innovation” Trainor Certification Workshop. We have outstanding program designers, facilitators and resource persons from the Innovation Group. They are innovation guru and author (Seeds of Innovation, American Management Association, 2002) Elaine Dundon, Dr. Alex Pattakos and Kathy Trickey.

My fellow participants were innovation leaders of Cargill Sweeteners North America, Thomas Ryba; Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., Lori Gandy; University of California in San Bernardino Clifford Young and Kraft Foods R&D: Kari Kunath, Colleen Carey, Ellen Chamberlain, Bill Croasmun, Leslie Hasbrouck and Ray Laudano (fondly called Peter “Sparky” Louisiana).

One interesting thing about the innovators from Kraft is their position titles. They don’t hold traditional position titles such as manager or engineer. They get to give themselves their own title, e.g. energized innovator, heightened sense for innovation, innovative product designer.

In two days that we were together, I could not tell who is boss or subordinate because they personified their preferred titles rather than their hierarchical positions. Amazing, how labels can really change people.

I learned a lot from all of them as much as I learned from the workshop itself. Our discussions were intense and passionate. New, better ideas and insights filled our room and eclipsed the bad service at the Hilton of Sta. Fe.

We experienced a variety of creative activities. On two occasions we were made to walk the streets of downtown Sta. Fe, in pairs, lugging Polaroid cameras. We took shots of people, things, plants and others that represent own passion and connectivity. The debriefing of these exercises were profound and very personal.

We studied and practiced the seeds of innovation—creative thinking, strategic thinking and transformational thinking.

Some of things I learned are:
• great ideas are not innovative unless they are successfully implemented;
• when we benchmark, we don’t just look for best practices, but more of possible next practices;
• when we just look intently, there are many positives from negative people, things and events;
• an organization can be innovative even if the industry or sector in which it competes is not typically known for innovation;
• what got accompany where it is today might not get it through the next few years;
• innovation is the discipline and practice of cultivating, supporting and sustaining innovation at the individual, team and organization levels;
• we look at innovation management in two distinct categories—business strategy and organizational design; and
• innovation is a combination of four building blocks: creativity or identification of a new idea; strategy or identification of useful idea; implementation or putting this new and useful idea into action and; profitable implementation or maximizing the added value from the implementation of this new and useful idea.

This is all for now. I am catching a flight to San Francisco and Berkeley to visit some friends. When I am back in Manila, I shall revive my workshop called Innovation Camp. Abangan.

Ms. Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp and designs and facilitates innovation interventions. She awaits your emails at

Monday, September 8, 2003

Choose your driving force--Part II

Business Times, p.B5

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Choose your driving force--Part II

Shepherd’s Law of Economics states that behind each corporation must be a singular force, or motive, that sets it apart from any other corporate structure and gives it its particular identity. Author Michel Robert says that it is the identification of what drives and gives the organization its momentum in a certain direction that is the key element of strategic thinking.

This singular motive is what is generally known in business parlance as driving force. It is that one key element of the organization that pulls the organization to where it wants to go. Having identified it, organizational leaders will find it satisfying from here on to lead the current situation and manage eventual changes. Having understood it, the rest of the organization could confidently march together to the same beat while they innovate along the way. When you know where you are coming from, it is easy to go where you want to be.

Last column we identified three driving forces:

· product/service concept
· user/customer class
· market type/category

Today, in our Journey on Entrepreneurship, let us discuss three more strategic drivers identified by Michel Robert in his book, Strategy Pure & Simple (McGraw Hill):

Production Capacity/Capability-Driven Strategy

An organization might invest heavily in its physical assets and production facility. Therefore, they want to keep this facility running on full capacity. Such a company will attract all takers to optimize such facility. Examples are hotels and airlines. Once an airplane takes off, that’s it. It could not anymore take in passengers while in flight. But who knows that in future there might be air stations for changing flights or taking connecting flights without the hassle of tedious airport procedures. Anyways, everything the airline spent to put that plane in flight is sank cost that cannot be recovered anymore.

Airlines endeavor, therefore, to fill every flight. So everything these airlines do is towards keeping their airplane flying at full capacity for passenger and cargo. Airlines are production capacity/capability-driven organizations.

Technology/Know-How-Driven Strategy
To my mind, the business of 3M is adhesive technology and its many applications. 3M adhesive-based products are in business, medicine, engineering, practically everywhere. They provide solutions for seemingly unrelated problems. You buy a pad of Post-it and soon enough you find a million and one ways you could use them. Soon or late, your whole desk or cubicle or room is grandly decorated with Post-it reminders, quotes, markers, instructions, etc.

Clearly, 3M is a technology/know-how-driven organization. Same with Microsoft, Dupont, Sony, Sharp, Xerox, HP, Polaroid, IBM, and many other companies offering “solutions looking for problems.” These companies create or acquire hard and soft technology and go looking out for applications of that technology. They normally offer an array of products and services and serve a broad spectrum of end users and market segments.

Sales/Marketing Method-Driven Strategy
So-called-dirty ice cream companies thrive because of their sales method which is peddling ice cream in carts along streets, narrow and wide, particularly in residential areas. You will never see a dirty ice cream company selling its products in supermarket or malls or variety stores. They will not also sell any product that can not fit in their cart and can not be peddled in the streets. You can’t find these ice cream vendors in places where they are not allowed, such as along streets in the busy financial district of Makati. They sell ice cream in cones, in cups or as ice cream sandwiches. They do not sell them by the pint or half gallon or gallon. Otherwise, they lose their identity—ambulant ice cream retail selling method.

