February 20, 2017
Q: It’s very interesting that you brought up Dr Carl Jung’s work on synchronicity and how it can be juxtaposed to create serendipitious moments that can even motivate someone to go into business.
Tell me do you consider serendipty and synchronicity as one of the same thing?
A: You know when Jung first published with works on synchronicity – it was at first dismissed by the high brow intellectuals of the Vienna circle as mysticism or mumbo jumbo.
And ever since then synchronicity has always had to live under the cloud of pseudoscience.
To me what serendipity or synchronicity may mean is not as important as the question of how does one go about connecting the many dots that one comes across in the journey of life to make sense of how it relates to ourselves and others.
As I mentioned previously people are complicated – they don’t just walk over the knoll without historicism or emotional baggage.
I guess if you’re already familiar with Maslow’s theory of what motivates man – then the whole idea of serenpidity and how it actually connects with businesses and enterprises may well be something closer to reiki power derived from colourful crystals or Feng Shui.
But I think what Jung was trying to communicate is the anti thesis that all outcomes bad or great may not actually be connected by the strict laws of linearity – rather there is always a certain element of randomness that all adds up to produce the final outcome that can even be very meaningful.
I guess what Jung would have found immensely stimulating would be questions like would the Second World War even have occured – if only the Academy of fine arts had taken in Adolf Hitler as a student?
Q: I don’t quite see the connection. Or for that matter seem to be able to figure out how your answer relates to my question.
A: That’s exactly my point – because we are discussing mysticism to some degree whenever we choose to ask the question how much does serenpiditous moments or snychronicity have to do with enterpreneurialship.
At one level of understanding it’s not so different from the philosophy of Feng Shui – Feng Shui if you notice doesn’t tell you why. But just because a philosophy doesn’t supply the why’s doesn’t exactly make it automatically pseudoscience or necessarily mumbo jumbo. As what Feng Shui attempts to do is to inform you how certain things should be orientated with the specific goal of creating harmony with the laws of nature and the broader universe – that’s why when modern day civil engineers look at ancient constructions like the Great Wall. Even they are astounded by the wealth of building technology of the ancient Chinese builders.
Synchronicity is exactly like that. It too like Feng Shui can supply you with knowledge like how certain set pieces when they are clustered together can produce a vibrant and conducive environment where meaningful things usually happen, like for instance the number of café’s is a good indicator of the level of business verve and élan in a neighborhood.
But while Feng Shui omits the why’s – that synchronicity is prepared to stick it’s neck out slightly to even say – the number of café’s in Silicon Valley is proportionally inverse to the number of patents registered as coffee stimulates the brain to think at a higher level.
Q: So let me understand this clearly – I have too. As this is a very deep conversation that even touches on metaphysics. You’re saying it’s not always important to know why people become entrepreneurs. It’s only important to know what conditions should come together or cluster and combine to create that sort of environment?
A: Yes. And No. No, because I am not trying to say for one moment the URA should suddenly go crazy and turn Singapore into a city where in between every sixth or eight lamp post there is a café – simply because there seems to be a strong correlation between coffee drinkers and profound and compelling thinking.
Yes on the otherhand – simply because café’s whether they are in Silicon Valley, the fifth arrondissement in Paris or just along Bugis do seem to resemble crèche’s where like minded people can congregate and do their thing and even find enough common ground to collaborate – I can tell you scary stories about café’s. I once plotted out the nexus between café’s and revolutions and it seemed to me even though I didn’t quite manage to reduce it all into the elegance of a mathematical equation to submit as a refereed article in a journal – my conclusion was there was definitely a strong correlation between coffee and thinking. Whether it’s good thinking or not. I am not so sure. But there was definitely thinking as opposed to just killing time moments of candy crunch or just playing angry birds. Then again, there were aberrations in my studies as well – like why did beer houses in the Austrian Hungarian belt manage to do the same thing? Were Bavarians secretly drinking coffee in beer houses in their leatherhosen’s?
What I am trying to say here is this Kompf – there is a lot of room for improvisation as to how the dots connect to create the picture.
But this connection is really a function of how the individual sees himself in relation to society and broader world and even something infinitely large like the greater universe – let me give you an example. You’re walking happily one morning in botanical gardens. Suddenly your left eye twitches. In a little while you decide to take a seat on the nearest park bench to dig out eye drops from your bag. Then ahead of you a big tree slams right down. A tree that would have certainly killed you dead – you say to yourself, Heng man! Followed by maybe I should put a number down at the lottery koisk.
Now let’s say you go back to your life – let’s even say, you’ve started to marinate yourself in work, play and more work to such a point where you’ve forgotten about that incident so completely that it’s just a distant memory. Then suddenly one day while lunching with your colleagues your left eye begins to twitch and again you reach for your eye drops only to be told by someone else that your boss wants to see you in his office asap. You walk in. His face is grave. But he tells you, you’ve been promoted.
At the risk of coming across as really a cheesy version of Murakami – how will these two separate incidences exert an influence over the rest of your life?
We don’t really know. Or to be specific that’s something that can really only be answered by the person who experiences all these coincidences. As that was the part that Jung himself didn’t really answer – what he did however mention was only – this much. It all comes right down to how you yourself see these two seemingly coincidental events. If you see your eyes twitching as just an anatomical reality of dust getting your eyes and irritating it – then it’s just probably a big nothing. You may just say it’s just good luck like it’s other kin bad luck.
But if you see it all as an interplay in the larger scheme of things and even believe nothing ever happens without rhyme or reason. Everything that occurs is purposeful, it directs you somewhere specific either physically, mentally or spiritually – and there’s always a reason behind it irrespective of whether they’re good, bad or just an uneventful – then according to Jung, that event becomes symbolic. Then it has power to influence and even modulate your decision thru out your life.
Q: But all this comes across like pseudoscience. This whole idea of synchronicity and how it relates to business – may well just be luck. After all what’s the point of even bothering to understand synchronicity if one can’t seem to be able to put it into anything concrete to produce more concrete.
A: As a subject synchronicity is very misrepresented these days. I do admit to some degree even when I speak about it – even I can’t help but see myself as some Deepak Choprak wannabe. But even you have to admit – your frustration with the whole idea of serendipity and synchronicity stems in part from the quest to find definitive answers so that you can leverage on it like some business tool. But my point is exactly the direct opposite.
As I believe luck or coincidence whether it is good or bad does certainly plays a preponderant role in shaping not only the direction where firms and workers may go and end up doing eight hours a day five days a week. But it may also happen to be the biggest determinant for success or failure.
Of course the Harvard Business review will disagree with me – but that’s only because they don’t nearly have the intellectual latitude to ever agree simply because they have a vested interest to continue believing everything can be meticulously planned to succeed and failure is simply a bi product of poor planning or execution.
Having said that. I don’t believe for one moment just because one is unlucky necessarily means you’re toast – Singapore may not be blessed with a great expanse of hinterland like Malaysia. But that unfortunate coincidence doesn’t necessarily translate into weakness or a disadvantage as circa Adam Smith.
Both Tokyo and Osaka are new built on the bedrock of old cities. The streets are so narrow in some places. You can even put your hands on two buildings and where you stand is actually the common street. I am not kidding – but these coincidental disadvantages also supply the motivation why Japanese air conditioners are all so whisper quiet. They have to be. As people live so close to each other. The Americans don’t have this problem or coincidence – that’s probably explains why when you switch on a carrier aircon it sounds as if you’re in a bus interchange.
Same goes for China. China doesn’t have bauxite. It has plutonium. It even has kesserite and perhaps potash, magnesium, phosphates et al. But no bauxite – that’s why things that should be constructed in aluminium in China are always invariably made out of cast iron – when it comes to cast iron technology. China is the best in the world. Even Steinway & Sons and Yamaha are made in China today. Because the Chinese are the only ones who seem to be able to make cast iron plentifully without too much fuss – and if you know anything about heavy industries. You will find that sand moulding is more of an art than science – there is a heavy qualitative element involved. So the Chinese are very smart. They use this core competence to transition into casting alloy engine blocks using sand moulds – not easy. Not even Germany can do this. Because we are talking about old school craftsmanship here.
What a coincidence you say – but I say it goes right back to having no bauxite reserves in China.
Again this is an illustration of how disadvantages or bad luck as you call it can be translated into competitive advantage.
Q: So what you’re saying is good or bad luck is really quite chimeric. What’s important is how one responds and most importantly connect the dots to produce something meaningful. Yes?
A: Yes. Kompf during our conversation. There was an electrical storm – now you don’t realize this. But we are now on auxiliary power. That’s to say batteries. But not to worry, we have thirty days of water reserves. I can switch from electricity to gas to continue cooking. Life support systems are all OK.
Most people in my position will panic. But not me. You see I’ve been thru this – lived even without running water or electricity for months on end. So this to me is just a nothing. An non event – my point is so much of how we choose to see adversity is really a function of how we choose to see a situation.
Yes. There will be some discomfort Kompf. We would have to take cold showers from now I am afraid. Be diligent in saving electricity. But at least we can dine in candlelight.
You see. It’s not all bad is it? Not even when it seems to appear just all bad.
That’s really my point.
February 20, 2017
The short answer is run like hell. As a human without proper training is ill equipped to effectively neutralise an angry dog. If it’s a large breed working dog like a Doberman or Alsatian. The outcome is very clear 99 out of 100 – the dog will win. You may survive. If you’re lucky. But you will definitely be damaged goods.
That is why my standing advise to ALL dog owners – large or small is no matter who well you claim to know your pet. Always keep them muzzled when they go out in public. Keep them leashed.
Common mistakes. Never allow your dog to socialise with other dogs or humans – never just allow anyone to come up and touch your dog. If they do so tell them in a loud commanding voice – Stop! Do not touch. Thereafter politely explain that your dog has anger management issues. Even if your dog has an excelllent temperament – I find most people will understand and appreciate why you are so firm.
Prevention is always better than cure.
February 19, 2017
Q: I find it very interesting that you brought up the importance of serendipity and how much luck plays in the success factor. I want to ask. Is it possible for the government or any other agency to engineer serependitious moments to encourage Singaporeans to be more innovative and creative in how they conduct business?
A: I don’t know much about the Singapore Govt or for that matter what they have been doing or not doing to encourage natives to be more entrepreneurial.
Q: I wasn’t speaking about entrepreneurialship as much as creating serependitious moments which can allow more people to be enterprise owners.
A: OK. Like you mean how an architect may turn on the TV one day and watch a nature documentary about bees only to latter on incorporate hexagonal designs to create light and yet strong walls or floors.
Is that what you mean when you say serependitious moments?
Q: Yes, I would like to know whether that sort of moment can be engineered?
A: Well the mini skirt answer is – if that sort of moments can be engineered, then it can’t possibly be serendipitous. Can it?
Q: So what you’re saying is it’s a matter of pot luck rather than planning?
A: Not exactly. You may not be able to engineer it in the way you go about designing a building like where it should face, how big the windows should be etc. But I think it’s possible to create the right conditions where all these elements for possibilities may come together to produce something meaningful.
Q: I don’t understand.
A: Just visualise this scene. Don’t spend your time or energy trying to figure out where it’s all going – just visualise it. You have two men in a café. One is an engineer. Let’s say this chap works in a factory making household appliances. The other is a tailor. They seem to have nothing in common. That’s probably why each is sitting on different tables. Each presumably consumed in doing his own thing. The engineer suddenly realises he needs more sugar. So he gets up. Shortly thereafter the other man. The tailor. Also reckons his coffee could do with dash of milk. He proceeds to the counter as well. Somewhere in all this. The engineer notices the tailor is wearing an especially well fitted shirt – no, he’s not gay. Let’s say he just appreciates a well iron shirt because he happens to work on the assembly line that produces irons – he quips to the other man, ‘nice shirt.’ No the tailor is not gay either. He says, thanks…it’s linen.
A conversation develops.
Q: Yes. And then? Do go on.
A: That’s it. My point is what you have here is the basic raw materials that can be fashioned to provide opportunities to create possibilities.
Q: I don’t understand.
A: Well that’s because in this scene. I haven’t really fleshed out the characters yet. Let’s say the guy whose the tailor is struggling to produce more linen shirts. You know Kompf. Linen isn’t easy to handle. I bet you didn’t know that – it’s very Prima Donna – most tailors even the good ones dread handling linen – it’s very finicky, shifty and doesn’t hold its shape very well. That’s the nature of linen – it’s woven out of flax and so it’s very tempremental to temperature and humditiy.
Let’s say the engineer guy has another set of problems. He has a high maintenance wife – she spends his money as if it grows on trees. So he’s been harbouring the thought of starting his own enterprise. He even regards himself as a tinkerer who might one day come out with a product that people may vote with their wallets.
Q: Alright. You’re supplying the motivation of these characters now and I can roughly see where this is all going. The tailor needs to figure out a better way to construct a suit or shirt out of linen. He can do it – but it requires too much time and effort and so he ends up making perhaps five instead of the ten suits that he much prefers to be able to construct if only he can figure out a better way to handle this pesky material.
The engineer however has wifey problems. He needs to figure out a way to get more money. His job isn’t nearly doing what it’s supposed to do, not with a high maintenance wife. So he racks his brain on coming up with the next big thing that will shake up the world. But he doesn’t know what it is.
A: Precisely. Now may I continue my story. Engineer decides to ask the tailor. How much does it cost to make such a great shirt? Tailor answers back with some ridiculous figure. Engineer takes two steps backwards. But manages to steady himself and exclaims – wtf!
Tailor retorts. Can only make five a month. He goes on to add it’s hard to construct. Tailor presses the point home – damm fucking hard!
Let’s stop here Kompf.
Q: Why? You know it’s like that new movie Allied, starring Brad Pitt. The suspense is killing me.
A: I said let’s stop here. As what we have here now is much more than just the motivation of these two characters. Who just a while ago were perfect strangers.
There is now an earnest exchange of thoughts concerning the subject of interest that is compelling to both men. Engineer is shocked that it cost and arm and a leg and perhaps a bit more just to construct a linen shirt. Tailor on the otherhand seems to be lamenting – if only I can find a more effective way to construct more linen shirts every month. Both men are co joined at that moment in the brotherhood of profit motive – of course, like all things that involves serependitious moments both men don’t know this yet.
But what they’re actually doing in this conversation is nothing short of discussing the economics of the tailoring business along with economy of scale that is related to manufacturing throughput along with ten other disciplines ranging from economics to perhaps the brief history of linen wear.
But what’s interesting about this scene is this Kompf. What happens next?
Now if both men decide to part company and return back to their respective tables across the room – then it’s just a casual conversation between two strangers. Nothing more.
But let’s say one of them decides to bring his cup of coffee over to the others table and ask – do you mind if I join you?
They start talking. The tailor does most of it describing the why’s – linen is so difficult to handle when it comes to tailoring – as it seems to have a mind of its own and doesn’t seem to accord to laws of Newtonian physics – it’s shifts too much on the cutting table. Difficult. At times impossible even to pin down precisely it’s planned dimensions. Soon the engineer begins to sketch out a roughy a cutting table with tiny perforated holes on a cutting table powered by a suction fan – he turns to the tailor and ask expectantly, will this do?
The tailor exclaims – Yes! But goes on to add sardonically – but the problem is such a cutting table doesn’t exist.
And there you have it Kompf – X marks the spot. Only understand this. Where it begins isn’t really clear. Just think about the infinite number of variables at work even in this simple scene between these two characters. What if there wasn’t a café. What if one prefers tea or orange juice to coffee would they both be able to connect in some juice bar? What if the engineer didn’t go up to the counter to sweeten his coffee? What if the tailor was wearing his fav T shirt that day instead of that well tailored linen shirt? What if the milk was placed at a different counter where the sugar would be? And most importantly what if neither men made seized the initiative to make the connection and reciprocate meaningfully.
So many what if’s.
I think my point is a large extent of what we like to call the Bingo moment – that you refer too as serendipity has a lot to do with how we as individuals respond to people and events happening around us. To some degree that cliche – we all make our own luck is very true.
Most people really just prefer to see what’s before them and very little else – Oh, he or she is just that. An open book. But if you think about it – life is rarely ever that simple.
Jung wrote about synchronicity – but perhaps what he really meant to say was a man or woman doesn’t just walk over the hill. We all come with our respective histories. Failed marriages. Broken dreams. Compromises that we all prefer to negotiate quietly away with subterfuge and white lies. So people are rarely ever simple. A man may be a man united fan. Stir his coffee clockwise instead of the other way round. Work as a factory technician. Prefer ham sandwiches to joining other co workers for lunch. But he’s hardly just that – and that could be said of all people.
That at least is what I gathered from Jung’s work on the subject of synchronicity – what you see is hardly an open book. Not at all Kompf. You see a man attired in the field wear of Khaki. You say he’s a farmer. But who is he really?
How did he come to farming? Who was he before? What is he really now?
I hope I am not coming across as sinister Kompf.
February 18, 2017
Q: Mellinails have been described as the strawberry generation in Singapore – they’re fickle minded, have an entitlement mentality and tend to whine. In fact Singapore has the gloomiest mellinials in the world. Do you agree or disagree these segment of society needs to get their act together?
A: Hey come on. Kompf. Go easy. Go easy. You want my frank take. If I am a mellinail in Singapore. I too would be gloomiest and probably morose as well. Go easy. Because they have it uphill on virtually aspect of work, life and play.
It’s not easy to be optimistic and forward looking these days. This is not a specific indictment on Singapore society per se – it’s just the prevailing social and cultural landscape of our times.
Mellinials whether they are in Germany or Malaysia or for that matter any where else on this planet can’t be a happy or optimistic lot – as they face tremendous social and cultural and economic pressures from all directions which previous generations did not have to deal with.
To exacerbate matters there is of course the ever green of the generational divide, but with mellinials this divide is significantly amplified by digitalization and tech convergence – which makes it challenging for the older generation to connect meaningfully with mellianials today.
