Dr. Emiliano Hudtohan

Educator, Business Writer, Industry Expert and Entrepreneur

Retrospect and Prospect

Dr. Emiliano T. Hudtohan

Manila Standard Today

January 24, 2011 January, the first month of the Gregorian calendar, is named after Janus, a Roman deity that symbolized beginnings.  His two-faced head in a Roman coin looks to the past and at the same time faces the future, reminding us that the past is connected with the present and the future.  This connectedness is substantiated in our salawikain that says, Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa kanyang pinangalingan ay hindi makarating sa kanyang paruruunan. By doing a retrospect-prospect exercise, many of us end up with our new year resolutions.

The Past as Driver

The word retrospect contains ‘retro’ which signifies  the notion of something old; pejoratively interpreted as traditional but positively translated as something classical. Retrospection implies a review of past events and revisits historical precedents.  The word prospect means looking forward in anticipation. It suggests a vision or a goal, an expectation of a particular event, or condition.  When we do retrospection and prospecting, we become present to ourselves and the world around us; we stand in the middle of our past and future.  It helps us discover our sustainable self anchored to our beginning in a distant past and we project ourselves to what lies ahead.

Historians consider the past as driver of the present and the future; Cartesian mathematicians use statistical retrogression to estimate and predict future events; Pavlovian behaviorists establish patterns to program and anticipate mechanistic actions; and strategic gurus use previous performance to accomplish corporate mission and vision.  All these demonstrate the relationship between retrospect and prospect, visually represented by Janus who looks at the past and at the same time faces the future.

Unpredictability and Chaos
However, the notion that the past invariably determines the future is being challenged by Chaos Theory advocates. They believe that our experiences of the laws of nature show subtle relationships between simple and complex events and between order and disorder [randomness]; the universe that obeys basic physical laws is capable of disorder and unpredictability; and it shows there is a limit to understanding and predicting the future. For example, linear logic would view World I and World II as predictors of World War III and Edsa I and Edsa II as predictor of Edsa III [which almost happened].  This is so because predictability is a rare phenomenon that operates within the constraints that classical science has culled from a variety of complex events.

Chaos theoricians debunk the assumption of ‘perfect competition’ in neo-classical economics which considers output as doubled if the input [capital and labor] is doubled.  Thus, firms are able to make bigger profits by ‘simultaneously raising their output, lowering costs and reducing prices’.  With nonlinear systems in operations,  multiple inputs and complex feedback loops, chaos advocates believe this classical assumption no longer applies.

They consider the modern ‘scientific management’ of Frederick W. Taylor (1911), an engineer who drove production through industrial efficiency, outdated.  With high technology precision up to a nano second in production, employees trained in multi-tasking and innovative work scheduling, Taylorism has likewise been debunked.

Strategic planning which was started by the Harvard Business School in the 60s continues to be a regular corporate exercise. This highlights the importance of integrating production, accounting, and marketing approach to an overall strategy.  But critics say experience has shown that highly mechanistic plans and forecasts do not always work.  Doing these, in Simon Forge’s metaphor, is like ‘driving using the rearview mirror.’  In response, Massachusetts Institute of Technology introduced system dynamics.

Christine Page, MD, a doctor of surgery and member of the Royal College of medical practitioner, resists a “statistical prognosis” that 80 percent of people die with a certain disease within two years without addressing the health of the other 20 percent.  She asserts that even in medical science there is unpredictability. A patient’s case need not be in the 80 percent of the statistical bell curve; and therefore is an exception to the general prognostic rule.

The Past and the Future
Chaos theoricians make us aware of disorder and random events are present in our lives, our communities, our nation, our world and our universe.  But they tell us that disorder is not a deterministic pattern that must always predictably happen again.  Randomness of events is what gives us hope, knowing that the cyclic pattern of disorder and chaos need not happen again.

In retrospect, the lessons from three examples I mentioned in economics, business, medicine and politics do not underline disorder or discontinuity; they rather underscore progress culled from the past, which provides substance for making new prospects.

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Lasallian Centennial 2011 is the centennial of De La Salle presence in the Philippines.  My next three columns [February-April] will be on Lasallian social responsibility.  The series will highlight the pioneering Filipino and American Brothers and their lay-partners who established what is known today as Lasallian education.  In 2005, my paper on Lasallian responsibility was done at the behest of my doctoral adviser Br. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC. His own writings reflect a Janus perspective.  With J.M. Luz and M.H. Tirol, he authored in 1984 The De La Salle Mission Statement: Retrospect and Prospect. He wrote in 2002 An Unfinished Symphony: 934 Days at DECS; in 1986, Portraits and Sketches: De La Salle Directors and Presidents,; with Dr. Rosa Guevarra, AFSC in 1978, Inspiring the Christian Academic Community: Selected Writings of Br. H. Gabriel Connon, FSC, and with A.T. Reyes in 1980, The Connon Years 1966-1980.  His prospect for the future of Catholics is: Towards an Adult Faith (2000) and God-Talk: Renewing Language about God in the Roman Catholic Tradition (2006).

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