Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Peter Senge: Bridging the gap between business & civil society

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Tue, 02/03/2009 12:31 PM | People

Peter Senge: JP/J. Adiguna Peter Senge: JP/J. Adiguna

Global warming has raised the emergency alarm with activist, governmental agencies and business organizations alike.

It is the most daunting environmental problem of our time, but not many grasp the bigger picture, says renowned business advisor Peter Senge.

Senge, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and founder of the Society for Organizational learning (SoL), has called for collaboration among business and non-business organizations to solve the problem.

An engineer by training, Senge is perhaps best known for his 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline, which introduced the idea of the “learning organization” and has sold more than a million copies since its release. In 1997 Harvard Business Review identified the book as one of the seminal management books of the past 75 years. A new work released late last year promises to be just as influential.

In The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World (2008), Peter and his co-authors grapple with the environmental problems we face, highlighting innovative steps taken by individuals and corporations toward a more sustainable world.

For Senge and his co-authors, there are no “good guys” or “bad guys”; everyone is equally responsible for the problems facing the world. It may seem anachronistic that an expert in management and organizational change is focusing on sustainability, but Senge sees a strong connection in his work.

He has written five books since The Fifth Discipline all of which, he says, are about increasing interdependence and diminishing capacity to understand interdependence.

“All my books are about systems thinking, we’ve always had them. How we started to see the interdependence. …We got two curves that are creating big problems. One is the growing interdependence of the world…and a diminishing capacity to understand interdependence,” Senge told The Jakarta Post during his trip to the capital last week.

“The further human society drifts away from nature, the less we understand interdependence.

So if you deal with tribal cultures, prior to the agricultural revolution, many of them don’t even have a sense of themselves as separate from nature. They usually don’t have even a word for nature. You don’t have a word from something that’s not separate from you.”

Agrarian societies, he says, developed a slightly different attitude, believing it was humans who initiate the “natural” systems, which were often highly religious, and that humans are separate and superior.

During the industrial revolution and the subsequent urbanization process, he says, human beings began to ignore nature. “There’s a lot of American kids think their food comes from the grocery store and the concept of seasonality has no meaning to them whatsoever.”

The further people are from nature, the more they lost the ability to understand interdependence. “Nature is our teacher to understanding interdependence,” he says.

In October 1999, The Journal of Business Strategy named Senge as one of the 24 most influential people on business strategy over the last 100 years. In 2000, The Financial Times named him one of the world’s “top management gurus” and a year later Business Week rated him one of the Top Ten Management Gurus.

But business has never been Senge’s passion. “I had no interest in business, because I grew up in era when business was generally seen as a kind of a bad guy and I personally just never have prereminiscent in commerce.”

But his career as a lecturer on the subject has meant that he has met a great deal of prominent business people.

“I meet extraordinary people and what really struck me is that all the people in business are really intelligent but they are a lot more practical. And they continually deal with thinking better and acting more effectively.”

Senge describes himself as an ‘idealistic pragmatist’, an orientation that allows him to explore and advocate some quite ‘utopian’ and abstract ideas, most notable in relation to systems theory and the necessity of bringing human values into the workplace. He believes that vision, purpose, reflectiveness and systems thinking are essential if organizations are to realize their
potential.

He advocates for managerial and institutional change to build more sustainable enterprises, to foster social, natural as well as economic well being. The idea that the purpose of a company is to maximize profit, he says, is a basic misconception that pervades the business world.

He cites Peter Drucker’s adage that, “profit for a company is like oxygen for a person; if you don’t have enough of it, you’re out of the game,” but adds that, “if you think your life is about breathing, you’re really missing something”, Senge says that, unfortunately, most businesses operate as if their purpose was breathing.

“No, ultimately, the real purpose for any organization is to serve in some fashion. Business has a way of talking about how to create value, which is in someway isn’t bad…We just need to start thinking about if the value we want to create is consistent with all social and environmental well being.”

Senge said his thoughts are more or less influenced by the Confucian theory of leadership, particularly the theory of “Great Learning”, which scholars believe was written by Confucius’ grandson.

