The First Step is Always the Hardest

It’s hard to just get started.

It’s hard sometimes to wake myself up in the morning to work out despite the fact that I told myself I will and that I even set the alarm to make sure.  And when the alarm sounds, I find myself questioning whether to really go through with it. 

I find excuses.  My back aches.  It’s cloudy and might rain.  It’s too cold.  It’s maybe better to use the time to work on my business report.  Etcetera.  Etcetera. 

But once I realise that I’d lose that precious time slot I invested for my morning exercise, I decide (sometimes with difficulty) to get up, suit up, and do my workout. 

Once I’ve lifted that barbell and start to break a sweat, I find myself feeling good that I had decided to push through with the morning exercise. 

It happens a lot of time to us.  Just getting started is always the hardest part.  But once we’re into it, there is momentum.  It becomes easier to finish a job as we get deeper into it. 

A journey of a thousand miles indeed begins with the first step.  And the first step is always the hardest.  Whether it be a simple job or a long trip, we find it often hard just to get started.

This is because a journey’s first step isn’t really that one foot out the door.  A first step begins with writing a plan, packing that suitcase, or in my example of my morning work-out, getting out of bed. 

For several years, my relatives have talked about travelling to Spain and taking that long hike to the Santiago de Compostela

The Santiago de Compostela is a cathedral located in the city named after it.  It is the reputed burial site of St. James, one of the Twelve (12) Apostles of Jesus Christ.  The Santiago de Compostela has been a famous destination for Catholic pilgrims and tourists especially those who took the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, a network of walking trails that lead to the cathedral. 

Many who have taken the walking route found it very much worth it.  Plenty of scenery. Fresh air.  Good exercise.  Staying overnight at inns and sampling the local Spanish Galician cuisine.  And finally seeing that majestic cathedral at the end of the trail.  The awesome baroque cathedral that takes away the breath of many who see it the first time. 

A pilgrim along the norther route of the Camino de Santiago
The Cathedral of Santiago de Composela

The traditional route favoured by die-hard travellers is the French Way which goes as far as 800 kilometres and would take several days even for the fastest walkers.  Tourists usually opt for the much shorter routes although in order to secure a certificate of pilgrimage, one has to at least walk a hundred (100) kilometres. 

But as I and relatives have talked about taking the trip.  It so far has been just that: talk.  We haven’t taken any first step, which isn’t that first footstep on the trail but just getting to making an itinerary, booking a flight, or deciding which of the walking journeys to take.

Whether it be a daily morning work-out, an 800-kilometre hike like the Camino de Santiago, or a job we have to do at work or at home, we don’t get anywhere unless we make that first step.  It’s not deciding that we’ll do it.  It’s not telling ourselves we will do it.  And it isn’t that first footstep or that first lift of a barbell.  It’s the execution, the act itself that matters. 

It’s getting out of bed, booking that reservation, making that phone call, and finally getting to work that constitute those very first steps to whatever we intend to do. 

It’s hard to get started.  But we won’t regret it when we do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Automated Queuing Systems Don’t Reduce Waiting Times

A large bank installed an automated queuing system at its branches.  Clients were required to enter the details of their transactions on a terminal and receive a queuing number and then wait to be called by the teller via a display on a video screen. 

The system replaced the previous process of clients writing on paper transaction slips and proceeding to the tellers.   Instead, the teller would access and process the client’s transaction from the entry of transaction data into the terminal. 

With the automated queuing system, the teller no longer has to input data from the previous handwritten transaction slips.  The teller also no longer has to decipher the penmanship of individual clients from the transaction slips.  Errors and rework are eliminated.  The teller just has to take and confirm the cash or checks the client is giving or just has to count the cash the client is withdrawing.  The time to process the transaction was thereby reduced.

But was the process time really significantly reduced?  Did the system really improve the client’s experience, or specifically, did it reduce the client’s time at the bank? 

