I TOOK a chance and agreed to an assignment with Invaders for Carnival 2019. The result is a new, sweet, exciting love which is so emotionally conflicting that I break out in cold sweat.
My “puppy love” had been for the band of my birthplace in East Dry River: Despers. Then history unfolded and I accepted the position of corporate communications manager at Witco (West Indian Tobacco Company) where I had responsibility for Desperadoes. I attempted to mold that puppy love into the perfection that existed only in my own head. The result, a failure that continues to haunt my existence. It was like a novice trying to ride and tame a wild horse.
Despite the availability of money and huge passion, my Despers experiment failed mainly because the band was in search of a “new man with a hammer.” At the end of my tour of duty, I had a palpable dislike for pan except for the adrenaline rush which Panorama produces, complete with increased heart beat and increased physical capacity.
Over the years, I have kept a distance from pan except for the annual foray into the panyards, which always ended with me proudly wearing my Despers T-shirt at Panorama semi-finals in the North Stand, pretending to be some kind of “bad-john” Despers supporter.
Over the years my love has been growing cold because the band has not changed and has become what I describe as the “vagrant band,” bouncing from one home to another in Port of Spain, running from its own children.
What adds to my anxiety is the knowledge that the generosity of the sponsor, Witco, is tenuous; it is a company operating without the legal opportunity to advertise, and I am surprised that it continues the sponsorship. The future of Despers is in jeopardy but their capacity for music is unquestionable.
Carnival 2019 found me flirting with a new “man” and the relationship was consummated at the Panorama semi-finals with me wearing an Invaders T-shirt on “the Drag.” This caused enough taunting from friends who knew me well, including Noreen who said: “Well look meh crosses!” Invaders has been a truly inspiring experience for me and I have learned several lessons which need further formal refinement.
Lean management structure is alive and continuously implemented at Invaders panyard. Their structure comprises a board of management, an executive (of which the three most active leaders are the manager, the captain and the operations manager) and the players. To the observer, there is a seamless interplay which causes things to happen every night of practice.
It becomes even more intense and seamless when all the racks are moved from their small panyard to the neighbouring car park without voices being raised or the use of expletives. Most players simply push their racks from one venue to the other and the practice begins in earnest. Maybe the presence of so many young people is responsible for this civility but “de cussing” was just not evident to me.
Placing a value on productivity is another key lesson. When players turn up, they get to their positions, begin to practise by rote and do so until they get the music, which means being able to play the piece as demonstrated by someone who “got it.” It requires repetition and a level of dedication which I have only seen in athletes, highly motivated students or perhaps classical musicians.
Several nights I asked the question: what would it take to transfer this productivity and dedication to the public service or Cepep or any other state enterprise? Maybe it is the instant gratification of getting the tune because every practice ended on several “run-throughs” of the tune from start to finish or wherever they reached so the player felt accomplished or understood the unassigned homework that was required.
For at least four weeks, the end or the completeness of the tune is a moving target which can change at any time and the players unquestioningly work with this ambiguity. Conversely, changing an instruction for a public servant requires an effort similar to that required for changing national legislation.
In traditional management we talk about PESOS as an approach for training people to master a task. PESOS is an acronym for prepare, explain, show, observe and supervise. In each section of the band, I saw this happening over and over and without pushback. Imagine if this occurred every day in the public service, we would have such smooth-running institutions.
This assignment re-energised my hope not only for steelband but for my country. If I had the opportunity I would redirect the money which is allocated to creating temporary Carnival infrastructure to setting up a task force to identify the transferable lessons from the steelband yards with the purpose of finding a way to implement these lessons in the public service and all state enterprises.
In the same way that the total quality movement was initiated in the 1940s and became a way of doing business, maybe we can establish a steelband approach to doing business in developing countries but it would have to begin in the panyards and back streets of our countries. Annually, at least 5,000 people live a panyard experience of being goal oriented, highly productive and disciplined.
Economic diversification is not just a thing, but must become a way of life and sport and culture provide a rich opportunity for the brave.
Thank you, Invaders.
Shell Invaders performs Hookin Meh at the National Panorama finals at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB