Is the economic strategies committee (esc) recommendations old dressed up as new – X marks the spot

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.

That’s it.

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.

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