Can Singapore fail? Deih Kishore! Singapore already failed already lah!

March 27, 2009

kendo013Can Singapore Fail? Well let’s turn the question on its head and repose it this way: hasn’t Singapore already failed?


I don’t know; and though I did attempt to delve into the minutiae of Kishore’s “Can Singapore fail? I can’t say I gleaned any valuable insights – to be honest, it left me quite perplex. Now don’t get me wrong – I appreciated his candor like his enthusiastic endorsement of how we should all pick up tissue paper and plumb for dosai instead of English breakfast – only something seems to be sorely missing from this whole valecditory narrative.


Fact: Singapore has failed! In my humble opinion at least.


This hardly requires any elaboration; you could just as well draw on a host of motifs ranging from whether the 1st division team really delivered the goods to the whole idea of how Temasek and GIC decided to plumb for banks when the clever money decided to go somewhere else – in my mind, there’s no shortage of examples testifying to the fact; Singapore has failed in every conceivable way imaginable.


Why have we failed isn’t the main phalanx of this essay – I will probably have to write about it another time (as time is short and I am typing this on the train) – only let us all agree on the start line: we have failed – the reasons are multi factorial; could well be our fixation of the scholar system and the whole idea of leaving it all to the cult of infallibility – the very idea that only a select few can deliver the good life – or maybe it has something to do with our corseted view of how we usually define personal and organizational success; which sets us apart from countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia – where the effective power that drives the economy isn’t really the elite or technocrats; but rather the armies small of entrepreneurs – this came to me quite by chance when I found myself sitting next to kid on a business trip recently. I asked him, who do you most want to be when you grow up? – he just answered nonchalantly: “Li Khan Shin of course…that’s a dumb question.” Ask the same question in Singapore and you realize why the problem with our age has nothing to do a wider universe of how success can be attained; but rather the answer lies somewhere in the narrowed down version of what I term the tried and tested yellow brick road to success; where most people have in effect bought into the myth the only way to get the good life is to land yourself a scholarship instead of striking out on your own.


That in a nutshell sums up our lot – we are really the victims of our own scripting; by astudiously nurturing the myth that the good life can only be purchased by keeping to the apparent safety of the yellow brick road; most of us by default have inadvertently leveled off the field of possibilities to only perhaps a few ways to “succeed” in life.


Contrast that if you may with the American dream – where everyone and anyone can really strive for the idea of rugged individualism in a whole variety of ways which I can only describe as untraditional, unconventional and exciting – tell me how far would either Bill Gates or Steve Jobs get in Singapore?


I rest my case.


It may sound like a flippant question but its jugular when what’s really on the table is the idea of creating a new generation of trendsetters and not followers along with perhaps the whole idea of craving out competitive advantage, by all accounts – it has to be said, the American model provokes discussions on whether we have been too scripted by keeping to the idea of form while throwing out the valuable function. For all we know redemption on a national scale lies in the latter?


Its even conceivable part of that whole idea of being straight jacket requires us to ask whether the custodians of power have been “preaching” too much, which is quite different from teaching and mentoring.  Ultimately, what really needs to be discussed isn’t the valedictory idea of whether Singapore can fail? But rather can we even come to terms with the idea we may have perhaps already failed?


The question acquires a renewed sense of urgency when you consider how so often failure is often sidelined, white washed and even given the mind bending treatment to suggest everything is still humming along happily as planned – no doubt this is done with lashings of no regrets or deflecting the whole idea of blame by suggesting Singapore is really too small to tack its destiny in the broader world of globalization. Or even leveraging on the whole idea of good governance by trumping it as the only thing that really matters in the greater scheme of things – but nonetheless, it underscores our morbid fear of confronting failure head on – and that surely must be the greatest consternation to thinking folk as:


In business, like in statecraft – failure is the teacher – and admission of failure remains the key. My feel is the real challenge – has absolutely nothing to do with juxtaposing the minstrel question: can Singapore fail? But rather can we really afford NOT to analyze what went wrong so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Can we really afford to elide wholesale the whole idea of how we have miscalculated the resilience and durability of the free market enterprise?


I’m not sure how this could be done if even in the face of incontrovertible evidence that suggest we should press the pause button and relook at many of our time honored assumptions –  the prevailing mood is still on of –  business as usual – or we did the very best we could under a given set of conditions and there is no scope further scope for improve – we are the best in the world – the masters of the universe – my point is simply this: its hard, if not impossible to imagine a group of people who still cling stoically to the departmental mindset sitting around a table discussing a failed policy, strategy or investment and reaching conclusions that don’t have negative impacts on certain members – in short, the opportunity to learn, improve and set a new course is squandered.

The real lesson here could well be not whether Singapore can fail as Kishore suggested? But rather; its less desirable twin that so often hides behind all great failures – can we really afford to admit that we have not already failed? And this should prompt us to consider whether perhaps the only real failure is failing to learn from failure it’self? – and there lies the shattered dream and the firmament of all our hopes in the sign of our times.

I have to step off the train now; its my stop – if only coming to terms with failure could really be that simple.

If only…..yes, it’s better if we contend ourselves with the sobriquet question: can Singapore fail?

Darkness 2009

Have you missed out on this essay? Will PAP end up like Basket Case UMNO? auto generated 098124


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