Thursday, July 9, 2009

Critical Thinking: Now needed more than ever

Critical Thinking: Now needed more than ever.

This column deals with leadership and innovation. Critical thinking is not one of those qualities associated with leadership since there are leaders that in some aspects of their lives are magical thinkers. Today I do want to write about this fascinating subject because of an experience I had last week.

I was invited to a television program to discuss the psychological make up of Manuel Zelaya the recently deposed President of Honduras and Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. Although it is definitely a very interesting subject, one I might write a future column about, in this column I want to discuss something else.

For obvious reasons I will not name the specific program or the television station, I will just tell you what happened.

As I was sitting in the producer’s office, discussing some of the questions I would be asked about Zelaya and Chavez, I noticed on the wall that the following day they were going to invite a gentleman to discuss Spiritism. The week before, one day after I appeared on the same program to discuss motivational techniques to deal with the recession, they invited a guy who specializes in reading auras. He even had a camera to take pictures of people in the program and would show that each had different color auras. He then explained what they meant. It didn’t matter that his camera was rigged so that it would show different colors, that what he was saying is absolutely false or that there is no scientific evidence that auras exist. What was important is that the public believes it and that produces ratings. It didn’t matter that by disseminating this type of information, we are making people dumber and less educated.
This is why we have to educate people about these forms of pseudo-sciences and I believe this subject has great relevancy to all of us as part of civilized society. This is why it is so important to become critical thinkers.

Every year in the world thousands of books that promote the wildest forms of bogus science and the paranormal are published. Visit Borders or any other bookstore and you will find pseudo-scientific or esoteric books which sell very well and make lots of money for the bookstore and the authors.

Never mind that most if not all are pure garbage.
Let’s face it, the percentage of our countrymen here and in the US who take astrology seriously is larger than the percentage of people who did so in the middle ages when Saint Augustine, for example, gave excellent reasons for discarding astrology all together.
We pride ourselves in being the most scientifically advanced country in the world, we have landed on the moon and have gone farther into the universe taking pictures along the way, than any other country in the whole world. We even had a Puerto Rican astronaut go into space. Yet over 50% of our teenagers not to mention former President Ronald Reagan, may he rest in peace, and his wife believed in Astrology and what is worst, made decisions based on it. President Obama got into trouble for making fun of this and had to apologize to Mrs. Reagan.

There are two distinct kinds of knowledge: Logical and Mathematical (statements that are certain within a given formal system) and scientific truth, never absolutely certain of course but generally accepted with a degree of probability that in many instances is almost indistinguishable from certainty.
It takes a strange kind of mind to think that four plus four could be anything but eight or that elephants could fly around the globe or that dogs lay multicolored eggs.
This lack of critical thinking skills by people allows them to believe preposterous medical claims that can persuade them to abandon mainstream physicians and seek treatment by non qualified so called healers.
A friend of mine, James Randi, the best debunker in the world and who heads the James Randi Educational Foundation, once uncovered a pastor who persuaded people to stop taking medicines for high blood pressure, epilepsy, liver problems etc. convincing them that the Lord gave him the power to heal them without medicine. It is not surprising that many of the parishioners died and luckily, he went to prison. By the way, he is out now and we believe he is going back to his old ways.

Bertrand Russell, a brilliant philosopher gave three simple rules for curbing one’s tendency to accept what he called “intellectual rubbish”.

1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion can’t be held to be certain.
2. When they are agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.
3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary person would do well to suspend judgment.

Russell added, “these propositions seem mild, yet, if accepted they would absolutely revolutionize human life”.

Our technologically advanced but scientifically retarded nation desperately needs knowledge of critical thinking skills to avoid serious damage to our society. Same applies to every country in the world.
When I read about a 22 year old mother of two children blowing herself to pieces and killing four other human beings in the name of religion and then I read a quote by a religious leader in her congregation preach that the holy war is mandatory for all men and women of their faith, I worry about the future of humanity.
When I read that Botanicas in Puerto Rico are not just surviving but thriving, it makes me sad. Can you imagine someone, specially an educated person, believing that by lighting candles or killing chickens or wearing a certain perfume could change the course of events? Can you imagine a Medical Doctor telling you that he or she will be placing a coconut behind the door to make sure the operation is successful? What about paying $20,000 or $30,000 dollars to go through an initiation to become a “saint” and dress in white for a few months. Give me a break!
The only antidote for this is education. This is why the role of teachers in society, specially mathematics, physics and science teachers is so important and why we must all make sure that they are well paid and taken care of.

