Imaginary MBA 199: Seminar on Crazy Rich Asians

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M. A. P. Insights

Description: An integrative course on understanding global social, economic and political environments of business from the perspective of contemporary Asian systems as influenced by China’s rise, particularly depicted in a 2018 film of the same title. An integrated business and film appreciation course useful for scenario planning, design thinking, behavioral economics, organizational behavior, game theory, and strategic finance/ marketing.

Who should take this: Millennials, who want to establish foothold in new markets. Baby boomers, Generation X and Y of Asia and the rest of the world who wish to understand how their legacy relations and businesses may be managed by their offsprings/ successors.

Prerequisites: Life-long courses vetted for equivalency in the Master program by the participants themselves. Open to both MBA-degree and non-degree type-students looking for integration of management courses to life — for money, merriment or both.

This course is about the movie, not just books and news of everyday business life. It is reflective of the real world of 21st C humans in business and society, useful for assessing environments and succeeding in the firm’s triple bottom lines of people, planet and prosperity/ profits for all.

The movie begins with a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte (China is a sleeping giant, let her sleep, for when she awakes, she will move the world). However, the seminar will focus on something students of today are likely to appreciate more — what Bruce Lee is immortalized with in a tourist souvenir shirt from Hong Kong (not in the movie): “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”

The story line is simple: rich boy Nick hides his princeling status to poor immigrant girl Rachel she met in the city that never sleeps; Nick’s Chinese mom in an Asian city cannot accept Rachel into the family and plots the separation of the two. But it becomes more complicated: poor girl uses the loss aversion concept that she teaches in a major university to win two other sides of her trilemma (repeated use of “two in, one out” approach in decision making). She made it in New York, she should make it in Singapore.

That Bruce Lee quote may as well be the 21st enterprise strategy of leaders: use the head (cognitive knowledge), the heart (affective relations), and the hand (action-oriented management that uses both head and heart) to be effective in the new knowledge era of the fourth industrial revolution. Rachel showed this strategy in the classrooms of both university (lecture hall) and life (mahjong session). Others failed — colorfully shown as the series of insta-messaged news of Nick bringing over Rachel to Singapore from New York, pictures and all, traversing the worldwide web of intriguing reactions.

The movie is full of allusions to the role of certain regions in the 21st C world. Pacific ASEAN Lines will fly you from the West to the East, a new role for a critical bridge between places and across time, albeit ASEAN is emblazoned in lowercase across the aircraft. The journey will change your perspective of the colonial age that gave geography its 21st C political boundaries of race and color (ostentatious Malay side represented by Princess Intan, played by Kris Aquino; stereotype turbaned guards of Singaporean mansions; rowdy and flashy entertainers gyrating to Western band and music, echoed in the fancy wedding announcement and bachelorette parties), or religion (affluent women in a prayer group drowning in gossip between chapters and verses of Ephesians and Corinthians). Changed as well may be the Western notion that messy kids of rich parents from the Far East could not be the harbingers of the new majority shareholders of their own workplace, business or society.

But the deep part of this seminar calls for repeated applications of ideas that people’s behaviors are not one-stage actions. Rather, they unfurl as stories — or games — in the short- and long-terms, with gains and pains designed by winners as climax of processes and journeys. Beginning with the end in mind, only certain players — who think what other protagonists think — are likely to succeed in the final round; they build scenarios in their mind for the win-win solution that zero-sum players will fail to see — and thus lead the trilemma to a beautiful conclusion.

Students in this seminar will apply the original trilemma among Rachel, Nick and his Mom to Napoleon’s observation on China, in the context of the current South China Sea impasse, with the Philippines and the United States as the other parties.

Scenarios are mapped out separately (China-US, Philippines-US, China-Philippines) to suggest that another trilemma (combinations of political, economic, and socio-cultural dimensions treated always as “two in and one out”) faced by these players will likely end disastrously if only competitive solutions are applied. Empathy and co-opetition are introduced to better understand several prisoner’s dilemma, here repeated in three different sets of relations in the Asian Trilemma.

The world has limited and imperfect information even in the age of Big Data; non-rational players face all sorts of cognitive biases and are nudged to variously think fast or slow; markets are constantly being reinvented with fields of academic study in University 1.0 when they cross boundaries of 21st C knowledge everywhere (agribusiness, ecotourism, fintech, mechatronix; religion + science + ethics; statistics/ mathematics + computer information + domain expertise for decision making in data science; healthcare and education + artificial intelligence + public administration; criminology + forensics using data extracted from sensors+ statistics + hypothesis testing, etc.).

The Seminar looks at the necessary and sufficient conditions to establish the peace and prosperity that great civilizations ought to practice outside the Middle Kingdom, in contrast to vindictive nation states born out of colonial strategies — the Opium Wars deeply etched in China’s psyche are now the perfumed nightmares of Crazy Rich Asians, and beyond. Indeed, the onus is on other players as well — they need new understanding of the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environments of real life that are really stranger than fiction. Sign on!

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.


Federico “Poch” Macaranas is an adjunct professor at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) who has put on new tires (re-tired) enjoying teaching wise leaders how to ride the world of millennials.