Monday, September 24, 2012

Mediocrity & Incompetency

I have been bothered by this issue for quite a while, and now I think I may have "thought through" sufficiently to write something intelligent about it.

While I am a keen champion of ideas and creativity, I am also quite comfortable in living with mediocrity.

It is not everyday that one can be inspired and brilliant. In most day, brilliant and inspired people are just plain mediocre.It is mediocrity that allows us to be humans, when we can behave normally and relate with people around us in a decent manner.It is mediocrity that sets the wheel of life running smoothly like clockwork (without the orange). The butcher who cuts a decent piece of meat. The noodle seller delivering a sumptuous piping hot bowl. The bus driver who braves through the traffic every second of his working time. It is this ordinariness of the day that defines our society and our way of life.

Of course, for excitement and to spice up life, we want new ideas and, if we like them, we call them brilliant. Those brilliant are few and far in between the lives of humans throughout the few short thousands of years. While each brilliance produces comfort and convenience, it is unfortunate and inevitable that someone has to pay - as, I imagine, it would be very difficult to come up with a way of living that is effortless and costless to oneself as well as others. It just doesn't jive with the concept of yin-and-yang nor the concept of completeness nor that of world where the total mass doesn't change (except when we are firing things into dark space).

But incompetency is something else. Incompetency is not mediocrity. Incompetency is purely the inability to do something successfully.

The cause of incompetency is not lack of cleverness. Incompetency is an attitude where the inability to complete the work that one has promised to do is not important. Incompetency is the result of a lack of integrity in oneself and one's relationship with another. Incompetency is the result of plain dishonesty.

In this brilliant mediocre nation of ours, we are infused by sheer incompetency.

We disregard learning and education. There is no shame in claiming to have an expertise for which one has not formal training whatsoever. This is a complete disrespect and disregard for technical professionalism, except to steal the fruits of their efforts for one's selfish pecuniary ends. There appears to be a tacit championing of people with crooked dispositions who are regarded as brilliant. It is as if we have founded our national psyche on the shifting sands of quick gain and instant result. There is no investment of time and effort on doing the right things and doing things right.

As a result, we are a nation of traders and speculators in a central-bank-propelled inflationary environment where asset holders are getting wealthier by the day and the poor wage earners and pensioners are forced to abstain from consumption so that precious resources can be reallocated for piling more bricks with more mortar. We used to be a nation of parsimonious people who focused their minds on a deliberately honest way of life. We are now caught with a mental infirmity that eschews devotion and effort. We could be incapable of work.


walla said...

At the crack of dawn, the streets were already teeming with brawny workers on their bicycles silhouetted against the street lights. Behold the workforce of central Jakarta.

Recalling that, it therefore comes as no surprise why we over here have recently been surveyed to be the most slothful in this region.

We can always blame it on our heavy-duty carbo-diet which has caused obesity to run rampant to epidemic proportions. Otherwise, the absence of physical education from schools excused on the grounds of the frequent haze. But that's only the easy way out to raise pride before fall.

Indeed we don't have a similar gungho sight for a work ethic, save perhaps the daily exodus of our workers and students from JB, all heading en masse in the early morning southwards with no traffic from the other direction. Like the exchange rate.

Let's call it the establishment syndrome and take comfort that it's fine to enjoy the fruits of one's labour after years of toil and sacrifice opening up the land and laying the first bricks of a new nation but that's for the earlier generations only, many of whom having already passed or moved on which explains why many family businesses have also folded when they should have thrived in the so-called emerging high-income pro-business economy. Where's the ability to generate inspiration then?

That leaves us to ask next what about the present and future generations of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers? Wouldn't all of them if given a magic bullet to be more inspired want it pronto if such concentrated instantaneous talent can scale-up their earnings so that they too can start enjoying even earlier the fruits of their labour?

That they have already signified their dissatisfaction with their lot is evidenced by the food retail trade today which has been mostly farmed out to foreign workers so that at best the original founders will be elsewhere reproducing their same success factor, however with the spectre that soon enough supply will surpass demand, as is often the case with low-value work.