Queuing systems have become the norm among banks.  But the system varies from one bank to the next.  Most of the differences between banks are in the user interface, which consists of the design and manner of layout of buttons and sequence of steps in how data would be entered into a remote terminal.

Some banks also offer the feature in which clients can access the queuing system online from their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers before going to the bank’s branch.  A client either receives a QR code or a transaction number which he or she then presents at the bank.  The client is then given an queuing number which is usually for a line exclusive to those who did the input online. 

For the walk-in clients who had to input data into a terminal, I didn’t see much difference in their waiting times whatever bank they went to.  For some, especially those who aren’t what people call tech-savvy, it got worse.  They would almost always require assistance from a nearby employee or even the security guard.  When there were plenty of clients, such as on Mondays, Fridays, payroll days (i.e. mid- and end-month), and tax filing deadlines, the waiting times would surge to more than an hour.  Fewer tellers during the day would aggravate the waits of clients. 

I also didn’t see much difference in the productivity of tellers despite the elimination of hand-written transaction slips.  Tellers still had to count cash and examine checks which made up most of the transaction time.  Tellers also had to print out the client’s transaction receipts or withdrawal confirmations.  When the system sometimes ran slow or hangs, any productivity gained is wiped out. 

The less tech-savvy clients also sometimes don’t take advantage of the queuing system’s feature to bundle transactions under one queuing number.  Some clients would enter one transaction for one queuing number at a time as they had been used to do with hand-written transaction slips.  The less tech-savvy clients would then have a handful of queuing numbers which adds to the queue to the tellers and lengthens the teller’s time to process as she’d be going through the client’s queue numbers one by one.

The tech-savvy clients have a slight advantage as they usually are assigned an exclusive line separate from the walk-ins.  In some banks, they can go straight to the teller, show their QR codes or online numbers and have their transactions done right away.  But in many cases, tech-savvy clients still had to wait.  Tellers would often be busy with clients at the time the tech-savvy clients arrive.  In some banks, they’d still be required to register at a terminal to get a queuing number and there’d be a waiting line there too. 

Automated queuing systems by themselves don’t reduce waiting or process times.  As much as the system may make it more convenient for clients and efficient for tellers, it addresses only a part of the process. 

Queues and how long they will be and how long one will wait are determined not only by the length it takes do a process but also by the number of processors (i.e. tellers) and by the behaviour of arrivals (i.e. how many clients arrive at a given time and how many transactions they are bringing).

A state-of-the-art automated system can only do so much.  If banks are serious about improving productivity for tellers and clients, they should take a harder look at the steps and gather information about the volume of transactions done at their branches. 

And when I say steps and information, I mean all the steps and all the information that would be involved.  Targeting one step at a time does not improve productivity; one has to target the entire process from beginning to end and identify the factors that influence all of it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Being Proactive Requires Reviewing Our Values

My boss asked me to finish a report by Monday morning.  I was planning to submit it by Wednesday next week but my boss wanted it earlier.  Because he asked me on Friday, I had to cancel my weekend plans. 

Some bosses pile on work on their employees.  The bosses would believe there is good reason but they also would believe they aren’t beholden to explain deadlines to their subordinates.  Bosses dictate, employees follow, after all. 

Employees, however, are people too and it can be demoralising when the boss deems work more important than the quality time of employees after work hours. 

So, what can employees do? 

Either the employees just do what the bosses say or they don’t.  If they do, they can count on some praising like a pat-on-the-back assuming they did a good job.  If they don’t, they’ll risk getting on the bad side of the boss who would put a bad mark on an employee’s performance record which may lead to career stagnation. 

Not really much of a choice.  But that’s reality. 

Never mind what some consultants or so-called gurus may say, people who work for other people don’t own their time.   When we have bosses, the bosses own us and sometimes if not often, they own even our time after work hours.

This is because work for many people, like middle managers and office workers, as we know it no longer is limited to a fixed schedule.  With email, SMS texting, and Internet-enabled voice & chat technologies, the boss can communicate with her employees wherever they may be and at anytime.  (I had a boss who’d call me when I was halfway around the world on vacation and that was even before the Internet). 

