Monday, October 24, 2016

How is he my Enemy?

You have to hand it to the Americans but nobody else does showmanship the way they can. As an example of the American ability to put on a good show, one need look further than the current presidential election, where the two most reviled presidential candidates of all time have managed to make this the most watched election of all time. It’s an election where a wooden and uninspiring candidate in the shape of former first lady, Hillary Clinton has managed to have every one of her reported sins ignored by the media because her opponent is far more effective at getting free publicity.

Donald Trump, the property developer, reality TV host and now Republican Party presidential candidate has a magical ability to compel journalist to write down everything he says. His magic comes from his ability to make being downright unpleasant into something that’s almost trendy. He’s done so by stoking the fears of a group that once took being at the top of the social tree for granted (white men) by attacking everyone else, namely women, the educated and migrants.

Mr. Trump has been very good at stirring up the worst in a decent people. He’s used lies and made up facts and turned it into a jingoistic call of the average working man. The Economist described Mr. Trump as having made fact and fact checking him a form of snobbery. Mr. Trump has unfortunately been particularly successful at winding up people against one particular group – Migrants, whether they be Mexican (bunch of rapist) and Muslims (ban the lot from entering the USA).

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is merely a very successful jingoistic charlatan who has plays of the fears of the unknown. Europe (the half of the West) as seeing a rise of Far-Right Nationalist like the National Front in France. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and arguably the most powerful woman in the world has recently taken a beating in the polls because she decided to open the country up to migrants from Syria. The Japanese in the mean-time struggle with an aging population and stagnation because it seems better than opening up the country to migrants.

The arguments against migrants is simple – we’ve heard the lot before. You have things like, migrants come over here and steal jobs from hard working local people and sponge of us the hard-working tax payers. Migrants are accused of committing crimes; they’ll robe and rape you the moment you give them a chance. If a migrant works in the shit, our natives will inevitably turn up their noses and tell you that its inevitably better than what they came from. If the migrants happen to be Muslim, they’ll tell you that letting them in is like welcoming Al-Qaeda through the back door.

I hear these arguments and I shudder. I worry when friends of mine give these arguments credence. In a funny way, I should be a champion for people like Mr. Trump and his global brethren. Statistically, I match Mr. Trump’s audience. I am the Singaporean version of a white male displaced by globalization in America and Europe. I am the only Singaporean Chinese man with a graduate degree waiting tables in my 40s when people my age from elsewhere are taking up “plum” and glamorous jobs. I should be angry at the Indians and Pinoys who have marched in here to take the jobs that were supposed to be mine.

Yet, I don’t feel angry. I can’t bring myself to feel anger against the Filipino customer service officer at the bank or the Indian IT programmer. I can’t bring myself to feel angry at them – if anything, I get angry with the natives to speak with righteous anger against them.

I look at my blue-collar persona and the people who have made up my world in that sphere. I’ve had the usual human interactions with my Pinoy waiters and Indian cooks. I know these guys. We go through a restaurant seating together and we then have a good laugh after work is done. In some cases, I get to know their families as well.

I ask myself, how is it that people like Mr. Trump have figured out that the people like my work colleagues in my night job are the enemy? They put in their sweat and toil to ensure that people like Mr. Trump and his followers have a good meal when they come into the restaurant. They mind their own business after the service is over. I want to understand how my colleagues and friends are “my enemy.”

It extends beyond my collar persona too. I think of the days when I was a free-lancer. My clients, namely the people who were willing to take a chance on me, where inevitably from elsewhere. I ask myself, how is the Indian National Banker my enemy? If anything, the presence of the Indian National banker provided me with a business opportunity that might never have existed. The message of people like Mr. Trump fails to resonate with me because I keep looking at the people I know in my daily life and I keep asking myself, “What is it about these people that makes them my enemy?”
Let’s look on the national scale. How are Mexican immigrants picking fruit in California the enemy of local Americans? While I don’t deny Mexicans in America or Algerians in France or Turks in Germany or PRC Chinese in Singapore and Hong Kong commit crimes, anyone will tell you that on the whole, the migrants are law abiding and hard working. They perform a necessary role in comfortable society by doing the uncomfortable. 

