Why We Should Stop Using the Term 'World-Class'
The highest terms of praise we seem able to bestow on a product or a person
The recognition may be
This asymmetrical arithmetic propounds that selling 500 handbags in Makati is not the same as selling the same number of bags (or even a third of that number) in Prague, even for the same price. Somehow the smaller number of bags sold abroad provide the occasion to uncork a bottle of Dom Perignon 1986.
We don’t have to call anything or anybody “world-class.” Just plain classy will do.
There is probably no Japanese equivalent for the phrase “world-class,” at least not the connotation we attach to it. It is quite enough for the most accomplished haiku poet, Zen master, sword-maker, film director, origami or ikebana guru to be acknowledged and revered within one’s own native country with no reference to the affirmation of talent other than by his (or her) own countrymen. The acclamation is bestowed not necessarily by virtue of winning a contest but conferred even informally by masters who have excelled in the field. The idea of perfection in the Orient (to which we theoretically belong) is mastery of self and living to one’s full potential, not beating other contestants in an American Idol mold—sorry, you chose the wrong song.
America stretches to the extreme this self-praise and setting the standards. With typical hubris, this country thinks of its domestic best as automatically the world’s best. Thus the NBA team that wins the finals is accorded the title of “world champion” even if no other countries competed in the tournament and the teams are all theoretically representing American cities.
Implied in the media hype celebrating the winner of any big U.S. tournament, including baseball and football, is the unchallenged acceptance that the world’s teams are not good enough to beat the best in the American league. Thus, the basketball Olympics in Athens was embarrassing. Argentina’s gold in basketball (over Italy) clearly demonstrates that the title of world champions at least in the NBA should be given a rest. As that prideful New York anthem puts it, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. It is possible that in the Beijing Olympics there may be yet again a non-U.S. basketball team to take the gold.
Our own idea of excellence moves in the opposite direction from Japan and America.
A big singing star, no matter how talented, feels inadequate somehow, unless and until she has had a stint abroad, maybe a role in a Broadway musical, a concert in Taipei or even a matinee gig in one of the gambling rooms in Las Vegas. There is this humiliating hunger to secure the “world” stamp of approval to rightfully claim a sense of accomplishment. This implied superiority of other countries to distinguish between talent and mediocrity seems automatically acknowledged. It is understandable to pine for an international gig if the money is bigger, but this isn’t even always the case. Thus the domestic helper working in a Forbes Park mansion and earning perhaps more than her counterpart toiling in a small studio loft in Hong Kong is liable to feel inferior to her “world-class” cousin.
Now and then, the world takes notice. But we need not wait to celebrate our domestic success.
When a successful local company decides to raise its sights, it thinks right away of going international. Thus a successful domestic burger chain opened a few stores abroad to try to get its own “world-class” seal on its name. If the international foray was not the rousing success it was expected to be, does this mean that this great company is somehow diminished? I don’t think so. It is the combination of domestic taste buds and product offering that has made it a wonderful growth story at home.
Our version of
Being the best here is a worthy achievement. The best here can even beat its multinational counterparts from abroad operating here. Why is there a need to prove ourselves in other countries too?
An excellent company need not cross time zones to prove its worth. There are enough objective measures like return on investment and market share to support a claim for excellence. Being the best here is a worthy achievement. The best here can even beat its multinational counterparts from abroad operating here. Why is there a need to prove ourselves in other countries too? How much red ink has flowed from “international operations” of the country’s largest domestic companies? Sure, we should export
Still, one has to respect the desire to match the size and critical mass of large domestic companies in other countries. This is a different thing as it involves competitiveness with regional counterparts. It has nothing to do with putting a red pin on the map of the world—we operate in 300 locations, two of them in countries where you need a visa to line up at our counter.
I shudder at the phrase “world-class” when any distinguished person who did well abroad is introduced. Can we go easy on this “world-class” sauce? It can cause arteries of the heart to harden.
Let us resolve to ban the phrase “world-class” from our media vocabulary, if it leads to withholding recognition or according it too late, sometimes posthumously to a deserving and gifted personality.
This penchant for sticking the tag “world-class” as if it were a medal of
It’s also true that the world out there is more competitive. It is indeed a bigger pond with bigger fish. It does not count on accidents of birth and the active support of godfathers and persons of influence to provide an unfair advantage. Sheer talent and a little luck account for success. But this combination of grit, hard work, and right timing exist too in our native setting.
Excellent companies and persons that are local, un-accented, spirited, creatively struggling with our imperfect system, and laughing off frustrations every day with unbounded optimism—these are the ones we need to celebrate. The jusi barong,
Now and then, the world takes notice. But we need not wait to celebrate our domestic success. More importantly, we cannot withhold recognition and accolades of appreciation unless and until some foreign bodies give their nod. This is like a concertgoer waiting for somebody else to clap first before she feels it is proper for her to do so. Such an attitude betrays a sense of insecurity in one’s unfamiliarity with concert etiquette—no applause, please, between movements.
It is said that as a people we are difficult to perform for, as we are stingy (or timid) with our applause for a fine performance. This may stem from diffidence in trusting our own instincts in detecting quality. In turn, this has led to a default mode in bestowing recognition. If we feel a person shows
Thus do we surrender our personal vote for determining quality. We wait for foreigners to applaud before we allow our own enthusiasm to express itself. Only the praise of the foreigner seems to provide us with the permission to recognize our native treasures.
Let us resolve to ban the phrase “world-class” from our media vocabulary, if it leads to withholding recognition or
We have to believe in what we have done well. We need to change our mindset and trust our own feelings of greatness. We don’t have to call anything or anybody “world-class.” Just plain classy will do.
It is said that as a people we are difficult to perform for, as we are stingy (or timid) with our applause for a fine performance. This may stem from diffidence in trusting our own instincts in detecting quality. In turn, this has led to a default mode in bestowing recognition.