But it’s important to get over the noise and pigeon holing habit of just describing a generation that came after mine or yours.
As when we ask ourselves the basic and fundamental question. What do mellinials really want? Hey Kompf. They just want the same things as you and me when we were their age. Only understand this. This time round it’s harder for mellinials to actualize those wants – the valence between yearning and fulfilment in this age is not so clear this time round. Hence I see this belief where people like to label mellianials as having an entitlement mentality or job hopping like rabbits as simply a function of the collective anxiety shared by all mellinialist concerning a futurescape where the only certain thing is there will be more uncertainty ahead.
Kompf. That has to be five chili depressing no matter what generation you belong to.
Q: You brought up a very interesting point – what do they really want? The same things like when we were in their age. You speak as if we are in the same age category. But how do you know what I really want as a mellinial?
A: You know what Kompf. When I engage people I don’t really consciously make an effort to say to myself. Maybe I should. Oh he or she is in this age category. This is what they want. Or this is what I assume they aspire towards. I don’t ever Pigeon hole people. Because to be honest with you – I know your wants and desires may differ from mine. Yes, that’s certainly true. But I am also acute conscious of the reality there are certain things that will never ever change.
Brotherhood. Trust. Respect. Keeping one’s promises. Having your well being in mind with every act. These things don’t ever change.
But as soon as we start a dialogue where you label me as an analog, old economy or farmer who is still living in the colonial era of sail boats and ivory dentures. And I just think you have 1,000 imaginary friends who are all in Facebook – then I think it’s very hard to make a meaningful connection.
Let’s have an agreement. You’re an individual. Refer to yourself in that way. And so am I.
Q: Do you believe it’s much easier to be an individual in your age? Compared to let’s say mine?
A: What does that have to do with any of the ESC recommendations?
Q: I just thought that maybe that is why you ended up leading such an interesting life as a farmer. I reckon to do that takes quite alot of individualism. So I was thinking perhaps this is what’s lacking in my generation. As since we are so connected, the idea of the individual can only give way to group think or some homogenous mindset where everyone aspires towards the same things in life.
A: OK. I get it. To be perfectly honest with you. I was even strange and perculiar to even my peers in my own generation. Most saw me then as a odd ball. As I worked my way thru university. I was always changing in and out of uniforms. So all they saw was this kid who was always coming to lectures and seminars in dirty work overalls, chunky steel cap boots, carrying a big bag with a bright yellow hard hat attached to it – but even in the pre-internet age there was definitely such a thing as a social network. Students who worked only mixed with students who worked. Just as students who didn’t have too because they were on scholarships or funded by their rich parents did very much the same. Birds of the same feather flock together.
It’s not so different from how society is organized today. But I will grant you this. In my era. There wasn’t so much peer pressure to conform. I mean you could be a very odd person and most people would just let you be simply because you could hide the awful truth the only thing that made you come across as normal to everyone else is the idea you’re conscious of your own abnormality and no one would ever know that because there was no blog or for that matter means to communicate that belief to a mass audience. I guess you could probably write it all out with pen and paper stuff it in bottle and throw it out into the river. But even if it’s read. There is no way for you to know where it all goes from there.
So to some extent it’s true to say it was much easier to be an individual in my age. But again it all goes back to what was your experience of life at the moment of your youth – for me since I’ve always worked a variety of jobs to get by. Everything from a technician in a nuclear plant to hanging by a rope installing stuff on poles that stick out from tall buildings. I don’t have any hang up’s about rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty. For me there is nothing shameful about physical work.
I am just as comfortable digging a hole in my plantation as I am in a suit attending a formal business function – when I reflect back most of my peers who worked and studied don’t seem to suffer from an inferiority complex concerning that sort of attitude towards work that society considers beneath them either.
My point is ultimately it boils down to who you’re mixing with during your formative years that will influence your outlook and approach in life.
Remember what I said birds of the same feathers stick together.
The problem with the internet age is – you don’t nearly have that sort of privacy or autonomy these days to feel comfortable in your own skin.
I mean these days when I see people who I hardly know enjoying themselves in instagram – even I am conscious of missing out in life. And I hardly know this people at all. But I am also at the same time skeptical as well. That’s to say I am always interrogating the scene and wondering to myself is this for real? If you ask me why is it so difficult to be an individual these days – it’s simply because peer pressure is so incredibly high. The threshold is so high that one is always acutely conscious of the gap between yearning and the fulfilment of that desire. Real or imagined doesn’t matter. But if I am a kid from let’s say a poor family looking thru the periscope of the internet at how this guy or that gal in instagram can afford to go on that super expensive holiday, buy that car, do that cool thing, experience that once in a lifetime moment – then I guess even I may feel a sense that I am missing out in life. But that’s only because I don’t realise those are the type of people who I’ve elected to mix with and call my community. So at the end of the day it comes right back to what I said – the people who you choose to mix with in your formative years will ultimately be the greatest influencers in where and how you decide to live, work and play. They may even be able to modulate your mood as to whether you’re happy, ambivalent or sad as well.
Only like I said, how real is it all?
Q: You mentioned there is need for reality. Why is it so important in this age? Does it have anything to do with the post truth age?
A: There is no post truth age. If you ask me there was actually more lies masquerading as the one and only truth in my age. Only because the apparatus of mass assimilation were all controlled by only a few oligarchies that all had a vested interest to recount a story or event with a certain bent to serve their respective specious end. Only in my age. No one questioned it as they do now. As there was only one way communication. So this whole idea of a post truth age is all hyperbolic bullshit – the way I see it – it makes far more sense to develop the individual skills sets to be able to winnow truth from lies. Rather than leaving it all to some organization that you don’t even know who actually sits on the board or is funding openly or secretly.
That’s how I saw it then and now.
The onus to beacon out the murk is always on the individual.
Q: To you it’s always the individual that matters most and not the group. Maybe that is what differentiates us?
A: Maybe. But even if you happen to belong to a group. You first need to internalize what your beliefs are. Otherwise what’s the point of belonging to a group. You will just end like Ribena getting diluted by people who you hardly know and end up being like everyone else chasing the same things that everyone wants.
At the end of the day there is no running away from the fact – you need to see yourself first and foremost as an individual.
Most people your age don’t like to see themselves as individuals. You really know why Kompf. Because it’s connotes the antithetical idea they’re not a part of the rah rah you jump I jump as well brigade i.e you’re a lousy team player or someone who doesn’t see the wisdom of getting along with others to get things done – but to me an individual is simply someone who sees himself or herself as the CEO of his or her corporation.
That individual may well work in a firm or organization – but since he or she is an individual. There’s a set of mission statements. A vision and even a methodology to reach the goal point.
Q: What advise would you give to mellinials today in Singapore?
A: I’ve already made myself super clear on this point Kompf – I consider you first and foremost an individual and I hope you extend me the same courtesy to treat me likewise – so what’s all this talk about me giving advise to a group of people who I hardly know anything about. You want me to stick a post it on your forehead that says – I am motivated to save people and planet? Is that what you want? Or maybe you much prefer me to put you in a fridge like a box of strawberries?
Q: There is no need to be sarcastic and rude….(interruption)
A: Correction. You are the one being not only rude. But worst still you’re not extending me the courtesy an individual rightly deserves – you automatically draw the conclusion that I am perculiar because I choose to be a planter. Or farmer. Or maybe a hermit – but why don’t you ask me what my mission statement is as an individual – maybe it’s reads like this. I want to live my life under my own terms.
Why don’t you ask of me – what’s your vision? It may be I want to be able to walk my lands and not see a single soul for hours and should I come across a stranger even have the elemental right to shout out – get off my land!
You seen the way I work. Do you think it’s easy street. No! Commercial farming is the only profession in the world where you have to buy everything at retail and sell at wholesale – its tough as tungsten nails. But it’s also very rewarding as well – I get to live the way I want close to nature. We get to talk three hours straight because it’s too bloody hot to go out today – there’s no boss micro managing me. As for the government where I located smack in the middle of the wild – they might as well be on the surface of the moon. They help me. I say thank you. They don’t. I just carry on till one day I get so hot under my collar. I pack up my bags. Sell everything and relocate to the Ukraine and grow wine. It’s all in my hands. Happiness, sadness, wealth, poverty, good health, terminal illness – as an individual I don’t ever put those things in anyone’s hands. It’s all there in my hands. As I am first and foremost an individual.
Now one more time please fraulien – do you want me to treat you like an individual or a mellinial?
Q: Let me put it this way. If you’re in your late twenties. Have worked in Singapore for five years. And you feel you’re still going nowhere – what would you do?
A: Politicians like to say when they’re pushed to a corner – no one owes you a living! My response is along similar lines – no one owes Singapore a living either!
Go. Think. If workers can come all the way to Singapore from wherever they hail from – why can’t it flow the other way?
To work in another country is the only reliable way I know how to develop self-confidence as an individual.
There is no other way. You know in Singapore there are many people who look down on foreigners. But do you notice those who have worked abroad never ever do that. You want to know why Kompf. Because only these category of individuals know how hard it is to work, live and play in another country. They also know how it’s like to be in the receiving end when natives shout out ‘go home!’
Suddenly the world is a big place with no familiar landmarks, and you quickly find that there is no definitive right or wrong path. You discover a lot about yourself – you meet some really nice kindred spirits along the way. But you also come across really nasty fucks that just want to take a bite out of you. But what’s important is you’re already broadening your range of experiential knowledge beyond just what you experience in tiny Singapore.
Go! Even if the pay is crappy. Go! Even if you have to struggle speaking a foreign language and people there make fun about the way you pronounce words. Go! Even if you have to downgrade.
Look at it as a form of education. A long term investment in character building. The pay, living conditions or whether it’s too hot in summer or cold in winter is not important.
Going is important!
As when you have diversity, experience and a broad sweep of the world on your side – when opportunity comes right up – you will spot it. The croaking frog in the well will not and most importantly you will have the confidence to act on it.
To broaden one’s horizons, to me, is to become aware of greater possibilities and options. It is to add new strengths to one’s current repertoire of strengths – to become cognizant of possibilities outside the previous limits of what might have been considered possible.
Therefore my advice is go if you are that grumpy. That’s what I would do.
Q: I get a feeling here that you don’t necessarily see uncertainty as a bad thing. I even sense from our conversation. You might actually see it as a form of opportunity?
A: You know Kompf. Even the best conceived plans are fraught with risk. You plan to get this by this age. That by the time you hit your thirties. And suddenly bang something happens and it all changes. But to me that’s how actually life is – it’s not like launching a space mission to planet Mars. Where everything proceeds from A to Z according to preplanned timeline.
For some people I don’t disagree that may well be the case.
But for the vast majority of ordinary humans living in this timeline – where they ultimately end up in life is one part serendipity and the rest maybe a mix of good and bad experiences.
Only understand without the bad squeezing in somewhere between serendipity and the good they probably wouldn’t be able to seize those opportunities that came their way – either by enhancing their knowledge or progress by having once experienced failure.
Every businessman can benefit from serendipitious moments. Man goes to start a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. His harvest gets wiped out by bugs. Tries again. Wiped out again. One day he decides to drown his sorrow in the local canteena – overhears a conversation between two gringo’s lamenting how difficult it is these days to source great coffee beans for Starbucks and the likes – if only they can get a man whose willing to transverse the brigand infested villa Madre and knows coffee well enough to appraise, rate and put a fair price on the tonnage. If only. Man decides to join their conversation. Soon he’s appraising coffee beans from South America to Africa as he knows those locales like the lines on the palm of his hands – he gets a certain percentage from every ton – it’s a good business model that allows him to also sail his plastic sail boat and enjoy the solitude of the sea when he visits those places where he offers his services. The quality of his work is first class. Eventually he carves a niche for himself in the international coffee scene – as the equivalent of the man from Del Monte for premium beans. Soon he saves up enough to put a decent sized bet on the roulette wheel of the make or break coffee commodities futures market. This man reckons Robusta beans will be hit hard that year by locust storms sweeping in from the North all the way from Morocco – in July, he heard sailors from the Coite de Noire talking once about how strange insects were caught in their lateen sails far out at sea northwards – he held one of those critters up to the dying light of the blue mountains. He noticed they were friskier and their wings were broader than usual. He realised that year in northwestern Africa the bone white dry Sahel was in full bloomed. The rains must come earlier that year and plentiful water nourished more than just pretty wild flowers. Buried deep in the desert sands were the eggs of desert locusts that needed water to hatch. There would be so many that year, the skies would turn dark by mid July – this the man reckoned was a once in a lifetime X marks the spot moment – that day he tripled his bet on Arabica. On his fifth trip to West Africa two days latter between the lighthouses in Guinea and Senegal. He noticed the waters were choppier than usual – the winds waxed and waned capriciously like a promiscuous woman tightening her legs as if in a futile attempt to preserve whatever dignity she still had. This he knew to be the mistral winds from the Sahara. That’s not right the man says to himself. She’s not herself this year – a minute latter he realises the ochre winds known as the sea of death – Junjaji fisherman called the Tisulur would blow late as well that year. The great wall of swirling sand that usually stopped the locust from sweeping down all from North to Western Africa would fail that year. By evening. The man puts everything he has on that one number…the roulette wheel of life spins the ivory ball bounces around and falls squarely on the numbered slot he marked – he makes a killing.
That year all the robusta and cereal crops were wiped out from the largest locust infestation in African history – all the way from Algeria to Mali.
This time the man buys land. This time round he plumbs for oil palm. He hits it so right for three consecutive years. He buys more land and finally he’s made for life.
That’s how I see it Kompf. Life is never just a straight line. It’s riven with uncertainties.
But don’t let that make you gloomy. It doesn’t become you.
February 17, 2017
Q: What is your opinion concerning the proposal to reform the current education system to sow the seeds for an innovative culture geared towards the digital revolution. It has been said – Singapore’s current education system is deemed to be overly exam focused and to involve little more than memorisation and regurgitation. Rather than promoting critical thinking.
A: This is a well trodden path – every time, the subject of leveraging strategically on innovation and creativity comes up – education is always pushed forward as the silver bullet to deliver the goods. I am not so sure why this seems to be the preferred approach especially in Singapore. As mind you many other countries who have a home grown economy that leverages on innovation and creativity don’t nearly have an education system that differs dramatically from ours – they’re also exam based. And no matter what you say, formalized education will always require some level of cramming and regurgitating to some extent – so when politicians and leaders argue the point – bad education stymies creativity blah blah blah – it really says a big fat nothing.
Besides when it comes to schooling. Singapore is right up there with the best in the world.
So the question I think you should be asking me is why is it – our students can perform so well as to even get into some of the best universities into the world. But they can’t seem to replicate the same success as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?
Might this be an Asian disease? Like how my nose is flat and not sharp and angular? I don’t think so because the Taiwanese and Koreans and even the Chinese don’t ever seem to be constraint at all by either historicism, ideology or for matter philosophies like Confucianism to grow firms like Samsung, Haier et al.
Some say success a la Apple or Boeing business models require critical mass in terms of a hinterland that can absorb these products domestically first to grow before spreading their wings globally. But then again if one examines a small country like Sweden that doesn’t have a big population and even less of a hinterland – they don’t seem to have any problems making the tech jump from everything ranging to aerospace to power turbines that generate electricity. Neither does Israel have that problem either – you want to snuff out fat people in international airports they could probably supply you with the right kit to get the job done. The Israelites are so good at developing killing machines and methods that it’s their leading export and you can find their stuff in practically every militaries in this world in one shape or form.
So I don’t see formalized education as the issue. I much prefer to see the problem in terms of how the custodians of power in Singapore define the term education.
Q: How do you think the custodians of power in Singapore define education?
Q: What do you mean by that statement?
A: No comment. But I will say just this. Children are very impressionable. Often as adults we don’t even realise how influential we are in shaping their destinies by just the mere act of living and breathing and going about our business. Take the case of where I turn the wheel of life – what really holds back kampung folk? Bad policies? No.
Superstition. Mumbo jumbo. To be precise the hantu (ghost) – in the kampung the fear of the hantu is so strong and omnipresent that it even has the power to shape destinies – Tamil schoolgirls who take the short cut thru my land during the rainy season draw blood from their lips when they are menstruating. Why because they believe in the devil lives on the hill – and he has the power to visit them in their dreams to ravage them if they fail to follow ritual.
The hantu and their kin – the potianak, orang minyak, Jembalang, jerangkung, Bunian are all very real in the Kampung sphere – that is why religion is so dominant in the Malaysian provincial scene…as only it can offer protection against malevolent spirits real or imagined.
Once ritualism, mythology and folklore takes hold of the young mind – often it is impossible to eradicate. Not even with the power of reason and logic.
Singapore also has its own unique category of hantu’s. Or myths. Depending how you see the paranormal influencing the mind.
Kids in school see their peers having the latest smartphones. They visit their peers homes for birthdays and marvel at how well the other half lives – this of course is what the Harvard Business review doesn’t write about when we talk about why the income gap is such a solvent. And naturally that kid will wonder how can I live the same good life?
So they all work towards landing a scholarship. In university, they hear how good life is for the scholar. He seems set for life and all that needs to be done is to follow the yellow brick road diligently without once straying off like one of those software programs that is loaded to self driving cars.
Do well in school. Land a scholarship. And the rest of life will fall into place. You even get to marry that cute girl with the short skirt next door. Hence the brightest and the cream de la cream aspires only to be a high ranking civil servant or a stat board honcho.
That’s Singapore biggest Hantu that really holds her back.
After all why even step out of line and bother with the high road of aspiring to be an enterprise owner?
What if I fail?
Isn’t that a form of education? Or might we be talking about a social cultural theoretical science here? Maybe it’s closer to Hantuism. I don’t know. You decide on this one.
My point is what society puts on a pedestal and venerates. The rest will consider the gold standard and just work towards.