Which is why learning and education are of paramount importance. Once toasted in the commonwealth for the academic brilliance of our scholars, we are now reduced to hand-wringing besides hair pulling and soon nail biting as our academic standards and relevance slide to the nadir to converge with sloth and superficiality although our academic planners can still say the latest blueprint has hit the nail on the head. Their heads, they mean.

What is the purpose of learning and education then, you ask timidly? It's certainly not to regurgitate pat state propaganda, itself contradicted in action by the state every day unless one is too stoned to cringe at the sight of starry-eyed youngsters singing their rah-rah state-sponsored songs with enthusiasm while all hell has already broken loose in the background until to save the situation, another hare-brained idea has to be advanced to improve command of a language by studying its literature which if one cares to note is actually an application of the language. Without commanding the language first, how to study its application presumably to command it?

The root of the problem is politicization. Everything in this country has been politicized including the recruitment and training of the trainers to take students to the next level or to raise our education systems to more celestial levels.

Economics and its data too have been politicized as well until economists have to fight the process of their own politicization caused by politicians who are the output of the education stream that is to be changed in the first place.

How can one solve a problem with a solution that is the cause of the problem, pray tell? By mutual annihilation?

walla said...

Next, what happens during learning and education? Ideas and knowledge go from points eh to zee into the brain which then processes them for outputs applicable and valued anywhere in the world. Do we see enough of that in our local learning sphere?

If we continue to pander to the lowest denominator on political grounds only, standards will continue to slide one year after another for it is a natural human propensity to take the easy course of least resistance - in this case on an increasingly regularly basis - and that will decelerate progress. If doing easy things all the time make for progress, everyone on this planet would have gotten wind of this prophylactic to be living on easy street by now. Has anyone?

Yet, if one lives in an emerging society, there has to be balance so that none will need to feel a sense of being disenfranchised which will obstruct the achievement of fullest potential. Not all are born with equal abilities and attributes so that it is understandable for meritocracy to be subsumed under some socialization programme that will enable those who can't to rise to be at least as productive as those who can. But, people forget to add, at their own pace otherwise those who can will move on, taking with them the very pool of talent needed to spark the enterprises that will pay for the socialization programme.

Our problem was caused by trying to politicize even short-cuts but no one has the gumption to ask after the cut has been shortened, how does one sustain the achievement for the next level?

Therefore one must know more first. Without knowledge as anchors in safe harbour, ideas will only be spring chickens in the sky.

The butcher who cuts a decent piece of meat will know there's actually a publication on how master chefs cut their meats, pulled together after many years of experimenting. The noodle seller delivering a sumptuous piping hot bowl will know someone has actually collated data on all the different types of noodles in the world and how to make and cook them to culinary perfection. The bus driver who braves traffic can also learn how to repair his bus if it breaks down because the manual of the same model is on the web as an acrobat file even beyond Berners-Lee's wildest imagination.

walla said...

Therefore, let's fire a simple salvo - why only peal the Bell curve at the same place in the one life given?

The purpose of learning and education should be to enable people to peal the Bell curve anywhere they like, and as they learn more, to iteratively know with increasing precision where to hit the bell where it matters the most according to the situation that presents itself.

Therefore, knowledge is the pathway to progress with option for balance.

Do we know things? Let's take something simple. If someone says by 2014 we will be a net oil importer, can we assess accurately the full implication of that situation? Will sovereign rating drop and loan charges rise, salaries halved but inflation doubles, lights go off and therefore population increases even faster? It's an important piece of homework because up till now we have not managed to find new revenue sources to pay the new energy bills that will spring forth after the next twenty four months. From the oil consumers themselves? How can they do so sustainably if they suffer those downstream effects?

All these years we have only chased form over substance. Everything worthwhile and value-creating has slid. Given such a scenario, we have no buffer for any eventuality of a structural disruption in our socio-economic situation.

The transformation programmes are just word-plays of the traditional brick-n-mortar exercises and, from a global standpoint, those who know will say the blue ocean strategies preened are what any ordinary guy would have thought out in the time it takes to walk to the desk after taking a leak in the washroom down the corridor. Don't you think so too?

I didn't instance Jakarta at the beginning of this comment without a reason, as you already know:

To mediocrity and incompetence, add complacency and ground-zero knowledge.

Let that not be the final post-mortem.

pooja nabar said...

this post reminds me of a peter drucker's famous quote,“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”