30 September, 2023


Little White Book Of Hilmy Cader’s Wisdom

By W.A Wijewardena

Dr. W.A Wijewardena

Dr. W.A Wijewardena

Value of sparsity over verbosity

Hilmy Cader, Strategy Master, has chosen sparsity of words over verbosity in communicating his wisdom in his Strategic Reflections, a collection of 100 word short essays he had run in his regular column in Daily FT for many years. This is an effective style of communication which he has used following the example set by many erudite masters in communicating their wisdom.

Poverty of words

It is not easy to present one’s wisdom in a few words as many students writing assignments with word limits would know. The challenge faced by such a person is twofold. First, he has to use the least number of words to communicate his ideas. Second, while observing the first, he has to make himself understood by his readers. These are in fact two conflicting goals. That is because the more you become abridged in your presentation, the less you can convey your views to readers.

Hilmy CaderIn this endeavour, you are handicapped by the poverty of words in communicating your wisdom and the inability of your readers to grasp the precise meaning you wish to communicate. Hence, to make the ordinary folk understand such abridged language, other erudite people have to write detailed commentaries explaining what the original writer would have meant.

In many instances, such commentaries, instead of enlightening the reader, contribute to mislead him. It is therefore a challenge faced by any writer to select the appropriate word as well as the appropriate number to make him easily understood by his readers.

The absence of thinking people

Hilmy Cader has met this challenge successfully by presenting his wisdom abridged. Why did he write strategic reflections? In an interview with Daily FT and reproduced in his Reflections, he has revealed that his objective has been to emphasise on the need for ‘thinking’ before acting (page 176).

Says Cader: “Despite all the advances in technology (supposed to improve the quality of our life), corporate executives are busier than ever, caught in an activity syndrome, with very limited thinking time. I wanted this column to make business leaders sit back and reflect on the strategic aspects that impact their life and work.”

He then admits the limitation which is given to him when he has to write his wisdom in 100 words. He says that when one has unlimited space, he could use the rich English language to ramble on and keep filling space. But when that opportunity is not available, to get a key message across, one has to discipline one’s thinking and articulation process.

That key message, according to Cader, has been to challenge the existing wisdom because if one is desirous of progress, one should necessarily ask the ‘hard question’. But the sad situation in Sri Lanka is that many prefer not ask that hard question because they fear to ‘upset anyone or anything’.

Since Cader has not given solutions to the hard questions he has raised, he has expected the readers to think and come up with solutions. His aim has been to push that trigger button of thinking which remains hidden and dormant in everyone.

Sri Lanka’s photocopying machine people are a national tragedy

Sri Lanka’s national tragedy today is that people have no time to sit back and think. From morning till they go to bed late in the night, they are constantly on the move. Thus, they have become photocopying machines which just produce exact replicas of documents fed to them. Those replicas may have many important facts, but the photocopying machines get nothing out of them.

People who act like photocopying machines are capable of reproducing what another person would have stated. But they are not in a position to take them into their system and come out with their own position on them logically, rationally or consistently.

Cader calls this the adverse repercussion of the ailment which he calls ‘activity syndrome’. People are eternally engaged in an activity, but that activity does not produce anything worthwhile. As a result, those who suffer from activity syndrome end up as ‘shallows’ if one borrows a term from the American Journalist Nicholas Carr who has analysed the sad state of the generation addicted to internet.

Students are also photocopying machines

It is not only the corporate executives who suffer from activity syndrome as Cader has observed. This syndrome is pretty much present among students who will one day become corporate executives.

Students who face fierce competition in examinations are encouraged by parents to spend their whole time in extra tuition classes. Tuition masters train them how to get high marks at examinations which is the only criterion of assessing one’s capability today. Thus, students expect tuition masters to think on their behalf and come up with answers to the questions that may be raised at the examinations.

Student numbers in tuition classes are beyond the safe limits and therefore there is no individual-centred teaching. Hence, even the lecture notes are prepared by tuition masters and made available to students. As such, students do not have to make any effort on their part to get high marks. All they have to do is to memorise the lecture notes and answer the question papers at examinations. Therefore, there is no need for them to sit back, think and reflect on anything. They have been converted to shallows.

University students rely on disposable print-outs

When these students move to higher learning institutions like universities, they carry that burdensome bag on them and expect universities to play the role of tuition masters. In this connection, two shortcomings in the university system too have contributed to producing shallows.

