Dr. Ichak Adizes: Insights From My Trip

This is a report from my trip in September and October ’07, one of the longest and most tiring I have ever done.

It started in Istanbul, Turkey, for one week (my speech there, to about 200 deans of business schools, was sent to you as a press release a week or so ago); then Odessa, Ukraine, for a week of consulting; then Podgorica, Montenegro and Novosibirsk, Russia, for two days of lectures each; then Berlin for three days of consulting; and finally Mexico for a planned four-day vacation.

I am tired, but I got some interesting insights. Here they are.

Istanbul, Turkey
In Turkey, I met with an advisor to the Prime Minister. I asked him what issues the Prime Minister is mainly preoccupied with. He said: “The Constitution.” Turkey is in the midst of changing some parts of its constitution. What is at stake, according to this advisor, is the role the military plays in managing the affairs of the state. As we know, in Turkey the military is given the role of protecting the state from religious interference. The Prime Minister comes from a Moslem religious party, and the country has been struggling to find the right balance between religion and secularity, between what the government, led by a religious party, wants, and what the military wants. For instance, there is a debate about whether women can wear a head scarf to school or not. Another question is whether the Kurdish language should be recognized as a formal language of the country.

What became apparent to me during this conversation was that the Prime Minister is evidently using Turkey’s application to enter the European Union as a way to reduce the power of the military – and thus increase the power of the political establishment, led at present by the religious Moslem party he heads. How?

The European Union has rules and guidelines, and one of them is that the military should not have a voice in politics. So the EU insists on reducing the power of the military in Turkey. If I am right, the EU might have a dilemma: It wants a non-military-dominated democracy, but in Turkey this will result in a strong Moslem-led government.

For democracy to be workable in function as well as in form, no single interested institution should get hold of political power – not the military and not the religious parties, either. But that is what is happening in Turkey and virtually in Israel, too, where the minority religious parties can make or break governments. Nor should the government be colluding with powerful businesses, as in Serbia today, where members of the Cabinet also sit on the boards of directors of major companies; or as in the United States, where the political Left is claiming that big business dominates the political agenda.

Any collusion of powerful interests with government is undesirable. Ideally, the military should be out of government. But religion and business should be out of government, too. Maybe even Socrates was wrong when he prescribed that countries should be governed by “philosopher/kings.” Philosophers are just as biased as the others.

Democracy, by definition, means no monopoly or even oligopoly of powers; multiple powers – none dominant – seem to be the answer. The role of a political leader, then, is not to represent any single point of view but to integrate different points of view. (See my video on the Adizes web site, www.adizes.com: “What is a leader”)

As for the issues themselves, I told the Prime Minister’s advisor that based on the principles of mutual trust and respect (MT&R); I see no reason why women cannot wear head scarves to cover their hair. The problem, however, as discussed at length in the media, is what they call “neighborhood pressure.” The fear is that, if permitted, those who do wear scarves are going to put social pressure on those who don’t wear them, to wear them.

I told the advisor that I wondered if the solution, based on MT&R, is not to prohibit scarves, but to prohibit intimidation. Just as sexual harassment is prohibited, so should religious harassment be prohibited? Both parties should recognize each other’s undeniable right to follow whatever behavior suits their beliefs as long as it does not interfere with other people’s beliefs.

As I have said in many of my lectures: “I do not care what you think of me. I do not care if you do not respect me. Just behave as if you do. God apparently did not want us to know what other people think. If he did, he would have put a video screen on everybody’s forehead. You can think whatever you want, as long as you do not behave in a way that prohibits me from thinking whatever I want. What counts is not what you think but what you do.”

So wear scarves if that makes you feel good. Just do not force the scarf on me. And the reverse is also true: If you do not want to wear a scarf, don’t. But do not prohibit me from wearing one if I want to.

Mutual respect is a guideline for the solution. It seems simple but is difficult to implement because of problems of trust. Mutual trust means: If I let you behave in a certain way, would you reciprocate and let me be free to behave my own way, too?

This experience reinforces my claim, debated at numerous Adizes conventions, that trust must precede respect. If there is no trust, respect cannot even start to influence the decisions being made.

Whether to accept the Kurdish language as an official national language is a different issue, one shared by other countries, such as Montenegro, Macedonia, Israel and even the United States.