You go to Nebraska and Ohio and all you see is kids playing with John Deere type dinky toys. Why? Because farmers are rich. Some of them even own Honda jets like Homer Tan. So everyone aspires to be a farmer over there. See the nexus – what society puts on a pedestal and venerates….
Same with Hong Kong every MBA graduate aspires to be a property developer like Super duper Li. Why because that’s the gold standard. Again you see the same superstition or myth working its magic.
In China every university student aspires to be the next Jack Ma of Alibaba. As only he gets to have lunch with Obama.
And the most grotesque aspect of this cult of emulation is when the elites begin to start mythologizing their own version of the narrative and begin selling it to the masses.
Q: So you’re against the scholar model?
A: No. I am not against it. But I think it needs to be less of a hantu factor in the Singaporean psyche i.e kids need to weaned off the corrosive belief, if they don’t cut the grade. They have failed or have to settle for second best. They need to believe. There are other ways to make it and even perhaps buy their own Honda jet. They need to believe in not only one path but multiple pathways to actualizing personal success. Above all they need to believe in the notion of dignity of labor – with the benefit of good work ethic, they can be successful in life.
As for the scholarship system it needs to less parochial, insular and less inward looking – it needs to be infused with a deep sense of reality.
Q: What would your version of that reality be?
A: Go and work in the private sector for five years first as part of your bond agreement. Not a GLC. But a real private enterprise. Better still make it extendable in mid career years when they begin harbouring delusions of grandeur – go see how the world really works. Like General Yeo. I’ve never spoken to him. But I am sure if the guilds can arrange to interview him about his worldview along with attitudes concerning some of his objects of interest – it would be very different from what it used to be when he was just the foreign minister of Singapore. As he is one of the few that managed to successfully make that transition from being a civil servant to someone holding a senior rank in an enterprise – it’s a very different ball game. With different rules along with opportunities and constraints. This is what I mean by reality.
Always remember what I said earlier – as it’s anecdotal to even qualify as axiomatic and a veritable. What society puts on a pedestal and venerates. The rest will consider as the gold standard and work towards like ants seeking sugar.
Let me give you and example. During the Ming Dynasty. Every kid in the coastal regions of China dreamt of being a merchant seaman. Why? Because the exploits of Cheng Hu was the equivalent of reaching the forty two level of world of Warcraft.
That was what really scared the living daylights out of the Ming mandarin class who saw the exploits of the treasure fleet as an erosion of not only the status quo. But it even threatened the way by which they would perpetuate their ritualized class politics in the imperial court.
So these Mandarins burnt all these ancient comic books that would have otherwise made China the greatest Superpower on this planet. Surpassing even the Roman Empire. They even banned the construction of blue water class ships by limiting their size and tonnage.
To put it another way they made rugged individualism, the quest for exploration and risk taking all bad words.
People who showed such tendencies were put to the sword. They lost posisition. Got kicked out. Exiled or banished for half baked reasons.
But when you eviscerate an idea – you also kill so many good things along with it – you know Kompf. I am an old school sailor – give me a mineral oil compass, divider, maps, sextant and a Rolex that loses only ten seconds a month and no more and I can make port at every way point give or take a day or two – so I can appreciate what China threw into the furnace along with the travel logs of the Treasure fleet.
As at that period. China had reached a peak of naval technology unsurpassed in the world. Chinese shipbuilders also combined technologies they borrowed and adapted from seafarers of the South China seas and the Indian Ocean. For centuries, China was the preeminent maritime power in the region, with advances in navigation, naval architecture, propulsion and artillery. From the ninth century on, the Chinese had taken their magnetic compasses aboard ships two whole centuries before the Europeans. They were so sophisticated. They even knew the subtle difference between magnetic North and theoretical North and could make the necessary adjustments not to run aground on shallow waters. In addition to compasses, Chinese could navigate by the stars when skies were clear, using printed manuals with star charts complete with Astrolobe tabula. Star charts had been produced from at least the eleventh century. So astronomy disappeared as well. That was why China was riven with incidences of famine after the end of the great voyages. If you know Chinese history well – you will be able to trace out how the vital sciences of the ancient world, such as Astronomy degraded to such a level where the Mandarins couldn’t even publish their annual almanac to inform farmers when to sow and harvest reliably – it was catastrophic and like all nationally insipired ideas that put’s that sword great endeavours, many goodies went up in smoke.
And what did this book burning Mandarins do thereafter – they began to turn away from the sciences and instead take comfort in trivial pursuits like poetry as a means of promoting their own erudite and useless class politics.
By the early seventeen century the cost to China was fatal when European war ships made their appearance in Canton.
This is a good example of what can happen when a nation has lousy role models. Everyone suffers. Except those who happen to live in ivory towers.
Q: So how do we grow our own home grown version of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?
A: As I said earlier in another interview. I can’t remember when – that is not the cogent question. The real question is how to does a nation go about climbing up the value added ladder – and to accomplish this. You need to get out that idea from your head that anything commercially viable in the innovative or creative sense necessary requires a USB port or wires – there are many things in this world that successfully sells commercially and the provide many with employment which do not necessarily require batteries. A well designed coat hanger uses the same amount of plastic resin than one that you buy in the Pasar malam (flea market). But it commands a premium price. Same goes for everything from space saving furniture design to traffic cones that light up at night to promote driver safety.
Kompf don’t get fixated on the likes of Gates and Jobs. I know when we regularly talk about innovation and creativity, it’s usually given the same semantical treatment as high tech. But to me that is only one of many ways to see innovation and creativity in action – for me the field of possibilities of those two words is very wide from designing better wheelbarrows that doesn’t cause slip disc to fashionable clothes and accessories.
To me those two words are so broad that they don’t even have to include the likes of only Gates and Jobs. Somewhere in between there is space for perhaps even a Vipp. You know that Danish guy who decided to design a pedal bin for his wife because she worked in a hair saloon.
You know Kompf. How you see a word or sentence usually determines very much your outlook and approach in life.
Maybe what I am trying to say is we may have to unlearn many things before learning new things to make real and meaningful progress.
Q: OK I get it. You’re saying innovation and creativity are small words that don’t necessarily require cutting edge technology. But can it be commercially viable?
A: Why not? If there is a demand and you as an entrepreneur can figure out the supply business end. You have a self sustaining loop. You know I happen to spend a lot of time in the wild. One of the biggest problems we have with cars in the frontier is rodents creeping into the hood and chewing on electrical wirring and disabling cars. It’s a huge problem with frontier men and maybe also with people with weekend plated cars in Singapore. Just imagine you’re in a Leopard tank and the turret can’t rotate for nuts because rats have chewed the electricals – that’s not funny. Because in a jungle craft. If there is a war I would probably be throwing peanut butter at the enemy instead of hand grenades. I am just kidding.
Back to point. In the scale of things, this is a major problem in field craft. It’s such a dreaded problem to me that one day while racking my head to get on top of this problem. I got so frustrated that I kicked a mosquito coil and it slid under my engine – the following day I discovered there were no rats.
Since then whenever I go to the field for over nighters – I light a mosquito coil and put it under my engine and it’s good to go for twelve hours straight. That’s how small the words innovation and creativity is to me.
I figure one day I might print myself a couple of thousand of carton boxes with a brand name like Rat-off! And sell as an anti critter solution to frontier men and militaries all round the world that face this perennial problem. All I have to do is go to NTUC buy up all the mosquito coils and get my maid to rebox them and sell it in online.
Q: Are you really thinking of doing that?
A: My point is innovation and creativity should be a very small word. You’re a hawker selling Mee Pok. One day you decide to add some strange condiments. It taste better. So good that your customer base grows. One day the Michelin foodies decide to give you a plaque. In my book that hawker is leveraging on innovation and creativity. It may be very small to you Kompf. Then again. Small is beautiful. Because every Singaporean can be an innovator and creator of value.
February 17, 2017
There is something very wrong with the picture. It’s not quite right. Target is hard to get at. As his movements have to remain random. Where were his bodyguards?
Two amateurs. Women. They obviously have no prior clandestine training. Reports are conflicting. At first it was reported target was splashed in the face with a mysterious liquid. Then a hanky held over his face for ten seconds! Latter on it’s reported, he was sprayed in the face. Again this is not right.
Hard target. Only one chance for a decisive kill and a fifty fifty method is deployed. It can’t be right. As not even puffer fish poison can work with just a splash.
Location was right. Target was preoccupied with automated checking in – that part was good.
But the rest of the picture is not right.
After the capper. Both pranksters didn’t even bother to follow evasive procedures. Clearly amateurs with no prior training.
Something is missing – an injection.
That’s the only reliable way. The 100% method to guarantee target is terminated if poison was used.
Four mysterious men were seen. Again that’s not right. You wouldn’t be able to make them out. Not as a team or unit. They would have been discreet.
Maybe they just wanted to kidnap the target? Maybe it was a botched job? Maybe they didn’t mean to kill him?
If it’s a kill job – there had to be an instrument to deliver the poison – it had to be injected. Intravenous delivery of poison is 100%. It’s the only way. The preferred method of a professional assassin.
Where is the injection device? Was there even one? Are North Korean assassins even involved?
February 15, 2017
Q: Do you think leveraging on innovation and creativity is disruptive? And if it is how should it be managed?
A: That’s a very broad question that can be answered from so many different ways – but whatever point you choose to start. I think we can all agree without too much fuss – no endeavor that is bed rocked on innovation and creativity is absolutely safe. Many boats will get rocked. Even those that have anti rocking features. Not only SME’s, the workforce, enterprise stakeholders, policy formulators, ministers, political and corporate class olograchies – they will all experience some measure discomfort as implicit within the words innovation and creativity involves change and change if you think about it can mean power and politics shifts. That will always be scary and even at times unnatural for some categories of interest groups who are too invested in the status quo.
Robots replacing humans is a big issue with unions all round the world. Just like how downloadable apps have changed the way people commute and buy stuff. And all that will have a domino effect – like how shopping Malls are slowing shuttering because it all diminishes the allure of physical consumerism.
In summary some change will proceed smoothly others will be convulsed and even violent – I see all this as a very natural dynamic that accompanies change.
The way I see it – there needs to be balance and a sense of scale and perspective – that I feel is missing from Singapore.
We speak about the need to change the way to work…attitudes, approaches, mindsets and at times even philosophies. But no one really wants to talk about simple things like having the correct frame of mind to facilitate real and meaningfully change respectfully and thoughtfully.
Sometimes and more so in the case of Singapore officialdom’s relationship with it’s society – political correctness tends to be taken much too far to produce meaninglessness that subtracts rather than adds any value to the process of change.
Silence, acquiescing and parroting the official line is often seen as being a good and sensible team player – to go the other way is to run the risk of being labelled a recalcitrant, autistic or simply one whose out to stir trouble.
I don’t saw this only in the context of the relationship between state and citizenry – but this paranormal mindset, if you allow me to call it that also applies in firms between employee and employer right down to parents and their relationship with their children.
For example. Not every planter or miller likes me. Some do. Others don’t. Why don’t they like me is a function of their belief system that gets regularly challenged when things are done my way – I on the other hand respect their ways, but they must also learn to respect my point of view as well as a landowner so there needs to be a sort of common ground where both parties can stand and look at each other in the eye and be able to laugh at how seriously and how far the other is willing to go just to hold on to a point of view – that to me is how mature minds typically manage themselves and others in the face of conflict – they are able to regard themselves along with their positions less seriously and even laugh at their own idiosyncrasies and thru that sort of live and let live culture exchange ideas honesty.
Asian’s don’t do this well – but Americans and Europeans can. And that is why although they is so many things that doesn’t work in their societies. They’re always at the cutting edge of change – change not only in technology. But even change in fashion to changing a script in a narrative to develop material we may vote with our wallets to regularly entertain ourselves.
So I see the change as really a lifestyle inspired thing – that needs to recruit not only the hard matter of the intellect, but heart and also spiritualism. This of course is not a narrative many people like to talk about – as they will invariably come across a wishy washy. But I don’t have any hang up’s – as I see it that way.
Instead of just allowing one idea from one man or one oligarchy to steamroll over the rest – when we speak about innovation and creativity in the context of business – then you cannot preclude the inclusion of the political sphere as well. It’s really one of the same reality. Many countries have tried to separate the two – take the case of Trump’s travel ban, it’s a political decision. But see how it impacts businesses and most importantly register the nexus between politics and business.
For me I am clear on some points. We should not confuse fear with respect. As criticism if it’s well thought out and argued with facts and not jingoism and propaganda can often be the raw material to leverage on innovation and creativity to carve competitive advantage to enhance the wealth of a nation, firm or people.
Silence or the culture of fear may I admit look as if all’s well and fine – but often it can smolder deep down like peat fire and it’s very very hard to put out.
February 12, 2017
Q: What do think is the single most important factor that desperately needs a solution for revivifying the Singapore economy? Do you see the Singapore first policy as a solution?
A: What you’re in fact asking me albeit in an oblique manner is where do all the good stuff that accounts for economic growth really come from?
Government likes to trump the idea they regularly invest in high quality education. But what’s the point when you have physicist driving taxi’s just because then can’t seem to land good jobs pay well? What’s the point when you have firms that considers workers an accounting liability once they hit their early forties? what’s the point these days when even the very idea of firms have transformed to such an extent where all you really see is the receptionist and there is no one in the office because everything is either outsourced or they are just getting things done by contract workers.
I think we have to be very clear here about a very simple question and that is simply this a where do all the good stuff that really drives the economy come from?
For me if you go back and read many of my materials even as far back as ten to fifteen years ago – I have always been a very aggressive backer of the middle class – the reasons are simple. As when we ask ourselves the question who actually starts enterprises that hires people – most people in Singapore will probably say, Temasek or maybe name some multinational where everyone has to wear uniforms and clock in – but for me the crèche that incubates entrepreneurship and risk taking for the last two thousand years of human history has always been the middle class.
So when you talk about how to craft an economic growth strategy for Singapore. You cannot preclude the middle class. Neither can you elide it – it’s like talking about making a cake without flour or eggs because to me – the middle class has always been the happy band of society that offers the highest intellect, motivation for upward mobility that is inextricably linked to innovation and creativity – these are the people who start enterprises that grow – big firms and oligarchs like GLC’s and the likes of Temasek Holdings some say do the same on a larger scale. But what you need to understand is they do it in such a way where they don’t necessarily compliment the upward mobility of the middle class in terms of opportunities – as since they are so big – paradoxically they work against the middle class by having their hand in everything to such an extent where the aperture for opportunities for the middle class can only diminish and at worst regress.
Q: Yes. It is certainly true. It is well known that you happen to be a very supporter of the middle class – but the question is what is the nexus between innovation and creativity and the middle class – how are they linked?
A: You know I am just a simple farmer. But let’s imagine it this way – let’s say Singapore is not a small country. Let’s say it’s got so much land that it’s like the mid west of America. But if all the land concessions are just given out to big agri Temasek type firms – then why should I even bother with the whole idea of trying to turn the wheel of life by farming?
It’s a bloody waste of time. I can’t compete for nuts with these juggernauts. They have millions of hectares. All I have is my humble veggie patch. So they have the benefit of economy of scale – they buy fertilizer per ton cheaper than I can ever hope to do – they’re probably so big they can even engineer price artificialities just to give them a price advantage that cuts my margins to nil – this is exactly what I face regularly.
That’s why if you read my blog regularly. You read about bizarre stories of how I am always playing cat and mouse with the big plantation owners and oil millers – you may think buying plastic flowers and using my charm to get information from fat secretaries or climbing up flimsy drainpipes like some third rate secret agent to break into filing cabinets in the middle of the night is just sandbox politics – but trust me – this is serious stuff – as all I really want is a level playing field where I can earn a decent living as a small timer farmer.
I see the plight of the middle income earner very much in the same metaphoric lens in Singapore – he wants to start an enterprise – but wherever he turns, it’s a road block. As there are simply too many big firms that have their hand in everything from setting high rentals to price manipulation.
Q: What countries can we learn from where big is bad and small is good?
A: Look at America. It’s middle class is nuked! Do you really want to know how Trump got elected? Many political pundits like to point to the dissatisfaction of the rust belt regions. But disagree – as the real reason has everything to do with the evisceration of the middle class in America.
Do you really want to know what’s the one saving grace of the middle class – they read. They’re prolific accumulators of knowledge. Kids from poor families just play candy crush and angry birds on their iPads – that’s their lot. It’s not an indictment on class per se but if I am just a guy scrapping by that’s provably what I would do myself – after all I can’t cut the margins to make those investments to start an enterprise not without minimum wage and only an extra day off every two working weeks – so their children struggle to achieve in school and pursue higher education. Children from rich families may seem to have every reason to succeed thanks to their privileged childhood opportunities. But comfort is a solvent – it robs them of rugged individualism, drive and the frontier spirit – hence they lack the desire to build wealth and climb the economic ladder further – but the middle ground is only place where you will find the perfect balance between yearning and fulfillment and that is why it will always be the crèche of entrepreneurial spirit.
The economy sags when middle class anthropises – it dies.
Q: I quote what you mentioned just now. ‘Comfort is a solvent – it robs them of rugged individualism, drive and the frontier spirit’ end of quote. Who is ‘them’? The reason why I ask you this is because I notice you seem to draw a very link between discomfort and success – can you elaborate further on your theory?
A: Who is ‘them’? Depends on which camp you belong too. If you’re in the standard PAP line then I guess the onus is on the average man on the street who is always told that he shouldn’t rely too much on the government. But what is often elided from the narrative is how so GLC’s and even certain state owned enterprises such as Temasek continue to enjoy monopolies and can even be considered five star comfort zones. So there is a lot of dissonance here when we ask who exactly is ‘them’ in the Singapore context.
Wages as you know are kept low in Singapore to presumably to create an environment where SME’s can compete without hurting their bottom line – isn’t that a sort of comfort zone?