But thanks also to the Internet, we have more access to more information.  We can find out if there are other jobs waiting for us in other companies.  We can submit our curricula vitae (CV) with a few clicks of a mouse.  And we can get interviewed long distances from the comforts of our own home (or office desk when the boss isn’t around). 

The hard part, of course, is writing the CV and preparing for the interview.  The harder part is deciding whether we’d want to change careers in the first place. 

The hardest part, however, is making the choice itself.  We’d wrack our brains thinking if we should stay in our jobs or move on to greener pastures. 

It isn’t just about the risks of what we choose but it’s also what we believe in. 

This is what being proactive is really about.  Proactive is choosing based on what we value.  Note it isn’t what we want, it is what we value.  Stephen Covey of Seven (7) Habits fame identifies being proactive as the freedom to choose one’s response.  But to choose what we believe is right, we should choose based on what’s important for us, which is in a nutshell are our values

Employees would opt to stick with a job with a slave-driver boss that deprives weekends off because the employees would value the job security and income needed for their families. 

An employee, however, may choose to quit because she values her time with her children more than anything else. 

But as much as it may be clear to some, it can be a lengthy exercise for many who haven’t really defined what they value or are in self-conflict with changes in what are important to them. 

As the PlanPlus Online website puts it, values “may change as demands or needs change.” 

“If a given belief or opinion is something that might be altered if the conditions are right, then it’s a value.”

-PlanPlus Online, The Difference Between Principles and Values, https://www.planplusonline.com/difference-principles-values/

When values become moving targets, we can become confused and that can make it difficult to decide things.  We therefore sometimes become dependent on others to make our minds up, like just doing what the boss tells us to do. 

Values are based on beliefs, opinions, causes, and/or the very stuff we put the highest importance on, such as our families, relationships, careers, and religions.  We often try to rank them and doing so can be a difficult process, not to mention frustrating.  The bottom line is we always are evaluating what our priorities are. 

Is there a best way to define our values?  No.  But the question maybe should be:  how often should we define our values?  Not everybody knows what he or she wants.  Lucky for those who do but there are many who constantly need to review what’s important.  Actually, it may be those who do it often are the luckier ones because they would always be updated to their versions of their value systems. 

When we know surely what we think or feel what’s important, we’d know how to choose confidently.  We end up knowing how to answer when a boss asks us to work on weekends. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Devil is in The Details

I was reading the San Jose Mercury News one morning while staying with my brother during a visit some years ago at San Mateo, California, USA and I noticed that the front page of the paper featured a repair of a road culvert. 

The culvert, a canal by the side of a main thoroughfare, was eroding and needed repair.  The news article talked about what the engineers assigned to the repair job were going to do and it included a schedule of when a lane of the road would be closed. 

It was fascinating that a big city newspaper like the San Jose Mercury News would put a story about a problematic road culvert as its main headline for the day, much bigger than other national and international news. 

I then thought, “Why not?”  Why not showcase what the local government is doing about roadwork and how it would affect those who live in or near San Jose City who in the first place probably make up the majority of readers and subscribers to the newspaper. 

And why not write in-depth about the roadwork so that people will know the details, such as what’s the roadwork timetable and how it may affect traffic in the area? 

The devil after all is in the details. 

The idiom, the devil is in the details, points out the need to take into account the nitty-gritties of a plan or solution.  It describes what happens when we find it harder than we thought to implement an idea or execute a strategy. 

Some enterprise executives decide on solutions without considering the ramifications.  They would say they did especially if a task force that recommended the solution studied a lot about it. But given the fact we live in a complex world, there would often be something left out, something that the executives and managers didn’t expect.

When the Coca-Cola Company attempted to reformulate their flagship soda in the 1985, many consumers complained and rebelled.  Coca-Cola had done a taste test study that showed consumer receptiveness to the new formula but they didn’t ask consumers whether they’d buy it.  The new formula was a failure and Coca-Cola revived the old formula by calling it “classic.” 