Based on MT&R again, I suggested that the issue is not how many languages a country recognizes as official. Granted, having two languages is more expensive, because court and other documents must be written in both languages – but that is the minor issue. The critical issue is how to avoid the disintegration of the country: If there are two formal languages, but they are not both spoken fluently by the entire population, which can lead to disintegration.

Two examples of such disintegration are Israel and Macedonia. The Arabs in Israel study Hebrew at school and speak it, while the Jews study Arabic very superficially and cannot really communicate in it. The result is that the Arabs feel they have less legitimacy as citizens than the Jews.

The Macedonians speak Macedonian, but the Albanians who live in Macedonia have requested that Albanian be made a formal second language. There are signs that if that proposal succeeds, the Albanians, as a political statement, will stop speaking Macedonian. That is also the danger in the United States: if Spanish becomes a second formal language, the Spanish-speaking people will not need to learn English anymore, and the English-speaking people do not know Spanish. Without a common language we will have two nations sharing the same country, but unable to communicate without interpreters. It does not feel right, does it? I call that disintegration.

In Turkey, Macedonia and Israel, my advice was the same: Two formal languages? Fine, but then the entire population must be fluent in both. This is how Switzerland operates: when a person from a French canton travels to a German canton, he speaks German. Another solution is to choose English as the formal language that everyone must know, as Singapore did.

Whenever there is a danger of disintegration, we must legislate the antidote – integration – or the country risks being seriously damaged in the long run.

Odessa, Ukraine
What is legitimate and what is not depends partly on how long the behavior has been practiced, how openly it is accepted, and what is done about it, if anything.

I found that in Ukraine, businesses routinely pay “protection” money to a clandestine organization, which then guarantees that the business in question will not be audited by the tax authorities. This is a widespread practice. It is not even a secret. It is not even challenged, When I showed total surprise, I was told that bribery is normal. A student can bribe a professor to give him a passing grade even if he never attended classes or took an exam. Some of the “attorneys” now practicing law, I was told, never actually studied it and the same goes for some “doctors.” It’s hard to believe, but I was assured that “everything is for sale,” from a driver’s license to the top political positions. It is only a question of price.

How does one eradicate this kind of corruption? It has been preoccupying me, because it is column six in the Attribution Spreadsheet and it is a critical problem. No economic policy can succeed under those conditions – although it’s true that people do adapt and work around or with a system, no matter how screwed up it is. But without adequate taxation, how does the state provide such services as education and health? Clearly, inadequately. Those who have money buy those services privately or go abroad; while those who do not have money suffer and die. How long will people tolerate such a system before they start to cause turmoil or even a revolution?

This experience brought an even bigger question to my mind. There is form and there is function. But there are also the values upon which form and function are based.

Countries in transition often try to copy the United States’ democratic system and its market economy model. But their value systems may be different. The American system is based on fairness. Really. People from other countries don’t always understand this fair-play cultural doctrine. In fact, many interpret the Americans’ assumption of fairness as being naïve or even stupid; I have heard this said more than once.

And why are Americans accused of being naive? Because they believe what others tell them, and because the American systems of government and business give people unprecedented freedom to act, based on trust. Here is a personal example, which surprised me when I first arrived in America: If you call the phone company and tell them that you put a quarter in the public phone box but did not get a connection, the phone company asks for your address and sends you a quarter. I was more than surprised when I experienced it myself. “The phone company believes what I say?” I wondered in total astonishment.

Or how about newspaper stands? You put money in and you are supposed to take only one newspaper out. They trust people not to steal and resell the newspapers. That would not happen in any of the countries I came from. None of them. There is no trust. In Russia during the Communist era, for example, you could not order a sandwich and then pay for it. No way. First you had to pay. Then, you got a ticket to pick up your sandwich.

Take another example. We just suffered the worst fires in the history of California. I listen to the radio, and hear that the government has forbidden anyone to raise prices, on anything, more than ten percent. Why? Because no one should exploit people’s tragedies to make extraordinary profits. That is called fairness.