Businesses, corporations and educated individuals must take an interest in our educational system so that everyone in our society is taught how to think, how to reason, how to distinguish between fact and fiction, reality and illusion. It will save lives, advance society and maybe, just maybe help us stamp out ignorance.
I now understand what Einstein meant when he said:
“There are two things infinite in life, the universe and human stupidity and I am not that certain about the universe”.

The speed of change and what we can do to succeed.

The speed of change and what we can do to succeed.

Years ago, I had a conversation with a futurologist in a San Antonio convention who told me that knowledge was doubling every three years more or less. He was right and it is possible that now it is doubling every two years which means that by 2011, the world will know twice what it knows now. He also said that within a few years, knowledge was going to double every eleven hours. That is right, knowledge doubling by the end of the day and doubling again the following morning. I can’t even grasp that concept. I can’t conceive that happening. What if he is wrong and knowledge will never double so fast? What if it doubles every 11 days or every 11 months? Even so, it is really mind boggling.
What are we to do?

Well, since we were born, the sky has not fallen. We still use centuries old languages to communicate with each other and we do not speak in the zeroes and ones of binary language. We have shaped computers more than they have shaped us. If this was not the case, we would be memorizing computer commands, wouldn’t we?

Thinking about this change stuff and about the future, I believe there are some strategies that I think will help everyone, but especially business people, better cope with change. There might be others of course but I think the ones I will mention are important.

First of all, you must be well informed now more than ever. Read a couple of local newspapers a day (make sure one of them is the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, please), The Wall Street Journal or New York Times and a few magazines such as Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes,Harvard Business Review and Business Week. If your industry has a magazine, read it too. Reading one book a week is also a good idea.

Take a speed- reading course to allow you to take in more information. While I was in Xerox in Stamford, Connecticut, we developed a reading course that doubled and sometimes tripled the reading speed of people taking the course in just 12 hours. Two hours a day for six days. There are some good reading courses in the market, Google it and find one.

Use technology in your daily life. You must own a computer, you must connect to the Internet and you must know how to go into search engines and look for stuff you need to research. If you can’t afford a computer, go to a library and use the library’s computers. They are available. If you are in business, you must have a good website one that is user friendly and allows you to sell stuff through the internet. Billions are sold this way right now and you shouldn’t be left out of the game. You should also have a blog and you have to communicate with your clients regularly. I post a blog every week.

Life goes by very fast so you have to manage your time effectively. To do that, use a time management system, electronic or paper, doesn’t matter. It is estimated that we get more than 200 messages a day if we count phone calls, emails, faxes, letters, advertising, television, etc. We have to be organized to cope with this.
Focus on the positive instead of the negative. Yes, there is a lot of negativity floating around, but why dwell on it. Constantly complaining or criticizing everything penetrates your sub conscious and everything will look worse than what it is. Don’t make the mistake of living in the past or worrying about the future, especially things you have no control over.

Learn selling and negotiating skills. We are always buying or selling something: products, services, ideas, whatever, so understand how to negotiate. Learn how to communicate your ideas so that you are understood and you move people to action.

When you deal with people, keep a very simple principle in mind. Try to understand, and then be understood. Once, Steven Covey personally told me that if some day we were successful in teaching this principle to all humanity, wars would end.

Look for win-win in everything you do. Do not take advantage of people because no one likes that and sooner or later the relationship will end. If you can’t get a win-win, then don’t play.
If you make a promise, keep it. Make sure your word is your bond. This is difficult to do. How many times you tell someone, “I will call you next week” and you never do. How many times you say “I will be there at 9am” and you don’t show up. Get into the habit of doing what you say you are going to do.

Work is a very important part of life. Do what you feel passion for. Don’t be involved in anything you don’t absolutely love to do. We live once and time goes by and it can’t be recovered. Invest it wisely.

Develop your talents to the point that your weaknesses will be irrelevant. Be good at networking. You can’t imagine how important it is in life to have “connections”, to know people. So, make sure you hang around with lots of people. Join Rotary, belong to a club, go to bookstores and meet people, play Tennis or Golf.

Last but not least, balance your life. Don’t work all the time and forget you have a family, people that love you and that deserve you spending quality time with. If you miss the important events in your children’s lives, you will never get that opportunity again. Do what you need to do to be successful, but don’t forget what matters most, your family.