When a multinational food corporation changed the plastic lids of its margarine containers to a cheaper material, it didn’t foresee how fragile the lids would be on the production line.  Many lids broke during packing such that the productivity losses overrode the cost savings.  The product research group who tested the lids ignored workers’ comments about the breaking lids, and instead passed the problem to manufacturing management. 

What the devil is in the details teaches us is that for every initiative we start, we should pay attention to the nitty-gritties that would be involved. 

A lot of times it has to do with logistics; 

  • A purchaser would buy tons of a commodity to avail of a bulk discount but doesn’t realise there’s no more space in the warehouse;
  • A wholesaler offers discounts for customers who buy at least a million dollars of goods a month but it turns out there aren’t enough delivery trucks when orders come in on the last day of the month;
  • A manufacturing executive directs a production line to run on three shifts to build up inventories of finished product but finds out aren’t enough pallets to store the items at the warehouse;
  • A laboratory manager requisitions for state-of-the-art testing equipment but doesn’t stock up on the imported reagents needed for the testing procedure that comes with the new machine, which results in delays in releasing products for shipment. 

Details always start small but mushroom into big issues when they are not addressed.  Experienced executives don’t ignore details and embed themselves into the issues before they get out of hand.   They take control and put things in control. 

No one has demonstrated this more than Amancio Ortega, the founder of Inditex, the brand behind Zara, which has 1,854 stores in 96 countries.  Despite being a multi-billionaire and retired, Ortega “has never bothered with an office.”  He “prefers to sit on the floor of Zara’s women’s department.” His daughter, Ortega Perez, who has emerged as an active Zara executive, emulates her father’s hands-on management style.  Ms. Perez, just like her father, very much manages the details of the business.  

It’s easy to have ideas.  It’s another thing to make them come true. 

Because the devil is in the details. 

 About Overtimers Anonymous

We Need Librarians More Than Ever

How relevant are librarians in the 21st century?

In the 1970’s, when I was much younger, a library was that room of stand-alone shelves filled with books, spaced by a few tables and chairs.  The librarian was the one minding that room, making sure we who visited kept quiet while we browsed through the titles for one that maybe we’d borrow using our then library card. 

We don’t hear much about libraries and librarians in the 21st century.  If we do, a library would perhaps be that data collection on our desktop computer.  Or someone may describe a “library” as that dark section of the old family house where old books and documents of great-grandparents are kept. 

Libraries and librarians have changed in the mindsets of many people.  But contrary to what many may think, we actually need them more than ever. 

In a USA Today article written in November 2017, Careers: 8 jobs that won’t exist in 2030, Michael Hoon of the Job Network wrote that “you’ll have a tough time finding a job if you decide to become a librarian.”  Mr. Hoon cites “many schools and universities are already moving their libraries off the shelves and onto the Internet,” arguing that “as books fall out of favour, libraries are not as popular as they once were.”

Steve Barker in his opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal dated January 10, 2016, was blunt in that he called librarians “a dying breed.” 

Library and Information Science students Samantha Mairson (LIS) and Allison Keough of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, immediately responded to Michael Hoon with their article of rebuttal, Are Librarians Truly a Dying Breed?

In their response, Mmes. Mairson & Keough write:

“Librarianship is far from a ‘dead-end field’ or a ‘dying profession.’ The field is transforming rapidly. Librarians and library students are leading this transformation. Library professionals are careful to consider the needs of their communities. The ‘Information Age’ needs more professionals responsibly curating information, and hiring managers agree that there’s demand.”

Sari Feldman, then President of the American Library Association (ALA), responded meanwhile to Steve Barker’s article by arguing that “nothing could be further from the truth.”  She writes:

“At a time of information overload and growing gaps between digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ the roles for dynamic and engaged librarians are growing. Though their skills and the technologies they use may be changing, they have never been more valuable to people of all ages, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.”