The first is that numbers admitted are too high compared to resources available and therefore there is no facility to offer student centred learning at universities. Any individual student is an unknown and anonymous species in the vast ocean of student population there. There are no sufficient tutors to break the students into small groups and develop them as individuals of worth. Hence, at the universities, the student development is not inclusive meaning that not all students are developed equally. Instead, it becomes exclusive where only a few high calibre students get opportunity to develop themselves.

The other factor is that students have to complete a large number of courses to earn the required credits for graduation. To earn the required credits, in each semester, they have to do at least six courses in a four year special degree program. When they are engaged in such a study marathon, they just become photocopying machines copying knowledge from a source document to a print-out. The print-out is discarded immediately after the examination. At the end, it is another group of shallows that are being produced and released to the job market. Students simply do not have time to sit back and reflect.

Cader’s wisdom

Hence, the proliferation of society with people who do not think or are incapable of thinking is a national tragedy. It is not necessarily an ailment observable among corporate executives as noted by Cader.

Cader’s wisdom in Strategic Reflections has been arranged under eight main topics from Economic Reflections to Personal Effectiveness. What is of relevance to his readers is how he has asked the hard question relating to each compelling them to sit back and think. The following is an examination of some of the important economic wisdoms he has imparted in his Reflections.

The forgotten economic-accountability

Gross Domestic Product or GDP is a puzzle for many laymen. What does growth in GDP actually mean? Growth in the proper sense for a layman is nothing but an improvement in his personal well being. But growth in GDP is an increase in the size of the cake and not how much each person who has worked for that cake would get out of it. This part, known as the distribution of GDP, is hidden and not revealed to people.

Thus, Cader asks the hard question. Isn’t it time for coming up with a new economic-accountability? Here, what has been abridged into ‘economic-accountability’ can be expanded into a long thesis covering economic policy governance, inclusive growth, balanced regional growth and also sustainable economic growth. So, lots of fodder has been presented by Cader for his readers to sit back, think and reflect if only they wish to do so.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison

The hard reality in nature is one man’s meat is another man’s poison. When translated to economics, what it means is that a production line benefitting the producer can deliver vastly divergent results to society at large. Some people in society too would benefit from it revealing a ‘win-win’ situation. But for many others, it would be a curse meaning a ‘win’ for the producer but a ‘lose’ for them. As long as there is a demand for the win product, it would be produced with no regard for what harm it would deliver to many others who are simply guinea pigs for testing its potent and power.

Cader draws an example to illustrate this seeming paradox from the global weapons industry. The moral side of the weapons industry is that they serve for protection: personal protection from violent users or national protection from invaders. Hence, there is a demand for weapons and there should naturally be a supply of same. But there is an immoral side of the use of weapons too.

Accordingly, the morality of the weapons will reverse if they are in the hands of the wrong parties. Thus, the very same protective weapon could be used by someone to inflict violence on an innocent victim. Similarly, they could be used by nations bent on invading their unsuspecting neighbours. Thus, the demand for weapons would multiply from both sides creating a ‘win’ situation for the producers who have invested in the technology of manufacturing ever more powerful weapons. It is the advanced countries which have this technology and therefore weapons industry is a prosperity deliverer to them.

Cader now asks the hard question. Does it bring prosperity to the world as a whole? For the weapons industry to thrive and prosper, there should be enough ‘excitement’ throughout the globe. Then, it must lead to what is now known as ‘immoral hazard’, as distinct from the conventional moral hazard, where producers of weapons would create continuing conflicts in the world so that they could sell more weapons. Thus, a seemingly moral industry now becomes an immoral industry. This paradox makes the wish which everyone has to live ‘happily ever after’, according to Cader, a mere dream requiring a quick wake up call.

Bubbles created through increased money assets

The creation of bubble economies has been one of the dangerous economic maladies experienced throughout the globe in the recent past. The bubble has taken place in the individual economic units as well as in the national economies. What is the root cause of bubbles? Cader has identified several contributory factors which one could list in two main categories: The push factors and the pull factors. The push factors push up the individuals, corporations and national economies from below to artificially high levels.