Wonder no more why productivity is so low in Singapore. Because if let’s say I am an enterprise owner and I can get easy access to cheap labor – then tell me where exactly is the level of discomfort that would provide heat for me to get off my fat ass to find alternative ways to best the bottom line? Why even bother looking at automation when all I have to do is get ten more Bangladeshi to get the job done.
But if you compare this with how the average Singaporean is regularly told he needs to work harder and foreigners are needed to fuel competitive economy – there seems to be two narratives. So it’s really double standards here.
Bear in mind what I am saying is very serious. I am mindful of this. But that is my personal point of view of how Singapore really is – too often enterprises are given the sweet end while the average Singaporean is told swim or sink. So what you have is a business environment where enterprises continue to enjoy the comfort zone of cheap labor that is why most of them don’t seem to be able to discover the imagination or will power to migrate upstream.
This is awfully complicated. I don’t want to simplify the formula for success or failure to such a point where I may even come across as rhetorical – but my point is simply this. Discomfort is a precondition. A strategic precondition before innovation and creativity can take root. If you look at every single nation that has succeeded – at every single significant turning point in it’s history it experienced stress – not Thai massage stress, but do or die stress that compelled it migrate up stream.
Japan is good example. Many people like to say the Japanese camera industry grew exponentially during the seventies right up to the eighties because they copied rigorously – but to make good cameras. You also need great optics, where did the Japanese acquire the core competence to develop great lenses – it goes back all the way to the Russo Japanese inter war years in the early 1900 – when the imperial Japanese navy realized all their binoculars and optics came exclusively from Germany from a firm called Zeiss – without decent optics you can’t wage war – artillery shells will all miss their targets. Good optics are required from everything to range finders to bomb sights to periscopes – so the Japanese were stressed to hell. That specific constraint was what compelled them to develop their home grown optics technology that eventually became the bedrock of that allowed them to manufacture good camera’s.
My point is you can be lazy and settle for a presentist Harvard business school view – you always have to go back into the depths of history – if you really want to gain a comprehensive grasp of how nations and firms leverage on innovation and creativity to carve competitive advantage – I admit, it’s not always a clear line of sight. There are many factors that come into play such as serendipity and even pot luck.
But even if we take short cuts are drawing analogies and comparisons – I think it’s axiomatic, to succeed there has to be a certain level of discomfort.
Argentina is a very good example of what can happen things get too comfortable – in the early days circa 1900, it was a so happening place that if I was born in that period. I would probably buy a one way ticket to work there. But look where it is today – it’s a basket case, albeit with limited success stories speckled with failures and even so much of it can only be thru it own distorted lens of what is success and failure – in it’s hey day the Argentinian economy was exclusively powered by rugged individuals, risk takers, there was a strong middle class.
Eventually under Peronism – the state had became bellicose and so all pervasive and strong. The government owned and ran not just natural monopolies such as water and electricity but anything that looked big with a couple of Temasek sized oligrachies – everything was subsumed into the purview of these juggernaut firms – everything from aircraft production, steel, chemicals, construction, road building, car factories to even paperclips. The great paradox of Argentina that has baffled even the best economist till today is while the economy did indeed industrialize – but without realizing it, it had also engineered the constructed it’s own mechanism for self destruction. In 1950 Argentine income per head was twice that of Spain. By 1975 the average Spaniard had more money in his pocket and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the average Argentine. Argentines were almost three times richer than Japanese in the 1950s; by the early 1980s the ratio had been reversed. So what happened?
If you ask me – I know the story as I am planter and if you asked me who actually brought down the economy of Argentina it’s was the aristocracy of this big firms that had their hand in everything from plantations to steel mills – they’re are cultured lot. Argentinians. They dress well. They’re Eton educated. Like to play Polo and have a taste for Italian fast cars. But from a modern planters point of view – they’re good for nothing! As the aristocracy of the planters and great industrialist community today are just reenacting the curtain call of the Fin de siècle era – it’s very sad.
This is what happens when the comfortable are not forced out by the collar of their shirts and dragged out into the wilderness of the discomfort zone – they all become like Argentinian aristocrats who are full of affectations, unlike their predecessors who were all very rugged men like the conquistadors of lore.
And this is what happens when businesses and SME’s are always molly coddled by the state with plentiful cheap labor – they all become lackeys!
Q: So you say firms and especially SME’s should be stressed?
A: Yes. You want cheap labor no! They experience stress. But since the allure of profit motive is so powerful – they find alternative means thru automation, robotics or improving work systems – that’s the only way to compel firms to take innovation and creativity. By creating stressful conditions where if they don’t migrate. They perish!
Q: A summary of what you have said so far is this: if Singapore wants to leverage on innovation and creativity – then it needs to grow instead of destroy the middle class. Am I right?
A: Yes and no. But you do have to excuse me now Kompf. As I need to hit the field. We will talk more when I return.
Q: Can I follow you?
A: Nien fräulein. It’s rough terrain. This time. I need to go with my dog. Stay here. We will talk further later. I will cook you something delightful when I return. I promise we will continue the conversation – meanwhile do enjoy middle class plantation life.
Q: What is your take on the role of the custodians of power, when they are repressive and intolerant. Will that have a detrimental effect on innovation and creativity?
A: I think in the case of Singapore and everywhere else – whenever officialdom features too prominently and dominantly in the sphere of the individual it definitely has a negative effect on creativity – but how much is hard to gauge emperically. In the case of Argentina, that pattern is certainly true – where democracy was created in 1912, undermined in 1930, ressurected in kind again in 1946, died again in 1955, brought back from the dead in 1973, killed once again in 1976, and finally reestablished in 1983 – it certainly had a chelating effect on the middle class and is perhaps one of the leading causes of brain drain as nothing can be worse than a regime that is willing to do anything just to hold on to the reins of power – when that happens the people who are best qualified to comment or just talk shut up or worse still they get used to living with a police man in their head and so what they have to say is always tinged with a sense of reservation and caution. As since they need their job. Then the right to speak the truth becomes a liability.
Q: Is that why there are so few vocal intellectuals in Singapore?
A: No comment.
Q: Let me approach it another way – if there is a way to criticize without incurring penalties will it create a society that is more adept to risk taking?
A: I think you already know the answer to that question – I have no further comment on that.
Q: What is your view on the widening income gap? It is well known you are critical. But how does this disparity in wealth correlate with the idea of creating a society that is comfortable with innovation and creativity?
A: There is a very perculiar logic that has taken hold in the last twenty or so years. Especially amongst the neo liberal economist and thinkers that began during the Reagan era – the idea goes something like this. When the rich get richer. Then some how part of their wealth percolates downward to the rest of society presumably like rain or piss – but where the logic fails is how this is exactly accomplished is never really quite satisfactorily explained, discussed or even written at lenght or breadth about – so if you ask me, this is just a form of mysticism.
As wealth doesn’t percolate downwards as much as it gets relocated elsewhere to the Cayman Islands or some place where no one even bothers to ask you where did all this gold bars come from?
Besides the notion the rich create jobs is not entirely true – they may create jobs where labor cost are low or where they can dump used machine oil into a river without anyone knocking on their door at night. Truth is the select few rich businesses don’t necessary create jobs. Not in sufficient numbers for the natives at least.
Especially not in the era of the ghost companies – where they exist, but at the same time they hardly hire anyone in those countries that they claim to be located. Labor is so diffused these days worldwide.
Rather, the rich become rich as they simply happen to be the beneficiries of an ecosystemic loop that regularly cannabilize on the largess of the middle-class. By either wage imposing conditions of wage regression or just dumbing it all down to cost competitiveness.
The real wealth creators in any nation have always been the middle class. When the middle class thrives, businesses grow and hire people and since they aren’t so big that they will ever consider opening a Swiss account or relocating their businesses to lower cost regions in the world – most importantly they stay local and the earned money circulates in the monetary ecology of the local community.
It’s like this really. I can hire foreign workers in my plantation. But you know oil palm is a skilled trade – even simple task like cutting fruit requires years of apprenticeship before workers can be effective. Otherwise they will end up destroying the trees – so that sort of apprentice and master relationship needs to be nourished and sustained at a cost even if it happens to eats into profit in my opinion. As it’s a long term investment to infuse the whole industry with the requisite quality and quantity for sustainability farming. You know many planters these days are in a right fix – as since the ringgit has deprecciated against the Indonesian rupiah and Bangladeshi Taka – many foreign workers have decided not renew their contracts. So there is currently an acute shortage of skilled workers in the oil palm sector. But I don’t have that problem at all.
Besides I am a strong subscriber of the notion of dignity of labor – and that simply means I like to money to circulate within the local economy. But if I have foreign workers who repatriate eighty cents of every dollar they earn back home – then where does that leave the local economy? So to me I am always in a precarious position. As a landowner in comparison to a harvester earns so dramatically much more – to me it’s strategic. I can never afford a Brexit or Trump event – if that ever happens that’s it. I am finished. Game over!
My point is you can’t take the idea of meritocracy to it’s illogical end – if an IT engineer hails from Mumbai his expectations are going to be much lower that a native who has to live, work, plan and take cars of his elders in Singapore. This is not theoretical. That is my point. It’s real. So if jobs in the local scene are just based on cost competitiveness – then all you’re doing is forcing droves of people highly educated people to work in Starbucks or Mcdonalds and there is a long term cost to that when you factor in the conditions to create an entrepreneurial based society.
There has to be. So if you package that as meritocracy. I say, go and die lah!
Q: What do you think about the role of education in the innovation and creativity ecosystemtic loop?
A: It gives me little or no pleasure to say this – but when we speak about the evisceration of the middle class and continue our discussion on why Argentina failed when it had every reason to succeed – it is precisely because of the self-serving aristocracy of the land owning and shipping families that stifled political and social development in the 1900. The Bembergs and Osmena’s corn beef barons disappated so much of their time and wealth on transforming Buenos Aires in little corners of Saville Row and the fifth Arrodisment in Paris – the chattering classes even preferred to speak a French. As frankly even the high class Argetinians couldn’t understand a single word spoken by the average Argetinian – Argentinian Spanish is very different from standard Spanish. The natives or poor speak some kind of canto – where the rhythm, pitch, modulation and intonation is all jumbled up – so the high class Argentians couldn’t even really undestand what the hell their poorer compatriots were saying – communication was a big issue that contributed to the Argetinian economic decline. How much is hard to gauge precisely. But it certainly amplified the class divide in more ways than I can possibly elaborate.
But if you ask me what really amplified the class divide was the disdain the planter and landowning aristocracy harbored towards their poorer compatriots – While American rail and oil barons funded libraries and promoted scholarships for the working masses the likes of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller et al. The Argentinian aristocracy much preferred a Belle Époque life of dissipation pursuing Polo and recreating little Paris in Beuno Aries where they could show off their wealth like sapeurs. Instead of integrating with the masses they lived In the equivalent of Sentosa Cove far removed from the everday realities of Argentinian life – very much within their glider gated communities where the oligarchs oriented Argentina’s economy towards exploitation of the fertile soil and its working people, using their immense largess to steer political policies to their sole benefit.
So my point is when we speak of education – it is this aspect that to me presents the highest danger – when rich kids from privileged families have absolutely no idea how the rest of the poorer kids live and get by.
Worst still when poor kids see all this brazen display of wealth – it only heightens their desire for the unattainable and that can only gene resentment, enmity and everything that is against the idea of brotherhood.
That is why when we speak about education these days – it’s so important to stress the importance of egalitarims – many people label me as a communist. They say in Harrow. He was very much influenced by Franco’s austered lifestyle and iron willed proletarian work ethic that only seemed to prioritize the khaki of functionality and very little else. But to me – this is the new compact that the rich needs to cultivate to reclaim the lost ground with the masses – this to me is the real education that we need to impart to our youths – the idea of a classless society where the rich may not be so different after all from those who are just getting by.
Q: What is your opinion about the mellinials being the strawberry generation who don’t have the right stuff to start enterprises today?
A: I happen to have a lot of sympathy for this particular generation only because life is has never ever been tougher for any generation. Everything militates against them – job life cycles are getting shorter. And they will shorten further. Cost of living is high even by the most forgiving standards. If they commit to proper we are talking about long repayment periods that exceed what earning ratio of previous generations by not double but maybe quadruple. To cap it all off they now have compete with the whole wide world – so life must be hard. Even if they happen to own the latest smart phone it’s no consolation when I compare how things really were in my generation where dumb people like me could even get by and providing I don’t do anything stupid like fall in love with a China gold digger. I will retire quite comfortably. But for the mellinials it’s tough, tough and tough.
Q: What would your advise be to this generation?
A: I have a very unusual way of motivating people. You know when I was back home in Singapore. There was this guy. His name was Homer. Homer Tan. Now with a name like that you would probably think he could think for the both of us – but this guy was just a whining wet blanket. He would just go to work everyday and at the end of the day we would always be lounging in the pool and it was the same ritual every single time – where he would recount to me – his epic, I am going nowhere story. So one day I got really sick and tired. I wasn’t in a very congenial conversational mood that evening. So I asked me him for his IC. Of course Homer gave it to me and I took off my shades looked at him and said in a really serious tone – Homer you need to get on a plane and go make something out of your life in the big wide world. I can be five chili intimidating like the Yakuza, Mafia or Ang Tau kiah gang in Bedok when I get dead serious. Anyway to cut a long story I told Homer that if he didn’t get his act together – I have secret designs on his mummy as I think she is the perfect MILF sort that I would really like to have a candle light dinner with soft music along with other unmentionable things that I planned to do. To cut a long story short Homer disappeared pronto – today Homer owns a spanking new Hondajet. Don’t believe me call me and I will call him and we can fly private. I am not kidding. Today Homer runs a recycling plant in Belarus extracting gold and other exotic materials from computers and ex soviet era hardware that go to die in junkyards – I get a case of the finest grade whisky every year from Homer along with a ten page A4 thank you note.
I am not kidding. Ten pages of the before, during and after story.
So as you can see I am not exactly your weekend get away motivational coach that you go to and at the end of the day you get a free T shirt or mug. You really don’t want to ask me that sort of question. You don’t. Not if you know my background.
But sometimes – perhaps it’s good when someone comes along and gives you a hard kick into the deep end of the discomfort zone.
I am not saying this method of persuasion should be incorporated into the curriculum of everyone who really wants to be an entrepreneur. But I do think for some people who only seem to spend all their time whining away like some petulant wet blanket – they should just go and improve their lot!
Q: You seem to have a very clear view of what governments shouldn’t and should do along with how much etc. So can we at least agree that what you are trying to say is this – they should grow the middle class and not destroy it? Is there any country that you would consider following?
A: Yes. Just take care of the middle class and if that’s done right then all the goodies will emerge – do I see any country doing all the right things. I think if you look at really successful countries and firms all have one thing in common – there is a clear valence between hard work and reward i.e there is great respect and veneration for the idea of dignity of labor – the idea that a man should be paid a fair wage for his labor. When that notion is disrupted thru central planning or policy formulation at a government level – that’s when everything goes wacky. That’s when people start to get disillusioned. That’s when they get scared. So scared that at times they don’t even have the faith to start a family because they can’t even handle the basics of life – and when that happens the cost can be exorbitantly high. As scady cats don’t ever stick their necks out. They don’t start businesses and they certainly don’t even dare to harbor dreams as all it seems to do is supply them the grief of shattered hopes and unfulfilled aspirations. Of course all this is very hard to measure in metric terms – but if you ask me one country where the government may have got it right. Paradoxically, it’s China. I am not saying everything is right and perfect there. Not at all. They do have problems. And some of them are big and intractable. But as far as growing the middle class is concerned – I think they have done a wonderful job. Today if you conduct a survey of the most optimistic generation – it will be the young educated middle class Chinese. Of course all this never gets mentioned in the Western press or even talked about in the Harvard Business Review because the Chinese leadership is really quite coy about self aggrandizing – but if I had to rate them, I think they have certainly done an incredible job of growing a healthy band of middle class Chinese while the rest of the Western Hemisphere and even rest of Asia has seen this segment of society of getting narrower till in some cases they have all been squeezed right out.
I say they, the Chinese leaders have done a great job because when we ask ourselves what is the litmus test of a good or crappy government – it’s never GDP to me, that metric has always been chimeric – it really boils down to the very simple and basic question – where do you see yourself in five years?
I think more western trained politicians, economist and especially sociologist should take a closer look at the success story of China and my hope is they learn from it….but always remember what do I really know. I am just a simple farmer.
February 11, 2017
Q: What is your first hand assessment of the recommendations of the ESC? Do you think the criticism of the opposition labeling it as same old, same old are valid?
A: Thus far. The strokes are very broad. Very little specifics – but that is not an indictment of the ESC recommendations per se – that’s just how it is in the first cut. On the first roll out of anything that proposed change. It’s like reviewing a painting for the very first time. One stands some distance to take a full sweep of it to get an initial feel. The theme.
After that one moves closer to examine the brush strokes – the specifics and it all combines to create a picture.
As it is I think the opposition should have held back on their assessment till further details emerge.
But then again even I am just a farmer. So farmers rarely ever get invited to such events. What do I know.
Q: Guild wants to know can we learn anything meaningful from the ESC recommendations?
A: Tell the Guilds of course. In the US. There is an agency known as the NTSB. Every time planes, trains or cars crash and burn. These guys put on white overalls and sieve thru the carnage to determine the causal factors that led to those accidents – they actually do quite a good job of piecing together the anatomy of the disaster from beginning to end. After that they make their recommendations to plane, car or tractor manufacturers and that is how things get better, safer and much more reliable.
So I think many of my regular readers will be reviewing the ESC recommendations very closely – as even if it is a lousy proposal, there are certainly valuable lessons to gleaned in respect to what not to do if your firm or country wants to succeed in the globalized age.
We don’t just learn from following the winners. We also do the same by not doing the things the losers do.
Q: I sense a very sarcastic tone in your reply….(cut off by interruption).