In the Philippines where I live and work, people identify libraries as that repository of books at a school or university.  Many don’t associate a library as an emerging essential function for enterprises, which we should. 

Many enterprises the world over have adopted standards from ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, an independent non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Switzerland.  

A popular one is ISO 9000, a family of standards for quality management systems that helps enterprises assure their products and services meet customer requirements. 

Whereas ISO 9000 sets principles in how quality management systems are established, the organisation’s trained consultants and auditors place much emphasis on documentation and records management.  Many enterprises around the world have gone to the extent of hiring librarians to oversee documents and records, not only in how they are filed, but also how they are created, edited, approved, and shared.  

In short, libraries are important for managing enterprise records thoroughly. 

As a treasurer for three (3) buildings, I have always advised respective administrative managers to organise records and documents.  These consist not only of accounting transaction records but also files of board resolutions, certificates, other important legal documents, and engineering & maintenance records. 

Building managers, however, don’t put too much priority on records management.  Whenever I inquire about a past record, for instance, I always get answers that they can’t find the documents because they’re buried in an archive in a basement closet.  It would take the administrative staff a week to dig and find something from the past, if they ever find it at all. 

Whenever I do insist that records be scanned and filed properly, building staff would go on overtime to catch up.  The building always needs to spend extra just to file and scan records and, in most cases, the records still wouldn’t be organised. 

Records management is a very much neglected function.  A good many enterprises just don’t manage records very well.  Memos, invoices, reports, and purchase requisitions that are often scattered, dirty, and torn have become common sights in many firms. 

We underestimate the value of library science when it comes to records management.  Thanks to technology, librarians have the means to scan and classify records quickly such that we can search and retrieve them much faster than ever before.

Librarians are the experts of organisation.  With reasonable support such as investing in desktop computers, scanners, and software, a librarian can turn that mess of papers and files into a systematic virtual storehouse of archives in which we can easily seek that particular document no matter how long ago it originated. 

In this age of information and the perpetual need to simplify complex transactions, we need librarians more than ever. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Finding the Right Management Style

Different Strokes for Different Folks” are what we apply when we as managers deal with subordinates.  “Different strokes” imply that we should behave differently toward different people.  But behaviour just by itself might not be enough. 

A household of two (2) married relatives of mine has two (2) female domestic helpers and a male family driver.  The domestic helpers get along very well with my relatives and do their jobs very well.

The family driver is newly hired.  The driver does his job satisfactorily.  He is careful while at the wheel and is quick when summoned.  He follows instructions and has even helped with the gardening at the home. 

The domestic helpers, however, don’t get along well with the new driver.  He has no sense of humour and doesn’t have a rapport with the helpers.  The new driver also is often grouchy and sometimes rude. 

My senior relatives sought my advice on what to do with the driver.  I say there is nothing to point to that the driver is doing wrong.  The driver is doing his job as asked and even goes the extra mile by helping with the garden.  He may not get along well with other people but he is doing his job.

Different strokes for different folks” seems to be good advice on how my relatives should manage the driver and the helpers.  Treat each person with a different behaviour.  My relatives can have light conversation with the helpers but be more serious with the driver. 

Different strokes for different folks” implies we take on a different personality mask whenever we talk to a subordinate.  Do we try to be funny with some but serious with others?  Do we put on a smile or do we look emotionless? 

But it goes beyond that.  This is because how we manage people should not only entail how we behave but how we influence them to do their jobs well.  

Paul Hershey and Ken Blanchard introduced a situational leadership model in 1969 that argued that there are different “leadership styles” when it comes to managing people.  Hershey and Blanchard essentially said there were four styles: 

Through the years since the 1970’s, managers have built on these “styles” and as in my case, I’ve adopted the following depending on whom I’m overseeing: 

  1. Dictator: I dictate in detail to the subordinates what I want, what they must do and I supervise them to make sure they does what I tell them to do;
  2. Coach: I provide instructions, tell subordinates to demonstrate, and then I correct them for any mistakes.  I monitor their performance from a distance but continue to make corrections as needed;
  3. Facilitator: I set standards and goals and leave the subordinates alone to perform.  I check their performance and ask them what they can do better.  I provide continuous advice to improve their performance;
  4. Delegator:  I allow the subordinates to set performance standards and targets and leave them to perform although I occasionally provide feedback.  Essentially, I trust them to do their job and just check that their results are aligned to what I want. 

