Thursday, January 12, 2006

Innovation and candor

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 12, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Innovation and candor

ONE reason we dread meetings is that they are usually exercises in futi­lity. You sit down around a table or theater-style facing a screen. The boss says something, everybody nods in agreement. Somebody makes a report, everybody is quiet. Every now and then somebody asks a clarificatory question. Everybody is polite (read bored) and, eventually, meeting is adjourned and everybody heaves a sigh of relief.

Back in their respective cubicles, nobody remembers what was talked about and every one goes about business as usual and on to another meeting. Ho-hum.

No wonder, the Philippines is 77th out of 117 in overall competitiveness, 104th in public institutions and 71st in macroeconomic environment. No new ideas. Things are running at a very low pace. Low productivity. Most organizations are not receptive to having candid people in their midst, all because they want to preserve harmony, politeness and loyalty. People don’t want to exercise candor for fear of being branded brazen, abrasive, individualist and maverick, not a team player. Pakikisama and hiya kill candor. The easiest way out is to keep quiet.

Jack Welch said it was his candor that made things work for him. In his book, Winning, he wrote about how candor leads to winning at GE:

“First and foremost, candor gets more people in the conversation, and when you get more people in the conversation, to state the obvious, you get idea rich. By that, I mean many more ideas get surfaced, discussed, pulled apart and improved. Instead of everyone shutting down, everyone opens up and learns. Any organization—unit or team—that brings more people and their minds into the conversation has an immediate advantage.

“Second, candor generates speed. When ideas are in everyone’s face, they can be debated rapidly, expanded and enhanced, and acted upon. That approach—surface, debate, improve, decide—isn’t just an advantage, it’s a necessity in a global marketplace. You can be sure that any upstart five-person enterprise down the street or in Shanghai or in Bangalore can move faster than you to begin with. Candor is one way to keep up.

“Third, candor cuts costs—lots—although you’ll never be able to put a precise number on it. Just think of how it eliminates meaningless meetings and b.s. reports that confirm what everyone already knows. Think of how candor replaces fancy PowerPoint slides and mind-numbing presentations and boring off-site conclaves with real conversations, whether they’re about company strategy, a new product introduction, or someone’s performance.”

It is now performance-appraisal time and bosses are wont to give their subordinates “outstanding” and “very satisfactory” ratings to avoid any confrontation and further discussions. With humor, they will throw in a suggestion or two for improvement. Lack of candor and courage to lead. Jack Welch says, “Candor just unnerves people.”

Welch traces this lack of candor from when we were young: “We are socialized from childhood to soften bad news, or to make nice about awkward subjects. That is true in every culture and in every country and in very social class. You don’t insult your mother’s cooking, or call your bestfriend fat, or tell an elderly aunt that you hated her wedding gift. You just don’t.”

Somebody looking over my shoulder while I type this just nudged me and asked what is candor. (The word is not even in our day-to-day vocabulary.) From the Internet, candor means: 1. honest: honest or direct in a way that people find either refreshing or distasteful, a surprisingly candid admission and 2. photographed informally: photographed or filmed without the subject knowing or having the opportunity to prepare or pose a candid documentary. It also means frankness, fair-mindedness, forthrightness, openness and more.

More next column.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. Send feedback to

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