Who’s an Expert

“The 10,000 hour rule” is what Malcolm Gladwell proposes as the key to becoming an expert.  His book “Outliers” is gripping, exciting yet frightening.  It frightens me because of the realization that if I worked 5 hours each day for 5 days each week, it would take me approximately 9 years to become an expert.  Try saying that to any number of “experts” in our society and you’ll be laughed out-of-town. In this population of arm-chair experts, once you have access to an inner circle you can present yourself as an expert, no credentials required.

From Gladwell’s perspective, the process of becoming an expert requires time and significant effort. There is no short-cut along the road to excellence.  There are key questions to be considered. For instance, How to communicate to John and Mira TnT that excellence is our only option?  How can we turn-on our population to the realization that for TnT to be respected or treated as a major player on the world stage, we have to be experts in everything we choose to do?        
The only place to start is with the vision.  That might sound dogmatic and obvious, but if we don’t know where we are going then we are unlikely to have a pathway to get there. Unfortunately our vision changes every time a new political party takes over the governance of the country.  Successive governments with few exceptions, find it necessary to throw out whatever was done before and start something new even if it is simply to take the old idea and re-brand it to something that appears new.  Someone commented recently that in other countries, politics is viewed like running a relay where you “pass the baton but in Trinidad [and Tobago], you start over the race”.  In re-starting the race there is continuous upheaval and often unnecessary change.  The ultimate result is a colossal waste of money which can be used to improve health care and education.     
By way of example, the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company was established in 2006 with the mandate to develop the film industry.  For the past 6 years, they have been doing their jobs and attaining significant success.  If we judge by the increasing demand to view local films at the annual Film Festival, the increasing number of on -location requests to shoot films in this country and indeed the recent success of Lisa Wickham’s documentary “Forward Home”, then something is working here.  
If this was a private sector initiative, the Board of Directors would be in continued huddle to seek a sustainable way forward.  They would be asking critical questions like: “What has worked for us?” “What can we replicate?”  “Is there a “Best Practice” emerging here?”
In their 6 years of existence the Film Company has put in 10,000 hours and more, so Gladwell may have been inclined to call them experts in their area.  Dismantling such a successful company may not be a good idea.  A private sector approach suggests that you strengthen their capacity and increase their resources.  Any other approach would mean starting over.  Imagine having to start over to build your 10,000 hours.           
There is an underlying issue here that goes beyond the mere dismantling of one company. It’s the need to delink the development of the country from the politics of the day.  Projects and initiatives with the potential to serve the common good must not be held ransom or to the whim and fancy of politicians.  They must be allowed to flourish even if they were spawned from opposition politics.  The country’s development must not be stymied simply because there is a different political party in power.  That level of short sightedness is rather unfortunate.
After 50 years of independence, the time has come for us to establish a mechanism through which the views of citizens can be meaningfully canvassed and used to inform decision-making in critical areas.  In a population of 1.3 million, the pool of talent runs dry very quickly.         
On the individual level, the time has come for us to engage in meaningful debate about political philosophy and a range of other concepts which impact our lives.  There is a recognition that the world has moved far along from the edict that we never discuss politics and religion.  Indeed, it is such discussions that foster understanding  promote change and soften positions.            
Great communicators know that one way to understand the enemy is through communication.   

By Dennise Demming – Public Relations and Training Consultant 

Small Business … A Road Worth Travelling!

Walk along any street and consider that each business establishment represents an untold story of someone’s dreams and aspirations. The statistics suggest that for each business that is standing, there are 9 that have failed … closed their doors … gone bust. That failed business is a representation of the smashing of another person’s dreams and aspirations. Businesses which survive, do so because of someone’s courage and passion to persevere despite the odds. For a limited number of persons in our society, entrepreneurship is the most natural thing to do because they grew up with business being discussed around the kitchen table. If it was not about the impact of the weather on crops, it was the impact of strike on the port or the impact of the walk out by customs officers.

Some entrepreneurs grew up to the hum of business and while no one was saying you have to become an entrepreneur, the spirit of entrepreneurship was so pervasive that they made an automatic choice at the appropriate stage of their lives. Their mindset was conditioned daily to think of business and to seek solutions to business problems. Conversely, they were trained to see business as a solution to problems. There is the story of a business being spawned because of a mother’s need to import suitable foods for her lactose intolerant child.

Additionally, this small grouping also has access to easy funding simply because of who they are and the resources that are available to them.

But what happens to the other hundreds of persons who choose the role of entrepreneurship? It is a long, treacherous pot hole filled road which requires careful navigation.  

There are 3 huge “pot holes” to be navigated: Self Doubt, Cash Flow and Bureaucracy.

The first pot hole is called “self doubt” which is reenforced by everything some people have been exposed to or learned. It begins in school where young people are encouraged to absorb and regurgitate so that, by the time they leave school, they are still asking what to do and when to do it. The thought of taking the initiative and making decisions is just not second nature. This mind set is even more paralysing because of the risk the entrepreneur is about to take by striking out on her own. And as if personal self doubt is not enough, the business person then has to cope with employees who want continuous direction in order to get anything done. There is no easy resolution to this problem because this attitude of “self-doubt” exists at all levels from top business executives, government officials all the way through to the bottom rung of the organization. This need for direction will take a long time to be changed.

The second pot-hole is “money”. Your first approach to the bank is likely to result in anxiety because of what is required just to open a business account. If you have cash, then it’s easy but if you need funding then the business opportunity can easily pass you by before the bank approves the overdraft or grants the loan. As a result of this level of bureaucracy and red tape, small businesses typically obtain their funding for start-up and early stage growth from a combination of the founder’s savings, credit cards and investments by family and friends. In several cases, the entrepreneur and or directors will even cook up a story to take a personal loan. These factors make for tremendous insecurity. Despite the hype and high profile media coverage, very few small firms secure venture capital funding. Banks, by the very nature of their business, are resistant to the high-risk loans which many small businesses represent. Additionally, potential entrepreneurs often lack the business savvy to be able to articulate what they need using business jargon. They are also often inexperienced in presenting a well-thought out long-range alternative plan to cover emergencies and other contingencies. All of these factors lead to the slow response by the financial sector to small businesses. There is really no easy solution to the pot hole of “money”.

A third pot hole is the one called “bureaucracy”. With a low threshold of $250,000.00, the small business is required to function like any multi million dollar business. The business must become VAT registered, pay National Insurance, PAYE, Green Fund and Business Levy. This just adds layers of institution and bureaucracy requiring an accounts department if only to keep on top of the forms. Ironically, this figure is less than what some top CEOs earn so there is a need to reconsider and really ask the question: “to what extent is this a barrier to entry into the small business sector”?

A fourth pot hole and one which might be unique to Trinidad and Tobago is the continued and unrelenting rise in “crime”. Nearly every business has been affected by crimes such as housebreaking, larceny, violent crime, road rage and white-and blue-collar crime within businesses. To my mind petty crimes upon the business include using the stationery for non business related purposes; staying in the office until late to prepare for an examination and using the resources of the business for any non related activity. Oh no! You may cry, that’s not a crime, but it is!

Incidents of crime impact the psyche of the organization and all employees. If we are to achieve the goal of a highly productive society then, we must be able to maintain a crime free environment.

Everyone thrives in an environment where people trust the system, where people genuinely live the notion of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Despite the size of the business, it a remarkable kind of person called the entrepreneur who has kept her doors open despite the odds. Small businesses far outnumber big business. The time has come for more emphasis to be placed on the needs of the small business because ultimately, the small business is in a better position to respond to the fast paced changes in our communities.