To get to know which style is best, I assess first the subordinate.  And that requires listening, and not just analysing performance based on my own point of view.  It seems logical that to know someone, I’d have to seek what his or her thoughts and feelings are. 

When I tried these approaches with different people, managers felt I was being too nice sometimes.  That I should apply a firm hand, that is, punish poor performance right away even before asking the person how or why he or she didn’t do the job as expected. 

This “shoot first, ask questions later” policy did work for veteran managers who already knew their people well, especially the ones they knew were hard-headed and who would short-cut work at any given opportunity.  It didn’t seem to work for me when I was just new to a managerial position as I wouldn’t be outright familiar with the people reporting to me. 

In other words, as a manager I needed to learn fast and apply the styles unique to every individual subordinate as soon as possible.  I could be listening too long and people would abuse that courtesy.  Getting to know people does not give me a luxury of time; I needed to assess every subordinate quickly. 

A lesson I learned when it comes to managing people is it would be ideal if I were the one who hired them or got to know them before I became their manager.  It was an advantage that I was there when my relatives interviewed and hired the family driver so I sort of had a head-start in knowing his personality.  It also helped that I’ve known the domestic helpers for a long time especially whenever I visited my relatives. 

I advised my relatives to talk to the driver professionally, that is, just tell him what the next day’s schedule is so he can prepare the car and be immediately ready.  It would also allow the driver to plan his work schedule for the garden.  The driver had that personality in which he’d speak up when he was in the mood, so I told my relatives to not prod the driver with too many questions or small talk.  Instead, just tune in when he does start talking.

And over time, the driver did start talking.  He’d once in a while give small talk and some opinions about his work.  He would answer quickly when I and relatives asked about the garden.  He suggested improvements which I and the relatives approved.  It isn’t the perfect employer-employee relationship the relatives envisioned as the domestic helpers still find the driver’s stoic behaviour annoying, but the driver does his job well so there are no complaints. 

We count on continuing improvements with the management styles we use which hopefully will be effective in the long run. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Problems are Doorways to Opportunities

Since the start of 2021, semiconductor chips, which are used in cars, trucks, computers, and smart-phones, have been in short supply.  Supply has been so short that automotive companies have shut down assembly lines and consumer electronics corporations have delayed roll-outs of new products. 

Bloomberg reported in its September 22, 2021 Supply Lines newsletter that the gap between “ordering a semiconductor chip and delivery is still growing.” 

But four years before in 2017 (see chart above), it was already taking at least 10 weeks to deliver a semiconductor chip from time of order.  So, while businesses in 2021 anxiously wait up to 20 weeks for their chips to arrive, why were industries tolerating long order-to-delivery times of up to 10 weeks in the first place?

The dictionary defines a problem as an “unsatisfactory situation.”  It is a “state of difficulty that needs to be resolved.” 

Many of us equate problems with crises and disruptions, that is, we see a problem only when it hurts us such that it becomes urgent to address it. 

Hence, we tend to avoid them or try to resolve them as quickly as possible.  The fewer problems we have, the better, we usually say. 

The dictionary, however, also says it is a “a question proposed for solution or discussion.” 

Problems can be doorways to opportunities, in which if we think of them that way, we should seek them out and solve them for the ideas that would benefit us. 

Enterprises and even governments are scrambling hard in 2021 to fix the semiconductor chip shortage that has crippled factories and caused supply shortfalls of many products, from cell-phones to computers.  Most saw the problem when order-to-delivery lead times extended from 10 to 20 weeks.

