Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Being a rat for a day

It took me 8:57 minutes to complete 1.45km at The Edga Bursa Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Rat Race 2011. I participated in the CEO category, saving me from running a more punishing distance in the open category. I burned 108 calories as well!

The race is a charity event to raise funding for the needy. According to the rat race website, more than RM 1.8 million fund was raised. A respectful amount indeed.

The rat race has been an opportunity for corporate Malaysia to show how much they care about the unfortunate while participating in a rather competitive event. It was not just about running but participation of the whole organisation. There we runners, cheer leaders, supporters etc. Judging from the level of competition, many companies came well prepared.

On a bigger picture, we are certainly more than just mere rats. Although the race could have portrayed us in that sense, I hope in our real lives, we compete with each other for good causes and reasons, not just to have more zeroes in our bank accounts. Yes, life is definitely more than about having more zeroes.

I did some preparation to ensure I would not make full of myself during the race. I intend to continue exercising, just to remain healthy and able to do more for myself, family, society and the world at large.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A country going bankrupt?

Can a country goes bankrupt? Never! I suppose that would be a natural response to his question. We are used to see what happens when a person fails to pay his debts. Even companies will be liquidated if the does not settle its borrowings. The creditors could petition to the court and a liquidator will be appointed. Assets of the company will be sold and creditors will be paid off, based on certain priorities. Those unlucky creditors will have to suffer "haircut", getting paid less than what was loaned earlier.

Countries are different kind of stuff all together. They are sovereign on their own, print their own money and able to extract resources within its borders and sell off to finance themselves. They could issue bond with better credit ratings than some of better companies.

Those were the thoughts of the past. I am sure we are familiar with the present days' scenes in Greece. Under pressure to implement tough austerity measures imposed by the EU, Greeks are suffering from the consequences of living beyond their means for a prolonged periods. They had more flexibilities when they were outside of the Eurozones. The had devalued their currencies many times in the past, burning the hands of many creditors. However, being a member of Eurozone, it is a bit more sticky now as the risks of its misbehavior will affect other countries in the monetary union.

Watching how Greece's civil servants having to suffer salary cuts, uncertainty in terms of retirement benefits and additional taxes to close the gap in government spending are certainly unpleasant. I am sure this scenario was not even imagined years back. How could a country goes bankrupt?

Bankruptcy is just a technical term. It could mean differently to a person, a corporation or a country. What matters is the consequences. Like people, when a country spends more than what it earns, over a prolonged period, the people will eventually have to pay for the consequences. Unfortunately, decisions for a country are driven by politicians who may not suffer as some of the consequences are only experienced much later. 

When times are good, even the most stupid decisions would be branded as the greatest. What more in many cases, popular decisions which may not necessarily smart, are preferred to tough measures which may not be popular. Politicians are in the business of winning elections and elections are held within a very short intervals. Naturally, the focus would always be on short-term glory and letting the tragic consequences to be suffered by those who inherit their positions later. 

Citizens who don't care about future consequences of their demands are equally responsible to push countries into bankruptcy. If they elect politicians who promise the moon and the sky but has integrity of none, don't blame the politicians for doing what they are "capable of" later.

So, remember. People will suffer when a country lives beyond it's means. That includes you, me, our children, their children and many more.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Undilah, we are the BOSS.

A brilliant effort in voter education. Something that we really need in Malaysia at the moment.

The Double Words

We are celebrating Malaysia Day while those, especially in Kuala Lumpur, continue to organise open houses in celebrating Aidil Fitri. So, technically, we are again having a double celebration. Not really a surprise given Malaysians consist of people with diverse ethnicity and religion.

Another "double" that we may face frequently in our lives is doublespeak. According to Dictionary.Com, doublespeak is a noun which means "evasive, ambiguous language that is intended to deceive or confuse". People who are so desperate to be popular may choose this method to say something which many people want to hear but do something else later. That is my impression about double speak. 

There are many people out there who need to be popular but are so hopeless that they could not be so on their own merit. So, using doublespeak could be very tempting, particularly if they have ways and means to amplify their messages to wider audience. Innocent and ignorant people may buy this kind of trick. Some, although cautious that they are being conned, choose to play along as they may have personal stake in the popularity of the doublespeaker.