Whenever someone looks at me and tells me that migrants are the enemy, I am tempted to grab hold of them and to get them to point to random bloke in the street who happens to look foreign and ask them how that person is my enemy.

Mr. Trump and his brethren around the world can make good speeches by talking about how certain communities are the enemy. I have yet to hear one of them point at people like my work colleagues and explain to me how they are the enemy in a compelling and sane way. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Defense of the D****

One of my favourite comic characters of all time is "Wicked Willie," a talking penis who happens to have a very close and friendly relationship with the man that he happens to be attached too. Like all good sibling relationships, Willie and Man argue, commiserate and enjoy life together.

I think of this comic strip when I'm with my guy friends because there's much truth expressed about the relationship between man and his penis. Men have a strange bond with their penises that women simply don't have with their vagina's. If you observe popular culture, you will notice that men give their pricks pet names, talk about the things that their pricks can do and generally worry about it. Most of all, we are always obsessed with the size of our prick. By contrast, women don't seem to care much for their vagina's. While boys spend their days talking about the size of their pricks, women seem to have utterly no interest in their vagina's unless they have a yeast infection, its the time of the month or when they concede to have sex.

Man as a species has been screwed by his prick on plenty of occasions. We are, as I suspect and many women might be inclined to agree," tied to our pricks to the point that we are obsessed with the size and functionality of the "wrong head." I challenge any man reading this to deny that he's never allowed the head between the legs to overrule the head on the shoulders.

I have to admit that I am guilty of letting my small head think for me. I only have to think of the countless occasions when I've agreed to do something (usually spending money I know I don't really have) because I've wanted to impress a girl that I was hoping to go to bed with.

My only defense when it comes to thinking with the small head instead of the big one, is that I am not alone. Singapore is populated by highly educated (we're talking about top 10 global university league), highly successful (head of department in MNC level) executives who have discovered a compulsive instinct to give away half their monthly salary to village girls from third world countries all because of the need for sex (The expat will proudly proclaim that the girl adores him and his p*** and then you'll realise that the only word of his language that she speaks is "you give me money now.")

One only needs to think of that wonderful retort by Judi Dench playing M in the movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." She's told by an admiral, "You don't have the balls for this." She replies, "I don't think with them."

 Men are proud of their pricks. At one stage in life, having a prick meant that you'd be king of the world. As a friend of mine says, "Sticking it into someone never sounds as bad as having someone stick it into you." We always assume that the prick gives the man to the dominant one during the sexual or that most primal of acts.

Unfortunately, technology has become such that brute power is being reduced to rubble. Men, who have the advantage in terms of brute power are being increasingly sidelined, while women who don't have an additional head to interfere with the decision process have prospered in the modern world.

Feminist are getting increasingly smug about this. They'll remind you that because they don't have dicks, women are not inclined to go for brutal combat activities like war. They don't need to show off their toys and they just get on with the business of whatever they were supposed to be getting on with.

So, you'd think that the dick is now going to go the way of the dinosaur. Whereas having a dick was once considered something to be proud of, it's now become and handicap and we, the male of the species are destined to spend the rest of our lives doing nothing much except waiting for the day when some random woman decides to have a bit of fun (apparently gladiators in Ancient Rome were occasionally used for the purpose of pleasuring Roman women of high standing.)

I don't like to believe that the dick is destined to go the way of the dinosaur. I believe that there are moments in life where dicks can do things for society and using your dick to make decisions from time to time isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This point was brought to me by a White American Jew a few weeks back when we were having drinks. We found that we had a sweet spot - we were both eyeing up the same type of women regardless of race, language or religion. At some point during the conversation, he declared that,"My dicks isn't racist."

That thought was being basic at its best. I guess you could say that this is the revenge of the average guy on a society that insist that you need to be ultra brainy and ultra good at thinking with the big head on the shoulders. There are times when the little head has a point.