A: You have every right to gauge my reply based on what I said. But you don’t a right to impute bad faith on my part – as I do have a valid point. In this world it is not so simple as just learning the seven habits of highly effective people a la Stephen Covey. As much as learning for to deal with the seven highly ineffective people to succeed.
That is my point.
Q: Stick out your neck. Please. I sense you are being cautious in your critique. Could be that you didn’t sleep at all. Did you go hunting last night? Do share what are the points that concern you most about the ESC recommendations?
A: If you insist Kompf. Only these have to be lightning points to mull over. As I really need to hit the field in a while.
Firstly, many of the ESC recommendations are still predicated on the old hat idea of growing the economy thru FDI (foreign direct investments) via presumably multinationals that hire workers to make stuff that would be exported. That to me is OK. As every country. No matter how mature it is technologically or industrially conforms to that model of growth to some extent or degree. Samsung and Japan are both highly industrialized and they’re at the cutting edge of innovation – but they too are very much plugged into the FDI mode as many electronic products use their chips and contrary to even expert assessments not all of these are home grown – but since the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers) have acquired core competencies in these areas, it makes sense for firms like Apple or even General Dynamics to outsource the production of these parts to those countries. So it’s not entirely true to say the FDI business model is passé – it is a robust business model as it makes perfect manufacturing strategy.
But even these highly developed nations that regularly leverage on innovation and creativity appreciate the limits of the FDI growth model – that’s to say they are mindful there are limits, constraints and even factors that may in the long run militate against sustainable economic growth. Even second tier tech countries such as Taiwan, China and to highly developed countries like Germany, Sweden et al have a healthy mid band of innovators that develop their own products and specialized services.
My feel is not enough attention is given to the specific area to grow such firms – where it might be just a one man show cum inventor enterprise that is able to some how find a niche alongside the juggernaut FDI type OEM based firms.
FDI is good if ONLY you can move up the value chain – but not many countries can make that sort of tech leap.
Do you want to know why Apple products are made in China? It’s an awful truth – but the real reason is because the US no longer has the core competencies necessary to manufacture such products – they can conceptualize, design etc etc. But manufacturing is a skill set in it’s own right – it is a core competence a skill of arms in it’s own right.
So let’s be clear not all FDI’s are necessarily bad. Many are good as they’re akin to universities that allow the natives to gain core competencies to build stuff in both quantities and quality and cost that can be transformed into competitive advantage to one day produce their own branding – Japan does this so did Korea. Taiwan followed suit. So did Hong Kong. But in the case of Singapore she’s a dud.
This should prompt us to ask why?
Q: Maybe that why the Singapore government wants to ramp up the population to jump start that sort to tech leap?
A: No one denies to grow an economy coherently – intellectual critical mass or fire power is a strategic precondition. But Kompf – you will NEVER ever find it spoken or written anywhere that the definition of critical mass is either 1, 2, 5, 5.5 or even 6.5 or 10 million people.
You mean to grow tech wise all you need to do is stuff as many smart people into a telephone booth or squeeze as many of them into a small island like Singapore?
Then I say – you have been seduced by the PAP propaganda machine.
As when you take the trouble to look around, the world’s most progressive societies have succeeded with much smaller populations. Stuttgart with a population of about 0.6 million is home to Mercedes – they also have the same problem of having to manage an increasingly elderly workforce. But do you see them bringing in Russians? Munich has only a population of about 1.2 million and is home to BMW – again do you see the German PM mooting the idea of bringing in workers to fill that intellectual deficit, Smaland-Sweden with a population of about 0.7 million is home to Ikea and Zurich with a population of about 0.4 million is the financial capital of Continental Europe. Ditto. And the list goes right on…..
So let us put a bullet into the myth…better still empty to whole magazine into it lah – that is so often propogated by the propagandist press and officialdom that to grow the economy one needs to ramp up the population to X, Y or Z people – as anecdotal evidence clearly proves this is not only false, but to insist time and again that is true is both dishonest and disengenous.
Now I insist Kompf. One more time please. Why hasn’t the OEM’s in Singapore being able to make that tech leap like the rest of the tiger economies?
Q: I don’t know. Besides this is supposed to be an interview where I ask questions and you provide answers.
A: Kompf tell me how good is knowledge of poetry?
Q: What has that got to do with anything that we are discussing now?
A: Everything. Tell me what happens when the falcon cannot hear the falconer?
Now I have to hit the field. Today is another working day. It will be tough as it’s hot like hell.
Q: I quote you, ‘Do you want to know why Apple products are made in China? It’s an awful truth – but the real reason is because the US no longer has the core competencies necessary to manufacture such products – they can conceptualize, design etc etc. But manufacturing is a skill set in it’s own right – it is a core competence a skill of arms in it’s own right.’
Do you see most SME’s in this same category and why are you so critical of that approach?
A: The appellation SME in the Singapore manufacturing strategy context is the highest level of misrepresentation – as firstly many of them are not small or for the matter medium sized. Some definitely are. But those who regularly supply parts and components and specialized technical services to multinationals based in Singapore are not. Instead of capital goods. I will use lay language like machinery. The inventory of their machinery are comprehensive, level of core competence in their respective field of expertise in my considered opinion is world class.
And this leads me to the supplementary question you asked – why am I so critical of this approach? Because if you think about it the business relationship between these SME and multinationals is parasitic – it’s like a tick on a dog. If that multinational is booming – the SME that supplies to that MNC will also boom. But the cost to be part of the boom for the SME will always be significantly higher than the MNC. Because they have to expand – they have to get more machines, invest in more training and start new production lines to existing ones. So what you are in fact doing is building systematic weaknesses in the manufacturing strategy.
It’s OK if that MNC that let’s manufactures vibrating operated toys to bring one thousand happiness to spinsters on lonely nights – but what if they decide to pack up one day and disappear elsewhere to cheaper cost centers such as China?
What happens to that SME then? Where do they go from there? After all the management has already invested so much in people and hardware and now the main customer has decided to jump ship, so where do they go from there?
To exacerbate matters. Low cost centers such as China. Especially in the coastal free trade regions also have SME’s who can not only perform as competently as those based in Singapore. But in many cases their SME’s can leverage on economies of scale to even migrate upwards in the value chain by branding their own range of product lines – if you look at local Chinese brands such as Li-Ning that markets sports apparels who do think manufactures their sport shoes? It’s firms like Stella. And where did firms like Stella accumulate their core competencies to manufacture world class sports shoes that even regularly features in Olympic events – they learnt it all from firms like Nike, Adidas, Puma et al.
Same thing for the locally grown Chinese automative industry – FAW Group, SAIC Motor, Chang’an (Chana), Geely, Chery, Jianghuai (JAC), Great Wall, and Guangzhou Automobile Group. Now you have never heard of these brands before – but if you go to certain parts of Africa – yon see them everywhere. Are they well made? Well it depends. But my point again is where do these firms get their die cast engines, carburetors, engine management software from – again they got it by first being just SME’s that supplied stuff to firms like Audi, Volkswagen et al who once joint ventured with them to manufacture cars for the China market.
My point is the equivalent of the Chinese EDB or Japanese MITI are staffed by very serious people who all subscribe to my adage – business is war!
They don’t build systematic weak points or fissures into their manufacturing strategy – so if Nike decides to move to Cambodia they will just quip good riddance lah – that’s to say they all without a single exception have a fall back plan. A plan B.
That is what if you must know is what is sorely missing from the ESC – a plan B where the SME’s in Singapore can con’t to not only prosper but take over their market share should these MNC’s jump the Singapore boat.
Q: A philosophical farmer. Do you know that I actually like you very much. I am especially fond of much effort you actually put in to come across as proletarian. As you’re ashamed of your own aristocracy. I do wonder sometimes why the guilds are so fascinated by you. To be honest it is quite understandable.
A: Krummes Holz gibt auch gerades Feuer…ya?
Q: I do insist the we converse in standard english?
A: Why? Is it because language gives you the permission to distanced yourself from me? Strange isn’t it that the Guilds would send a highly educated woman to these parts. A philosophical farmer? Yes. That’s certainly an embarrassment Kompf. Frankly I can’t think of anything more ridicolous – you know there is a author. His name Paul Auster. In one of his books. I think it’s entitled Brooklyn follies. There’s such a thing as a philosophical taxi driver as there might exist philosophical farmers. Would you like me to read a passage to you?
Q: If you like.
A: ‘He tended to be out and about, looking up old friends from high school and college who had landed in New York, meeting new people through the old people, spending his money in bars, dating women when the opportunities arose, and generally trying to put together a life for himself—or something that resembled a life. More often than not, these attempts at sociability ended in painful silence. His old friends, who remembered him as a brilliant student and wickedly funny conversationalist, were appalled by what had happened to him. Tom had slipped from the ranks of the anointed, and his downfall seemed to shake their confidence in themselves, to open the door onto a new pessimism about their own prospects in life. It didn’t help matters that Tom had gained weight, that his former plumpness now verged on an embarrassing rotundity, but even more disturbing was the fact that he didn’t seem to have any plans, that he never spoke about how he was going to undo the damage he’d done to himself and get back on his feet. Whenever he mentioned his new job, he described it in odd, almost religious terms, speculating on such questions as spiritual strength and the importance of finding one’s path through patience and humility, and this confused them and made them fidget in their chairs. Tom’s intelligence had not been dulled by the job, but no one wanted to hear what he had to say anymore, least of all the women he talked to, who expected young men to be full of brave ideas and clever schemes about how they were going to conquer the world. Tom put them off with his doubts and soul-searchings, his obscure disquisitions on the nature of reality, his hesitant manner. It was bad enough that he drove a taxi for a living, but a philosophical taxi driver who dressed in army-navy clothes and carried a paunch around his middle was a bit too much to ask. He was a pleasant guy, of course, and no one actively disliked him, but he wasn’t a legitimate candidate—not for marriage, not even for a crazy fling.’
Q: I don’t think you’re like Tom not at all. And if you must know really know why I prefer to converse in English and not German – it’s simply because I’ve been warned how eloquent you can be. It’s not a question. Only you are not Tom. You are not my dear Darkness.
A: You know what Fraulein. I really appreciate that. But I really have to go for that mug shot in the sky right now.
February 10, 2017
Q: The CFE recommends building a globally-competitive manufacturing sector, at around 20 per cent of GDP, over the medium term. They plan to target advanced manufacturing activities, to encourage growth of areas that sit at the confluence of high-tech manufacturing and high-end services such as advanced manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things. What is your take?
A: Kompf. It bears repeating only because I have repeatedly requested you very politely to ask me only one or two questions at a time and not pile twenty questions on top of each other.
Be that as it may. Let me dive me. What do they mean by advanced manufacturing? Second question what exactly do they mean by growth?
Now if you ask me how should the new Singapore engine of growth be designed and built – then I say it doesn’t pay out big dividends at all to put all your chips on the high tech, space age quadrant where we regularly talk about innovation and creativity at the highest level.
In my assessment Singapore does not have the skill arms of play that game – now I want to be polite. This is not the first time where people sitting in a committee who don’t even have one registered patent to their name or who have ever conceived a idea in the form of a product or who has ever had to take it from blue print stage to finished has come up with this road map of growth.
In the past there have been many grand plans to leverage on innovation and creativity – result many dead guppies. Again I want to be polite.
The way I see it – policy makers need to acquire a very deep understanding concerning the chronology of how a nation shifts gears from low end to a high tech economy that leverages on innovation and creativity.
It’s a long history Kompf and unless one understands this skeleton key. Then words like thinking out of the box, innovation, creativity, passion are all just two dimensional words that really mean absolutely nothing.
Q: We’re having a morning coffee session. We have time. Why don’t you share with the Guilds your version of the definitive history how a nation makes that transition from low end to higher value added products?
A: One word. Copy cat. If you examine the chronology of every single nation that has been able to successfully migrate from from low end to high value added products and services. Every single one of them copied from the greats – Japan is an industrial juggernaut – but how did a backward agrarian society where all the elites carried samurai swords instead of modern firearms transition during the Meiji period in such a short span of time into a super power? Did they start with the prologue of innovating and being creative? No! They copied. Now the polite parlance in manufacturing strategy is reverse engineer – but I prefer copy cat. Because that was what Japan really did – the Sumitomo’s, Mitsubishi’s and the conglomerate merchant class known as the zaibatsu were all without a single exception fantastic copy cats – that was really how Japan became an industrial superpower. Of course if you go around spouting all this in a polite conference where everyone has an orchid pinned to their suits. No one will want to associate with you.
But they were all exceptional copy cats. Even the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was essentially built ground up based on that one doctrine alone. After the war when Japan decimated economically and was militarily emasculated by the prolonged American occupation. How did MITI manage to revivify it’s industrial might again – again the executive summary to their economic strategy was copy, copy, copy and copy like a super cat.
Today you look at a Nikon camera. But where did it begin? This is a very agricultural way of seeing things – as one cannot be presentist. Instead one goes back. Why don’t you google up on the first Nikon camera that was ever manufactured in Japan. You will find it’s an exact one to one facsimile of the Leica. Pls go. Sony same story.
Fast forward to today – China today can manufacture bullet trains that are comparable to the best Shinkansen gold standard. Ask yourself how did a country that relied entirely on coal furnace locomotives manage to make that leap?
This is where the Harvard Business Review doesn’t tell you – they copied. And for lack of better word or phrase copying is the most reliable way for a nation to build core competencies that will allow it to one day make the leap to high tech.
Today Chinese train technology is no longer in the copy cat stage – they are now beginning to synthesize new technology that it’s proprietary to even call it’s own – it has successfully commoditized this technology to even export it and conceptualize the one belt, one road global economic strategy.
Korea did essentially the same thing – only this time round they copied for the greatest copy cat in the world Japan.
Q: At the risk of interrupting. What you mean to say is pursuing a manufacturing strategy based on reverse engineering is one evolutionary step towards migrating upstream to high tech? What do you think about the idea of getting innovative and creative people in one place to create value wouldn’t that work?
A: That would work. Like perhaps the Manhattan project that successfully weaponized atomics. Or maybe Bletchley Park where you had really smart people who could always manage to come up with seven letter rows in scramble. But you’re forgetting – those countries had intellectual critical mass. Even so, the US rocket program would not have proceeded as fast as it did without the covert paperclip program that specifically recruited ex Nazi rocket scientist – so don’t think the Caucasian race is some master übermensch race that has a superior helix when compared to Asians – they too are great copy cats as well. Only as I said, don’t go around spouting all this in some seminar or conference. Otherwise they will blacklist you.
My point is simple. Take this case of our MRT blues back in the home front where Khaw Boon Kong is equally confounded as his predecessor the dearly unfortunate Liu Tuck Yew. You know what my advice to him would be to make trains run reliably in Singapore. One word. Copy. Copy with the highest fidelity possible how the Japanese run and manage their trains. Because the Japanese are immensely proud of their trains. It’s like first class roads in Canada. Or maybe great outdoor boots to Americans. They have elevated their core competencies in those area to a theoretical science to be the best in the world.
No need to brainstorm. No need to even come up with home grown solutions. Just copy. Everything from standard operational procedures right down to drivers wearing white gloves when they’re on shift.
Q: How should this strategy of copying be implemented in Singapore?
A: I think it’s very difficult in Singapore. As one of the worst things that retarded and possibly stunted Singapore to make the leap from the built to blueprint cost center to a higher value added society that is comfortable with synthesizing new ideas that can be commoditized into products and services was the corseted intellectual and copyright laws.
In my considered opinion from a manufacturing strategy stand point that was a ill conceived to say to put it mildly. So that really created conditions where growth in innovation and creativity could really only begin from the very apex of the cutting edge of innovation – in my view, Singapore missed out on a very important evolutionary step that was a strategic precondition that would have allowed to be grow industrially like the rest of the tiger economies.
I want to be polite. But I also need to be accurate and succinct. I have a lot of respect for Philip Yeo. I happen to think he is a top drawer bureaucrat – only the whole idea of trying to build up core competencies from the top of the mountain will always be fraught with risk. I mean retrospectively. It’s easy to blame him. But hey at that time firms listed in NYSE doing research on growing ears and lovers in Petri dishes had 20 to 30 times profit earning ratios – it was reminiscent of the dot.com boom days. There was a lot of enthusiasm and perhaps even run away train exuberance. But for me the skeleton key to grow an economy that leverages on innovation and creativity always has to begin from the lowest rung of the ladder. At the level of the desk of the lone tinkerer or inventor who struggling to make things work with ductape and superglue. It’s garage stuff. Weekend warrior stuff. That to me is the crèche of innovation and creativity and to me it doesn’t even necessarily have to be high tech – it could just as well be really mundane low tech stuff like how to create a better traffic cone that can be seen better under low light conditions to really boring stuff like better hand rails that can assist the aged when they decide to take a dump. Or even how to design better poles to hang clothes in the HDB without it dripping down on your neighbors clothes.
You’ve got to start from there. In the land of everydayness, litany and the boring.
Q: Can Singapore learn the bottom up strategy from some countries that have successfully pursued this strategy?
A: Yes. You know take a look at Sweden – it’s a small country, but it has the highest patent per capita. Germany. Or rather some parts of it is similarly orientated. Where if you have an idea to develop a better mouse trap. There’s a clearly defined road map that is state inspired. For example I have this idea how this new super duper mouse trap might work. But I need a work shop. The state facilitates you with a work shop. It’s all there – everything from lathes to even prototyping using wire mesh 3D programs. You still have a day job. You haven’t registered a company yet. Because you don’t know whether this new mouse trap is something that’s going to shake up the world or go bust. Again no problem. There are pathways where you can tinker and still keep your day job without having to go thru the hassle of registering a company and all those stuff that is just friction on cost and time. You need a certain spring to be tensioned at a certain poundage. You figure titanium is good. But since firms don’t deal with individuals and they have minimum quantity orders to make it worthwhile to even engage you professionally. Again no problem – these agencies will facilitate you to get maybe just a box. So if that doesn’t work. Maybe you wouldn’t be landed with sunk cost on springs that have no use. You decide on stainless steel instead. You say maybe it will work better. Again they get you those things. At the end of it – you have a working prototype. But you need equipment to test and rate it – again these agencies have all these test facilities. Everything is there. From machines that can hydraulically stretch a strip of metal till it snaps to printing out the data that will allow you to improve on your mouse trap.
