The fourth principle we apply in Samoa is that we only want to work with the best. This runs counter to the typical cultural response to getting things done here, where near enough is close enough and we’ll all do the cheapest we can.
There is a poverty mentality in Samoa that says “We are poor. We can’t afford it. We will buy the cheapest we can find”. This thinking, stamped upon the Samoan culture for around a hundred years (since the arrival of the White Man), has however transcended just money, modern technology and assets. It has bred a deep inferiority complex within the Samoan people when they are interfacing with the Palagi.
[Pic: Corrugated iron canoe. You gotta hand it to the guys who built this thing eh? A few sheets of old iron, a hammer, some nails and voila – out to get some fish for the family for dinner. The best this family could do, but they DID it!]
People here aspire to have a car; to have a job with all the trappings; to get the latest stereo, TV and gizmos. Most of them want to get out of the country and live like kings like they often think that their extended family does in another country such as Niu Sila (New Zealand), Australia or the United States.
There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to better ourselves, but “class” or “quality” or “professionalism” are not words that you would naturally associate with Samoa.
Quality, using the best and aspiring to greatness is not primarily associated with wealth.
I have seen entire villages here who take great pride in their surroundings, planting trees and shrubs and painting, and upkeeping their roads and gardens as best as they can. Quality comes from the heart and is activated by the mind. When we care; when we want to enjoy the goodness that results from cleanliness and order; our minds determine that we will work. Engaging muscles and doing, rather than lazying around and telling others what to do.
I’ve found that most successful business people, politicians and leaders here have a work ethic. Even at village level truly respected and successful Matais are workers, aiming for an order and results that are worthy of praise.
We are aiming for success, and there is no reason that the people attracted to our ideas and work cannot be some of the best in the world. A world-class green research scientist in Denmark or Russia could equally be attracted to Samoa as a location for their R&D work as could “dreamer” or “talker” from the back-blocks of New Zealand who is already in Samoa but just talking about green things. We choose to work with the best, if they are available to us.
If we have only stones to work with, we will build a stone wall, BUT it will be built square and true. If we can afford a wire security fence it will be straight and well maintained. If we have only access to 10 acres, we will start with 10 and build as we are able, but we are always seeking to be the best, and to use the best.
Some of the reason for our thinking like this is the biblical value of excellence*; some of it is our desire to be winners and a leaders; but a good part of this is that we set an example in this community of what can be possible, if our heart is in the right place and we have a clear vision.
We exist in a community that looks down all the time, and constantly thinks negatively especially about their own. We aspire to greatness and while the standard thinking here is that a Samoan must move offshore to really achieve, we want to show that it IS possible to achieve great things, given time, faith, hard-work and a positive attitude.
A while ago I bought the old house once owned by my grandmother off my family, and spent 20 years beavering away year after year attempting to LIFT the quality of existence that we had – demolish, extend, rebuild, clean, tidy and paint till the point that we had a large house worth a gazillion dollars and a really nice lifestyle. The real reason that I achieved the goal though was not all the hard work and not the skill, (I could have paid a builder to do it); not the money (even though it cost a mint); but all throughout that 20 years I maintained a positive attitude and determination to lift ourselves – to make things better – to have a vision.
A caution here though – using the best does not mean that we have to waste money, and buy for example the best imported Italian tiles, but if they become available to us, we’ll take them and use them. I use this example because they have and we will! But it does mean that we aspire to quality – first of all a quality of heart and mind, doing the best that we can all the time, then to seeking the best people, then to building the best business and the best buildings that we can achieve.
One way that this cuts across the Samoan way of doing things is in employment. One of the reasons that the country will continue to struggle is that employment is always based on the person that you know, NOT the best person for the job. Nepotism is rife – the way of life here actually. Relationships, particularly family relationships are everything here, but this is a two edged sword. Putting your own family members onto the board or a key management role, or looking after your own (when there are often better people for the job) does wonders for Fa’a Samoa, but it can keep the country from achieving the best. Our aspirations are to achieve the best, so we seek the best, while of course trying to steer a delicate course through the cultural niceties of the culture in which we live.
For me, it means posting regularly and thinking carefully and deeply, AND using a spell checker before hitting the PUBLISH button! Dontcha jst hayt it wen dares speeling mistayks all thru da page?
- Barter – exchange – collaborative commerce – whatever you want to call it, the principle we are working with is that of exchanging and sharing the assets of two parties, for the benefit of both.
- It’s not about money. It’s about people; sharing a vision and building relationships.
- Use what we have in our hands (exercising faith), as instructed to do (obedience).
- We wish to use only the best available to us.
* Excellence in the bible started with Creation. God said “It is good” after He’d done each day’s work. A worthy aspiration. Goodness in Samoa consists primarily of relationship – being with people, usually family. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but other forms of goodness are not as widespread, and “how shall I put it?” there are saome areas of opportunity for enlightenment.
I remember the look of astonishment on the boys’ faces when they stood back and looked at the Palagi-style construction that they had just completed at The Airport Lounge, and the profuse thanks that the other construction boys gave me after I had showed then, literally hands on knees shown them, how to work concrete with a trowel to get a smooth finish – Palagi flat; Palagi smooth!
The Fourteen Principles:
- 1. What’s yours is mine
- 2. Vision > relationships > money
- 3. Use what you have
- 4. Use only the Best
- 5. Take Nothing Home
- 6. Giver’s Gain
- 7. Cross Cultural Partnership
- 8. Financial Equivalence
- 9. Everyone loves a winner
- 10. A biblical value-base
- 11. Work Smarter, Not Harder
- 12. We should empower others
- 13. Do The Right Thing
- 14. Walk the land