Let's look at it this way, everybody has the same physical anatomy. Men have their penises and women have breast and a vagina. Sex basically involves a penis entering a vagina. The pleasure that both parties are supposed to feel during this most basic of acts comes from a host of other psychological factors.

When the big head is involved in the process of sex, people find themselves getting into all sorts of factors. For men it's usually things like; is she pretty? Does she scream loudly in bed. Women get a bit more complicated; is rich, does have a career, will he like kids etc etc.

Some of the big head's concerns are valid. For example, if a man likes kids, a woman's maternal instincts. If he's successful, it's going to be turn on because it means he can provide.

However, the big head is often prone to overthinking, which can be bad in that it stops any action. I go back to the original Wicked Willie series when man asks a half naked girl, "Do you love me or do you love me because I am a millionaire." Willie's advice is,"Who cares"

Stopping an act through overthinking is a very mild sin of the big head. The big head often has a habit of developing ideas of its own, which aren't necessarily correct or beneficial to anyone except the big head.

Let's look at the various ism's like racism, sexism, ageism and so on. These are inventions of the big head that has decided that it needs to classify people by all sorts of categories to make itself feel superior. The big head also has a habit of trying to get uppity about its own creations. Think of the Donald Trump voters who are being told that Mexicans are rapist and crooks who are stealing their jobs. This isn't true, the Mexicans in America are merely doing the jobs at the Trump supporters wouldn't do for love or money but this is not something that the big head on the shoulders of Trump supporters want to believe in so the big head keeps stroking up all sorts of funny thoughts which are ultimately not very funny when they are put into practice (it;'s funny to make racist jokes, it's less funny to be beaten up because some twat doesn't think you're good enough to be in his neighborhood because of your colour.)

The small head doesn't get complicated. It just ask if you find the woman hot and if you want to go to bed with her. At that point you act. The small head cannot not be bothered with the imaginary benefits of having an ism. It merely ask if you want something and then gets you to work towards it. Things are reduced to their most basic and life sometimes becomes much easier when things are at their most basic.

So, there are times when the small head should be allowed to dominate the decision making process. Would Brexit have taken place if the English used their small head. Hard to think of any right swinging Englishman voting to keep out good looking chicks from the rest of Europe. Hillbillies might be less inclined to vote for Trump and his wall if they understood that this was going to keep away the good looking Latina babes.

You shouldn't use the small head to do the majority of the thinking. However, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen to it. There are times when following the small head can lead to interesting things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Should the Government Do?

The Singapore Government is generally regarded as an exceedingly efficient and effective organisation. If you ask anyone who has lived in Singapore for any length of time, they'll testify to how well thought out everything in Singapore seems to be and they will undoubtedly give credit to the one organisation that is everywhere - the government. To it's fans, the Singapore government can achieve just about everything possible.

There is, however, an exception. That failure lies in its ability to produce "world-class" people. While we may be the perpetual "Asia-Pac" and "Global" hub for huge corporations, we have yet to produce a Nobel Prize winner, a readable author, a noteworthy film director, actors who can be watched outside MediaCorp's direction and an Olympic Athlete. At best, we only seem able to brag about the people from elsewhere who want to live here. Much as I might get "flamed" by the online crowd, the truth of the matter is that we need the so called expats to come here and run the show.

This issue has been bugging the heck out of the Singapore Government. In its usual fashion, the government has convened the usual gathering of experts and set up an array of programs to throw various sums of money at any aspiring artiste or athlete. The closest we came to getting "world class" winners was when we hired a few young ladies from China, who promptly won a few bronze medals and a silver (against their fellow Chinese who stayed with the motherland) and once they collected the money, they went home to China. The government got to bask in some glory and the public had a field day bitching about how we, the tax paying public, were being screwed by our government that was being screwed by ungrateful bitches from China (for the record, in Singapore it's acceptable to be screwed by White People but totally unacceptable to be screwed by anyone darker than a shade of pink.)