Now once you’re confident your prototype works. These agencies even have a panel of Meisters – these are dead serious professionals in manufacturing. They’re like ace fighters pilots with patents like kill flags on their fuselage – it’s all state driven – I think the certification is called Meisterbrief. Now they will advise you how to build this commercially. Who to go engage as a contractor. How to even put it all together in the least possible steps using time and motion optimizing techniques and the system is so good that should your mousetrap ever makes it to the market and some housewife in Munich sets it wrong and clips her finger, there’s even a legal team that will give you follow up advise.
It is a three hundred and sixty degrees definition of the word innovation and creativity – that is to say it is the A to Z of what needs to be done to leverage on innovation and creativity.
The problem in Singapore is you have many leaders who can use these words but they are clueless when it comes to the cogent question of how to translate it from theory to reality.
That to me is what Singapore should be doing – but what do I really know. I am just a simple farmer.
Q: So what you are saying is our SME’s should be going towards that direction?
A: You disregarding what I am saying here again. Maybe I should charge the Guilds USD$1,000 per hour consultancy?
My point is to grow a manufacturing enterprise. You’ve got to understand every stage of it’s life cycle. It is not so different from planting a seed. And the seed sinking roots and a plant pops up etc etc.
So if you say something like I think we want to help our SME’s to encourage them to leverage on innovation and creativity. That is well and fine if you’re talking to people who know little or generally about manufacturing strategy. But if you start that sort of conversation with me – I would ask, what do you mean exactly by SME? Can have a look at your excel spreadsheet for the last five years. What is the nature of the business? What are they manufacturing?
So I am not really talking about SME’s per se. I am referring to people who want to start enterprises by leveraging on innovation and creativity – just like that fat guy who invented a nifty wrench. If you play the video you will find workers banging away in the background – but I am not interested in that aspect. The nub of my point is how did he manage to get his idea to a working prototype?
It’s a basic, first stage question. How? May look like a simple lever wrench with just a closing set of claws to you – but I see serious machinery that needs to make those components. I just postulating. The sheet metal has to first stamped out and water cut to fine tolerances. The claws that grip the nut, they have to be tensile steel. Even the simple lever needs to be metal stamped with a mould and powder coated. The grip needs to be injected moulded with rubber resin and finally all these need to be assembled at a cost effective price – these machines cost millions. So how did he do it?
That’s where you have to start when we talk about putting petrol into the engine of innovation and creativity. Otherwise it’s useless. It’s all just talk.
Now China man comes along and sees it in Walmart one day – he goes back to Xiamen one day and strips it apart and starts manufacturing the selling essentially the same thing for half the price – do I have any sympathy for that fat guy?
Why don’t you ask me that question?
Q: Do you any sympathy for that inventor?
A: The moral and politically correct answer is yes – because he invested his time and energy and creativity to bring to market a product. But bear in mind this is something that I would only really say if I am wearing my Zegna suit and circulating with corporate people who some hotel where they serve drinks with tiny paper umbrella’s.
You think the China railway development head gives two shits about patent law suits from Kawasaki drive trains when the latter copies their bullet trains? Do you think the Chinese gave two hoots when they copied the Israelite defunct Lavi fighter jet and called it the J-10? What about Isoroku Yamamoto’s surprise raid on Pearl Harbor? Do you really believe for one moment he didn’t copy that idea of the British raid on Taranto?
So let’s side tracked here by ethics, morality and philosophy of being a gentlemen – because like I said, there is no shame associated with copying. You want to sue? Go ahead. File a writ of summon send. We will see you in court meanwhile we will still be selling. Again this is not new. This is what Sony and even Nikon and most Japanese firms did – they went to court, but eventually they reached the sweet point where they managed to acquire the critical mass to synthesize their own stuff to call it their own.
Paradoxically it was when the Japanese zaibatsus began to take exceptional pride in their innovation and creativity to such a point where they became so arrogant to the point – where copying or reverse engineering was seen as a dirty word in corporate Japan that was when firms like Apple took them all to the cleaners – now the Japanese is just a pale shadow of their former glory. Why?
Because they forgot the first cardinal rule of business – business is war!
Q: How many do you think will be persuaded by your logic?
A: It is not the number it is the quality of men who read my blog. Putin reads my blog so does Trump and many at least forty very serious movers and shakers – if you want quantity please go to Mr Brown or Xiaxue. I blog mostly about very serious things which to be perfectly honest will always be boring to most people. Because that is their Dao – there is no way to say this politely just as it is impossible to make an omelette without breaking eggs. I hope you can appreciate my reasoning along with candor as the last thing I want to do is to inadvertently cause offense. But then again Kompf to move mountains you don’t need many to be persuaded – only a few are needed and that my friend is exactly how I want to keep it. I have to cook now. I hope your will join me. As it will be delicious.
February 9, 2017
In the past. Not even secret agents had access to stuff like this. But today anyone can just walk into a tech shop, swipe his card and in no time he has exactly the same gear that James Bond would probably drool over.
This is another nifty product. During the Cold War this device was so large that it needed two people just to carry it and had to be mounted on a tripod. But today, it can be used for night hunting to making out intruders in absolute darkness. Again remarkable.
This is yet another indispensable tool for espionage and clandestine operations – a pocketable camera with super duper high resolution to capture details in high fidelity. Again this sort of stuff was only available as far back as ten years ago with people lugging around bulky cameras with lens the diameter of a thermos flask.
I mean this something that leggy chicks would probably see you driving in and consider that you’re maybe in the nuclear waste disposal business or something. Maybe it just needs a cost of pink or baby blue paint to take off the rough and sharp edges – but again this is commercially purchasable and if it comes right down to a face off – there is very little that needs to be said about the outcome.
I am an accomplished technical mountain climber – but this piece of kit is so incredibly advanced and well designed that I could just as well throw out 90% of what I currently have in my medieval climbing box and just use it as a stand alone for practically every single climb condition. If James Bond had just this alone – he would have to be jumping out of windows or struggling with flimsy drain pipes to get into high security buildings. This is fits it all with the unparalleled safety features.
February 8, 2017
Q: Why has the ringgit depreciated so badly in comparison to other currencies? Do you think this has anything to do with the Trump factor?
A: Trump? No. But I am sure some pundits may finger him as one of the factors. The way I see it, it all boils down to two main factors – first is the price of oil has bottomed out to all time lows where the cost of extraction, processing and funneling it thru the supply chain militates against profits.
Malaysia is very relied on oil.
The second reason is China. Growth is slowing in the coastal regions in China. Alongside they have oversupply issues which will all create friction on demand.
Q: Do you see the 1 MDB scandal as a factor that has affected the Malaysian ringgit?
A: The fall of the ringgit has been gradual – if you track back it started somewhere around April 2014. So this predates the 1 MDB scandal. Besides most of it has already been factored into the calculation by investors – and so far although there is certainly the perception that Najib is involved – the fact remains he has not been directly named. Or for that matter indicted.
What I do know is there is a lot of allegations in the public square and it’s really anything goes galore and the fact that last year there was so much schism within UMNO along with Mahathir factor certainly didn’t help in the way of stability.
So I don’t see the 1 MDB case as having a big impact at all on the fall of the ringgit.
Q: Why has the ringgit fallen despite Najib securing massive investments from China. Doesn’t it seem like an economic paradox to you?
A: Paradox not at all. As most of these massive investments take a long gestation period before they can actually work to revivify the local economy – but what Najib has very skillfully accomplished is to parlay with Chinese to buy more oil palm and that has certainly had a direct and immediate effect on the local economy.
Q: You seem to have a lot of faith in oil palm as a savior of Malaysia. Do you see it as a saving grace for Najib as well?
A: let me put it this way. The price of oil palm currently stands at RM3,209 per metric ton compared to RM2,500 last year, as for rubber prices they have tripled and will quadruple soon. Now all this may seem like just meaningless numbers to you. But you’ve got to understand the social cultural realities of how politics has always been conducted in Malaysia – if UMNO is going to win in 2018, they need the Kampung votes. The city votes is increasingly getting optional. That’s the mathematical reality of how votes and seats all stack up to form the next government.
Now oil palm is the life blood that drives most kampung (rural) economies the rest are just side dishes – understand this! We are not just talking about planters like me, but downstream you have millions of Malaysians in the shape and form of harvesters, pickers, lorry drivers, mill workers right down to grannies and grandfathers who gather palm fronds to weave baskets and make brooms.
Now I live in the kampung – it is to my interest to keep tabs on the local sentiments. That’s why I keep a log on the price of everything from fish, cockles or eggplant – has inflation hit the kampung. Yes. But it’s been off set by the high price of oil palm – so the executive summary is most villagers are very happy with Najib.
Reuters likes to interview city folk who complain no end about Najib & Co. But why don’t then go and do the same with millions of Felda small holders who work the land and see whether anyone is complaining. That to me is the paradox.
Truth is the depreciation of the ringgit along with Najib’s recent deal with the Chinese to get them to buy Malaysian oil palm is what saved him – had the kampung economy collapsed. Then it would be a different prognosis.
My point is Malaysia is not like Singapore – it’s a big country with a lot of people – so it’s not entirely true to say that every Malaysian regards Najib as predation. Many do see him as a savior.
Q: Do you see Najib as a stabilizing or divisive figure?
A: You’re not listening to me again – it depends who you ask in Malaysia. If you ask the city folk who all turned out for Bersih. Of course they will say Najib is the devil. But these same ingrates don’t seem to realize their quality of life is improving with new MRT’s. Tell me what did Mamak do? He built twin towers with oil money. But did he put in place modern infrastructure and amenities that actually improves people’s lives?
So to me I see these city folk as just a bunch of ingrates who don’t ever seem to count their blessings.
Q: How much damage did Mahathir do to Najib?
A: Correction Kompf. The question is how much damage did he do to the country!
You’ve got to understand. We are dealing with two opposite personalities here. Mahathir is a street fighter. That’s how I have always seen him – he blames the habuan (corruption) culture that has riven Malaysian politics. But he was the one who propagated it to the level of theoretical science. Now he’s playing the race card with Forest city – from day I said I will bring him down with the power of the internet.
Najib on the other hand is an old school public school boy – he’s a gentlemen – is he white as spring snow? No. But then again which politician is.
The problem with Najib is he’s got shit advisors! The only one who seems to be calling the right shots is this character called Nazri – but the rest are full of shit because they’re so out of touch with the internet and the ground they have absolutely no idea how to prosper in this new age.
The way I see it – Malaysia always needs a leader with one feet planted in the West and the other in the kampung to prosper in a globalized age – I am very realistic in my appraisal of Malaysian politics. Because if you have a kampung hero – then it’s finished.
But the problem with Malaysian politics these days it’s riven with so much noise – a lot of Fitna.
It’s hard if one is not educated and perceptive to winnow truth from lies. And that is where I consider Mahathir a very dangerous element. As he is an expert in sowing the seeds of schism.
Q: What do you think Najib should continue to do to stop the ringgit from falling further?
A: It’s beyond his control. The ringgit will continue to fall. But please let us not run wild Kompf – as every single major currency in the world has gone that way. It’s not specific to just Malaysia alone.
Scale and perspective is jugular here to make an informed decision.
Q: Do you think Najib has done anything that has exacerbated the fall of the ringgit?
A: This is my personal take. I think the recent Bank Negara warning to foreign banks to restrict trading in offshore non-deliverable forwards (NDFs) on the currency, was ill conceived.
As that will only serve to spook traders who are already nervous. When Bank Negara issues such an edict. What they don’t seem to realize is it bring back bad memories of capital controls which Mahathir once imposed in Malaysia twenty years ago.
Capital controls would make it difficult or impossible for investors to remove cash from the country, rendering it complicated for them to recognize revenue and as a result it would only make make Malaysia less desirable as an investment destination.
Bank Negara shouldn’t intervene. As disrupting the NDF market doesn’t make one ounce of business sense to me – after all firms need to hedge foreign-exchange flows, that’s what business is all about – so by being heavy handed my fear is all they would end up accomplishing is hurting exports, economic growth and the external balance.
Bear in mind always there will always be certain realities that the Malaysian economy cannot run away from – for instance the high foreign ownership of Malaysia’s government bond market – so that last thing hon want to do is precipitate capital outflows by spooking people who want to make money.
Malaysia is particularly vulnerable as 40 per cent of Malaysia’s government debt is held by foreigners or non-residents. I can’t recall the figure but it’s definitely over USD$50 billion – so I think there was definitely room for improvement in the planning over there.
Q: Do you see the depreciation of the ringgit affecting the local and surrounding economy?
A: In the short term. No. Infact this year the haze is going to be a no show because of La Niña – so the lower ringgit will definitely auger well for the tourism industry as a whole. As for exports – that’s a mix bag. As what you need to understand is even manufacturers that leverage on localized commodities such as for example latex to produce rubber gloves need to import nitrile and that means there will definitely be some winners and losers.
The problem as I see it is the industrial base in Malaysia is still very dependent on US pegged imports in the conversion process from raw material to finished goods – machinery, chemicals and even stuff like cables all need to be imported from either to EU and US – so to me there is no such thing as a hundred percent manufactured product that doesn’t need something from abroad. Even plastic coat hangers in the pasar malam need specialized steel for the moulds, plastic moulding machines parts and only a certain percentage of plastic resin can be recycled. All these come from abroad. And this is across the board from every sector ranging from fisheries that need parts to even my sort of business where fertilizer is imported from Canada to Germany.
That simply means in the long run – inflation will bite. The cost of living with ratchet up and I see this all as a function of two factors.
Firstly Malaysia has been too dependent on oil revenues. Secondly, the Chinese economy is definitely slowing down. And the causal factors for the slow down are at a systematic and structural level – so things are not going to improve in the short term.
Oil it seems. The price per barrel may go up. But I am not optimistic as OPEC is mired with so much disunity and each member state has it’s own agenda – so I don’t see any upsides at all. As all these problems I mentioned will take time to sort out.
Q: What do you think is one area that holds out the greatest revenue potential for Malaysia to ride out this economic storm?
A: I think foreign investment from specifically China is one area that should be aggressively encouraged. But unfortunately, in Malaysia it’s been politicized to such an extent that it’s hard to say where it might go – but there is plenty of potential in that area.
The other is tourism which in my opinion has been not really been given the priority it deserves and should be revitalized especially since the US travel ban will alter the tourist industry dramatically. Malaysia has a lot of potential there but the problem is the nexus between officialdom and the tourist providers are way to weak. For example I am trying to get the traders in Bukit Bintang to organize themselves so that they can be more strategic in the way they attract tourist at different times of the year – before Ramadan for example Arabs like to travel. So if the streets there are all lighted up and dressed up – that could be good. In my view too much emphasize has been placed on malls and shopping – and that is a very bad mistake as who in their right mind wants to come all the way to Malaysia just to visit another mall that they could just as well do in Sweden or for that matter Dubai.
There’s also the potential the kampung tourism which shouldn’t be underestimated as a serious revenue generator – I am not talking about beaches. But forest reserves. And even really everyday stuff that Malaysians would take for granted. You know recently I chanced on a few cyclist from Norway who were ridding from Singapore to Thailand and I showed them how oil palm and rubber is harvested – it was fascinating to them. It’s everydayness to me. But to these people who have never ever seen it been done before it’s was certainly an eye opening exercise. They stayed in some home stay in the kampung in one my harvesters house. They enjoyed it immensely. So far all these tourist activities are not really well organized – they could be better done.
Q: What do you think Najib should do to improve his perception with Malaysians to help him win?
A: 1MDB is a big stone that weights down not only Najib. But it also puts UMNO and the BN in a bad light as well – as by just being part of the system one is seen as condoning corruption or at least complicit. There is definitely a need a resolution here.
Now the question you have asked is – what should Najib do in to win?
The first is to manage the perception intelligently. Strategically. This is where I go back to my point – Najib has advisors who really have shit for brains! There is no way to soften this. As it is what it is.
Firstly. Forget the idea of trying to clear his name. He will never be exonerated from his involvement in 1MDB. That is a hard point that he can never hope to win decisively – it’s like hand to hand combat in Stalingrad. As there is really so much Fitna out there in the internet – that’s a battle that if he invest resources fighting in. The best case scenario is he will just reinforce failure. The worst case is that he will just sink deeper into the scandal.
What he needs to do is broadcast a very strong and unambiguous message that he and his team are against corruption. This is 101 psychology.
Look at it this way. How do I go about effectively convincing people who believe that I am corrupt that I am not corrupt? The best way to do this is to expose and bring the corrupt to book! I set a zero tolerance bar on corruption. Right across the board. I make it so widespread every single day that when average Malaysians flip their newspaper the first thing he reads about is the corrupt being brought to book on a regular basis.
Like I said this is psychological warfare 101 by using specifically reverse psychology – keep on doing this. And at some point public perception will certainly change – because it’s pointless to try to neutralize the internet. That to me is a lose lose proposition that pays out very little.
You know. People can be malicious. That’s a fact of life. Even in my case. Some people say I steal fruit that is why my yield beats the national average – so what do I do? Do I spend one hour talking to every small holder trying to convince him that I am not a wolf in the sheep’s clothes? That’s stupid. What I do is impose zero tolerance on stolen goods – I round out all the fruit thieves in the area. I organize villagers to patrol their fields on a rota basis. Soon that negative perception dies a natural death and all that everyone can remember is this guy is a straight as an arrow no nonsense fellow.
Whether that is factually true or not is immaterial – what I am trying to illustrate here is how malleable people’s perception can be and how it can be managed effectively.
