By Monty Law
Berna’s Big Plans
The business I’ve been consulting is a Ready to Wear shop in Concordia, which sells a variety of goods. Its owner, Berna, has been a gracious client and a source of inspiration to me.
She’s been very busy over this period, and numerous times we’ve been unable to get a hold of her. Later she revealed to us that she had a second job as an insurance agent in Iloilo. Since coming to the Philippines, I’ve had this nagging notion that I’ve guiltily kept to myself about the culture of the Philippines. The notion is simply that many of them seem lazy. Our host family and their kids seem to enjoy lazing around and sleeping on the beds outside under the summer sun, and I have yet to see the kids work on something other than dancing. Berna is the antithesis of this notion, she’s only 26 and has built a successful career while maintaining a positive attitude towards life. Yet even she agrees with my little observation, in fact she has received attacks from other people before, for being too ambitious in opening a store at such a young age. Maybe this love for the status quo is apparent across all cultures, not just the Philippines, nevertheless the contrast between the prevailing status quo and Berna’s fiery ambition for the future makes me and my business partner Gary admire her even more.
The business problem I’ve been trying to deal with has given me great insight into the role of creativity and the even bigger problem of business education. Due to Berna’s role as an insurance agent and mother of three, she has been relatively hands off for the business lately, and her competitive edge of good customer service has been eroding. Her helper, Den Den, admittedly is quite shy and reluctant to interact with customers, which goes against the whole customer service edge. Initially I diagnosed this as a classic case of “inefficient management practices,”, the usual business speak we learn in lectures. And yet when I turned to my limited repository of knowledge on management and vision, I found that many of them were extremely long term concepts and frameworks, which had no bearing on the current situation. I wasn’t looking to create Apple and a strong culture, I just wanted to help Berna make her customer service edge be present even when she isn’t. The paradox of creating a long term culture and our short time here presented a conflict I wasn’t able to solve for a week or so.
For assistance, I turned to a copy of Harvard Business Review’s “Top Ten articles on Management”, which proved way too complex and convoluted for the present situation. After mulling over it, I decided to bust out twenty ideas in a row and see what sticks. A unlikely but effective solution came up, known as the Three Second Rule. The Three Second Rule is a rule of thumb for talking to girls, it states that you must initiate conversation within three seconds of seeing a cute girl, or else your approach anxiety will overwhelm you and leave you awkwardly fondling your drink in the middle of a party. This rule, hailed by my American floor mate as “the secret to finding cute girls”, could be applied to business. It was simple to remember, and could produce results quickly.
In the end, even the most well intentioned idea could not stand the inertia of the Philippines. Behind the 3 second rule lay a basic assumption, that the person would actually do it. Our team had only met our business for 6 times due to her busy schedule, so most of our time was spent on the Inventory system on Excel we designed for her. Even a rule as simple as the 3 second rule had to have a small semblance of culture behind it, and due to circumstances of fate we regrettably couldn’t do much about it.