Category: Extrinsic Change

A friend was recently headhuntered to work for a very well-known organization here in Singapore and was shocked to find that what was projected of the organization to the public is as different as night and day compared to what actually happens inside the organization.

Besides being a bloated bureaucracy with disparate systems and processes, one extremely glaring – and unprofessional – behavior stands out, and that is: management yells at people. The entire organization operates like the military with VPs shouting at the top of their voices at directors. When frustrated or when they are not being understood, (often due to their inability to communicate clearly), those in leadership positions would holler and scream even louder as though being loud will ensure that they will be better understood.

I have worked with many organizations over the past three decades and often, just walking into the office is enough for me to sense the type of organization culture permeating in there.

Some cultures are simply toxic. Strategy may be important, but culture, as they say, “eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is “the way we do things around here.”

But the culture of any organization is usually determined by the worst behavior its leader is willing to tolerate. I wonder if the CEO of this organization is aware of his shouting and shrieking VPs. Perhaps he is one helluva screamer himself, and that sets the tone? Behavior modeling at work?

No matter how smart, or cool, or rich or powerful you think you are, how you treat people says it all. Start yelling at me, and in my mind, you are immediately a persona non grata. Period.

And idiots like you are the reason why people leave. People don’t quit companies, they quit bosses.

I encouraged my friend to consider leaving before he dies a premature death.

No job is worth dropping dead over.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said if you want to build a ship, don’t yell at people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather inspire them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Isn’t that awe-inspiring?

I wish my friend’s bosses know that.

Extrinsic Change

Late last month, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced during his Budget speech that the duty for premium grade gasoline, or “petrol” as it is referred to here in Singapore, will increase by 20 (Singapore) cents to 64 cents a liter, while that for intermediate-grade petrol will go up by 15 cents to 56 cents per liter.

Pump operators reflected the higher duties within a day. A liter of 98-octane-grade petrol was raised by up to 25 cents per liter, and as much as 18 cents per liter for 95-octane grade petrol.

With oil prices tumbling, those who were hoping that petrol prices will fall were appalled that the government raised taxes, with the result that petrol prices went up literally overnight.

CASE (The Consumers Association of Singapore) has sent letters to the main players here asking each of them to justify the increases, which in some cases, were larger than the size of the tax hikes.

“Prices were increased beyond the tax increment without proper justification,” said CASE’s executive director Seah Seng Choon, adding that the association has received queries from concerned motorists.

(Granted, a day after CASE’s action, Shell reduced the price by two cents. While this is two miserable cents lower, prices are still higher than the Government’s announced duty hike of 15 cents a liter for intermediate grade petrol and 20 cents a liter for premium petrol.)

In any case, I wish Mr Seah good luck. Petrol companies are like robber barons of old – they are as unlikely to budge as airlines. In case you haven’t noticed, oil prices have nosedived, but airlines have yet to remove fuel surcharges.

Airline executives explained that it’s because of hedging and that they are stuck with prices that won’t go away. Airlines are still using oil they purchased months ago and for which they paid substantially more than today’s prices.

Fuel hedging has been a common practice among airlines in recent years because of rising energy prices. Typically, airlines sign contracts to buy fuel at a specific price range to protect themselves from excessive rises in oil prices. But now, as oil has shed many per cent of its value for some months now, airlines that hedged are missing out on the cheaper jet fuel. Many airlines are locked in on fuel hedges, months ahead and so cannot simply reduce prices as soon as oil falls.

Still, since fuel is as much as 50% of an airline’s budget, doesn’t that give us cause for some hope of cost cuts?

Nope, I suspect petrol companies and airlines are run by descendants of the Marquis de Sade and friends of Christian Grey or at least by those who are inspired by them.

As long as demand for air travel – and petrol – is there, airlines and petrol companies have no enticement to bring their fares down.

That says a lot about airlines and petrol companies, and the people who run them, doesn’t it?

And of course it says a lot about the government too.

Extrinsic Change

Organizations dress themselves up to look good. A whole army of individuals – from marketing specialists to those focusing on corporate communications, plus all kinds of spin doctors – are dedicated to ensuring that organizations send out the right message to the public. The right message means more customers. More customers means shareholders can line their pockets with your hard-earned money.

But talking the talk is vastly different from walking the talk.

