Gifted Folks


When I see the organized and well-disciplined work force in Singapore, I sometimes have to pinch myself – combined with the super-organized infrastructure which beats world-class and makes a new definition of it, one has to seriously wonder how would Singapore be if it were a larger nation than just a city.

Just think about – here is some 700 SQ KM of island, which has become one of the top 3 financial markets in the world, one of the top exporters in the world (which belies its GDP size, indicating its competency in building trade volumes), and many other firsts such as having the best airport in the world. How did these folks achieve it ?

I guess I have written about a similar topic in the past, but it puzzles me all the same. The question is this – how come an economy, largely ordained by the government and strictly controlled by regulators, become one of the most robust economies in the world, despite not having the benefit of innovation and a culture of creativity when it all started ? How come that a population which is almost entirely schooled in a strict regime of education that values conformance and adherence to a much-controlled curriculum (they have tried to change and are changing) which favours regurgitation rather than a questioning philosophy, managed to drive itself to success ?

Sure, there are many analyses which have been done to answer these and similar questions.

But my analysis stems from having been part of the society in Singapore for a fairly long period of time, and benefits from a close observation of how that society moves and makes decisions and tries to get ahead of itself.

Singapore values hard work and meritocracy. If someone is very good, he will be measured, tracked and rewarded in due course of time. This is more or less true – there may be exceptions, but the exceptions are few and far between.

Secondly, there is no safety net – there is no government “dole”, like in Australia, Canada or the Nordic countries. One has to fend for himself or herself. This puts pressure on delivering performance and results, rather than blaming the “system”. Of course, there is compulsory savings in the provident fund, but that is generally not available till the time one retires, except for certain investments, such as a home purchase.

Thirdly, there are no hurdles to conducting business or financial transactions. There is a completely transparent system of regulation and governance, and there is simply no waiting time required to open a business (unlike in India, where it typically takes 3 months even to start an LLP company). So, ease of doing business is simply fantastic, which is a magnetic draw for businessmen and investors.

Fourthly, there is dedication towards a fair system of law enforcement, resulting in almost zero crime rates. Crimes are not tolerated, and the justice is swift in most cases. The fear of punishment removes the tendency to commit even a simple crime.

On the flip side, creativity and a culture of innovation were not existent in the past. The government strived hard to build the same and is seeing some positive results over the past decade or so. There are many examples, but the one which attracts the most attention is the research being carried out at Biopolis, a research park for biological and bio-technology sciences.

Similarly, the field of arts was constrained in the past but has now seen significant growth domestically. Government is encouraging development of the arts scene in Singapore and there a myriad shows happening in the city.

Well, I can keep writing, but there are critical lessons to be learnt from the experience and success of Singapore for other nations. There might be questions on whether the model is replicable for larger countries. I believe the modes is surely adaptable and applicable in states or major cities.

So, not withstanding certain problems and issues which still bothers the local population, the economic and business model of Singapore is something they should be proud about – they built it and laid the foundation for its outstanding success.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
10th March 2013

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