This unique way of order taking and selling to customers is employed by sales/marketing method-driven companies. Avon, Tupperware, Amway and Fortune Selling use the door-to-door direct selling. They will only sell products that could be sold by this method. They prohibit their sales crew from selling their products from a stationary venue like a store.

Take note that for the example companies given here, their respective driving force guides all their strategic decisions regarding products, customers, markets and use of resources. It makes them focus their energies and resources to most important elements of the organization and forget about the “noise” around them. It is their not-so-secret weapon that gives them the “magic” competitive edge.

Next column we will discuss the last four possible strategic drivers an organization could pursue.

Final call. You still have a week to prepare to go to Panama and attend the First ASTD Global Network Conference and Exposition on linking training and performance. This will be held on Sept 17-19, 2003 at Hotel Riande Intercontinental, Panama City. Call GraceVictoriano at telephone 715-9332 for details. See you there.

(Ms. Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and facilitates strategic thinking process. Email your comments and questions for her at

Monday, September 1, 2003

Choose your driving force

Monday, September 01, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Choose your driving force

How do you swat a fly or a mosquito?

No, you don’t swat at where they are because by the time your swatter reaches its target area, the fly or mosquito would have happily moved away and buzzed your eardrums in retaliation. This is reactive. That’s akin to fire, ready, aim!

Rather, you get ready and aim at where they are going first. You anticipate and pro-act.

That might as well be the basis for our planning which is defined as not about what you will do in the future; it is about what you will do now to make the future all you want it to be. It is acting in advance of critical change. But thinking precedes planning.

My friend Liza Hizon asks how will you know where they are going? How will you know which is their tail and which is their head? Well, you observe. Watch. Scan your environment. You think ahead before you attack. In business, we do strategic thinking first. It is not just a matter of swatting one lonesome fly or mosquito, but it is exterminating the whole swarm and their habitat.

Strategic thinking is done by maintaining focus, thinking long terms, sorting out which is important versus what is ‘noise’ and acting accordingly. It is deciding on your driving force and areas of excellence, scanning the environment (internal and external), defining your vision, mission and values, exploiting your positives, and determining your strategic goals for the long haul. It precedes any planning—strategic, operational/tactical or action planning. Strategic thinking is opportunistic and exploitative.

Why are flies and mosquitoes still thriving today while the dinosaur is now extinct? What makes them tick? What drives them to pursue life relentlessly?

We focus on your driving force in this leg of your journey on entrepreneurship.

Some strategic questions you might ask of your business: What determines which users/customers are sought and which are not? What determines which products and services are offered and which are not? What determines which market segments are pursued and which are not? The answer to these important questions are critical factor in thinking strategically. It is called your driving force.

The driving force of your business is your final filter when deciding which of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are most critical to your business.

Michel Robert writes in his book, Strategy Pure & Simple: “What is it that determines the nature of the products, customers, market segments and geographic areas that a company pursues and those that it does not? How does management decide which of these it seeks to pursue and not to pursue?” The answer to these vital questions, Robert said is the concept of driving force, which is the most important element of thinking strategically.

The driving force is what motivates your organization to do what it has to do, to pursue specific products and services, customers and markets and eventually evolve into that distinct identity and acquire a certain personality of its own. It is what gives your business the momentum, the push to seek its preferred direction.

Robert asserts that an organization has only one driving force. This key component of your business is the heart of your organization’s business that gives it an edge in the market place.

In the said book he listed 10 important and strategic areas of your organization. He said that although all 10 of these components are present in most organizations, only one of these are strategically most important to your company and the engine that propels or drives your company forward to success. For today’s column we shall mention three of the strategic organizational drivers.

Product/service concept-driven strategy
This is the driving force of a company whose whole business revolves around one single product. Although this company might have several product lines, they are the simply variations or modifications of derivatives of the same product. Car companies are the best example. Toyota, Volvo, Honda and others produce nothing but automobiles. Different make and models; but still they are all automobiles with the same look and function. Its line of food products are what drives Mekeni Food Products to success.

User/customer class-driven strategy
A user/customer class-driven company is one that tries to satisfy the related needs of the class of end users that it wants to pursue. Johnson & Johnson has pledged to serve the health-related needs of its chosen customers—doctors, patients and mothers. J&J products might seem varied and unrelated, but they are all made for their preferred customers. Recently, they have added a new group of users to this list–babies, all ages and sizes. Therefore, they have added new products like face powder.

Market type/Category-driven strategy
Unlike the user-customer class-driven company, market-type/category-driven companies pursue specific market category, not a set of end-users. From its name alone, American Hospital Supply, you can already tell that its business is tied to hospitals. They endeavor to satisfy the varied needs of its chosen market. Their product range is wide and equally varied from bedpans to sutures to gauze pads to electronic imaging systems and others.

We shall discuss the seven other possible strategic drivers of organizations next columns.

Call 7890 or 027890. This is the 24-hour hotline to report erring or abusive drivers of taxis, FXs, buses, jeepneys and tricycles. I assure you the men and women manning this government service are doing their job well.

Ms. Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and helps companies develop and implement strategies and plans. She could be reached at