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Making it look difficult


IN SPORTS COMPETITIONS like high diving, usually in some scenic cliff with a deep body of water beside it, “degree of difficulty” elicits a high score from the judges. A simple dive with no twists (how many?) before hitting the water may get a so-so score. But when the somersaults are executed three times before hitting the water without a splash, winning is possible.

Successfully executing tricky, or not previously attempted, moves get high scores from the judges. It is these complex moves that subsequently redefine the standards of the game. And to top it off, the difficult maneuver should look effortless and graceful.

Degree of difficulty also applies to politics. Landmark achievements are in fields where political reforms have previously failed. The launching of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with a transparent bidding process and revenue-sharing scheme launched by a previous administration speeded up a difficult and previously corruption-laden aspect of building up the nation’s infrastructure. The toll roads to Baguio are a good example.

Sometimes, the degree of difficulty is unexpected, as in the launching of a sovereign fund that has met with bashing from both the private and (previous) public sector. The source of the funds and the government guarantee of bad decision-making (not always unintentional) raises the issue of moral hazard.

Can the degree of difficulty also be intentionally promoted?

The problem of corruption rests on the premise that difficult issues can be cleared or “facilitated” with a little incentive. This paradigm is applied to both small things like car registration and the acquisition of a driver’s license, to bigger ones like tax payments (or non-payments) and government contracts.

Are we dealing with a cultural issue here where following the rules, which have intentionally been made complex, seems to result only in frustration and higher costs? Paying brokers of power to unclog the system has become the normal way of doing business.

Still, there are two types of public users. The first includes otherwise law-abiding citizens who just want to get something done—a traffic violation cleared, a business license approved, or a fire inspection to be done with. It seems a small inconvenience to “incentivize” somebody to cut through the red tape. The second category involves jumping the queue in a government bidding process.

On the first category of reluctant bribers who just want to get through the routine of dealing with government, some progress has been made. Driver’s license and passport renewals are decentralized at malls and even subdivisions (like “passport on wheels”). These moves have cut down the need for fixers by simplifying the process and making it more accessible.

It is red tape and ironically the legislated effort “to provide checks and balances” that complicate dealings with government. And there is always the legislative branch ready to introduce new rules for even simple private transactions like requiring identification and registration for owning a mobile phone. Another function to be added to the bureaucracy — job applicants and ghosts can line up here.

Making things look difficult can be part of marketing.

If you lock yourself out of your house, will you pay the regular rate for a locksmith who just fiddles with the lock with his picks and opens the door for you in less than 30 seconds? Should “easy” not merit the usual fee? After all, this ease proves the locksmith’s expertise which should command proper recognition.

Making a service look too effortless sometimes plants doubt in the customer — is she paying too much for that quickie service?

Degree of difficulty is a big aspect in a consultant’s presentation and the fee that he is pushing for. Is it any wonder that the “diagnosis” stage of the engagement entails doomsday scenarios (your talent turnover is the highest in the industry) that require expert intervention? There are cases presented of rescue operations involving previous clients — whatever happened to the non-disclosure agreements with those companies?

Professional advice, sometimes falling under the category of renting expertise, strives to rely on jargon (efficiency metrics) rather than simple words that may be too accessible — hey, I understand that. The degree of difficulty is directly proportional to the fee that is proposed (sometimes in foreign currency).

Making things look too difficult can backfire. Maybe, we can do this later… with somebody cheaper. n

Tony Samson is chairman

and CEO of TOUCH xda

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