According to Cader, the tendency of people today to live beyond their means exacerbated by greed that blinds their view is an important push factor. The blind greed leads to their believing in the value of money and monetary assets over and above real assets. Thus, money assets increase in multiple terms of real assets creating bubbles in the process. The pull factors pull individuals, corporations and national economies up from above.

The main contributor in this context has been the irrational and illogical confidence which people place in themselves, corporations and national economies. The confidence is built through media blitz which needs ‘excitement’ for its survival. Cader calls this confidence a ‘curse’ because it is only a small hiccup which is necessary to destroy it and in the process to cause the bubble to burst.

Corporations and politicians manipulate confidence to their advantage and thus speed up the bursting of the bubble. They are basically driven by three viruses which Cader calls GEM: Greed, Ego and Materialism. Instead, suggests Cader, individuals, corporations and national economies should be driven by their concern for increasing real value addition to the economies concerned. In essence, what Cader says is that creating money bubbles which many central banks do illogically does not bring in prosperity. Instead, it is the creation of real wealth that would do the job.

Inequality not to be tolerated

Cader has looked at critically the way capitalism is practised today. The Arab Spring, according to him, was launched by young people who had been marginalised by the prevailing economic systems in those countries. There had been a few who had benefited out of economic advancement, while the majority of the youth had been denied opportunities to improve their well being. This has been noticeable in the subsequent Wall Street occupation in USA.

The growing inequality driving the youth out of the economic system has led to economic disorder in the major economies in the world. It also has created opportunities for speculators to make millions of money by just one stroke of pen, while hard workers like teachers or nurses are paid peanuts by way of remuneration. Cader says that the toleration of such inequality leads to globe-wide financial and economic epidemic that cannot be eradicated easily.

Hence, a revisit to free market economy system and capitalism is a must if one is interested in saving the globe from the oncoming economic catastrophe. But Cader says that revisit should not be a U-turn to socialism. According to him, it could be a new brand of governance that would discipline the untamed capitalism driven by mere animal spirit. He suggests that it can be called ‘People-ism’ meaning that people at large are the masters of society and not a few select group of politicians or corporate mandarins.

Sit back and think

Cader’s reflections indeed prompt the right type of readers to sit back, think and reflect. It would certainly lead to the creation of a creative generation in the country.

*W.A. Wijewardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Well done DS Senanayake College.

    • 0

      May the Pilot, Sir Ralph Alles rest in peace…. “Country Before Self” lingers in my mind on a daily basis…. Job well done Hilmy…who was a class mate of my Brother…

  • 3

    W.A Wijewardena

    RE: Little White Book Of Hilmy Cader’s Wisdom

    “The absence of thinking people”

    “Hilmy Cader has met this challenge successfully by presenting his wisdom abridged. Why did he write strategic reflections? In an interview with Daily FT and reproduced in his Reflections, he has revealed that his objective has been to emphasise on the need for ‘thinking’ before acting (page 176).”

    Yes. Needed . Thinking People.

    The Little White Book Of Hilmy Cader’s Wisdom, should be called the Common Sense by Hilmy Cader.

    Sri Lanka has too many Modayas, Mootals and Fools. 5.8 Million of them voted for Mahinda Rajapksa. A good fraction of them just follow the Modayas, Mootals and Fools.

    Read, the Common Sense Phamplet by Thomas Paine, Printed 1776 and the Age of Reason by the same Author.

  • 7

    Comparing Hilmy Cader to Lord Buddha or Prophet Muhammad in any manner is outrageous. Comparing HC to Lao Tsu and Confucius is laughable.None of those greats wrote with monetary reward even remotely crossing their minds.They were bent on delivering salvation although of different sorts.Now good old Cader as we all know is a mundane man.To him everything is accountable in terms of rupees and cents.He does nothing for free or for non profit.Not for him is the terms social service..Of course no one can blame no for that’s his lively hood.
    Dr Wijewardene is usually an eminently readable scribe in the columns of CT,but on this occasion seems to have been carried away , or so it seems.Now that’s not economics is it?!!

    • 1

      Many thanks Royalist for the comment.

      It shows that, as wished by Erudite Masters, you have started thinking, willing to ask the hard question and not been afraid of upsetting anything or anyone. This is in fact a salutary development which Hilmy Cader has also wished to happen by writing his column.