The second strategy is leverage in soft instead of knuckle duster power – in my considered opinion the controversial Sedition Law should only be used sparingly. Better if it’s not activated at all. As it simply too authoritarian and out of synch with the times. Every time it’s invoked the average Malaysian’s discontent with Najib spikes dramatically – it’s like one those tools where every time it’s used the user suffers a self inflicted wound – the job gets done of course. But the nett result is a total loss.
The third is engage the Malaysian intelligentsia. If you read your history. You will find one constantly repeating leitmotif – leaders who don’t make an effort to reach out and engage the intelligentsia in meaningfully ways always end up in the garbage heap of history – as a leader one always needs the thinkers to be in your breast pocket. Because they are the people who can plant flags in the mind of the masses with just the power of words and ideas – it’s a very cheap and efficient weapon system that requires a lot of firepower to blunt.
The paradox is if you look at the goals and aspirations of most Malaysian intellectuals – what do they want? They want exactly the same thing that Najib & Co is working for – there is no divergence. But because knuckle duster tactics are used. These erudite group take up hardened positions and now it’s like trench warfare – this needs to all end.
There is a desperate need for a Mao and Nixon moment – where there is a dialogue to set aside the divisiveness, enmity and parochialism that is so prevalent these days in Malaysian politics.
Q: What do you see as the most serious long term problem that will afflict Malaysia if the economy gets worse?
A: Brain drain. This hardly requires any elaboration. Look at India, Africa and most countries that continue to haemorrsge the brightest – to me the idea of economic growth goes in tandem with intellectual capital – it’s like a bicycle with two riders – if guy in front is good, but the guy behind can’t pedal for nuts. It’s uphill. If it’s the other way round, they will both end up with tubes sticking out of their mouth in hospital – it’s axiomatic. Anecdotal. Factual. Growth prospects have a direct correlation with the capacity of a nation to grow and most importantly retain intellectual capital. That is why India and the entire continent of Africa continues to languish – having said that, there is silver lining – if the economy and political climate stabilizes in Malaysia – many of brightest and upwardly mobile may return. This was what makes Taiwan such a resilent and dynamic economy. As in the 70’s when the KMT was around. Most Taiwanese went to the US. Not all returned. But enough did to bring back the innovative and creative culture that allows them to create value added products and services. In Singapore. No one returned. Or at least not in sufficient numbers – so nothing happens. It’s still a rubber stamp FDI economy. Same thing with India. Today India is the Silicon Valley of Asia – this was only made possible in the past two decades exclusively by this repatriating Indian diaspora, which brought risk taking, capital, core competencies and a western corporate culture of approaching and solving problems.
Left to those who stayed back. Mumbai would still be cow powered by the bullocart.
Bear in mind brain drain is not only on an individual scale it is also at a corporate level. Why do you think Tata bought up Land Rover? Even state own ever greens like Hindustan motors are looking to relocate abroad. As many businessmen are disillusioned with India’s political sychozephia and seemingly ineradicable corruption and layer upon layer of red tape. Facts are brutal. They can’t find neither the quantity or quality of intellectual capital to make their businesses turn. Hence Tata, Mahindra, Birla – are all running from India.
Malaysia has a big problem – education standards are declining at an alarming rate because the Chinese want Chinese schools that only teach their circular in Chinese. The Tamils for the same reason and Malay schools do so for the very same reason – there is prioritizarion on English. Only the rich can send their kids to international school – so what you have is a polyglot society that is very ill equipped to plug into a globalized society.
You know recently when I was fixing my car I asked the mechanic to hand me a monkey wrench – he told me that they only have that in the zoo. I go to hotel and ask for a room with a double bed and they bill me for two rooms.
But again I am realistic – education in Malaysia has always been mired only because it comes encrusted with cultural pride, identity and perhaps even self interest on the part of those who rather keep the status quo even when it doesn’t produce the goods.
It’s uphill. I think the Malaysians should learn from Singapore. In just the last ten years a steady influx of wealthy businessmen and financiers has made Indians the highest-income ethnic group in Singapore – that speaks well.
As in a globalized society – intellectual capital is worth it’s weight in gold.
Nothing personal. Even I am thinking of going to the Ukraine to grow wine and ornamental flowers. Infact North Korea is also good for Pomelo’s.
In my assessment. The new power train of growth will only be intellectual capital in an increasingly globalized world. Don’t believe me just switch on the TV and watch how much truck loads of rotten tomatoes is dumped on Trump by corporate America.
Again all this is axiomatic, anecdotal and factual – I am not sitting in a hut writing all this with candle power…this is the inconvenient truth that has to be discussed if Malaysia is to remain sustainably at the top of the game.
February 7, 2017
You really want to know what I see in you? You’re living with something that you keep hidden deep inside. Not just anything. But something that’s really so estranged from the whole wide world that you don’t even have faith to share it with a soul. I sensed it the first time I met you. You have that look in your eyes – as if it’s cut and dried and you have made up your mind that’s what you really want and everything else is just a side dish. To tell you the truth, that could be what attracted me to you – I saw the same look of desire that I myself carry with such conviction that I actually believed it would be pointless to share it with anyone else as well. Things that I know will just leave them with that dumb founded look as if they hardly know me at all and it’s too risky to do that in Singapore. But I saw it in you the moment you looked at me and from that that moment onwards I knew deep in my heart if there is ever a soul who ever lived who could understand me….it would this man with his fiery eyes.
You know what I really want now that I know all you want to do is wallow in mud and be a farmer. What I want is for the two of us to meet somewhere by chance and not the way we did, like maybe your or me taking a seat beside each other in the MRT, or having to share a table when a cafe is packed to the brimmed.
That way. I could perhaps tell that you’ve always wanted to leave the very moment we met. That way I could have sensed so deeply your yearning. If only we could have met that way, then I wouldn’t have had to take all these detours to get here where I find out there’s nothing.
I don’t think they way we met could have possibly led me to this conclusion that you would eventually leave. This is exactly what I never expected from you.
It was a lie. The way we met. My mistake perhaps. But it was your eyes that drew me to you like a moth to a tongue of a candle. That seemed as if you needed me as much as I needed you – I should have asked you straight then when you looked at me in the way you did – what is it? But instead I choose to regard it as a silent understanding how lonely we really were and perhaps how happy we were to have finally found each other. But I was silly. I am a sentimentalist. And we all make things that aren’t there in our hearts and heads. Above all I didn’t want to spoil it. I wanted you to slowly walk up to me without ever saying a word. As there are certain things that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.
February 7, 2017
Q: Where do you see it all going from this point onwards?
A: My position has always been super clear. Globalization as a school of thought to me has never been a sustainable idea – so my recommendation in the form of a solution has to be exactly the same solution that I have always advocated in the past.
There is a need to redefine the whole philosophy of globalization and free trade in such a way where people who work hard and who are industrious don’t get left behind simply because the system spits them out in the name of the profit motive.
Q: How should this philosophy be defined. By who? The politicians? Industrialist? Intellectuals?
A: I don’t think there is a need to reinvent the wheel – if you look around Kompf. There are some countries and even firms and we are not talking about mummy & daddy Inc here. These are very serious firms who make products or offer services that people are willing to vote with their wallets. It’s not true to say that every country has not emerged better, stronger, healthier and more optimistic from globalization – like I said there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
All that needs to be done in my considered opinion is to look at the underlying philosophy that governs these firms from every functional aspects ranging from the work compact between employer and employee to perhaps even how management and workers define organizational and personal success to derive at a list of best practices.
Q: When you speak about philosophy. Are you also talking about culture, attitudes, value and behavioral norms?
A: Of course. Let me give you an illustration. You know if you observe some firms around the world…the really good ones that have all it all together – they don’t ever promote workers who stay back after five. You want to know why because the philosophy of that firm defines that sort of method of approaching work as counter productive and in some cases it even reflects very badly on one’s productivity.
But conversely in Japan – it’s a badge of honor to die standing at your workplace – widows would proudly recount how their husbands died as he worked so hard.
Q: But isn’t Japan a great industrial power?
A: It certainly is. But it’s also going no where as well – economically at least from a strictly metric and KPI perspective – the Japanese economy has already made it to the Guinness Book three times over and a bit as the only nation that has the most prolonged period of stagnation. It’s also a nation with a huge lost or confused generation – where the youths these days don’t want to work any longer like those who came before them, simply because they have seen first hand how corrosive and hazardous work can be. So when you add and subtract all this – yes on one hand you can say Japan is certainly still a great country. But at the same time. You can deny it’s also going nowhere.
Q: So what do you see as the basic structural set pieces of this so called new philosophy that globalization desperately needs?
A: You’re not listening to me Kompf. Not as you usually would. Perceptively at least. As I said, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – as there are already business models out there that can be retrofitted into the idea of globalization to render it more humane, egalitarian and even fair. Let me give you one illustration – at a time when both firms and government desperately need to craft a new covenant with society. Consider how crowdfunding as a business model has changed not only the way business is conducted. But alongside that change there is also a social cultural paradigm shift.
It’s not the shift that’s significant – it’s the social rammification of that shift where you could say power has devolved from officialdom to the individual – I know there is still a lot of skepticism about crowdfunding especially from a sustainability standpoint. But my point is simply to illustrate how crowdfunding has developed from just a kooky idea into a very serious and powerful finance model that can recruit ordinary people – I think the key word here is ‘include’ or inclusion. As one of the failings of globalization as a school of thought is it’s the direct opposite of that idea where you have people dressed in Italian suits driving BMW’s and staying in the four seasons sitting behind closed doors and brainstorming a grand economic architecture how we should all live along to what might make us all happiest – frankly that whole imagery was what Trump singularly leveraged on to win.
I think my second point is – when I brought up crowdfunding – It’s not really the funding part that is profoundly intriguing. Rather it’s how crowdfunding as a business model is transforming the traditional culture of how we all see things moving from the realm of theory to reality. Be it making parks funner places to perhaps even revivifying whole communities to of course funding weird projects like making elephants fly.
Q: So let me summarize. As you have thrown out a lot of ideas here. You’re saying the philosophy that governs globalization needs to be changed from the inside by the people and not top down by governments?
A: It’s a bit fuzzy now. Only because what I am proposing is so new – but it think Kompf, you’ve got the gist of it – the way I see it globalization is heavy on the top down approach it takes it’s cue from cod liver oil – as the general public is often told, it’s bitter, but good for you.
And to be honest – for the most part of globalization, it’s actually good. I am not here to say it’s a malevolent force that only produces good. But since it’s top down and non inclusive like the TPP where only those who stand to benefit most are privy to the conceptualizing the economic architecture all it does is marginalize droves of stakeholders who just feel whatever little power they still have is arbitrarily gazzumped by governments – it’s a PR disaster.
Q: Can you give us an illustrating where globalization has failed so miserably to the point where people no longer feel they’re empowered?
A: You know Kompf. Speak to any aid worker in Africa and they will probably tell one of the perennial problems is water, specifically transporting potable water. Speak to WFP, FAO, USAID. Speak to even the Aga Khan foundation to the Hare Krishna’s and they will tell you the same thing – you know what for the last fifty bloody years, the sheer amount of men and material that has been invested by all these good intentioned folk to transport water has failed. They put their best industrial engineers. Their best mechanical engineers to convince rural Africans to use their nifty water carrying contraptions and each and every one of these projects have failed.
You want to know why Kompf – because no one has ever just sat down on a rock early in the morning to watch African women walk to the well and carry water on their heads. May not deceptively simple but it’s not. As when the Africa woman puts twenty liters on her head and walks, her hips swings like a pendulum off setting the downward weight just enough so she hardly feels the weight – from a standpoint of physics, carrying water on the head is kinetically far more efficient than even military backpacks.
That’s why they all fail. What perhaps I am trying to say here is globalization isn’t an universal solution. You know I rue the passing of wet markets. I used to live in Tanah Merah. Then super big supermarkets came along and of course with volume they could provably deliver in the parlance of free trade – greater value at less cost to consumers. But if I go to Seng Shiong – I can’t my salmon deboned and cut the way the friendly uncle in the wet market knows then way I like it – I don’t get extra value. All I seem to get is stuff that I need to go back home and do extra work to get it the way I like it to be cooked. So I think globalization in some areas have gone so far that it just displaces people and most importantly the sense of community that makes living interesting. I mean if I pick up the phone – I don’t want to talk to a robot that will ask me twenty stupid questions before I actually end up talking to a human being who will ask me the same twenty questions I just answered.
My point is globalization needs a soul. Tell me ever heard of a word called simpatico?
Q: No…what about it?
A: Not going to tell you.
Q: Do you think businesses are earning too much at the expense of workers?
A: That’s a loaded question. And you know it! What I think is for way too long the trite corporate mantra is of delivering more value to the shareholder needs to be first tempered with the idea of the giving due respect to the idea of dignity of labor.
The problem with firms these days is so much of their corporate culture is an accretion of the free market in so many various shapes and forms ranging from arbitrage to how their stocks may perform in their respective bourses that the worker these days is alienated from the idea of dignity of labor that he or she is just a means to an end.
I don’t necessarily blame firms per se – I blame the people who wrote the rules of how the game is played.
And the cost to all this is staggering. Especially for a highly competitive place like Singapore that’s really at the leading edge of globalization. You know before it was just really well educated Sumiko Tan from Holland V who felt that work was more important than motherhood. But now even Sengkang Sally who works in an assembly line somewhere in Boon Lay has decided to it’s better to hang up her eggs – so at the end of the day the whole idea of the nuclear family is seen as a national liability.
Of course if you speak to politicians they will say, what to do? It’s inexorable. It’s happening all over the world! The trend is irreversible. Don’t blame us!
But what politicians will never ever tell you is, that’s one aspect of globalization.
So the whole narrative begins and ends there.
Q: What’s your point?
A: It boils down to the whole idea of how one goes about measuring success – that’s what determines the rest of the loci that follows thereafter. Again this is not new Kompf. The soviets found this out the hard way – they set five year plans on measuring organizational success for their glass factories in tonnage and what they ended up with were glass goblets which were so heavy people were using them as door stoppers and paper weights. Then someone said, we are still short of glasses in the Soviet Union – so they changed the metrics to quantity of glasses produced and when that happened factories began churning out thin delicate wine glasses that were so fragile that they had to spend a bomb on just packaging them with extra stiff cardboard that cancelled out the gains.
My point is globalization is a bit like that – since it’s driven by only by the metric of delivering greater value to the shareholder, it optimizes everything in the name of the profit motive – you’re in your forties, well there’s even an actuarial software that can calculate what your utility against your renumeration would be in cold and metallic utility terms. Next thing you know. You’re retrenched. Because for what they pay you – they can probably get three graduates from some third world country to not only do your job, but probably out perform you.
To exacerbate the workers lot these days. Now you have automation and robots – today you still see humans driving trains, buses and planes. But one day all and much more would be done with digitalization and programs and where do all these people go? What do they do? Do they sit at home and watch TV all day?
Q: I do get the feeling you do actually share some of Trump’s sentiments, especially when you talk about the idea of dignity of labor, respect for the worker. How much does your thinking converge with his?
A: The difference between Trump and me is he’s I suspect a sentimentalist – where he might even harbor the belief it’s possible to return back to the good olde cottage industry days of little house in the Prairie or that other TV serial Bonanza – where everyone including Hop Seng has clearly defined roles and they all have jobs.
I on the other hand am a realist. Globalization as a school of thought. Even state of mind is irreversible – the tragedy is that it’s not as if globalization makes compelling sense that perpetuates it – it’s just that most nations these days are so addicted to the narcotic of growth at all cost. Even destroying the environment is just a punctuation mark – that it has become the only game in town.
And let me be prosaic. In any game. In the beginning. You may exert control over the outcome. But at some point – it’s no longer a case of how well you play the game as much as how it will play you.
And that’s really where we are in the chessboard of world affairs.
Q: What would your advise be to the average Singaporean worker in the background of these changes that you see between the altering compact between firms and employees?
A: Globalization is a self perpetuating equation that will only sharpen and heighten as time goes by – it’s like one of those machines that squeezes out every drop from an orange. And that simply means the life cycle of a job will get shorter. If it’s twenty years now. In five to six years may be fifteen or even less and that means the aperture for upward mobility for most workers will get shorter. Those are the lucky ones – most will just get retrenched before the end of their natural life cycle.
Of course government being government will always prescribe training. But anecdotal evidence suggest this is at best rain dancing.
For me the only sustainable approach is to start an enterprise. To have the end in the mind from the very beginning when one enters the workforce – to always be curious and even be inquisitive enough to always ask, how can I insert myself in the value chain as an independent contractor, product or service provider….when I decide to start my own enterprise – it’s doesn’t necessary have to be high tech based. Don’t be drawn in by that hype and spin. To be honest with you all this preoccupation with innovation and creativity pays out lousy dividends. Just look at the Fortune 500 list. How may high tech companies even make it for a full ten year run. Very few. The ones that sustain. The ones that growth steadily and pay out good dividends are the boring firms that only use high tech to balance their accounts and very little else. So don’t fixated with technology.
Because if you fall into that trap you’re just cutting off an entire field of possibilities for yourself.
You know I happen to know of hotel workers who eventually started laundry services when hotels decided to outsource their entire laundry cleaning to contractors. There are many doors that can open when one is inquisitive – but don’t do stupid things like start a cup cake shop or a gourmet coffee outlet just because everyone is doing just that – that’s not business. It’s just infanticide when you decide to follow what everyone is doing.
Find your own niche. It takes some time. And you might not always get the recipe right the first time – so be kind to yourself. As most of it doesn’t come by following the yellow brick road that everyone else is walking on – just go your own way. You know I happen to know this cycling enthusiast who makes specialized components for stuff that’s not even profitable for big companies to produce. He started small with a mini lathe the sort that hobbyist would use and worked in between his day job and now he has steady orders that keeps him busy 24/7 just fulfilling global orders.
Today he’s big and his products are even on aircrafts.