Off course, later, when people realised that they have been double-crossed, they would be very upset and beginning to have double-vision. Unfortunately, double speakers have the skill to manage such situations, more double-speaking and those upset people would be happy and start clapping and smiling again. Slowly but surely, the whole society would move towards unpleasant circumstances but being addicted to soothing words keep them in-check.

This vicious cycle will go on and on as many people, somehow, are able to endure the consequences of living in an environment where double-speakers are cherished and glorified. Some may decide to have enough of having this sort of nonsense would emigrate to different places with the hope of having less double-speaking and having more real life based on their merits and hard work. This is what we refer to as "brain-drain", another term coined to sound complicated and camouflage the simple meaning of the term, again.

Another outcome of the lost of integrity?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Teddy bears anyone?

This is a very interesting findings. Adults would behave more ethically if reminded by their childhood friends, teddy bears. I am sure you will find the following interview with Sreedhari Desai, assistant professor at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School very interesting.

Looking forward to cuddle my long lost teddy. Did I have one when I was a kid?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Shades of Truth

Today is September 11 or 9/11. The significance of this date depends on who you are. Even if it is about the attack on the twin towers in New York. A lot has been discussed and written. While the world widely accepted that it was a calculated attack engineered by Osama bin Laden, they are also alternative views regarding the event. Similarly, there are alternative views, theories and explanations to mostly everything. 

While this world is beautiful? I suppose because we see things in shades of colours, not just black or white and something in between. Just imagine if out sight could only process primary colours, that also would change how we see the world.

The concept of "truth" is also somewhat complex and not as straight forward as what we may have thought. For example auditors have been signing off on the "truth and fairness" of financial statements for many years and yet we have issues around whether those financial statements were really so. Even today we could read different versions of truth on one single event. Just pick up a subject in a newspaper and google about it in the Net. I am sure you will find many other viewpoints and angle provided by many other writers. This worries a lot of beholders of status quo, who normally benefit prom the present 'truth' and will lose a lot if other 'truth' is accepted by the society.

During the time when a small number of people dominate what the public consumes and reads, truth was, perhaps, more absolute. However, in the day and age where people can read, hear and watch more analysis and discussions regarding certain facts, the interpretation regarding the facts becomes more diverse. At the end of the day, truth will become like beauty, always in the eyes of the beholder. This means truth will depend on our values, upbringing, beliefs etc. 

In an discussion on whether a university could shape the values of students, somebody told me that a person brought up in a family of thief will live the values, whether or not he goes to universities! Perhaps, this explains why many countries are struggling to fight corruption and abuse of power because there are so many people who believe that it is OK to be corrupted as they have been living with such family values. 

So even in "right or wrong" issues, there is no guarantee that people could agree whether a simple but disgusting behaviour is bad or otherwise. If someone benefited from their corrupt practices, it will be tough for them to categorically proclaim that corruption is bad. When can see this irony towards corruption even within ideologies. In China, which practices communism, you will be shot to death if you are a corrupt leader. In democracies, such a person may be able to buy his way up and eventually become a leader.

When I was thought about economic theory during my university days, the students were reminded about cateris paribus. A theory works only when all other things being equal. This is like taking a snapshot at things and say that "at that moment, this is what I observe". In reality,all things will never be equal. That said, the theory will be observable, in many shades.

Let's recall 9/11.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

From office boy to oil minister

I heard about this story on my way back from office today. I was so inspired by the story that I quickly did a research and ended up doing this posting. I suppose the lessons from this story should inspire us to look forward to a successful future provided there is a willingness to work hard and persevere in pursuing our dreams. 

It is about an office boy working for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. One day he felt so thirsty and went around to find water to drink. When he found what he was looking for he was abruptly stopped from drinking it by an American engineer. The water was meant only for engineers, not a lowly ranked employee like him.

That incident really woke him up and he committed himself to work hard and eventually was sponsored by his company to continue his studies. He went to study Beirut, Pennsylvania and Stamford before coming back to be an engineer in Aramco's Exploration Department. Eventually he became the company's President in 1984 and it's CEO in 1988.

