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N Touch
Monday 19 February 2018
Commentary

Disruption may be productive

Marina Salandy-Brown writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

The news over the last couple of weeks has been full of all the cuts to the budgets of the various Carnival organisations.

Last Sunday I wrote about sponsors working closely with clients to develop those cultural organisations they identify as deserving their financial support, but that is one side of the coin. Organisations must also play their part in seizing opportunities to improve themselves.

The government funding cuts may provide the opportunity.

Most of the Carnival activities will continue but will be reshaped in line with new realities, and that can only be a productive given that this country’s economic wellbeing is not something to write home about and it is unlikely we will ever return to the economic security we once enjoyed. We face many uncertainties in a very changing world in which disruptive, unforeseen actors and situations arise almost daily and we have little or no control over what happens to us as individuals or as a country.

Last weekend our seismographers alerted us to the many small earthquakes that had taken place in the Gulf of Paria in a 24-hour period. The WhatsApp messages did the rounds, warning us to be ready and vigilant. I simply cannot imagine the horror of experiencing a 7 or 8 Richter scale quake in this almost totally unprepared country of ours. None of us can, nor can we predict the fallout. I was reading about the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province of China in 2008 that killed 87,000 people, left 4.8 million homeless and cost US$137.5 billion to rebuild. Those numbers transposed to TT would mean almost complete wipe out. But the most interesting of the unforeseen results of that devastating earthquake was the dramatic increase in the number of divorces that followed. It is clear that the disruption in the physical environment triggered changes in people’s behaviour and thoughts. Survivors wanted to take back control of their lives.

Nobody welcomes profound, uncontrolled change and some of us cannot tolerate a smidgen of it, so being forced out of our comfort zone may have its merits.

Crisis demands action and pushes us to grasp opportunities to overcome our difficulties. In a paternalistic state such as ours where we have been given so much and are controlled by political forces and a monolithic bureaucracy I would speculate that we have been lulled into both passivity and a deep sense of entitlement that may be our downfall.

Lucky are those of us who are outside of the state bureaucracy that we can respond relatively quickly to disrupters, that we can think like entrepreneurs. Many calypso tents have produced boring and irrelevant shows for decades. The organisers were slow to realise that this is a new era shaped by technology, that mass media have made tastes more sophisticated, that new genres demanded that all genres should engage in some navel gazing. Finally, with audiences disappearing and subsidies too, they are talking about upping their game and not being totally reliant on Government. The NCC too plans to improve the quality of the paultry, expensive and poorly attended Carnival shows that have been the norm. I am not exaggerating the embarrassment of those presentations. At least in these areas of the arts, we are now rebalancing the provider-receiver relationship and people are thinking more like entrepreneurs and understanding their responsibilities better.

Alas, the Public Service and some government agencies are less agile in the face of the country’s alarming, present economic and social conditions. Why can’t they respond to the stimulus for change? The need to do things differently is blatantly obvious to everyone, even those who don’t seem to want it. Every Tom, Dick and Harry berates our ineptitude and yet we are inert, turned to pillars of salt. Once while subjected to the torture of the passport renewal process I asked a member of staff if, as the interface with the public and a first-hand witness of the system’s severe shortcomings, she was empowered to make recommendations. She replied that managers were uninterested in the views of staff, but only after she had disagreed with me that the process was system-driven and antiquated, rather than innovative and service oriented.

Prof Robert Kegan coined the expression “immunity to change” to describe situations like ours where systems and institutional norms combine to create effective barriers to the evolution of better methods and policy implementation. It is not an easy nut to crack because individuals are the biggest agents of change but they need the room to innovate and to believe that change is possible. Maybe that unwelcomed, massive earthquake might serve some purpose.

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