This happy scenario has changed recently thanks to Mr. Joseph Schooling, who won our first-ever gold medal at the recently concluded Rio Olympic Games. Not only did Mr. Schooling win the gold, he did it in style by beating the greatest swimmer ever (Michael Phelps) and breaking the Olympic Record. The government was quick to jump on Mr. Schooling's success and the gold was celebrated by a full house of parliament.

As usual, the online media had a field day bitching about how the government had nothing to do with Mr. Schooling's success and that somehow it was a shame for the rest of us to get involved with celebrating this new champion. The government, in its efforts to do the right thing by the people is now scrambling to do what it can do to make more champions.

Let's take a step back and ask ourselves if this is actually necessary. Why is the government on a mission to produce Olympic champions or artiste or even Nobel prize winners? Is this even the business of the government.

I don't believe it is the business of any government to get into the business of trying to help produce Olympic Champions or any form of artiste or Nobel Prize winners. If you study the track record of governments trying to select "winners," you'll find that they are very bad at doing so. Sure, the Soviet Union and it's Satellite states produced plenty of Olympic Champions but the human costs were high - one only has to look at the cancer and sex change statistics of the old East Germany which came from athletes who had been pumped up with steroids beyond any healthy level. The Soviet Union did produce plenty of artiste, but all of them made it a point to defect the moment they had the chance and all of them took the first chance they could to hit back at the state that screwed them.

If you take Joseph Schooling as an example, you will realise that he's the product of success despite the state. His story echoes plenty of the success stories of other professional athletes in the West and of artiste who made it big - his parents had faith that he had a particular talent and took the socio-economic risk of downgrading their home to be able to send him to the USA so that he could get the training he needed (think of Leopold Mozart who gave up everything to ensure Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could become the Mozart or how Mike Agasi who drilled tennis into young Andre).

The Schoolings took the risk that young Joseph would succeed and thankfully they're faith has been repaid. The state has given Joseph enough prize money to make up for the money his parents spent and nobody should deny Joseph a penny of the endorsement deal that he's just signed with Nike.

However, the key point here is that the Schooling family took a risk. There was nothing to guarantee that young Joseph would ever achieve the success that he's just achieved. The nature of professional sports or art or science is that only the very few succeed. Most of the people in these fields struggle just to have a glimpse of the "Middle Time." We all look at the massive million dollar salaries that movie stars make but nobody looks at the fact that every waiter in LA is an "actor" waiting tables while waiting for his or her big break.

The truth of the matter is that you got to be something of a risk taker if you want to be in sport or an artiste. You got to have hunger to succeed in fields where the odds of basic survival are non existent. 
Entrepreneurship is about believing and creating things that are unlikely to come to pass.

Governments, including the Singapore government are by their very nature designed to work for the masses. Governments measure success by the "overall" statistic and not by any particular record or instance of brilliance. Governments will always talk about GDP figures rather than individual fortunes. The success of an education system is based on literacy rates and not on individual prizes.  
The Singapore Government has done a brilliant job at this and to deviate from this approach would be damaging to society. It's like asking a lion to adapt a vegetarian diet. 

Alternatively, Singaporeans should ask themselves if they are prepared to pay the costs of less equality. In the USA, you have the best universities in the world. You have more Nobel Prize winners and you have more great contemporary artiste than anywhere else. Yet, you have a school system (especially in the inner cities) where kids can't read after nine years of formal education. We have less brilliance than the USA but all but our most mentally impaired can communicate in more than one language and even the most dense can count. 

To a certain extent, the government can play a part by building infrastructure (more labs, more swimming pools etc etc). New Zealand does a brilliant job in ensuring that the All Blacks will never be lacking in basic facilities. However, beyond that, its not the job of government to "nurture" winners in sport, art or science. At the most, governments can help create a culture where risk taking is less frowned upon but other than that, governments should stick to do what they do best. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Value in Leaving.....

Perhaps it was purely a coincidence but on the very evening that Singapore was celebrating it's first ever gold medal in the Olympics, I had a conversation with a young lady who mentioned that while Donald Trump may not have put things very eloquently, he had a point when he discussed immigration. Her point was simple, if a person is really valuable, a country would not let him go - the Mexicans who are leaving to America were the drug dealers and rapist.