This is the story of H.E. Ali Ibrahim Al-Naim who was appointed as the Minister of Petroleum and Minirel Resources of Saudi Arabia in 1995. He eventually became a very influential personality in the oil industry as such that the rumors regarding his retirement caused a record crash in the price of oil

Remember the American engineer who prohibited him to drink?  One day he went to see Ali to ask permission for time off and said, "I want to ask permission for my holiday. I hope you do not take revenge, for my rudeness and bad behavior in the past when I prevented you to drink the water" 

Ali responded "I want to thank you from bottom of my heart because you forbid me to drink. Yes, I used to hate you. But, because of you I am in this position"

Monday, 5 September 2011

Ecosystem matters

I first learned about ecosystem in my biology class when I was in Form 4. Not sure whether there was any question on this subject when I sat for my SPM (Malaysian Certificate of Education) a year later. I did not take biology when I did my Year 12 in Australia and never thought of re-visiting the term again.

So, why am I writing about something that is taught in biology classes? Well, ecosystem is about how living and non-living things live together in a defined environment. The action of an element would influence others, positive or negative. The dynamics in the ecosystem will lead towards many possible outcomes. Although rain will help tree to grow, too much rainfall will cause flooding and may kill the trees. If we chop down trees to build houses, the monkeys will turn our neighborhood into theirs.

Life is too complicated. To help people to comprehend life, the complexity is simplified by many into simple, linear relationships. In business, such approach is used, for example, to explain the connection between the transformation of raw material into goods in the form of supply chain analysis. The concept of chain suggests that one event will lead to another, simple.

Such simplicity may, sometimes, lead us to believe in the simplified concept rather than the real life itself. This will lead to problems if the simplified concept is used to solve real life problems. For example, more money will make us happy. However, if the money is obtained through illegal means such as corruption, we may not enjoy our money as we have to pay additional cost due to deterioration of services and other inefficiencies. Although some people may escape paying the total cost of corruption, other may have to pay more. The net effect is that our society will be worse off.

The points is events in life is not necessarily linear. Sometimes it goes into a cycle, sometimes it will move in a totally opposite direction if the elements in the ecosystem are not as what we had assumed. Therefore, understanding the character of key players in any ecosystem would be crucial in anticipating possible outcome of a given event.

Too complicated? Yes, life is not meant to be easily understood.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The New Certainty - Uncertainty

Some of us were brought up in the "era" of stability. In fact stability has been the mantra to gain support in many ways. Some are so scared of uncertainty that "stability" has to be attained at all cost, literally.

There are a number of reasons why stability is something which may not be enjoyed by many countries anymore. 

First is about how far the interconnected our economies are. Flip an iPhone or iPad and you could see the remark "Designed in California, assembled in China". So here, we have the brain in one part of the world and the hands and legs in other part. This perfectly reflects China's problem with the falling US dollar, as it is the largest creditor to the US. So, even if we are exporting to China, the exposure to the economic slowdown in the US and Europe needs to be factored in as China is also exposed as well.

Second is about information that moves at the speed of electricity through the web and cable televisions. With some caveat off course, CNN and BBC news are received few minutes late in Malaysia. Not sure how much this make sense in the world that moves on a real time basis. The free flow of all sorts of information to a certain extend break the monopoly of information in many countries where traditionally truth or otherwise comes from a central source. 

Although this not not yet applicable everywhere, the new versions of thinking is sipping through various social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which reflects how real people think and act in real time. This has weakened those who has been enforcing "the unreal" on the masses. Many more people are also able to express their thoughts and views which could be different from the old "truth". Then, the so called Gen-Y love something new and are willing to take the risk of thinking! This is pretty scary for those who do not want people to think, even when those people are graduates from universities. This is the third element which influences actions on the ground faster than before.

Now, everything is being challenged. How could the developed world (read the US and Europe) reflate their economies using economic theories conceptualised when the world was less inter-connected?  The free floe of information enable people to react to new information on a real time basis. Just look as how the global stock market move and react when good or bad news from one part of the world get transmitted across the globe. To a large extend, control is something that many government have at the moment. Hence, they can't really deliver "stability" as what they used to do in the past.

When uncertainty is the new "stability, our interest (and those of our children and theirs) would be  protected when people who we could really trust are in decision-making positions. This requires smart people with high integrity to be in such positions. The problem is, integrity is a boring stuff. It is an anti-thesis of excitement, especially when money making is concerned. What more when selfishness has been the main driver of economic activities. How could banks lend money to people who were not able to pay back? This was what happened and why the developed world is in trouble now. Unfortunately, when the lack of integrity is felt, it could be already too late. And another problem is whether we ourselves value integrity?