      In my writing, the comparison was made not to the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tsu or the Prophet. It was to their erudite mastership which is different from the real person whom you have meant. Any Master who chooses sparsity over verbosity should belong to one club and what the article has done is comparing those who are in that particular exclusive club.

      It is not proper to undervalue a person who works for money in physical form and overvalue those who work for money in intangible spiritual form because both requires another party to make a sacrifice to receive what he has received. The Buddhist tradition as presented in Chulla Setti Jataka very clearly says that if one gets a dead rat, he should not give it free of charge but sell to someone so that he could live, prosper, and be in a better position to help others. Confucius told a man who asked for a free fish that instead of giving that fish free of charge, he would teach him how he could catch a fish. The Prophet is reported to have said that even God does not help the man who does not help himself. hence, I do not hold Hilmy Cader’s selling his skills for money against him because that is what I too have done throughout my career and what I am doing even today.

      While thanking you once again for your erudite intervention, I have presented additional fodder for you to reflect and ask many more hard questions!

      Don’t be afraid to upset everyone or everything!

    • 2


      “Comparing Hilmy Cader to Lord Buddha or Prophet Muhammad in any manner is outrageous.”

      He Should be compared to Thomas Paine.

  • 6

    Dear Uncle Snowden
    Your comment makes me conclude that you too would well have gone to DS.As for that much used motto, please don’t get carried away.It was abused right under RIT Allese`s watch( or at least his connivance)at the daily Assembly Allies shouted himself hoarse quoting” Country before self” ad nauseum.Yet what happened in reality was akin to Family before school”!Allies coming from very humble begginings want to London on a scholarship in the early 70s and lo and behold returned about a year later with a brand new Austin Cambridge car worth a fortune.It caused an uproar and quietly got rid of I the used an old Mayflower for the rest of his tenure but never gave up his shady ways.
    Around 1976 a group of boys from Panadura gained entrance to College.They were absolutely mediocre kids from Zahira but very very rich.The very next day after entrance each of the Allies kids were riding brand new Roadmaster by cycle from their parenst factory.Prefectships were only possible through friendship with the second son who had sole authority to distribute and evaluate application forms.These are but a few examples of the Alles days at DS.The school only developed in terms of buildings and the super ability of Allies as a master demougouge.All brilliant teacchers who valued their integrity were harshly dealt with when Alles came the second time as Principal.Two of them wre Mr.BC Paul who had helped him immensely when Alles was in the wilderness and Deputy Pricipal Dharmasena.All were impressed except his one time student the current PM who saw through the bluff.nearing its 50th year DS never achieved academic excellence in terms of volume like for instance Ananda, Royal or Visaka.A check on the numbers entering University will reveal the true picture.In that sense DS has and will remain a mediocre school basking in the illusion of the RIT Alles myth.Hilmy too decamped and joined Royal for his AL.
    I know this would be construed the. comments of an iconoclast but facts here could be verified.Uncle Snowden refers to Mr. Allies as “Sir Ralph”.I am absolutely sure he was knighted.While he could always remember Country before self ” as he does here, he could surely do that without reference to Mr RIT Allies.

  • 5

    I thought this chain was about a book by Hilmy Cader. I am responding to comments by Sampson.

    His comments about RIT Alles’ mercenary tendencies are noteworthy. The issue with Ranil Wickremesinghe(Education Minister under JRJ) which led to Alles interdiction was related to admissions to Grade 1. Ranil’s note to admit a child was refused on grounds of classes being full and the same kid was admitted thru a Gem Mudalali subsequently. If you are Min. of Education, you are not going to ignore that!

    His first house built on Gothami Road was equipped and furnished by a group of parents in the building and hardware trades. They were ‘gifts’. There are many anecdotal stories about the gifts Ralph Alles got. Did he ask, or was he given? No one will know. Should he have taken them? Sri Lankans will have conflicted views on that question.

    Yes, he was very vindictive of anyone he thought was against him or not with him. Many capable teachers fell victim to this. The prefects were chosen not on merit but on favouration, depending on how close their parents were to the inner circle. Aravinda De Silva is a good example of this. Coaches, Teachers and the Alles family were all beneficiaries of Sam De Silva’s Cold Stores goodies. This is not to take away from Aravinda’s eventual blossoming as a talented cricketer. How many better sportsmen never made it because their parents could not afford to provide hampers?