I bit my lip because she was young and trying to the plaything of a friend of mine. However, its something we should look at especially in light of Singapore's first ever gold medal winner. Mr. Joseph Schooling at the age of 21 is the living example of what every person in the world should be - mobile.

Let me state for the record that I am often guilty of parochial xenophobia. While I spent a good portion of my life as an expat kid (thanks to my stepfather's job), I've returned to Singapore, the land of my birth, wondering and refusing to understand local sentiments about race and geographical treatments. Contrary to what my fellow Asians might believe, being someone's colony is something to be proud of.

Having said all of that, I actually believe that migration and mobility are actually good for the human condition. Staying in one place and mixing only with your own kind is unnatural and bad for you. Whatever, I may have said about the expatriate community, you have to give them points for getting out of their homelands to raise themselves up the corporate ladder. Moving shows that you have enough ambition to want to change your life. As a friend of mine often reminded me, "You can't blame the Ang Moh's (local Hokkien slang for red heads - reference to Caucasians in general) for wanting to move here. Would you rather stay and be an ordinary person or move to somewhere, where the people worship you?"

If I respect people at the higher end of the social scale for "moving" from their homeland in the expatriate class, I have nothing but admiration for the poor and unwashed masses who come in from poor, underdeveloped countries to wealthier nations to do shit work so that they can do right by their loved ones. It takes guts to move to place where you have nothing and are most likely to be spat on as part of a sport by the natives. It's tough enough going to work everyday to make a living. Now, imagine doing it when you are far away from every emotional support that you've ever had.

Migrants develop a certain sturdiness to them because they don't really have a choice. It's called "Make or break." They do the lousiest jobs that the natives would rather not do and contrary to what Donald Trump would tell you, they end up using less social services because they simply don't want to get into the radar of the authorities.

I don't deny that there are migrants who commit crimes (rape, murder, robbery etc) and I don't deny that because they are vulnerable, migrants can be easy prey for criminals, the migrant community throughout the world will usually be harder working and more law abiding than the locals.  

When I lived in the UK, the "Pakis," "Niggers" and "Rastas" were too busy doing things like running corner shops and driving mini-cabs, while the White Anglo-Saxon got drunk and begged you for small change. Walk down my old haunt in Soho and you'd find that the guy asking you for spare change was inevitably a native of the absent colour.

Now that I've moved to Singapore, I notice something similar. In the restaurant, I work alongside Pinoys, Koreans and Taiwanese, who simply want to earn their coin by working. By contrast, I have met too many local born Singaporeans who have simply decided that there's far more pride in asking for treats than in being seen to make a living in a lowly job.

The guys who move are the guys who make things happen in the country they move to. They are the guys who form better people-to-people ties between nations and cultures. Put it simply, every Indian expat and Indian worker who comes to Singapore, becomes a link between Singapore and India, a market that Singapore will need to be in.

I think of my friends in the Indian Expat community. There's Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon who is building "made in Asia" management talent. There's also Suresh Shankar of Crayon Data, who set up a data analytics firm in Singapore that got bought out by IBM and now, he's building another firm that will revolutionize how we choose things.

People like these gentlemen, have shown that the world is a big place. You don't need to be limited by geography for some antiquated vision of nationalism. Suresh for example, is taking advantage of Singapore's legal infrastructure and global reputation for stability and combining it with the large talent pool that is available in India. Modern technology allows you to do make the most of what various countries have to offer.

Which brings us back to Mr. Schooling, who was born here and raised here. This is home for him. Yet to further his ambitions, he had to be sent for further education in the USA, where he had access to the coaches and the facilities to bring him to where he is today.

Had Mr. Schooling not left Singapore and stayed here for the sake of being Singaporean etc etc, its unlikely he'd be able to do what he did for Singapore. He left Singapore and ended up bringing the type of value to Singapore that we had not been able to achieve despite the millions spent on trying to import talent from elsewhere.