Economic Development Summit: Eliminating barriers and building the future

Economic Development Summit: Eliminating barriers and building the future

This was the title of the event held at the Puerto Rico Convention Center by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce.

They were expecting 350 attendees and more than 650 showed up and I must say that this entity did a great job in handling more people than they were expecting.

I have been attending events sponsored by government agencies for a very long time and this is the first time ever that I get a CD with a copy of every presentation and also a paper copy, right there in the event.

My congratulations to the organizers for an event well thought out and executed.

We are living in very difficult times and difficult times require extraordinary efforts in order to be able to move a State, a Commonwealth or a Country out of recession.

With a budget deficit of over 3 billion dollars and an overall debt of over 50 billion, taking over the economy of Puerto Rico is not an easy task.

The island’s credit was a very important and critical issue facing this administration and the fact that the credit rating has been rated as stable by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s is quite an accomplishment.

Look, you may be with or against this government, but you can’t argue against facts. It is a fact that the credit rating has improved and it is a fact that Cofina bonds in the amount of 4.1 billion have been sold in the mainland and 1.0 here in Puerto Rico. For this to have happened there is no doubt that accrediting entities and investors are putting their trust in Puerto Rico, because they are putting their money where their mouth is.

I know Carlos Garcia, now heading the Government Development Bank; personally, he was my client when he worked for Banco Santander and I know that he is extremely smart and a very hard worker. He knows what he is doing and the market is giving him and his team a vote of confidence.

In a few months, steps have been taken to stabilize the economy, protect and strengthen Puerto Rico’s credit rating and move towards a rebuilding of the economy.

This is not easy my friends, this is very difficult and for this to happen everyone must pull together.

Whenever I listen to the radio talk hosts in the different radio stations, I have to make an effort so as not to fall into depression. Most of these guys, not all, either believe or they want us to believe that we are going down the tube. They are like disinformation agents hired to create panic and destroy whatever hope we might have in the future.

They often lie and invent stuff that it just isn’t so. Bernie, a friend, was telling me that he heard one of them say on radio that the Federal Reserve was owned by Chase Manhattan and other banks. This is, not only untrue, it is a blatant lie.
The press, the responsible press, holds a very important role in society: Be the watchdog and protect the people from irresponsible government, but it must be done responsibly.

An important point made in the conference was that Puerto Rico must think BIG in order to be successful in today’s global economy. We as a society have the capacity, the human resources to act, to take action, and what is very important, we have to let go of the fear that sometimes paralyzes us and that is constantly being reinforced by some elements in the media, especially radio.

Not all are bad news. There are over 5,438, million dollars to be invested in fifteen programs and one hundred initiatives. Over 250 schools will be renovated, because 70 millions will be invested there. Another 175 million will be directed to public housing projects so that they can be renovated. That will also create 1700 jobs. It goes on and on, the amount of projects that are in the works.

They told us that the private public alliances will mean an investment of 4, 214.1 millions and will create 143,278 jobs. These PPA’s have been very effective in other countries and there is no reason why they won’t work here.

The government’s vision of Roosevelt Roads was unveiled. They plan to create a world class tourism and entertainment project. It will create 40,000 jobs and it will reactivate the economy of the east, including Vieques and Culebra. It has been five years since the Navy left and nothing has been done. Millions of dollars were taken out of our economy and they have not been replaced. It is urgent that the Roosevelt Roads project is built.

Jaime Gonzalez, the gentleman in charge of the project said that the 78 Mayors in Puerto Rico have given the backing to this project. I wonder if it is the first time that this has ever happened, get unanimous support for a project. I hope that this time around, something happens and we don’t continue wasting time and money.

During the past administration, my friend Tito Colorado was put in charge of that project. Several times we discussed it and to tell you the truth, he had a great idea of turning it into a commerce, science and technology development with several universities interested in participating. I know he worked real hard for that to happen and poured his heart into it, and it is definitely a disappointment that nothing came out of it. But, you know, politics is politics and I guess we haven’t matured enough to understand that when a different party wins the election, it doesn’t mean that everything the previous party did is wrong and must be discarded. Hey, good ideas are worth keeping, no matter who thought about them.

Manufacturing, tourism, medical tourism, energy, the film industry, pharmaceutical, bio technology and medical devices companies, there is just so much potential in this small but powerful little island.

The “Isla Verde” energy fund, created in order to lessen our dependence in fossil fuels, should generate an investment of $2 billion in energy projects by the year 2012. I sure hope they can do it although it seems to be a very optimistic figure.