Organizations must deliver.

MyRepublic offers 1Gbps fiber broadband at an affordable rate. Clearly it has over-promised and under-delivered. I am not privy to insider information but MyRepublic obviously has a capability issue – for some reason or other, it is not able to deliver what it is promising.

I will spare you the painful details, but to say that my experience with the fiber broadband provider has been a horrendously bad one is a gross understatement.

Suffice it for me to just point you to MyRepublic’s Facebook page. You will not find another organization with a Facebook page that is inundated with so much negative feedback and vitriolic comments from customers. Look at Posts to Page to see what I mean for yourself.

MyRepublic claims to be “Singapore’s Bold New Internet Service Provider, purpose-built to deliver you the best Fiber Broadband experience!”

Yeah, and pigs can fly.

MyRepublic does nothing else, fiber broadband is its only business, yet it is incapable of keeping its customers satisfied.

In this era, the Internet should be regarded as an essential service much like water and electricity, and for my case, interruptions in service actually place my clients and patients in jeopardy. These are people who email me their charts and reports.

MyRepublic doesn’t seem to understand that. Comments on its Facebook are all about poor customer service, lack of response, long waits for resolution of problems, etc – the kind of issues one would expect in a third-world country. Despite public smackdowns on its Facebook, it continues to blatantly behave rather nonchalantly with regards to its customers’ plight.

What is even more shocking is that the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore seems rather toothless. IDA’s raison d’état is to pull the chain attached to loose cannons like MyRepublic so as to exert some control over quality and performance but so far it has proved disappointing. It is a body with first-world aspirations but third-world attitude. Just look at its fancy website. If only it delivers a tiny percentage of what it promises! This disrespect and utter disregard for end-users’ welfare permeates all the way to the top. My repeated emails have not resulted in any solution pertinent or effective enough to my liking; MyRepublic’s coordination with OpenNet, now re-named NetLink Trust (what a joke!) is also dismal at best, and customers are caught in the crossfire. Tales of frustration voiced by subscribers who sign up for fiber broadband but having to wait for months before OpenNet or NetLink Trust can do anything proliferate the web. Hard to imagine for a country like ours. Senior management at IDA does not appear to be interested in complaints by consumers like me and the minister in charge (Yaacob Ibrahim) has not even bothered to reply. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even acknowledge my email. Guess I’m just another nobody. Well, has he forgotten that even one vote counts? Come election time, many of these overpaid and inefficient bureaucrats seemingly more interested in high profile politicking that makes them look good on TV screens and the state-controlled media will get their comeuppance. I kid you not. In the first place, I shouldn’t have expected much from someone who couldn’t distinguish between a flood and a pond.

If organizations and their leaders are not serious about keeping their promises, it’s a matter of time before someone finds out. In this day and age, it will go viral in a moment of seconds.

Dissatisfied customers can bring an organization to its knees.

That will be so satisfying.

When MyRepublic promises “Satisfaction Guaranteed” on its website, is that what it means?

That it will be such a satisfying experience bringing it down.

Never in my professional life have I been so flummoxed and exasperated by an organization as mismanaged as MyRepublic.

Organizations cannot thrive on lies.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

For those considering going to MyRepublic for fiber broadband, my advice is a one word “don’t” and for discontented, existing customers, do stand up for your rights and send a warning to those who try to deceive you and not deliver that they promise.

And when politicians you elect don’t have your best interest at heart, make sure they don’t ever get elected again.

Mark my words, MyRepublic is a ticking time bomb that will one day implode. Unhappy customers have already put MyRepublic at the precipice of losing its reason for existence.

The company is at a tipping point – all it takes is a few more disgruntled customers for things to boil over.

I have already set aside a bottle of  Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000 to pop open when that day comes.

Extrinsic Change

At a mall one evening I came across four morbidly obese individuals – one male, three females. They were not just overweight, they were grossly fat and had difficulty walking and breathing. One of them was eating furiously at a fast-food restaurant (I’ve observed that most overweight people gobble down their food really fast); the other three were shopping and walking with obvious difficulty.

I have no idea what made them the way they are but I wondered if they are doing anything to reduce their burden and their health risks?