“It talks about the seven meditative spaces for leadership development and it starts with learning how to stop. A lot of people lost touch with what that means,” Senge says of the theory he was introduced to while in college.

“You need to learn how to stop your mind, because while you mind is in its continual state of flow you can’t observe, you can’t see what’s going on, until you can start to learn how to pay attention before the thought. So you cannot confuse the flow of your thought with what’s in front of you. Only then you start have some awareness of the reality you face.”

It seems Senge believes a multifaceted approach is needed to tackling the problems of our time.

Love of Literature just doesn't pay

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Mon, 02/02/2009 12:59 PM | Lifestyle

Something for nearly everyone: Visitors to the Kompas Gramedia Fair 2009 pass by publishers’ stalls. Although many books written in other languages are available in Indonesia, few Indonesian books are translated into English or other languages. JP/J. Adiguna Something for nearly everyone: Visitors to the Kompas Gramedia Fair 2009 pass by publishers’ stalls. Although many books written in other languages are available in Indonesia, few Indonesian books are translated into English or other languages. JP/J. Adiguna

Despite Indonesia’s rich literary tradition and vibrant local publishing scene, the work of only one Indonesian writer — Pramoedya Ananta Toer — has made its way onto the international stage.

Visit any Gramedia bookstore around the country, and you will see that fiction is the most visited section. Hundreds of novels, plays and anthologies are published here every year, but few get translated, keeping them inaccessible to the rest of the world.

The list of obstacles is a long one, according to John H. McGlynn, the director of publications at the Lontar Foundation.

“First and foremost is lack of support, whether from the private corporate or government sector. There has to be recognition — especially from the government — if you want to present yourself to the world as a civilized nation through literature and art.”

McGlynn, who has lived in Jakarta for 33 years, translated several works by Pramoedya and arranged his US tour. In 1987, he established the Lontar Foundation along with writers Goenawan Mohamad, Sa-pardi Djoko Damono, Umar Kayam and Subagio Sastrowardoyo as an initiative to foster greater appreciation of Indonesian culture, particularly through the translation and publication of Indonesian literature in English.

It is hardly a secret that few Asian governments and business have made the effort to have their local literature translated and promoted worldwide. Writers from India, Singapore and the Philippines who write in English gain some success, and a few Chinese and Japanese writers have managed to break through on the international market.

This lack of government support means publishers must rely on sales alone — an approach that doesn’t work for translations.

“Most countries around the world recognize that,” McGlynn said. “Throughout South America, Europe, other countries in Asia, there are institutions or the government itself provides subsidies to publishers who want to publish their literature.”

Book supporters: A group of cheerleaders choose books at the Kompas Gramedia Fair 2009 at Istora Senayan in Jakarta, on Jan. 29.  JP/J. AdigunaBook supporters: A group of cheerleaders choose books at the Kompas Gramedia Fair 2009 at Istora Senayan in Jakarta, on Jan. 29. JP/J. Adiguna

Low sales and high production costs mean that most of the revenue from a translated book — 80 or 90 percent — goes toward covering production, distribution, translation and writing, plus overheads, leaving the publisher with an unsustainable profit margin.

“If the maximum amount a publisher or a translator can get get from a Rp 100,000 book is maximally Rp 10,000, how many books do they have to sell to get a profit?” he said. “The publisher of a translation can’t survive using the commercial model.”

Even one of Indonesia’s biggest publishers, Kompas-Gramedia, finds it hard to sell translations or other books written in English.

Bagus Dharmawan, a chief editor of Penerbit Buku Kompas, a subsidiary of Kompas-Gramedia publisher, believes that the lack of a local market for English-language books means many publishers are not interested in having local works translated.

“We still have a problem with literacy even in Indonesian,” he said. “How can we expect people to read in English?”

One example, said Dharmawan, was an English version of Development Manifesto by the late economist Mubyarto, published in 2005. By October 2008, only five exemplars had been sold.

