Thursday, 2 July 2009

Cultural differences; biz vs politics

Outside the Box
John Mangun
Business Mirror

Cable Television is great for the person who is obsessed with a particular subject. You can watch 24/7 news, weather, cartoons, fashion, sports, business, science fiction, crime, history, almost anything under the sun. And now coming to the Philippines, although not on cable television, will be 24/7 coverage of politics.

I would be the last one to complain about wall-to-wall coverage of the political scene. The problem I do see is that the average person does not understand how different politics is from the rest of our world.

Last Tuesday, I spoke of the inherent differences between the “business model” and the “political model” of doing things. It is not necessarily a judgment call as such of which thought process and model are best. It is just that we need to understand that although politicians often walk and talk like their business counterparts, they are far removed from what might be best described as the “business culture.”

Although we want to believe that government and politics are not the same animal, in truth, they are because the underlying driving force of all government—from the executive and legislature to the department that processes your driver’s license—is politics. In business, any type of business, the profit motive is the driving force. Even your local charitable “non-profit” organization is driven by a type of profit motive in that they must bring in enough revenue and spend less than that revenue in order to survive and thrive.

I am a student of politics, having obtained a couple of degrees in the subject. In my idealistic youth, I thought that politics was all about the administration of power and the ideology of how to administer that power for the public good. I realized though that politics was not about ideology any more than business is but simply another way to gain and control wealth.

The purpose of a business is also to gain and control wealth, and this is accomplished by providing a product or a service. San Miguel says give us your money, we will give you beer and, according to its core purpose, by doing so, “Making everyday life a celebration.” San Miguel sells the idea that its beer makes life a celebration.

Government attempts to gain and control wealth by selling an ideology. All governments basically say, give us your money and in return, we will give you a better life, because you need government to “Make your life better.”

From many years of study, I concluded that, after a few hundred years of experience, the world’s beer brewers did a better job of living up to their promises than the world’s governments.

You see, most politicians and government people, deep in the hearts, know that “business” is more successful than “government.” How many politicians do we hear telling us that they intend to run government like a business? However, it never happens and governments continue to be unsuccessful. Why is the political model usually unsuccessful? The cultures are inherently and forever different.

Within any business, everyone must work together for that business to be successful. A great business is made up of great team players. But in politics and government, ultimately, there are only winners and losers; there is no such thing as a team. On a team, sometimes a player must make a personal sacrifice so that the team can prosper. That would never happen in government. A team does not exist and every player is looking to be the next superstar, and does everything possible to hold that position.

Even the language is different. Notice that in government, stealing is called corruption. The word corruption means perverted, infected, tainted, almost like having a disease over which the individual has no control. In business, stealing is called stealing; taking something that does not belong to you. Stealing is a conscience act, not like getting the swine flu because you did not wash your hands properly.

In government, the objective is to get a consensus or general agreement of opinion. A business rarely operates by consensus. Usually decisions are ultimately made by one person or, at the most, one small team. But more important, that person or team is held accountable and takes reasonability for the decision. In government and politics, there is little personal responsibility because the decision was reached by a consensus. And the power of decision-making is always divided. The President blames Congress; Congress blames the President.

But you might say, a government has to answer to the electorate in the same way that a company must answer to its shareholders as San Miguel does. A couple of points:

At San Miguel, the shareholders cannot directly fire the president of the company as with the government. Further, shareholders look at the performance of the company, not directly at the performance of its president. A company president might resign, saying that his bad decisions hurt the company. Even in basketball, a player might bench himself because his performance is hurting the team. When was the last time you heard of a nation’s president resigning, saying his bad decision hurt the government? I think the answer is never.

We often say that things could be different if different people were running government. I think not. There are many great people in government, so the problem must not always be the people. Maybe it is the flawed culture of government.

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