Is their condition, I wondered, a part of our narcissistic world where people exploit social media to show off anything to boost their ego, so that “friends” can “like” them – from pictures of themselves flying first class to pictures of branded goods they’ve purchased to photo after photo of the tons of food they stuff in their faces. (Confession: seeing those saliva-inducing food pictures often make me crave for some really unhealthy food!)

Or do senseless TV shows like Epic Food Empire anything to do with this? (For the uninitiated, Epic Food Empire is about going to the butcher to find the fattiest slabs of bacon and slapping together the most outrageous, unhealthful meals possible. Such horrific wastage of food should not be allowed to be shown on TV, honestly!)

As I looked at those four humongous-size individuals, I also wondered if their families and loved ones are helping them? What are their friends saying? What about the companies they work for?

Indeed do organizations have a responsibility to ensure that their employees stay healthy?

Not long ago the CEO of a local hospital group made headlines after he was quoted in the newspapers as saying that, for his staff, weight would be a consideration for career advancement.

This ruffled the feathers of unions and human resource practitioners, who felt that such a perspective bordered on discrimination.

However, an academic from the National University of Singapore’s sociology department, applauded the hospital’s initiatives.

But to be fair, she did caution against attributing blame to those unable to conform.

She said staff who work long hours and do overtime may have little chance for regular exercise, resulting in poor health outcomes.

“Now, is it fair then to punish this individual for not being able to conform to an ideal lifestyle? You may end up punishing your loyal employee.”

Indeed not everyone can be like the CEO mentioned – he runs marathons and eats mostly vegetables.

CEOs and leaders of organizations can set the pace and must indeed be exemplary in conduct and behavior.

An unmarried marriage counselor is often not qualified enough to advise those in need of marital counseling.

Those with no children often have no idea what it is like to manage one’s offsprings and to ensure that they are well cared for and are happy.

A bald man trying to sell a hair tonic he has concocted hasn’t much credibility, has he?

If you preach about love but go home and abuse your domestic helper, what credibility do you have?

Apart from being exemplary, leaders must be prepared for the consequences of their words and actions.

If you insist that the BMI of a high-performing star employee must be tied to his promotion despite his fulfilling all his KPIs, are you saying you will withhold promotion just because he is overweight? Are you prepared for this employee to become disgruntled and leave? Are you prepared for a confrontation with the union?

Similarly if you publish a magazine seemingly devoted solely to insulting people’s religions, you had better be prepared for the consequences.

BF Skinner said that people learn from the consequences of their actions.

But some people never learn.

If your cartoonists draw a roll of toilet paper and caption it “Bible” or mock Prophet Mohammad by depicting him in a negative light via insulting, incendiary and disrespectful comics, can you look people in the eye and claim that you are only exercising your right to freedom of expression, and then groan and moan when those insulted strike at you?

Surely no leader would want on his or her hands, the blood of those who have died because they were gunned down for drawing blasphemous cartoons deliberately  intended to offend religious sensibilities.

Freedom of expression is not a license to insult anyone and everyone. You may claim to be an “equal-opportunity insulter” and an entire nation may mourn for your loss but does that make you a hero?

Today’s worlds are interconnected. A butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world, it has been claimed, can affect the weather in another part of the world.

Despite past criticism from the White House and from the French foreign minister, those behind the publication in question have persisted in continuing with their poke-in-the-eye, xenophobic approach.

The result is carnage, a national tragedy.

If leaders continue to live in a vacuum and choose to deliberately become cross-culturally insensitive and oblivious to the world around them, they have lost their sense of realism.

They have lost their right to lead.

Leadership is not just about executing what you have decided to do.

It’s also about preparing for the fallout of your actions.

And being accountable for it.

Extrinsic Change

A: I’m a hugely influential blogger. I’ve been involved in several successful pop-up projects and I’m currently crowdfunding a very exciting artisan venture!

B: Yeah, I can’t get a decent job either.

The dialog above in a cartoon I read in Private Eye really tickled me.

Individuals tend to twist facts to put themselves in better light. Words are the weapons of choice.

Organizations are equally guilty.

Take job titles.

There are no longer morticians or undertakers; they are now all called “funeral directors.”

Garbage men are now referred to as “sanitation engineers.”

Most unemployed call themselves “consultants.”

“Guru” or “master” is often a synonym for “charlatan.”

Some titles are just meaningless and way too funny to be taken seriously – such as one I came across recently: Influencer Relations Director.

