In previous posts I have explained that the crisis in Samoan Tourism was predictable and that ineffective responses to external challenges have more to do with government and industry issues than those of global market conditions or tourism-adverse events. I explained that in order to affect meaningful change, the current leadership would need to eat humble pie and get real. In this post I share the challenges of vision setting – what Samoa needs to do and has failed to do, and why it is so hard for her to do it.
Political leaders with true vision are rare. The reason is that while visionaries are by nature risk takers, politicians however are by nature risk-averse. Tuila’epa (Samoa’s Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism) is a politician, but I am an entrepreneur. He is risk averse and lives to protect the world as he knows it from the past, but I like in a different world. I risk all with thought only to lift people into a world that I see in the future. Tuila’epa protects his people – from political ambush, from their own past stupidity, or other threats perceived. A large part of his life is putting out fires. He talks incessantly about his achievements and loves to tell stories, almost entirely the past. There’s no problem with that. It’s his lot in life but despite his best efforts to present otherwise (politicians the world over talk up their capacity to see and act for the future) expecting him to suddenly turn the ‘economic growth globalism mantra’ about face, stop the big project borrowing and plan for a truly sustainable future would be insanity. He’s caught in a career and a system that limits his vision to only that which the IMF, World Bank and United Nations lays out for him (or what he can retain, or squeeze through in his negotiations) and his colleagues in the public service too generally have their vision limited to that which their own influencers seek, and what will grant them power.
On the other hand I have vision. I am a possibility thinker. I see opportunity; have a can-do attitude and share with others how they can lift themselves, ‘go for it’ and achieve. I’m not constrained and am constantly making suggestions to people on how they can do more, better and helping them with ideas and sharing wisdom. In business I take risks. If I am interested in a project and believe in an idea, I just do it. Sometimes I win. Other times I lose, but this is the role of a visionary. It’s not necessarily better, but it’s very different.
FIJI (vision) vs SAMOA (politics)
You could not get a better comparison of two leaders who have crossed swords in the last few years than Tuila’epa and Bainimarama (of Fiji). Nothing could be clearer in comparing the roles of the two South Pacific island leaders. Both countries have strong leaders. One is a politician. Another is a visionary. Both have taken great steps forward for their countries but in two totally different ways.
Tuila’epa has spent a decade tidying up the roads and infrastructure, building buildings, putting in bureaucratic ‘stuff’ and buying into the globalisation machine that is all so politically correct. Climate Change agendas; MDGs and civil society stuff; political things through and through. Debt has risen as a result but everything is honkey dorey (as far as he presents it) and corruption does not exist, or is a thing of the past.
Bainimarama on the other hand has offended probably everyone on the planet politically but has pushed through so many positive reforms in such a short time that the people are actually in shock at the changes and the benefits as a result. Rarely on the global scene have we seen such vision from a leader as that which Bainimarama has shown us. Step by step, in the face of enormous flak (Tuila’epa one of the most vocal) the military man has showed his visionary nature, setting out not only a stunning vision for his country, but a timeframe and means by which to get there. Edict after edict flowed from the so-called ‘dictator who used the military for his own benefit’ yet while those that he ousted have generated much noise the vast majority of Fijians respect and deeply appreciate his efforts at sorting out a country that, like Samoa, was corrupt to the core. Not one factor in the measurement of a countries health has gone downwards on Bainimarama’s watch – except that of the totally biblically unholy*, but ‘thou shalt worship it or else’ mantra of democracy and Fiji’s political relationship with Australia, New Zealand and Samoa. This trio have simply made fools of themselves with their constant bleating about a man who is now loved and respected by the vast majority of his country, and must take the responsibility for pushing Fiji into a tight relationship with the BRICs and PNG. Australia in particular has made a very messy meal of their relationship with Fiji so much so that it may take a decade or more, perhaps even never to restore. New Zealand has been shown up to be foolish with the smart sanctions backfiring big-time and a hardline policy increasingly being recognised throughout NZ for what it was – arrogance. Samoa had to tow the NZ line of course but the political nature of Tuila’epa’s aggression towards Fiji’s new leader is pretty obvious. Attacks always deflect the attention away from any political shennanigans at home. I’m sure he prefers the spotlight to be on a non-democratically elected leader’s issues than examination of the nature and form of democracy in Samoa!**
The point is not so much that one leader is better then the other, it is that a politician like Tuila’epa can only ever work with other people’s ideas and with his limited capacity to envision the future, whereas a true visionary can set the scene, chart the course as he sees it and hopefully then make it happen.
I was heavily involved in the IT scene in New Zealand. I guess you could say that in some ways I was at the top, New Zealand’s most prolific web developer by a long shot, one of the pioneers of the web development industry (starting in 1997) and establishing the Web Developers Association in 2006. Newly appointed Minister of ICT in Samoa, Tuisuga knew some of this, had spent some time with me and invited us to a meeting with leaders the IT industry and international experts. Yet again small minds prevented us from seeing, let alone even being involved with the development of the Samoan Strategic Plan. Feedback from the professionals we spoke to off the record was that Samoa had undertaken an insane and totally inappropriate exercise in strategic planning, something so ambitious that not even a country the size of Australia would have tackled. “For God’s sake tell then to ‘get real’!” we were implored. Fat chance guys – sorry, this is Samoa!