Let's ditch ideas about what constitutes a good citizen based on birth. Let's look at what people do by their sweat and let's give people credit for taking chances in moving out of their comfort zone. Let's salute people like Mr. Schooling's parents who understood that opportunities are global and sent their son overseas so that he could win us glory on the international stage. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

A thought for National Day

It's Singapore's birthday today. As a nation, we will be getting together to celebrate 51-years since we were booted out of the Federation of Malaysia.

It's going to be quite a celebration and I believe it's something worth celebrating. Although I have my complaints, the nation I've chosen to call home for the last decade and a half has gotten much right despite the odds. It's worth remembering that we are celebrating an accident of history. The man who is credited for creating Singapore as a successful independent nation, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, started his political career by campaigning very hard for us to be a state within the Federation of Malaysia. Mr. Lee started out by arguing passionately that Singapore was too small to survive on its own and yet his greatest of success was proving that very idea wrong.

Perhaps it took fatherhood to make me realize it but Singapore has gotten the key things right. We may not be the hippest place around but we've got the basics right. We are what a nation should be. We are rich, clean and green. As a father of a teenage girl, I can't stop thanking my lucky stars that I live in a city where safety exists - I don't worry that something will happen to my little girl if goes out at night (not that she does - these days smart phones keep the kids at home).

Singapore is a great place to be in so many ways. As someone who was born in Singapore but raised in a small town in Southern England, I also found myself in a unique position in terms of East-West relations. I may have looked exotic in a sea of blonde and red heads but I was amazingly un-exotic in almost every other respect. I sometimes wonder if my classmates were disappointed that I wasn't a bit more exotic. I spoke English at home and my Dad didn't run a take away or a laundry mat. My Dad also shelled out for school fees that most ordinary English people won't have paid and he did so with money made in Singapore rather than through the generosity of some NGO that the school was running charity drives for so that we could help people in the third world.

If I look back at my life in the West, I think the most amazing thing that being born a Singaporean gave me, was a feeling that living in the West wasn't better than living where I came from. My parents sent me to England because they felt this was where I'd get the best education rather than we needed to move there because life was so much better there.

I do acknowledge the good in Singapore through the eyes of my wife, who comes from rural Vietnam and has experienced hunger (defined as not having enough food on the table). This place is paradise to her.

While there's much to be grateful for, I do think there are areas of Singapore that need to be changed. One of my pet peeves remains how we treat people who have come from developing Asia. Yes, Singapore isn't the worst place for people to be but there is something wrong when everyone in a well to do society doesn't seem to think its dreadful for people work at the princely rate of S$18 a day (12-hours) and not get paid for several months because ....hey its apparently better than what they're getting back home.

I recently felt this through a new friendship I've made with a Bangladeshi worker, who's trying to collect money owed to his brother his previous employer, who had been wound up by an order of court. I remembered agreeing to meet this worker in person. A few my colleagues were actually worried that something might happen to me.

Well, I did meet the man, who insisted on buying me tea. We spoke about his life in Singapore and he asked if I could help his brother find another job in Singapore. He was so touched that I actually came down to meet with him.

I find this unusual for a normal society. What do we have against treating other people like people, especially when they do all the hard work that we won't do.

I know people who feel differently, but as we celebrate years of incredible success, I do think that we need to find a way of remembering the people who did the hard lifting. 


Friday, August 05, 2016

Falling in love with your profession

I've been thinking of a way of making one of my biggest weaknesses on my CV into something of a strength, namely the fact that I've never really worked for a multinational (the closest being an internship in Citibank and two weeks at RappCollins) or the government (the exception being two and a half years in National Service and three months as a school teacher.)

I've thought of it and its tough because I live in a society where anyone with a brain cell would have made it a point of serving in either of these entities by the time they reach my age - the grand old age of 42 (well not quite until November) and they would be established in their careers. Normal people my age would be able to call themselves an "Industry" person.

Since I've not reached that stage in life, I think the approach should be to avoid it altogether and be grateful for what's not taken place. This is not to say that I don't have a skill that makes me marketable. I believe that more than a decade in PR and meeting the most socially diverse range of people I could ever imagine (street walker and jail birds to ambassadors and central bankers), I have enough people management skill to get me through most jobs.