Years ago, I worked for an organization flooded with “Regional Vice Presidents” – a fancy title bestowed on those in charge of “business development.” Translation: sales people who make cold calls, knock on doors and pound the pavement trying to sell to the gullible.

Nowadays people don’t lie anymore, they are “economical with actuality.” When Hillary Clinton was caught fibbing, she said she was “mis-speaking.”

When companies say things like “We have entered into multiple mergers within the last 12 months” most likely it means “The idiots who run this company are unable to grow it organically.”

When a company press release says “The CEO’s and CFO’s compensation is more highly weighted toward incentive compensation than base compensation” the truth is probably “Management is ignoring long-term sustainability in favor of short-term gain.”

When annual reports say that “A repurchase of company stock has taken place in the last 12 months” it simply means “Management boosted the share price via a buy-back rather than improving operations.”

Outside the corporate world, prostitutes are known as “personal services providers” and housewives refer to themselves as “domestic engineers.”

Cockpits in airplanes are now called “flight decks” and “runways” are actually catwalks where fashion models sashay. Planes don’t land, they make “final approaches” (how morbid!) and passengers don’t get off airplanes – they “deplane.”

There are no floods, only “ponding.”

People who go to casinos are not gambling, they are “gaming.”

Second-hand goods are referred to as “pre-loved” and in reality it means they have been used and are probably in bad shape and the original owners are hoping that they can sell them off to some suckers.

The term “senior citizens” refers to old people. They may not even be citizens.

Those “downsized” or “rightsized” are employees who have been fired.

“Voluptuous” or “curvy” simply means “fat.” No two ways about it. Fat is fat no matter how you put it.

A “pre-emptive strike” is simply an “unprovoked attack.”

“We are working on our inventory/stocks” usually means “we have no funds to purchase goods to sell” or even “the stocks we brag about do not exist.”

Some of these word changes are harmless but when truth is twisted, then things become a lot more insidious.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques” means “torture.”

Real estate agents are good with words, or rather, with playing with words.

“Convenient location” could mean that the house is located in a busy area, near a major intersection or thoroughfare, or close to bars and nightclubs. All of that means noise.

“Charming, vintage charm” means the house is old and in need of repair or modernizing. It has probably never been repaired since day one.

And this one should ring an alarm bell – the word “cozy” or “SOHO” (Small Office Home Office). It means the house or apartment is very small, probably the size of a closet.

Consumers, however, seemed easily hoodwinked.

For instance, it is practically impossible to grow back lost hair, yet, Singapore’s consumer watchdog has received 15 complaints against a hair-restoration outfit named Beijing 101 so far this year.

This includes the one made by a 75-year-old woman who walked into the place, enticed by a free S$50 voucher. In the end she was pressured into signing a S$15,600 “package.” Greed for 50 bucks turned into a massive loss of 15,000 bucks. Merchants prey on that greed. Everybody wants something for nothing. In the end, they got swindled. If something is too good to be true, it usually is.

Most of the complaints about Beijing 101 were about its hard-sell tactics to persuade consumers to buy more hair-related packages, said CASE (Consumers Association of Singapore.)

In fact, Beijing 101 and other similar outfits such as spas and beauty salons receive lots of complaints for misleading advertising and for high-pressure sales tactics.

Apart from Minoxidil which works extremely slowly and is effective only with very few people, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can make a person grow back hair that he or she has lost, no matter what the advertisements says.

Yet people are so gullible.

All the more reason we should be wary of the power of words.

And more crucially, we should be careful how we use words ourselves.

Extrinsic Change

IBM’s “roadmap” – its stated lofty intent to deliver US$20 per share in earnings come hell or high water by 2015 is clearly in trouble. IBM has just abandoned its roadmap.

The way I see it, soon, IBM will suffer yet another near-death experience.

The way some corporations operate, it is a marvel how they haven’t collapsed already.

Huge dinosaurs roamed the earth at one time, but they weren’t nimble and fast, they survived based on sheer might and size – their brains were tiny – and soon they too all perished.

Indeed I often wonder how some corporations can survive the passage of time.

Take Ericsson for example; though official appointed “regional supplier” for its leadership and management development programs, internal problems mired within Ericsson has prevented the Swedish corporation from awarding me any business so far.

I am only “regional supplier” in name only.

