As the saying goes, conventional wisdom can be learned from quotes. One quote that I wanted to bring up this evening is the quote from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, a writer from the 1900’s and I quote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. If I ask you “who is the most good looking person here in Lexmark?” Each of us will have different answers to it. Why? Because “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” or shall I say that beauty is a relative term and that, is what I’ll be talking about this evening. Relative terms…


I had this experience back then when I went to the province. One sunny mid afternoon, being in an unfamiliar place and not knowing where to eat, I ask direction from one of the town folks. He told me where it was, simultaneously pointing his lips towards the place and said that it was just nearby. So I took off and started walking towards the eatery. 20, 25, 30 minutes gone by and yet I still couldn’t see the place. I stopped momentarily, gasping for breath, and recollected if I was in the right direction. I was positively sure that this was the right direction since it was where the gentleman pointed his lips. So I continued and after another 30 minutes, I was relieved to see the eatery. Later that day, I reminiscence the experiences I had and learned firsthand that, distance is a relative term. Walking for 45 minutes is ok for people living in the province while 10 minutes for people living in the city. More importantly, if you are in the province, you must be aware of these cues when asking for directions. If they point using their hands, like it’s over there, it means that it’s just nearby, however, if they point using their lips, by now you should know the answer to that.


 Another relative term would be how tasty the food is and the serving size of an order. As for the latter, serving size will depend on the person asking it. For instance, if Toastmaster Mark would ask the waitress, “Miss, how big is the serving? Then, she would say, as for you Sir, this will be good for one. And if Toastmaster Diane would ask the same question, she would say, it’s good for 3.  As for the former, how delectable the food is would vary for every person. Maybe we can modify the quote to “Scrumptious food is in the taste of the eater” or something like that.  One thing I learned though that if you want advice where to eat, never, never ask a person who eats anything edible instead ask a person who is picky on food. More often than not, they will always give you good advices on it.              


Taking things into a bigger perspective, I begin to understand that relative terms are mostly adjectives. Another discipline I can relate it to is statistics. We all know that in stats, there are two data types, namely quantitative (numerical) and qualitative (categorical). Relative term is equivalent to qualitative data type and this would always come from the viewpoint of the person. In contrast, Quantitative is easier to understand since standards have been defined to have a common understanding on things. Examples are a1 Kilo is 1 kilo, an inch is an inch… However, there are still exceptions to this rule. If you have a date this coming Valentine’s Day and she’ll tell you that she’ll be done in five minutes, then expect it to be more than that.




Relative terms can be cultural. Recently, we had our kick-off this month and one of the concerns for Cebu shared services center (CSSC) was on the sense of urgency in dealing with issues. As for us Filipinos, our viewpoint of time is really different. A 6PM party in most cases will start around 7PM. Although we are accustomed to this, we should be aware on its implication. In business, time is money and a moment delay will adversely have its effect on the bottom line. For us in the shared services, our sense of time should be relative to the business process that we are supporting. This can be done by defined department service level agreement (SLA) and turnaround time (TAT). This poised a big challenge for management since this will involve a paradigm shift and a structured approach to achieve it.


As a parting note, in order for us to make better judgments in the future, always keep in mind these relative terms. Everything that a person says would always be relative on their viewpoint, culture and past experiences. The key here is in knowing without prejudice and learning to appreciate differences. As a result, we make better decisions, whether to walk or not, to try out a new resto everyone in the office is buzzing about and to realign our sense of time in our workplace. 


By Lyle Lao