So the market economy is free, true, but there are established values of what is fair, and if those values are violated the government steps in. I notice this “fair play” value system everywhere: in the park, in AYSO soccer games, in restaurants, waiting in line to board a plane, everywhere. The problem is that it is hardly a cornerstone of the other cultures that are trying to copy the American free market model. Their value system is based on power: “Power talks.” “Get power and use it to benefit yourself.” And the ones who cannot get it or do not have it must live with the consequences. Playing fair is for wimps.

The result is an abuse of the American-style market openness, which in turn causes further socio-economic polarization: those who have power enjoy obscene benefits, while those who have no power get, at best, crumbs.

I realize that this last statement requires more explanation and deliberation but this Insight is too long as it is. The bottom line is that countries that attempt to duplicate the U.S. political and economic models do not necessarily share the value system that makes the models work well. The odd combination of American economic and political models, with a power- value system, might create socio-political results that even the Americans who exported the system would abhor.

Montenegro
In Montenegro, I lectured to government administrators and under-secretaries of various ministries. Some of them enthusiastically told me that Montenegro today has a very positive balance of payments and a large surplus in the Treasury. They were proud of the foreign “investments” that are flooding the country.

I did not see it that way. In my view, they have a surplus only because they are selling off the country: Land, factories, buildings – everything is for sale, and other nations, especially the Russians, are buying it all. “These are not investments,” I said to the deputy Prime Minister when we had dinner together. “What will you sell when you have nothing left to sell?”

The country has gone big-time into tourism, planning to develop hotels with 35,000 additional beds. That is about 20,000 new rooms. “Where is the labor force going to come from?” I asked – a question I have asked on every visit. Let us not forget that Montenegro has only about 600,000 inhabitants. Its workforce is about 200,000, most of them peasants or government bureaucrats. Obviously, workers will have to come from neighboring countries where the standard of living is even lower, such as Albania and Bosnia, and maybe include even the low-skilled workers of Serbia. “So what? That’s not a terrible thing,” was the response. “Even now, we have a large Albanian minority. Ulcinj, one of the towns, is almost 100 percent Albanian.”
“I am not anti-Albanian,” I explained. “But will the foreign workers be citizens, with all the rights of citizenship? Or will it be like it was in South Africa, where they brought in Africans to work in their mines and put them in shacks outside the city, treating them worse than second-class citizens? This is not a sustainable solution.”

It is never wise to apply a temporary solution to a permanent problem (or, for that matter, a permanent solution to a temporary problem). The need for a labor force in a massive, labor-intensive industry is a permanent problem; thus you need a permanent solution, not a temporary one.

Temporary solutions, if they do not change over time, become de facto permanent solutions by default. But they are probably the wrong solution for the long run, because they were designed to work only as a temporary, stop-gap solution.

Look at what is happening in the United States, with 12 million non-legitimate workers. We need them to support our economy, but we don’t want to recognize them as legitimate citizens. Because they are not legitimate citizens, they do not pay taxes, even though they use our health and educational resources. But if they were allowed to become citizens and vote, it would change the demographics of the country. “In your case,” I told him, “if the enormous labor force you will have to import becomes legitimized, the original Montenegrins would become a minority in their own country.

“In fact, the demographics of Montenegro are already problematic: the Parliament has been unable to approve the Constitution because they cannot agree on an official language. What will you do when your demographics change even more?

“If you want a foreign workforce, and you decide to let them become citizens, in order to avoid long-term social and political upheavals you will have to organize the country like Switzerland, where there is no one formal language or religion, or you may want to do what Singapore did: recognize only English as the formal language.”

But I know that this would not be an acceptable solution for Montenegro, because as a new country it has nationalistic aspirations. They want anything official to be uniquely Montenegrin – even a brand-new Montenegrin Orthodox church. (In the past, Montenegrins worshiped in a Serbian Orthodox church.) They want to have their cake and eat it, too, and as we all know, that does not work. Stay tuned.

Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia
I did not look at a map when I agreed to go and lecture there. I did not realize how huge Russia really is. And Novosibirsk is right at the center. They even have a little church at a spot they claim is the center of Russia. It took me an all-night flight and a change of several time zones to get there from Moscow.

But what I found, I loved. Russia is not Moscow or St. Petersburg, any more than New York or Los Angeles is the United States. If you want to see Russia, you must travel outside of Moscow or St Petersburg.