People at the helm of institutionally short-termist corporations often fail to grasp the endless damage they inflict on themselves and their corporations by the way they interact with others.

Often, the self-flagellation is not their personal fault. They are just pawns and cogs in mammoth, bloated bureaucracy the machinations of which they have little control.

The first victims are often those they should be nice to.

Ginni Rometty, Chairman and CEO of IBM has not been able to articulate a convincing reason why the colossal corporate behemoth she heads has to abandon its roadmap. Meanwhile, typical of IBM culture, deadwood and hangers-on continue to rely on internal relationships and networking to cruise in the organization. I am reminded of the Malcolm Muggeridge saying that only dead fish swim with the stream. Look at IBM today, all the good, talented people are gone, most of those who are still there survive by riding the coattails of their “godfathers” and hiding in the highly matrix organization, just as they have been doing for years.

Serena Marriott, Ericsson’s Head of Learning & Development – South East Asia & Oceania, has so far not been able to come up with a cohesive explanation of how their internal complications have transformed Ericsson into a failed corporation in the eyes of their external business partners and stakeholders like me. When I expressed my dissatisfaction all she said was “I have already made our APAC Head of Sourcing, Rocky Varbaro aware of your feedback and you are welcome to contact my manager, the global Head of Learning & Development, should you feel the need. I will forward your mail to him. His name is Bradley Samargya.” What an easy way to problem-solve – just pass the buck! Is this how some people continue to stay secure in their jobs?

All multinationals – oh, by the way, now they all want to be known as “globally integrated corporations” – claim to be big advocates of transparency.

How many actually walk the talk?

Transparency describes the extent to which a corporation’s actions are observable by outsiders. From the perspective of those not in the corporation’s inner sanctum, transparency is simply the perceived quality of intentionally shared information from the corporation.

There must be increased transparency and accountability, not just for overstuffed corporations like IBM and Ericsson but for everyone. Cover-ups and lies should not be part of your life. What a terrible burden it must be to live a lie. The world is a small place, imagine what happens when an IBMer meets Ginni Rometty face to face, what can she say that is not gibberish, what can she say without sounding condescending? Imagine when I see Serena Marriott in person –  has she, with a job title longer than her name, what it takes to look me in the eye and admit that her corporation’s internal quagmire has caused her to fail her business associates in a most dismal way?

Has it ever occurred to leaders to put themselves in the shoes of the other parties?

Corporate leaders must be called to answer for broken promises. They didn’t get fancy job titles to impress their neighbors’ three-year-old kids.

Extrinsic Change

Some time ago, China and the UK signed a joint declaration to return Hong Kong to China in the year 1977 under the so-called “one country, two systems” formula.

It was agreed that the territory would retain its capitalist economy but would become part of communist China.

“Hong Kong has always been part of China,” said Lord Powell recently. Powell served as a key foreign policy advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s. He said political rights in Hong Kong were always going to be limited.

“We rented it for a while and we didn’t introduce democracy… and one reason we didn’t is because we knew it was eventually going back to China and it would have been far worse to introduce full democracy and then taken it away from them.”

Lord Powell also said pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong are “unrealistic” and should enjoy the freedoms they already have.

Why did Lord Powell say what he said?

Well, Hong Kong did not have a democratic system for 150 years under British rule. London picked the governors. Hong Kong people had no say. Each governor came complete with that ridiculous huge white plume helmet that has been part of the ceremonial garb of Hong Kong’s British governors since the 19th century. (Well, the last governor George Patten was sensible enough to abandon that absurd outfit.)

The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 made no mention of universal suffrage, (the right of all adults to vote in political elections) and because China promised universal suffrage, today, the people in Hong Kong have more than what they ever had under the British. This is the point of view of people like Lord Powell.

So if there’s going to be universal suffrage, what drove protestors into the streets then?

A bit of explanatory background is in order: Hong Kong was handed back to China on July 1st, 1997. Under China’s principle of “one country, two systems” Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs, for 50 years. Its leader, the chief executive, is elected by a 1,200-member pro-Beijing election committee. However, China has guaranteed that ultimately the chief executive will be elected “by universal suffrage” – something the British never countenanced. (Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, China has promised direct elections for the chief executive in 2017.)