If enterprises in 2017, however, proposed the “question” of shortening the supply lead time of 10 weeks, and found a solution, would industries be undergoing a crisis in 2021?  Wasn’t there a way to bring the number of weeks of lead time down to 4 weeks or even less? 

It was obvious that since 2017, company executives had accepted the 10-week order-to-delivery cycle and adjusted their inventories and production schedules to cover for the waiting time.  Executives managed the 10-week lead time into their financial forecasts.  The 10-week lead time was not considered a problem. 

If one enterprise in 2017 had seen the 10-week lead time as a problem rather than as an acceptable fate, and in the process of “discussion” found a “solution,” one wonders how much of a competitive advantage that enterprise would have in 2021. 

It’s never really worthwhile to ask “what-if” questions especially after the fact of a crisis.  But in the process of problem solving, as a question becomes clearer, it would have been likely that a solution would have addressed future adverse situations. 

As companies see their businesses compromised by the semiconductor shortage of 2021, it becomes more sensible to seek out the problems and pose the questions for “discussion” and “solution.”

For the pain many had been experiencing in 2021, it would have been worth it if they had only sought and solve problems then. 

It’s never really good to dwell in the past unless we learn something from it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Blaming Doesn’t Solve the Problem

Frustrated by their violations of rules and disorderly conduct that led to disturbances, a homeowners association banned mainland Chinese people from leasing residential houses within a posh village in the southern suburbs of Manila. 

Majority of the homeowners cheered the resolution released by the board of governors of the village.  A very few who raised concern about racial profiling were told to shut up or “get some balls.”  Most homeowners hoped that the resolution once and for all would rid the village of undesirable groups of people from mainland China who don’t follow traffic rules, cause unrelenting noise, and get into fights with neighbours. 

But will singling out an ethnicity or a national identity of people really solve the problem?

On one hand, yes. 

The village’s tally of violations showed most, if not all, incidents involved mainland Chinese nationals who were leasing homes as dormitories for online gambling businesses, otherwise known as POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators).  Tenants would number by the dozens in one house.  They would throw litter everywhere, make noise throughout the day and night, and disobey traffic rules which led to numerous mishaps and automobile collisions. 

The mainland Chinese tenants continuously ignored the village’s notices to desist their disruptive practices until finally after several years, the village’s board had enough.  The board released the resolution banning people of mainland Chinese citizenship from leasing homes within the village. 

The resolution is logical in the sense that it bans outright most of the violating culprits from the village.  There is no doubt that violations will drop as soon as the offending Chinese residents end their leases and get out. 

But on the other hand, it won’t solve the real problem. 

Getting rid of the mainland Chinese may finally bring back the peace and order the village wants.  It doesn’t, however, answer the question:  why was the village’s authorities unable to enforce rules and regulations in the first place?

Laying blame on an entire race of people (especially from a country that makes up at least a fifth of the global population) is a sweeping solution to the village’s frustrations.  But it doesn’t address how in the first place the village’s association wasn’t able to enforce its rules.  Why couldn’t it? 

When a village, a community, or even a country makes laws, we’d expect that the laws will have provisions for enforcement.  Otherwise, the laws would be useless.  Why make laws that can’t be enforced? 

The village will no doubt dodge criticisms about racism.  Homeowners who cherish their village’s peace and order will be relieved the mainland Chinese culprits would be begone and rid of. 

But when a violation happens again, albeit maybe not as frequently or as seriously, maybe by another defiant resident who is not Chinese, will the village’s authorities be able to enforce their rules? 

Blame is a game politicians and executives have used when they don’t bother to solve a problem.  Adolf Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s woes in the 1930’s.  Some Americans in the United States blame minority ethnic groups such as African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics for high crime rates.  Mainland Chinese officials single out ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans in drives against cultural differences which are deemed a threat.  There are executives in Manila who blame Indians and Koreans for promoting bad business practices. 

It’s easy to blame other people for problems and we can even claim there’ll be outright improvement when we do so. 