What I mean by the blessing of not having "multinational" or "government" work experience, lies in the fact that I've never had the luxury of falling in love with a particular profession to the extent that I see everything in life through the prism of my chosen profession, which I believe is one of biggest failings of many working professionals. We become so involved in the "industry" where we build our "careers" than define our "lives."

I like to think that I've never fallen into that world view and I like to think that I've managed to stay human and therefore grounded. I think it was my Uncle Jeffrey, who was also one many bosses, who would drum it into me that I was my own best judge of what was newsworthy.

Too many PR and Comms people get obsessed with the fact that they are PR and Comms people. They spend so much time with a client or product that it becomes the centre of their lives and they expect everything to evolve around it. This becomes very worrying when they pitch to the press and discover that the press won't write the story as they think it should be written. Erm, sad fact of life - the press isn't paid to write the story you want them to write. If they did, the client wouldn't need you, the persuasive PR person - they'd get the ad sales people to take care of things.

We forget that we're also consumers of the media as well as the people who plant the stories in the media. We are part of the process of news creation and to be effective at that, we need to know the people what people watch and read and want to watch and read.

Being obsessed with your profession isn't limited to the PR field. In the restaurant game, you get to chefs who forget that they exist for the customer's taste buds. Yes, the customer likes your cooking and eating at your restaurant but they need to taste something that they like to taste. A good chef instinctively knows what appeals to the pallets of the customers because ...well, he or she inevitably someone who eats the food as well as cooks it.

At the end of the day, we're all human beings with the same needs. We live in the same ecosystem doing our part within that said eco-system. Unfortunately too many of us become so obsessed with our part of the system that we forget that we are part of the larger system.

If you fall in love with your part of the system, you tend to lose sight of the larger picture and ironically, you lose sight of the value that your part of the system contributes to the wider system. Advertising people used to be accused to being obsessed with winning awards (among themselves) that they forgot that their industry was merely a part of the larger business cycle. Today, agencies are struggling to find relevance and revenue.

Remembering your insignificance can be a blessing because it makes you more aware of everything else. You become aware of what the other sides of you think and do, which makes you more effective. I write for the press because it makes me more effective at pitching stories to them. I eat at the restaurant I work at because it makes me see things from the customers view. I am a consumer as much as a producer, which actually enhances things. -

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Goodbye to the Land of Banana Regulations and Dreams of Significance

June 23 2016 was a day that sent the global markets into turmoil thanks to the British Public taking the decision to leave the European Union in a referendum. The once almighty British Pound took a massive tumble and other financial markets followed suite.

My Facebook page became filled with comments from friends in the UK. The younger ones, who were mainly my sister's friends who had grown up seeing me as an older brother, were horrified that the country had descended into a racist mess, though a few of them celebrated their "Independence." Of my British friends who are in business, like Terry O'Connor, the CEO of Courts were mainly disappointed, though there were exceptions, most notably Neil French, the former Global Creative Head of the WPP Group.

There is no doubt that the after effects of "Brexit" are going to be felt around the world for sometime to come and there's going to be plenty of discussions on the internet. So, what's going to happen.

Firstly, its clear that the European Union ("EU") has an issue. While I believe the common goals of the EU are on the whole good, it should be clear to everyone that whatever benefits of being in the EU are, they have either not been felt by the man on the ground or at least not communicated. When the "Brexit" vote became clear, there was talk sufficient chatter going around that the French, the Dutch and others would follow and demand an exit to the union.

The key issue was of course, the issue of immigration. The key supporters of the exit vote in the UK were white working class people who had been cut out from traditional jobs. As one of my favourite English boys used to say, "When I was unemployed, I blamed it on the Poles." Its all very well to talk about your export market and being part of the largest trading block in the world when you are trader in the City of London moving billions around with a click of mouse button. It's something different altogether when you are from a working class suburb and you've been out of work for the last year because all the jobs you used to be able to do are now taken by people who are different from you and willing to work harder and for less.