Now China says that this will NOT happen. On Aug 31st, 2014, China’s top legislative body – the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee – unanimously passed a resolution stating that Hong Kong residents will have to choose only candidates who must first be vetted by the government in Beijing. These candidates must be those deemed by Beijing to be suitably “patriotic” and must “love China.” This resolution effectively gives Beijing the ability to screen out candidates and accepts only those puppets it approves of.

It all sounds like a sham alright. China’s own version of universal suffrage.

In response, demonstrators took to the streets. They are dead against China vetting the candidates.

I don’t intend to debate Lord Powell or to discuss if the protestors are being foolish or are wasting their time.

My focus is on China’s change of mind.

China – and any organization for that matter – has to do a better job of explaining its position each time it decides to make a change.

How change is being “sold” to those impacted is critical.

Change not only will impact people’s lives; people’s perception of the change can alter their views about things.

Their views about things can result in their decision to take action.

No government, especially those claiming to be democratic or have the people’s best interest at heart can just arbitrarily change tune and expect people to just suck it up without question.

Last time I checked, China’s official name is “People’s Republic of China.”

(And Hong Kong’s official status is that it is a SAR – Self Administrative Region.”)

China cannot claim to be a people’s republic if a bunch of buffoon-like, uncouth, phlegm-clearing, loud-spitting octogenarians tittering on the brink of death, yet vain enough to dye their hair black, acts like bullies and just shove things down people’s throats.

All too often I’ve see leaders making the same mistake – they think they have every right to just make a change and expect those under them to just swallow the change, hook, line and sinker.

No consultation. No discussion. “My way or the highway” mentality.

In my grandfather’s time, they were resigned to say “Ours is not to question why, ours is to do and die” ala Tennyson.

Not anymore.

How do you sell change?

If you don’t consult and don’t believe in discussions, and don’t manage perceptions and expectations, you’ll end up with a mutiny or a riot.

Which is exactly what’s happening in Hong Kong now.

A word to the protestors: I admire your courage and lack of political apathy. I look at the politically-lethargic youth in my own country and I can’t help but take my hat off to you. You are the world’s most disciplined and well-behaved protestors. You’ve made your point, now please move on. You may not have gotten the outcomes you’ve wanted but the reality of having to put food on the table can turn your sympathizers against you if continuous blockages threaten their livelihoods or access to medical care. You are not the things that happen to you. Experiencing a loss doesn’t make you a loser. You are already a winner beyond measure and the world salutes you. You have made those thick-headed old men in Beijing wake up from their slumber. Sure, it could always be better, but it could always be worse.

Remember Tiananmen! If you die your dream dies with you without being realized. If you live, you can always come back to fight another day, to create a desired future.

Extrinsic Change

Last month, Singapore’s Prime Minister mentioned that Southwest District mayor while investigating why a walkway in the district had not been cleaned, found out that three different agencies managed three different parts of the walkway.

A fishball stick had fallen on the roadside to the right, which was cleaned every two days.

The stick was left there for two days and the poor mayor was driven from pillar to post trying to fix the problem!

So to avoid further such fiascos, a Municipal Services Office will be set up to get different public agencies to work more closely together, the Prime Minister announced.

He welcomed the setting up of such a central office, which he saw as a “cockpit” from which to ensure that nothing falls through the gaps.

All well and good.

My question, however, is “Since the fishball stick fell on a busy thoroughfare, and though just a little stick, it was obviously noticed by passerbys – at least one had actually bothered to contact the authorities to have it removed – why didn’t somebody just pick it up and throw it into the rubbish bin?”

It is important to have interagency efficiency and whilst it may be the government’s métier to continue to bloat its bureaucracy is the solution now to create yet another agency?

How about putting more efforts to educate the public to develop a better sense of civic mindedness?

It is important to make the most important thing the most important thing!

Isn’t picking up the stick and throwing it away a whole lot easier than picking up the phone and trying to get the mayor to contact various government bodies to request them to remove the stick?

The government should not spoil citizens by creating agency after agency to do their bidding.

Extrinsic Change

Last month I was contacted by an acquaintance who works as a general manager of an insurance company in Malaysia.

He wanted me to conduct a half-day leadership workshop for his company. Let’s call this company, Company A.

He also demanded a commission of 25% of my fee.

But that wasn’t all. The entire event, he said, will be sponsored by another organization and that organization – let’s call it Company B – has instructed that I bill it (Company B) directly.