Here is what I found in Novosibirsk: Warm, friendly people. A relaxed atmosphere, not at all like stressed-out Moscow.

Although it is in Siberia, Novosibirsk is not a place of exile: it has one of the largest and best-known academic campuses in Russia. Khrushchev built it to house the country’s best nuclear scientists. And the campus grew from there. It has schools of economics, chemistry, geology, etc.; the enormous campus includes twenty-two institutes. It is known as the “academic city” and it is a city, which continues to grow and is currently experiencing a building boom. I asked if people really like to live in such isolation and was told that the people who go there rarely move away. It is a peaceful and very pleasant place to live.

When in Moscow, you will not see streets named in honor of famous Communists; but in Novosibirsk, Lenin is everywhere. There is even a statue of him, as well as one of Maxim Gorky, and a number of streets are named after Soviet generals. Conspicuous by their absence are streets named for Stalin, whom they detest for obvious reasons; Gorbachev, whom they do not respect; and Yeltzin, who many people claim was the one who destroyed the Soviet Union, not Gorbachev. It was news to me.

Here is another piece of “news”: in Novosibirsk they claim that Stalin had Jewish blood. His name, Douglasville, means “son of Jews” in Georgian. Go figure that one out.

Berlin, Germany
I usually prefer not to go to Germany. As a Holocaust survivor, I find even the language makes me squirm. And the people are aggressive and very formal. I just do not like it there.

But Berlin is different. Even the salespeople in the stores are friendly and cheerful. It is a cosmopolitan city, and you feel it. There are lots of restaurants serving food from all over the world. It is clean and alive, and I felt welcomed and very comfortable. I am postponing my retirement plans and will be traveling there every three months to work with a solar energy company. They are very exciting to work with; in addition, I will be helping to accomplish something positive for the world.

In Berlin I also discovered a “treatment” for obesity. The saunas in the health clubs in Germany are co-ed and au naturel. I did not know this until I walked into one and discovered it for myself. After that, I did not miss a single day at the health club; I exercised in earnest and have never sweated so much in my life.
I may be 70 – but not at heart.

Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Mexico
From Berlin, I took my dear wife, Nurit, to Rancho La Puerta, in northern Mexico just outside of San Diego, for a week, to rest and to celebrate my 70th birthday in peace and quiet.

Well, the Lord prepared a birthday surprise for me. It is a well-known fact that my managerial style is that of an Arsonist. So God prepared the biggest fire in the history of California and northern Mexico. We were evacuated to San Diego and could not get home because the highways were closed. The air quality was dangerous to breathe.

And what did I learn? That the old saying, “Man plans; God laughs,” is true. The name of the game should be: Plan, plan, and plan again – but then don’t hold your breath. Expect change, change, change.

Finally, Santa Barbara
Some time ago in one of my Insights columns, I dared to suggest that since there are Godlike qualities and devilish impulses in all of us, and since we were made in the image of God, then there must be a complementary team “up there”: God and the Devil, who together created us and the world. And as they struggle with each other, so do we: Whom do we follow, and when, and why?

I said that “I dared” to say this because in effect, I was challenging monotheism. And I did get feedback from several readers, who argued with me and were not too happy.

Well, apparently I am not totally crazy. I just read an article in the local newspaper. There is an ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, founded by Zarathustra, that holds the belief that there is an evil divinity as well as a good one at work in the universe. Scholars of religion characterize Zoroastrianism as dualism. And guess what? I am finding that dualism explains a lot of what I wonder about: night-day, breathe-in and breathe-out, cold-hot, hate-love, black-white. Everything has its opposite, its twin. Whenever I see too much of one thing, I look for the beginning of its opposite. If you are too hot, for instance, you will start feeling cold. For proof, ask people with fever. If you look into total darkness, you begin to see white dots. People at the North Pole, if they do not wear sunglasses, see too much of the bright white snow, which can cause them to go blind and see black.

If you love someone badly, madly, it can easily be the beginning of hate, and if you hate someone passionately, it can be the beginning of love.

Maybe there is a future in the Middle East. Now go try to figure that one out. There is so much to learn.

That is it for now. Write to me; I look forward to your feedback.
Sincerely yours,
Ichak Kalderon Adizes