But even if as it may alleviate the effects of a crisis, it does not really solve whatever problem that brought the blame in the first place.  Blame is more a mechanism to deflect problems than it is to solve them. 

We don’t realise that solutions to problems are hard to come by not because there are not many options to choose from but because we didn’t define it right the first time.  We therefore become frustrated and we resort to the blaming, just as what the homeowners’ village did towards mainland Chinese people. 

The homeowners of the village did not really address the root issue:  its inability to enforce the rules effectively

And there are the trade-offs which blame brings.  The posh village now adopts a reputation that it will profile ethnic Chinese people. When a Chinese-looking person enters the village, homeowners will be prejudging his or her appearance against that stereotype of what they experienced as undesirable.  Prejudice on the basis of race will be a norm. It sows the seed of racism that will linger and grow malignantly. 

And that would emerge as a much bigger problem in the future even as the village’s residents probably won’t care for now.

About Overtimers Anonymous

Finding Fault in Who versus in What

There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing going around. 

People pointing to other people as causes of problems:

  • One country points to another for the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • One politician points to another for failure in stopping the spread of the virus;
  • A restaurant owner blames a vendor’s delay in deliveries as reason for the lack of items on a menu;
  • A manager blames an office worker for poor sales performance;
  • Fans ask “Who’s at fault for why our team didn’t make the playoffs?” and the next thing we see is the head coach getting fired.

We tend to find fault in people.  And we do that a lot.  Just read the newspapers and we see people blaming other people.  Anything from crime, accidents, or plain gossip, someone is hitting somebody else for the issue.   

Rather than say: “Who’s at fault?”  maybe we should first ask: “What’s at fault?” 

Right there and then, the paradigm shifts from outright blame to a study of the circumstances behind any incident. 

  • “What, instead of who, started the pandemic?”
  • “What, instead of who, brought about the spread of the virus?”
  • “What, instead of who, caused the delay in deliveries of needed supplies for the restaurant?”
  • “What, instead of who, led to the enterprise’s poor sales performance?”
  • “What, instead of who, did we do wrong that our team didn’t make the playoffs?”

Just by substituting “Who” with “What,” our frame of mind, even our attitude and feelings, change.  Our ill feelings toward a suspect diminish. We switch from witch-hunters to problem-solvers.

When a problem strikes, it may be good to take a deep breath, get our thoughts together, and remind ourselves to start asking questions with “What” before “Who.”

One word can really make a difference. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

No Pain, No Gain

I’ve been lifting weights for a long time.  It’s been an on and off activity but I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. 

Have I become a stronger person?  No.

Do I have a bigger, more good-looking physique?  No. 

I am fat and diabetic.  I’m have a body that is nowhere close to any athlete or one that would resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.

Was all the weightlifting then worth it?  To many people who don’t exercise, probably not.  But for me personally, yes it was.  This is because I feel good about myself after every time I do it. 

I may not have met the vision I originally had in terms of a well-built body but I have to come like doing the exercises for the pump it gives me to get through the day. 

I lift weights as an exercise, not as a mission to become a Mister Universe or a superhero with superior strength.  As an exercise, it’s part of a lifestyle to promote my health.  It keeps my mind and body in shape, even if it doesn’t bring me any nearer to what people may call the ideal type.  

Weight-lifting is a no-pain no-gain sport.  Routine after routine, I add a little more weight to make the exercise more challenging than the first.  It is not a leisure activity or just something I do to fool myself into thinking I’m working out to look fit.   

It is not without some risks and setbacks.  I have incurred injuries and I’ve had to suspend lifting weights sometimes for weeks due to strained muscles. 

But I have achieved milestones I never thought I’d reach.  For example, I never realised that at 58 years old, I could squat with a barbell weighing close to 200 lbs. 

I didn’t gain without pain, never mind what some experts say otherwise. 

The pain is part of the investment.  The benefits may not turn out what I’d thought they’d be but I’m glad for the gains. 

About Overtimers Anonymous