But there was a catch.

Company B wanted me to bill 25,000 Malaysian Ringgit as my fee.

Out of the 25,000 MYR, I was told to keep 12,000 MYR for myself and return 13,000 MYR. (Yup, Company B was dictating how much my “real”  fee should be.)

(And remember, my acquaintance was insisting that he be given 25% out of that 12,000 MYR.)

If you do the Math I will end up only with 9,000 MYR, which is about 3,500 Singapore dollars, an amount way below what I normally charge.

A total of 16,000 MYR would be pocketed by two other persons who do nothing to earn it.

I would be the sucker doing the work.

How audacious and greedy can some people be? Most robberies occur when there’s a gun and a mask somewhere. These two persons are worse than highway bandits.

Being a Singaporean, living in Singapore which is the 5th least corrupt country in the world, compared to Malaysia which is the world’s 53rd corrupt country, I turned down the work.

(For more information on the ranking, please refer to Transparency International’s website.)

In another study, Malaysia has been ranked as one of the most corrupt nations and listed as a country which is most likely to take shortcuts to meet targets when economic times are tough.

Indeed, Malaysia, along with China, has the highest levels of bribery and corruption anywhere in the world, according to Ernst & Young’s latest report, Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey Report Series 2013.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib has staked his premiership on six NKRA (National Key Result Areas), of which “Reducing Corruption” was one of the most important.

Looks like the country has a long way to go.

There has been corruption since the beginning of time and it’s not going to go away, especially in countries where corruption is a way of life and considered a part of the culture. So, there cannot be one solution for all types of corruption.

Making it easy to report corruption, protecting whistle blowers and meting out harsh penalties are some deterrents and I applaud China for handing out death sentences for corruption. Nearly 63,000 officials in China have been punished and almost 70 officials under investigation have committed suicide.

As an individual, my anti-corruption strategy is to simply avoid incentivizing people who refer work to me.

It’s a small step, but it’s my way of saying “no” to corruption.

I believe that in this day and age, one can still be successful through sincere effort, without resorting to bribing others to get business.

No need for Faustian pacts of any kind to make an honest living.

Extrinsic Change

Dov Charney, who founded American Apparel, a clothing retailer known for its racy ads, used to strut around in his office in his underwear. Not only that, he once masturbated several times in front of a journalist; was hit with numerous sexual harassment law suits and was constantly bragging about his sexual adventures.

The board finally gave him the boot.

Rolf Harris, entertainer of children, was earlier this month sentenced to nearly six years jail for being a pedophile. He was convicted of 12 charges of indecent assault. The law finally caught up with him – Harris is 84.

He wasn’t the only child entertainer who succumbed to the dark side. Harris was snagged as part of Operation Yewtree, a Scotland Yard investigation into sexual abuse allegations, predominantly the abuse of children, against the British media personality Jimmy Savile and his immoral company of merry, lascivious men.

In the meantime, there is now emerging evidence that at least 20 or more prominent figures in the UK – including former Members of Parliament and government ministers – had abused children for “decades.”

Is it me, or as each day goes by is it getting harder to tell the difference between the queen’s honors list and the sex offenders register?

And please don’t get me started on Catholic priests.

In the US, renowned child entertainer Pee-wee Herman was arrested in 1991 for committing an obscene act in public.

Closer to home, it is believed that an ex-Indonesian president was once the potential target of blackmail when the Russians threatened to publicly show videos of him having sex with swallows (female spies) sent to seduce him; the plot failed when the said president asked for copies of the video so his citizens can view him in action. His “virility” will win him hearts and minds – and presumably votes – he claimed.

Too often the world accepts the idea that boys will be boys, men will be men, and that the most successful and dynamic ones are also the most sexually driven and the most lecherous and lustful.

So we shrug and look the other way.

Think Bill Clinton. After a lame attempt at impeachment, Clinton got away scot-free.

But this is nonsense.

We cannot and we should not look the other way.

There are a lot of people whose peccadilloes we are prepared to overlook simply because of who they are.

We cannot take certain beliefs as given and accept behavior which are simply not right.

We assume that most discerning adults can make out right from wrong, but that’s a risky assumption to make nowadays.

What is right and what is wrong is often something difficult to pin down in these days that seem to proliferate with easily-confused people.