We are such a rich and diverse society that the future can be very bright. We only have to get rid of fear and we have to have more trust in our institutions.

If we elected a government by an overwhelming majority, then it is everyone’s duty to help the government reach its goals or if you don’t want to help, at least get out of the way.
In the meantime, the government must work as a team, even if that means getting Superman, Wonder Woman and even Batman to work together.

The leadership style of Alvaro Uribe, President of Colombia

The Leadership Style of Alvaro Uribe, President of Colombia.

As I mentioned in my last article, I was invited to speak in Santa Marta, Colombia, to ANATO, the very influential association of travel agents of Colombia.

I say the “influential” because they have had President Alvaro Uribe open the congress, seven of the last eight years. To have the President of the country open your conference, is very difficult and shows the importance that your industry has in the country.

I met President Uribe. I gave him my signed book along with my business card, which as many of you know, is a million dollar bill. He was very impressed by the title of my book and by the card, asking his personal secretary to make sure she didn’t lose it because he wanted it.

President Uribe arrived almost two hours late, so as you can imagine, that threw the schedule out the window and I must imagine that the conference organizers were sweating bullets. I was surprised that he didn’t apologize for being late.

There were around 350 people in the room and when he came in, he went table by table, the first two rows across the room, shaking hands and talking to everyone. The man has lots of charisma and he has the memory of an elephant. Next to me was a beautiful woman who he recognized from a speech he had given in Bucaramanga a few months before. Did he remember her because of her beauty or simply because he has that kind of memory? They told me that he remembers everything and I must say that he spoke about 30 minutes with out notes and he recited figures and facts out of memory. He then answered questions for one and a half hours.

He was very candid, very open, sometimes agreeing with the participant and sometimes disagreeing. He always stated the reason why he disagreed and when he agreed, he would give an order to his assistant to take notes because he had to take some type of action. He asked very good questions, demonstrating knowledge about the subject. Only on a couple of occasions he deferred to the minister of tourism and commerce present in the event.

You can tell that this President knows what he is doing and he has that aura of self confidence that rubs off into the public. There was a sense of admiration in that room for this man.

As many of you know, there is a movement in Colombia to have him run for a third term. He hasn’t openly accepted the invitation to run for a third term although very close to me in the conference sat a couple that when he came around shaking hands, they said they were his re election committee and he thanked them. I would suppose that if he wasn’t planning on running, he would have made a comment to the effect, but you never know.

I believe most people in that event would vote for him again. I didn’t find the same level of acceptance out in the street. I asked four taxi drivers the question if he should run again, and the four of them said “no”, that they wanted new blood in the presidency, that he had already done all the good he was going to do.

President Uribe has the highest acceptance ratings in all of Latin America, at times close to seventy per cent. That is unheard of in practically every country.

Why is he so popular?

I asked around and I was told that he is a people’s president. He listens to people and he acts on what he says he is going to do.

Trust is such an important factor, maybe the most important one for a leader. Low trust is the greatest cost in life, in organizations, in companies in countries. Low trust or no trust creates hidden agendas, interpersonal conflict, deep seated rivalries, scarcity thinking, in other words, a win lose mentality and all of these reduce the speed of trust. Low trust affects every decision, every communication, every action; it practically slows or even paralyzes everything.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted”.

A few years ago, in the United States a Harris poll revealed that only 22% of those surveyed trusted the media, only 8% trusted political parties, only 27% trusted the government and only 12% trusted big companies.

British sociologist David Halpern declared that only 34% of Americans believe that other people can be trusted. In Latin America the figure is only 23% and in Africa, 18%. He mentioned that forty years ago, in Great Britain, 60% of the population believed that other people could be trusted, it came down to 29% in 2006 and I am sure that with the problems they are now having, it is down into the teens.

I wonder if anyone is keeping track of these figures in Puerto Rico. Are the economists in our island looking at the trust factor?

Stephen M. R. Covey, who I met several times when I was involved with the Franklin Covey Corporation, devised a simple formula which I think is very interesting.
The formula is based on this critical insight: Trust always affects two outcomes, speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed will also go down and costs go up.
When trust goes up, speed will also go up and costs will go down.
It is that simple, that real, and that predictable.

There is a Chinese proverb that says that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is NOW.

Our whole society must work on this trust factor, especially our government, our politicians, the media and everyone else.