Like I said it doesn’t have to be necessarily high tech or even space age – it just needs to be something that fulfills a need that people are willing to vote with their wallet.
I mean Singapore is not exactly a stimulating place to inspire enterprises so it takes a lot effort. With dead wood outfits like HDB and URA who have been around for over fifty years and they don’t even see the value in investing core competence in tropical architecture…it’s very hard to get inspired. Or just having enterpenuers who seem to only know how to build malls and run hotels and very little else.
But don’t let that demoralize you – my point is try to look at it all from the inside out. That’s what a job gives you. A vantage to see opportunity. Like even in my job as a farmer. There are many things I want to buy, but it doesn’t exist – I want a wheel barrow that is power assisted. So that if I press a button it would allow me to conserve energy uphill. Go do that and I promise you that I will pull up to your drive way in a Mercedes 500SEL and write a cheque there and then for four containers of battery powered wheelbarrows. No talking!
To me there is something very wrong with the picture when all everyone seems to do is to make cars drive by themselves when the basics like pushing a wheelbarrow hasn’t even been sorted yet.
And leads me to my second point – there’s a lot of myopia, blinkered and tunnel vision out there that hasn’t really been clear commercially harvested yet – but know the process – how do I know there is a demand for this sort of thing? Because I happen to have a habit of working alongside my farm hands from time to time – and that enables me to see and understand their work from the inside out to get insights.
So that is what I mean by looking at things from the inside out – it’s not a complicated metaphysical thing or even zen attitude where you have to sit cross legged for one hour every day – it just means you have an attitude that is strategic where before you even start a thing. You already have the end in mind.
But do it your way. Rely on no one. They will just let you down or tell you stupid things that will just demotivate you.
February 6, 2017
I’ve just returned from the jungle. I like collect wood. Not any run of the mill timber – but the weathered and hard variety with fascinating burrowed shapes and rustic tones. Usually I just let them dry out naturally and hang it on the wall as a decorative ornament.
Maybe one day I will take a few pics and show you all my collection….these aren’t just wood to me. As some of these trees can be as old as a thousand years. They’re like fossilized wood.
I like to be close to nature even when I am indoors in jm safehouse in the plantation.
During my hike. I found a gem of hard wood that I eventually shaped into a decent handle for my Golok – left most of it as it is, only the inserted section had to be whittled down.
A Golok is a tool every frontier man needs in the field – since they tend to be heavier and shorter than parang, machetes, bayonets – they’re usually characterized with a heavy and thick spine that could just as well double as an axe.
This particular Golok blade came from a section of a WW2 Japanese propeller of a plane – it still has a faint Hamilton Standard marking on it. Most traditionally smithed golok’s have distinct convex edge to prevent the blade from getting wedged when cutting heavy green timber. This one doesn’t because it was probably constructed out of the leading tip of the propeller which explains why the black smith could even shape a hollow tube to hold a handle – but the spine is super heavy like an anvil. So it’s good to go in the field.
The shape of the wood for the handle looks old – it’s probably some hardwood that’s being sitting around for hundred of years…so hard that not even termites can put a dent on it. That fits the bill. As a Golok is a tool that one really swings full toss – before setting a handle for a Golok make sure you don’t go about doing it in one sitting. That’s the wrong way. Do that and it may fit snugly, securely and look sexy, but as soon as you use it to bring down a tree in the wild – with every strike the vibration will just get transferred to your bones and muscles and in no time – you will feel as if your arms have turned into jelly.
That’s the biggest No.1 mistake most people commit when setting a handle to a Golok.
The correct way to set a Golok is to bind a thin strip of rubber lining tightly along the end of the handle that is inserted into the slot. I’ve used an old bicycle inner tube – knock it in gently. It should be snug, but not so loose that when you swing it hard, the blade takes flight or the alignment shifts. That’s no good.
Find the balance with constant micro adjustments.
Use it that way for a few months. Eventually will happen is both the wooden handle and the steel slot will gently be shaped by each other with every strike – it takes a fair while. Be patient. Don’t rush it. It takes time to settle in.
If you observe the pic carefully. I’ve left about an inch of the remaining handle sticking out to provision for widget space.
The advantage of having a rubber lining between the slot and handle is firstly it’s form of waterproofing and secondly, whenever you strike, it’s acts like a shock absorber and doesn’t rattle your bones…it’s a very comfy. Can cut all day without feeling tired or pain.
Eventually what will regular and frequent – the handle will work it’s way deeper into the slot. The slot will shape accordingly to the handle as well giving both a very snug and secure fit. That’s the time when a small hole should be carefully drilled right thru the handle and the slot to insert a rounded bone, horn or a brass pin to secure handle and blade for life. Never use steel. As it will rust.
PERCAUTION: During the settling in period. When the handle gradually slides deeper into the steel slot. ALWAYS Swing the Golok AWAY from you. Make sure no one is around the vicinity. IT CAN FLY RIGHT OFF AND TAKE OFF A HEAD! I KID YOU NOT!
Another thing when it comes to very old Goloks. Don’t do stupid things like take an electric grinder aggressively to the blade and strip it right down to bare steel – if you do that your Golok may certainly look like a show piece, but you have probably ruined it as well by altering the happy balance of weight from a functional field tool that is supposed to leverage specifically on momentum during a cut. Looks count for nothing in the field. Just let the surface rust remain even if it’s ugly…besides it’s just superficial rust…harmless – as with regular and frequently, the blade just naturally assume a polished and bright sheen in no time without compromising it’s happy balance.
Another word of advise – if you’re a NS man specializing in jungle warfare. Don’t read this and go to ebay to buy a Golok. You may certainly look cool – but packing one in your kit is like carrying two bricks. Even I try not carry one myself – usually I strap it to a harness on my Doberman whenever we go deep into the jungle – remember always. A Golok is just an axe pretending to be a parang. It’s heavy like a GPMG. But in field craft – there will always be occasions when you simply need fire power – it beats an axe or hatchet fifty to one – as a Golok is so versatile.
Only the cutting edge (3 inches along the length) and NOT the entire length of the Golok should be sharpened with two wet stones – grit 200 and 800 for the finish.
Work safely! Remember SAFETY FIRST!
February 5, 2017
We can invest a lot of ourselves time and energy to know another person, but in the end, how close can we really come to that person’s essence?
Yes…I imagine. We could perhaps take comfort in the idea that we put in more of ourselves – we would eventually know the other person well, but do we really know anything at all?
‘There was this time when I thought I would always stay in Singapore. Forever and ever and ever. I know looking back now, it sounds rather silly. But that was how I saw it back then.
Or shall I say that’s how other’s saw it – usually thru their eyes.
I even told Dotty about it….I would stay. But she never believed me.
One day during one of our mid afternoon cycling trips, when we were just lying on the grass and looking up at the birds in Changi Village. She turned to me sadly and told me that one day I too would just take off like a bird.
It wasn’t what she said. It was the way she said in a tone like someone would express themselves years after that event happened.
I laughed. But when I looked at her I could sense the depth of her despair…the finality of her belief that it could only turn out that – it wasn’t just a run of the mill despair, it was a like an invisible vine with tendrils that could reach out from one soul to touch another – the sort of despair that could even whirl it’s way right into the narrow of my nines, winding and squeezing me from deep inside.
It was so disturbing that I found myself holding her head with both hands as she refused to look at me and asking her – how could she be so sure?
Dotty told me it was the way I looked at the birds whenever they flew overhead – she said it was the yearning that she saw reflected in my eyes. She said it was as thought – I could feel the same tug those birds felt – the very same stirring only birds could sense just before they took off. She went on to say, that I may believe I am a man, but in reality I have falcon blood running thru my veins – I am really half man, half bird and nothing in this world would ever change that, not even if I willed myself to be normal like everyone else – a day will come, when I too would sprout wings and take to the heavens like a bird.
I told her she was just in one of her crazy melancholic moods. She was dead wrong. I would always stay in Singapore. I even promised her.
Years later when I shared with Dotty my plans to seek my fortune abroad as a planter. She reminded me of the promise I once made to her – and whenever she did so, there were always long lapses of silence that I always felt the need to fill with words. Anything. It really didn’t matter what came out of my mouth. Could even yaba daba do. I just wanted to kill that awful hole of silence by filling it with as much sound as possible. To even banish it away with a hail of words. But try as hard as I did, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness….no. Estrangement. The very water I sipped, even the air I breathe, would always left a metallic and foreign after taste…reminding me that I don’t belong here…I am not supposed to be here. Even the linen on the table felt strange – when I ran my fingers across it, the texture reminded me of fingernails against a blackboard. It was a sound that only I could hear and all I could do was surrender myself completely to this sea of loneliness like some flotsam.
We met a couple of more times thereafter. But whenever our conversation lapsed into those awful moments of silence I always felt same threatening sensation of estrangement. It was as if this feeling that swelled inside me was some creature with razor-sharp tendrils gnawing deep inside me. It was so crippling, so devastating, and unrelenting that all it seemed to ever want to was to work itself out of my bones burrow thru my muscles and lance right out of the flesh of my backbone – wings….
Eventually that was what I did – I flew off without saying good bye. I did it as she said I would, like a bird that just wakes up one September morn, joins a flock of birds on a line and take right off into the blue yonder.’
February 5, 2017
If you switch on the TV these days. It’s like the evil eye. As there is so much anger, resentment and enmity in the hearts of so many because of Trumpism – understand this! Hate is pure. It is perhaps one of the most powerful forces in this world. Since man has never seen fit to study hate – it will always be a mystery. So when so one hates….trust me. They will hate you with all their heart.
My greatest fear is despite every effort by Trump to make America and her allies safe…all he has really done is galvanize the forces of evil against her.
Only the accomplished practitioners in the art of war can save us all.
‘Many planters are very surprised that my yield has only been moderately been affected by El Niño. Of course I make it a point these days to pretend like everyone else that I too don’t have fruit – but eventually the truth always comes out.
In the kampung where superstition is a way of life – many prefer to believe this is a form of magic. Some come to my lands. They take a clump of earth with an air of expectancy in the hope that should they mix it with their own…their crops might grow as well.
But if you really want to know the real reason why El Niño didn’t so much as put a dent on my bottom line – a large part of it had to do with the litany of preparing and training.
Back in May 2015. The weather boffins in NOAA had begun discussing in their cloistered forums about the warming waters off the coast of Honduras. This is the first sign that presages the weather formation known as the phenomenon of El Niño. I listened mostly. Hardly ever posting as they all discussed the various possibilities.
Meanwhile I began to conduct secret surveys on my lands and even on my neighbors lands and began to diligently keep a log registering rainfall, wind direction and humidity – by July I started a series of earth works to divert water from the rivers. This was done secretly.
But…El Niño was a no show. I remembered feeling cheated and even slightly stupid for putting in so much effort for nought.
In January. Again the weather boffins has begun to speak about El Niño again – only this time, they prefixed it with the word monster…monster El Niño. It was hard to have faith in what they had to say by then. As since they got it so wrong the last time. It’s hard to take them seriously.
But since I’d diligently kept a historical weather tabula since 2015 – I could just about make out that what they had to say was not entirely nonsense.
That year I began to redouble my efforts at landscaping my lands further – some of what I did was so radical that you might even say I threw out the farmers almanac right out of the window and wrote my own farming guideline.
I remember that day when Mother Nature curled her fingers nails like razor sharp talons….that very day….I saw all in full technicolor and THX sound, it might have started and ended like any other day.
But that day was different from all other days.
Standing the edge of my lands with one foot on the fence post. I imagined even my dogs could all sense the silent approach of foreboding…the swiftlets flew in ever tighter circles. A sign of nervousness. Perhaps they too had registered a dramatic drop in the atmospheric pressure that spooked them. Animals I imagine can sense the impending arrival of evil far better than man ever can. I remembered standing there thru the night – even long after the afternoon light had waned and filled the inky darkness of the skies with the heaviness of waiting….just watching as terror curled like some restless serpent that had just awakened.
Mars was bronzed that night – cureleaned like a dull brass doorknob which could only mean the air at the upper reaches of the stratosphere was warmer than usual. The dipper wavered and blinked with so much loneliness. As if she too desire to belong to the rest of the other stars. Shimmering in the night heat. I stood there the whole night. Occasionally, I’d notice I’d lost track of time itself; even sleep it seemed had no dominion over me….I was simply watching for the signs, still having imaginary conversations with characters in my mind….even wondering whether perhaps I was like than mad sultan I once read about who marched out with war elephants and pike men with banners to declare war on the evil wind called the Harmattan…I remembered the owl had hooted mockingly at me that night as I sniggered to myself like some deranged mad man. But even then amid it all by the time my whisky flask was emptied. I had the feeling that even the owl was trying to tell me somewhere in my mind – farmer something evil comes this way.
True enough…the following day it all began.
In the thick of it all – it was really just a blur. I can’t exactly tell you what I did or didn’t do – there’s really too much to tell like how a lone sailor in a plastic boat tacks the capricious winds to ride one giant wave only for another to line up against his approach.
And once the storm is over – I don’t imagine I would ever remember how I even made it through by the slimmest of margins…or maybe she just got tired of me and spat me out like a pea that rolls right out of the melee…it’s hard to say when so many things comes at it from all directions
What’s important is I made it thru to the other side safely without even a single scratch to show for it.
Yes…it was a good fight. I imagine. I even rushed up her skirt a couple of times, when she wasn’t looking my way and was too preoccupied throwing pots and pans. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s really what a storm is all about.
I guess somewhere in all this there’s a lesson where we could perhaps say with that air of satisfying air of redemption – we live and learn! But maybe the real moral to this a blog entry is when you suddenly and unexpectedly feel cocooned in joy and feel so safe – never take it for granted
I am not like most of you who read this – no. I am not. For one I stretched too thin and the margins are just enough to keep my nose above the waterline….failure is not an option. Not for me at least. Perhaps that’s why I regard business as war!
Don’t ever take your joy or happiness for granted…be paranoid if possible. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed just on the account of that blasé attitude. We may not always be wise, and not very often kind when we expect tomorrow to unfold exactly like yesterday. And much can never be redeemed. Still life at even the razors edge has some possibility left. Perhaps all the preparations I did before wasn’t wasted after all – it was my way of fighting back to protect whatever little I have to call my own, that in the event sometimes something bad happens – you’ll be ready to give as good as you take…punch for punch…kick for kick.
Now all there’s left is a tired man – like some forlorn foot soldier standing on the top hill after last rent of a long and bitter drawn out battle – drawing on a cigarette with trembling hands, muddied, caked with blood….turning inwards and watching with his mind’s eye to see the very end of El Niño’s destructive wake….and perhaps reminiscing to himself with a deep sense of pride that at least…it was a good innings…a good fight…where fear has gone only I stand….only I.
I saw it all the before, during and after….I am the man of all seasons….listen to me carefully…listen…in peace prepare for war. In war prepare for peace.’
February 4, 2017
During lunch. I chanced on a table on well heeled plantation ladies. As soon as they caught sight of me – one particular lady who I can only assume to be the most dominant lady amongst these ladies extended her hand. Naturally. I bowed low and kissed her hand. A chair was presented. I took my place and no sooner had I done so. This impeccably dressed lady turned to be in and asked, ‘do share…are you with or against Trump?’
I happen to know the history of this lady. She was educated in Paris. Hence my reply, ‘après moi deluge.’ To which the other ladies all laughed out loud….except this one lady who continued to look at me suspiciously…maybe she senses that I am holding back….yes, I think she can read my mind. She did after all kick me very hard on my shin under the table when the rest of the ladies laughed….but no. I am never going to let the cat out from the bag.
Instead I smiled supremely….ouch! Trust me I would rather take on my guli’s.
Never…it’s just too painful and dangerous.
No one will ever know my thoughts.
‘So far it is merely a theoretical possibility – but as Trumpism as a school of thought and state of mind begins to define itself in clearer terms to it’s various objects of public and business interest – eventually even firms will be compelled to choose which side they want to stand on. CEO’s would have to take a position – they can’t be neutral. Not at least without coming playing both sides – neither can they take sanctuary in the notion that politics should best be left to politicians either, that will be suicidal!
As I see it. It’s really only a matter of time before the pressure will begin to slowly intensify.
This is the what usually happens when business interest becomes so encrusted with politics…it’s inevitable. Absolutely nothing can stop this process where it all ratchets up in steady increments till something gives.
Meanwhile the idea conditions for a more chaos along with opportunity is all there – there parts are not there yet. But they will be soon. As it is, it’s still early days – there are no parts yet, there’s no need to replace one thing with another. No yet at least. Besides what’s the bloody point when I don’t even know where it’s all going…who even knows – so really what is the urgency to remove anything or add anything. You don’t have to think about difficult things just yet – take a seat…watch….and trust me eventually the bough will give way and water will find it’s level.
It’s best to remain pleasantly neutral as best as one can for the time being.’
February 4, 2017
This afternoon while returning for lunch at my plantation house – a dead will pigeon laid lifeless in the yard. Wild pigeons are good flyers. Perhaps even one the best – they don’t just fly into a building and keel over and die, or maybe I am just making a mountain out of a mole hill. Perhaps this pigeon did get disoriented and accidentally hit the building.
In Taoist mythology. A dead bird may come across like a bad omen. Actually it’s a good and bad sign. As it presages the end to turmoil or pain. A dead bird doesn’t necessarily portend physical death. Rather it is metaphorical death. Perhaps this means whatever hardships I am going through will now slowly begin to bow out to a new season of hope where things may get better. Perhaps this dead bird marks the end to my yearning and struggle. A new beginning is just around the corner.
On the other hand in the language of the old country. There is also a sinister side to finding a dead bird in the yard – it is veil warning to abide by the covenants that one has entered into – in the language of the old country, the bird represents freedom….and when a man discovers a dead bird it simply means if you value your freedom then abide by the rules of heaven and earth.
Yes….maybe I am just making a mountain out of a mole hill. It’s after just a dead bird in the yard.
February 4, 2017