    In the last 10 years there has been a massive effort to whitewash the real history and just highlight the academic aspects of Alles’ career. That does not tell the complete story. DS Senanayake College is bigger and better than one person, no matter how much his family tries to hijack the name of the institution. It is a government school and the money that built the majority of buildings was raised by parents. The Alles’ did’nt contribute anything towards that effort but they have used the reputation of the school to grow their own education business.

    It is said the dead should not be criticized. True. Do not also try to polish the truth or whitewash the dirt.

  • 0

    I am domiciled outside Sri Lanka but eternally interested in “Men and Matters” of the motherland. I read news about Sri Lanka more than that of the adopted country.

    Mr. W. A. Wijewardena usually writes very well; I would not want to ignore his posts. I have never heard Hilmy Carder or read what he has written but knows about his firm because of its connection with that leading institution in the US and the leading company in Sri Lanka. I do not know whether his expert advice delivered through his company to other Sri Lankan companies have been fruitful.

    I am going to buy and read his book. Also, I would like to make a suggestion to Hilmy Carder. Please translate your book in Sinhala and Tamil and promote it to all Sri Lankans and please sell it at a reasonable price so that students, teachers and people from all walks of life could read the book. Then all Sri Lankans would be empowered to ask those hard questions of themselves and others.

    A “Thinking Revolution” is needed in Sri Lanka and it should go hand in hand with something like the “Green Revolution”

  • 2

    What is this article…yet another insidious attempt by Cader to promote himself ?

    I knew this bugger in school and he was nothing but a bullshit artist !

    All his restructuring moves in certain big corporates have resulted in untold misery to hard working employees.

    Why is WAW getting involved in this ?

    • 0

      HC was seen at an exclusive enclosure during the RT this March . Later , he used the mailing list of that group to promote his business . Not done old chap , simply not cricket .

      • 1

        Your comment in a nutshell sums up what Cader had been at DS,RC and as he is now – a seeker of cheap publicity and shady opportunity .Now when Dr W compares him to Lord Buddha,et al it’s simply preposterous on this score alone.Surely Dr.W does not know Cader’s antecedent ,including the time he was at BCC selling third grade soap.

  • 2

    Thank you Mr. Wijeyawardne and Congratulations Mr Cader.

    As is normally the case with CT articles, the comments show the mindset of people who don’t comprehend REAL issues.

    So, I will fail Don Quixote for his comments – Hilmy Cader has the ability to make people listen ……… have you done anything similar ? Please tell us what your credentials are.

    With respect to Upul’s comment …… The Sri Lankan mindset is ONLY “I” matter. If I can take advantage of any situation by saying the right things to the right people and take advantage – that in the current Sri Lankan mindset is – being clever!

    Our/MY Sri Lanka is in its current predicament – because most of the people in Sri Lanka seem to think that to succeed in Sri Lanka you have to align yourself with people in power.

    To get what one wants from them – The well-to-do shower them with gifts; The mediocre grovel like dogs; The disadvantaged are slaves to the first two cWhat is of relevance to his readers is how he has asked the hard question relating to each compelling them to sit back and think.ategories ONLY because of a lack of self confidence.

    Mr. Wijeywardne has done us a favour by allowing us to read between the lines of what Mr. Cader’s message is.

    In a nutshell,

    QUOTE :

    What is of relevance to his readers is how he has asked the hard question relating to each compelling them to sit back and think.


    Is that asking for two much – knowing the current mindset of the average Sri Lankan?

    What is required of Sri Lankans – at this point of time – Is give value to get value ………. Government servants take note.

    If you are giving value in exchange for more than your salary – you are out of order.

    Each and every Sri Lankan in public service is GUILTY – wake up.

    The only way you can make SRI LANKA proud is to give ” REAL” value to the responsibility undertaken.

    • 0

      I have more credentials than you have to make a call [Edited out]

      There was no oone by the name of Ahzil in our school during this period, therefore you are another lackey of the man or the man himself.

      He makes no one listen…he only tells them what they want to hear !

      Qualifications ???[Edited out]

  • 0


    It follows the adventures of a nameless hidalgo (at the end of Part II given the name Alonso Quixano) who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is, and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story. The story implements various themes, such as intertextuality, realism, metatheatre, and literary representation.[original research?]

    Shoot the MESSAGE not the Messenger!

    Your name says it all!

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