Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Vision Thing

I had an interesting meeting today with the minister of Amiri Diwan in Kuwait (similar to royal court in other countries) who also happens to be the son of the Emir of Kuwait (the ruler). I went, along with a delegation, on a fund raising mission for a local non governmental organization (NGO) that I am actively involved in. I thought the meeting would be formal and stiff. It was anything but that!

The minister was very pleasant and entertaining all along. We discussed various issues but most interesting was the vision thing. The minister was probing us on how the NGO we are representing is helping Kuwait in achieving its vision. We responded generally about how we are very active in the public as well as governmental spheres to promote advancement. Then one brave member of our delegation asked the minister: but what is the vision?

I was not sure which is worse to be on the asking or receiving end. But the minister checked his watch for time and proceeded to explain. He explained how Kuwait was throughout history for two hundred years; some explorers wrote about the Kuwaiti people and how they were hard working merchants taking their business across the region. Then in the last fifty years we had the blessing and curse at the same time of oil wealth which turned the entrepreneurial spirit to be dependent and reliant.

He went on explaining that history should be taken as a whole and not just the last fifty years of abundant wealth and accompanying reliance on such wealth. Therefore the vision is for Kuwait to re assume its historical role.

This was an interesting conversation. I could not help thinking back to a book I read by Louis Gerstner the ex CEO of IBM about his experience with the company which was in dire trouble when he took over and he succeeded in turning it around (who says elephants can't dance?). Gerstner in the early days and upon taking over the helm of the company was asked what his vision was. He simply answered: I don't know. This generated a huge fiasco with the press and business community about this CEO taking over a troubled company who did not have a vision.

It turns out Gerstner was ahead of the rest. He did not claim to have a vision, but what he saw was a ship standing still. All he wanted to do at that point was to get the ship moving again before embarking on a certain direction, which he did ultimately.

I thought back to this example as I reflected on my meeting today. Perhaps the last thing this country needs is vision. We need to start moving again. We need an environment that encourages productivity for individuals and business, not stifle it. That's what's needed to start moving.. then we can figure out the vision thing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Feeling Down? Try Fiscal and Monetary Easing

Recently I have been feeling a little under the weather - to go with the gloomy and rainy weather I guess. So I have been struggling as to what to do about it. Looking for clues I thought about how economies recover a down spell.

Interesting enough economies go through recessions -depression too! And no, Prozac is of no use in this case! When economies undergo a negative growth -contracting if you wish- fiscal and monetary easing are to the rescue.

Fiscal Easing: that's when the government steps in and hikes up spending to stimulate the economy. So I thought to myself how do I apply this in my personal situation. Well it would be nice for starter if someone paid me to feel better.. but I wont bet on that! So how about retail therapy? Research shows that shopping does wonder when you're feeling blue -actually I made this up, but I am sure there is some research out there that proves it.. or just try it and find out for yourself.

Monetary Easing: that's when central banks reduce interest rates -mainly among other measures. By reducing interest rates the cost of money becomes lower which encourages borrowing and investment which ultimately makes the economy tick again. So I thought to myself maybe I am setting the bar too high.. I should lower my expectations and take it easy on myself. This way rather than being paralyzed due to expectation of overachieving, if my expectations are set lower I have a better chance of achieving something.

So let's see if this helps me out of contraction..

Monday, January 01, 2007

Just vs. Justice

I followed, along with the entire world, the events of the execution of Saddam Hussein with great surprise, shock and feeling of confusion. I don't know if the reason behind such feeling is the timing of the execution on the morning of Eid al Adha, the holly Muslim holiday. Instead of receiving greetings and blessings, we woke up to this horrific scene.

I must say that no reasonable human being could deny the crimes committed by that man against his own people and neighboring countries. But that is not the issue here.

Perhaps most people consider the end of Saddam as just. But what I would like to raise is did it do justice?

Let me give an example: Let's say someone causes a car accident and the law stipulates to inform the authorities of the accident and follow the legal procedures. Now what if the person at fault agreed to compensate the other party without going back to the authorities or following the law in due course? Would such behavior be just? Perhaps, but it sure did not do justice.

What does justice is following the law -in script and spirit. This is what was lacking in the trial and subsequent execution. And on the day of Eid the sacrifice took a different shape.. it was justice and national unity in a country that is in desperate need for both.