The point was that a ‘very important advisor’ had recommended this to be industry best-practice and the Samoan committee had paid them handsomely to do the big plan and make it look good. Practical or realistic – nope. Politically Correct and looking good – yup! The report and plan will hardly ever be read and has little chance of being implemented more than a cursory ‘whatever’ but it is politically safe and sound.
True visionaries bring a good measure of reality into their visions. Politicians are usually more about perceptions and other such things.
Samoa really struggles with some things. Apart from the obvious problems like honesty and thievery, top of the list in business struggles are those of strategic thinking and marketing. Thinking strategically, planning how to go about things to achieve a desired objective seems to be soooooo bloomin’ hard here. It may be to do with the strong well-developed systems within society that have covered for that need over centuries, but sitting down with people day after day and talking with their businesses, it’s obvious to me that planning and thinking strategically is a big challenge to Samoans. That’s probably why Strategic Plans, reports and huis (I’m not sure what the Samoan word for a big pow-wow is, sorry) are made such a show of.
The other thing that causes difficulties here is the basic understanding of cause and effect. There seems to be a real disconnect between perception and reality. It’s a widespread trait that people will say things and do things for show. Saving face; paying for things that they cannot afford but because they think that society expects them to is the norm and hurts society here very badly. Thus for the STA to acknowledge that they have little clue in a particular area, or acknowledging that they actually need help in an area can be very threatening. The truth of course is the polar opposite of this deception. It is only when we acknowledges that we need help that we can be helped. Thus people who play the game and are no threat fit in with such weak leadership quite well and people like me who know actually their stuff will be sidelined. [Don’t talk to me about it!]
It means that planning within Samoa Toursim will always then lean on people who can give the answers that look good and present well to the world will dictate the direction of the industry. True leadership with good vision setting is a big ask as far as I can see. There are a few people who have some clues but they are mostly on the outside.
I’ve spent enough time with the PM to know that while he’s astute and can recognise a good idea and put a certain person into a role for political benefit, that he does NOT sit at a Board Meeting of the STA and set out goals and a strategy. He will listen to others, and tick off their suggestions. This form of leadership is political, but not visionary. As I said before – not bad per se, but not what is really needed.
Setting a vision for Samoa Tourism also requires a sensitivity towards the cultural needs as well as the economic and business needs. Not everyone in Samoa wants increase in tourism when push comes to shove. They might like some of the benefits of work opportunities, but self-interest abounds, and anything that affects a Samoan negatively today will quickly get the flick, even if there is benefit to others, or is further down the track.
My vision for Samoan Tourism would be to actually maintain status quo – seeking only certain types of quality smaller foreign investors and putting serious efforts into developing the existing infrastructure and offerings into something unique. In assisting a business, the worst thing you can sometimes do is increase it. Building up a small bad business often just makes a bigger bad business and it’s often far better and usually more profitable to turn a small bad business into a small better business. It’s also infinitely easier to build a small good business into a bigger good business than try to fix a problem that has just grown into a bigger problem!
I have a plethora of ideas, some of which others share and talk about too – but I have many that are ultra creative and original. Before I get into the creative department though we need to get the basics done right. So in my next post I share on the three core teachings of the SWAP Foundation – niche marketing, productisation and collaboration and give examples of how these principles can be applied into the Samoan tourism industry.
Next . . . The Three Basics
* Despite the global mantra that democracy is the best form of government of those available, man-based leadership systems of which democracy is the current popular form actually gets a very bad rap in Scripture and is actually projected in several portions of scripture for spectacular failure. Christians who support democracy thinking that it is biblical have obviously not done the research and are in for a rude shock when the man-based systems of government increase their power and influence, bloat, then bust under the sheer weight of corruption. Note carefully that those who speak loudest for it are either the ones who either control it, benefit from it or those who have been hoodwinked by the others! Note also the results with concentration of power – the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. It is not for no reason that people in power promote democracy so hard!
** I view Tuila’epa’s attacks and outrage at Bainimarama as one of his biggest political mistakes equal with his increase of national debt and wholesale buy-in to the globalist agenda. It would have been far better to just ‘keep Mum’ and do the minimum that NZ required of him at the time. He now has not pretty much not only singlehandedly alienated the two South Pacific islands, but forced division within all South Pacific countries that will likely remain for many years after he is gone. Should Bainimarama be elected, Tui will have a difficult road to recovery. I doubt that he will attempt to restore relations in a hurry or want to pop across to say congratulations to the good Colonel! The truth is that if Tui took a lesson or two out of Bainimarama’s book Samoa would be much better off for it and, believe it or not a more godly one too, but that is another political lesson and Sermon from Samoa for another day!