I am reminded of the National Library Board’s decision this past week to remove three children books that it considered not pro-family. (Note: the books are not banned, the Board merely withdrawn them from its children’s section.)

The backlash was fast and furious. To protest, some local writers boycotted the Board’s events.

They chose to ignore the fact that one of the books, And Tango Makes Three, has been among the most banned books in public libraries and schools across the United States, which has long been known to be an open and liberal Western society, a “Seventh Heaven” many so-called “open-minded” Singaporeans are hoping that Singapore will emulate or become.

Many seem to forget that as a statutory board, the role of the National Library Board has to be consistent with the Government’s stance on the family, which, to paraphrase Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is made up of one man and one woman raising children together. Critics also seem to conveniently overlook the fact that the Board’s adult collection does contain titles with homosexual themes and its collection policy does not exclude materials on “alternative lifestyles.”

Indeed what is right and what is wrong? Or do some people deliberately choose to leave their blinkers on?

I was flabbergasted to read that on July 13th two young mothers had organized an event for children outside the National Library in defiance of the Board’s decision; they intentionally made sure that those three books were there for all to read. One of them even set up a Facebook page, Singapore’s Parents Against Library Censorship, to express her disapproval of the Board’s decision to remove the children’s titles. Completely missing the point, she declared to the press “I want my daughter to know that every family is valid, and not to feel sorry for people whose families are different from her own.” Yeah, right, I’m sure her daughter, who’s a five-month old infant, can understand all that.

Indeed, sadly, we can no longer assume that all adults are able to exercise discernment.

Take the case of Buddhist monks in Myanmar.

Do they have too much time on their hands or what? Is the saying that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop really true?

One would think of Buddhist monks as silent, low-profile religious men of the cloth, going about what they do quietly. (I am referring to the real ones, not those fake ones from China who fly all over the world begging for money. I’ve just read that they have now invaded New York City as well.)

But in Myanmar, some Buddhist monks are busy going around killing people or provoking their devotees to commit murder.

There is a gang of monks who call themselves the “969”, after the nine virtues of Buddha, the six elements of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the clergy. The 969 are consumed with hatred for Myanmar’s Muslims, who make up 5 per cent of the population. Nearly 200,000 have been driven from their homes. For Myanmese Muslims, the numbers 969 – which jump out at them from brightly colored stickers in shops and taxis – are as menacing as the swastika for Jews. In March, Buddhists set fire to an Islamic boarding school in central Myanmar. Twenty-four students and teachers were killed; a boy was decapitated; police stood by while onlookers applauded.

In fact, despite Myanmar’s supposed opening, internal strife is as vicious as ever – more than 250 people have been killed since June 2012. Most of the victims have been members of Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Buddhists, many of them wielding knives, clubs and bamboo poles, threatened to kill Muslims again as they rode on motorcycles through Myanmar’s second-largest city of Mandalay on July 4th.

“We’re going to kill all the Muslims,” some shouted as they rode through the streets.

An innocent Muslim man was killed, beaten to death on his way to morning prayers.

The increasing violence against Muslims is widely attributed to the acceptance by Myanmese authorities of a rogue monk named Sayadaw Wirathu, the vile preacher who leads the 969 monks, who calls himself “the Myanmese bin Laden.”

Even Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent to this day on the killing of her Muslim countrymen.

Who knows what cataclysm could be averted if the Myanmese authorities and Aung San Suu Kyi could see what is right and what is wrong and assert their moral authority?

When those with influence lack discernment or judgment and look the other way, bad situations will only exacerbate.

“Every religion can be twisted into a destructive force poisoned by ideas that are antithetical to its foundations. Now it’s Buddhism’s turn,” declared TIME magazine.

I can’t agree more.

I’m not here to debate if TIME is correct or incorrect. It is also not my intention here to attempt an explanation of why people turn evil. I am also not here to make a stand for or against homosexuality.

The point I want to make now is this – the world must change its attitude and stop looking the other way, stop accepting what is abnormal as normal, when the facts before us are abundantly clear in revealing to us what is obviously right and what is obviously wrong.

As I write this, Martin Niemöller’s poem comes to mind:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a pastor and his poem was about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

It has never lost its relevance.

It is a poem we should all reflect on from time to time.

Extrinsic Change