The second point that the EU needs to look at is the issue of excessive regulation. As one Dutch guy said, "They even have laws governing what type of bananas can be sold." Such regulations lead to the issue of sovereignty and more importantly what does the EU want to be. Is it a super trading block or a super national state?

When the EU was started as the European Economic Community (EEC), there was one overriding aim - to prevent another war from breaking out in Europe through closer integration. World War 1 and 2 were partly built on a "Franco-German Rivalry" (Bismark vs Napoleon III), so the founders of the EEC reasoned that if the French and Germans stopped fighting and trading, they'd get used to the idea of being prosperous by working together, they would never go to war.

That objective has long been fulfilled. Within a generation, the European continent has gone from nobody being able to conceive of lasting peace on the continent to nobody being able to conceive of a war between two European states. For Germany, the EEC and EU has been a salvation - it has allowed Germany to transform from being a militant aggressor to the benign sugar daddy of the continent.

However, while people are happy to trade with each other, it becomes a different story when you talk about imposing culture from elsewhere. As HSBC's brilliant "World's local bank" campaign proved, the more global we become, the more attached we become to things we are familiar with. EU regulations on cheese, bananas and chocolates only made people more attached to their "local" items.

Ironically, this point is best illustrated by the UK itself. The UK or Great Britain is not one country but four that have become one superstate united by a common language, a common currency, common laws, a common sovereign and an increasingly common culture. The superstate known as the United Kingdom has existed far longer than the EU, where people have had longer to live side by side in each other's different kingdoms. Yet, despite everything, the Scots still see themselves as Scottish, the Welsh as Welsh and so on. The Scots have even gone as far as to demand various referendums to get out of the UK. If you look at the "Brexit" campaign, you'll note that the same arguments were used in the Scottish independence referendum.

The EU needs to sell itself better to the man in the street and it needs to do some internal soul searching about what it wants to be. The problem remains, the EU was a project conceived by the people at the top with very little input by the people from the bottom. Somehow, the bottom needs to be persuaded to follow the top.

Britain will survive as it always has. The British found a way of surviving without their Empire. Instead of being number one in the world, they managed to become very successful being being the best friend of the new number one (the Americans). At the same time the British joined the EU and became a fairly active member.

While nobody doubts that the UK will continue to survive, the question remains, "Will Britain be a significant player on the global stage." The British might want to take a look at Japan.

Japan was an incredible success story. At one stage, when world looked to Japan as a new economic leader. Two decades later, the Japan is now a buzzword for stagnation. While still prosperous in many ways, it is clear to the rest of the world that Japan doesn't really lead anything at all. I remember one of my favourite journalist saying that it was lucky that former Prime Minister, Juichiro Koizumi use to visit the Yakasuni Shrine because it was the only way people really cared about what went on in Japan.

The British have certain advantages that Japan doesn't have. The English language remains the world language and the British have been far more open to the outside world than the Japanese.

However, there are several issues. Firstly, one of the key reasons for rejecting EU membership was immigration. A few people who were interviewed had argued that they objected to the EU's liberal policies on accepting Muslim migrants from places like Syria but were perfectly fine with the more educated ones from Europe. Unfortunately, rejecting EU membership means not only keeping out Syrian refugees but the well educated ones from Western Europe.

The British have been very successful of being the middle man between great powers. One of the reasons why the City of London has become the world's financial centre was because American banks looking to establish a base in EU could do it in London. Likewise, European banks that wanted to be in an English speaking country, they merely had to cross the channel.

Britain was the English speaking gateway into the world's largest trading block. It was the ideal place for the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Chinese, Indians and so on to start a venture in the EU.

Without EU membership, Britain loses the very thing that made it relevant to foreign investors. For sure, Britain will still get foreign investment but it's not likely to be what it used to be. Furthermore, Britain will now enter trade negotiations on its own rather than as part of a big block. It won't make a difference it you are dealing with Singapore. However, size helps when you deal with China, India and the other large markets.

Britain will survive Brexit but it will have to get used to doing so as a lesser player on the global stage. As long as her people can get used to being part of a normal nation, that may be no bad thing.