There is competition….and there is competition

May 7, 2014

“We can’t tell our competition to go away. They want to eat our lunch, we know that. They want to eat our dinner, we suspect that. We can’t stop them from wanting, but we can make sure we can hold our own, and we can eat our own lunch….we can provide you the resources and the means to stay one step ahead of the competition, and we will have a Singapore system which we can work together to build, to maximise your potential, maximise your contributions.”


‘No one denies change is necessary to stay competitive. That’s given. No one denies this! Not even those who are critical of the government can run too far from this steamroller reality! Not the opposition or even the tea lady in your office who is not too happy about how instant 3 in 1 coffee seems to be rendering her obselete. So whenever officials couch the whole argument in terms of only reducing the entire argument for change in – change or stay the same – I feel they are very disengenous to do so. As the vast majority of people have already accepted that change is inevitable and part and parcel of living in a globalized world.

The issue of contention as I see it goes like this – how does one go about managing change intelligently to maximize on opportunities in a threat riven world?

Before we begin. One needs to be always mindful that there are two faces of seeding change to be more competitive. Now politicians and management experts like to elide this section. They much prefer to gloss over it with platitudes and not discuss it and let me share with you why.

As there are two ways to change to be more competitive – one side is what I refer too as good and wholesome competition – the sort that provisions enough room for incremental improvements very much in the way one learns to run a full 50 kilometer marathon by just starting off with 5, then working slowly to 10 and 15…till one is finally comfortable and confident with taking the whole elephant of 30 in one bite. That’s what I call good and healthy competition. Well managed. Professionally executed and the stuff of excellent stewardship. As the whole endevaour is well thought out and premised on realistic expectations that’s achievable and gets everyone on board.

The other is destructive change to be more competiive. This is when the pace of change is simply unhinged from reality and is set so furious and fast that it can only cause many to drop off the treadmill thru no fault of their own – as since unrealistic targets are set within such a compressed period – it can really only produce failures on an industrial scale – this sort of change will always be lousy. As it can really only produce stress, grief, low moral and even threaten the idea of well being that makes the whole idea of higher productivity sustainable. Sure in the first few years you may well have stellar growth. But since all this comes at the cost of more and more people falling off the thread mill – it simply means at the end of the day. You’re left with a significant cachet of PMET’s who are simply marginalized and sidelined.

As when the pace of change is so hellish that it produces more negatives then good – then surely you cannot blame thinking folk for questioning, “hey! Is this worth it?” After all, even Grace Fu has no hesitation in questioning the idea, if she cannot turn in a decent living based on X amount of renumeration a year, then she may have to reconsider a job in politics. So why should the man in the street be so different from Grace Fu?

So coming back to the fundamental issue: if the vast majority of people seem to only get high blood pressure, sleepless nights and heart attacks every time they go to NTUC to see how little their dollar can stretch despite working their butts off – then can anyone here please tell me, how reasonable is it to blame them for questioning the whole idea of change? I don’t believe for one moment these people are subversive or trying to run down Singapore – they are just questioning the trade off’s along with the rationale of how the policy of change is undertaken to create a more competitive workforce where everyone can be part of.

However IF the pace of change is well managed and respectful of the strengths and weaknesses of both people their communities – IF change even comes in a considerate way that pays homage to the whole idea of dignity of labor along with provisioning for many a means where they can gainfully actualize their dreams – then, it is possible to grow from strength to strength in a way that is both enjoyable and rewarding – in this way people can only support the whole idea of change whole heartedly – as they can see the magic working in the lives of their loved ones and their circle of friends – when change is well managed and respectful of people’s needs and aspirations, it can be something that is truly edifying, nourishing and even a source of great happiness.

But to insist that change can only come by prioritizing growth even if it means we all have to settle for a lower quality of life. Or that the good life can only come, if all of us buy into the idea of ramping up the population to 6.5 million – then I think, if you keep talking like that, all you will do is make a bloody fool out of yourself. As not everyone is so gullible or naive to believe that sort of simplistic reasoning.

Let me share with you all why – while  no one denies to grow an economy critical mass is needed. But 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 million people.

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 – that is so often propogated by the propagandist press and officialdom that to grow the economy one needs to ramp up the population –  as anecdotal evidence clearly proves this is not only false, but to insist time and again that is true is both dishonest and disengenous.

As many countries, not only Germany but I might add Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, South Korea and Taiwan have also blossomed but with mostly indigenous talents. Do you see any of them trying to squeeze as many foreigners into a telephone booth?

As usual, I give you the facts – you go decide for yourself….as for me, its clear as day. Like I said, there is competition…and there is competition…so if you happen to be a PMET who has suddenly found yourself in the sidewalk watching the world go right by while you wonder to yourself whether it was due to some lack that put you where you are….I am simply here to tell you….you are not to blame…it could just as well have been me…it was a massacre….you are not to blame….and that’s really all I have no say….nothing more.

I will however share this. As far as five years ago. I knew deep down in the marrow of my bones it would all come down to this. But I was not sure. There was a lingering doubt. So I shared this with only my bicycle teammates. My annotated version of the dystopian future. We all got on our bikes and left before the meat grinder got us. If I have any regrets, it was that I did not shout out my message louder. Instead we all just rode off in the night like a submarine slipping silently out of the harbor in the cover of darkness. Even today when some of my colleagues ask of me why I did not speak up then….I would often keep silent….if there is any hope of redemption from all this…allow me to say….there is not a day that goes by when I say to myself – we could have brought out more and that is really another way of saying. I failed and so I must live with this feeling of terminal regret….but like I said, I was not sure….I was just not sure.’

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