Yet Indonesian publishers have a high rate of translating books written in other languages into Indonesian. According to UNESCO, Indonesian is among the top target languages for translations. When it comes to works translated out of Indonesian, the language does not appear on the list. Countries that have published books translated from Indonesian include Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and theUnited States.

Even when works are translated and published, convincing international booksellers to distribute them is very difficult, especially in the United States, which is the world’s biggest market.

“Of the some 100,000 books published in the US last year, less than zero comma something percent were translations,” McGlynn said — a sign of the international lack of appreciation of foreign literature.

“There is not that much interest in the West in knowing about Indonesia, and it’s happening with almost all non-English languages.”

Only a few authors who write in languages other than English are well-known in the West. Many become known after winning prizes, especially the Nobel Prize.

“Of all the wonderful Spanish-language writers, a couple have gained fame, and Umberto Eco is the only well-known Italian writer,” McGlynn points out. “Indonesia has only Pramoedya and it’s very limited. … He was interviewed by almost all major televisions, radio and newspapers, but that didn’t help him increase sales at all.”

That there are no institutions representing writers compounds the problem.

“There is no such thing as literary agents in Indonesia, whereas Western publishers will only deal with an agent. They don’t deal with authors, they don’t deal with publishers. So for a writer from Indonesia who doesn’t have an agent, they won’t get to first base.”

And even then, it is a crowded literary scene.

“If we’re going to translate something from Bahasa Indonesia into English, it has to say something different or it has to say something so amazingly well, that they will take notice.”

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s highly successful award-winning 1997 novel, was an example of a book that “broke out”, McGlynn said, because it is well written in English and also illuminates Indian society.

“That’s where Pramoedya had a gift. He was both a good writer and he said something about Indonesia.”

A contemporary Indonesian novel, such as crime or chick lit, will not appeal to Western readers who already have too much choice.

“Not that Indonesian writers should look toward the West and say ‘what’s going to make it there?’ That should not be their measure of success. Their measure of success should be how well it is received within their country. But if they do want to introduce Indonesia abroad through literature then they need to say something about Indonesia.”

The lack of such writing, McGlynn said, is one reason the Lontar Foundation has not been as productive as hoped. During its 20 years of existence, the foundation has published less than 100 books.

A further limitation is a shortage of translators, and the time and money required for the translation.

“It takes a year or more to get the translation of a novel right,” McGlynn said. “But no organization can afford to pay a good translator what they deserve.”

McGlynn could translate Pra-moedya’s works only because the publisher paid him in advance.

“Most of the good translators I know have a full-time job. They only translate for love of Indonesia and there is no appreciation of that love. And after a while it just gets burned out.”

Business is not a name game, says Olga

The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Mon, 02/02/2009 11:42 AM | People

JP/P.J.LEOJP/P.J.LEO

JAKARTA: Fame does not guarantee success in business, says actress and presenter Olga Lydia.

“I’m sure that the prominence of the owner of the business has some effect on the business but I don’t know how much,” Olga told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. “But the most important thing is not the fame but the quality of the service.”

The 32-year-old started her businesses four years ago — joint ventures with colleagues and friends — which include a pool and lounge at Setiabudi Building and a restaurant at the Crowne Plaza, both in Jakarta.

“So far, all of the businesses have quite a lot of regular visitors. This is what we want. We want to have a kind of circle of customers,” she said.

Olga, who started her career as a model, will soon open another business — a restaurant and pub in Kemang, South Jakarta. This is also a joint venture with her friend actress and presenter Anya Dwinov and some “expert” partners.

“I’m lucky to have friends who are experts in the business and that makes me confident to make the investment even though many people might be very careful about investing in this so-called ‘crisis’ year,” she said.

The new restaurant and pub have been under preparation since last October and are scheduled for completion in late February.

“I chose this business because I like to eat. Choosing a business close to our hobbies or interests can help,” she said.

The actress, who loudly rejected the controversial pornographic law, graduated with a degree in civil engineering study from Bandung’s Parahyangan University in 1994.

She has hosted dozens of TV shows including the News dot Com and Republic Mimpi on Metro TV and Beyond Marketing Today on JakTV. — J/Matheos V. Messakh

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