Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Friday, 24 October 2008

Surviving vs Thriving - insights from the Lion City

Singapore has long been a strategic nexus of commerce and trade. Here you have "instant Asia" - Indians, Chinese, Malay, Japanese - along with masses of Western and other expats and the multinational firms that employ them. Today Singapore offers many useful insights into what is happening in the region of Southeast Asia and also globally.

Out of this mix of cultures and worldviews, a particularly Singaporean view has emerged. Here the business culture is fostered on a deeply pragmatic view of the world...and yet it is not all short-term practicality. The government is strongly focused on Singapore's future wellbeing, with carefully laid-out strategies geared to the long-term objective of ensuring the city-state's place on the world map of commerce and business.

Certainly on the surface of it, with construction sites and container ports running literally 24/7/365, it seems the Lion City is poised to roar ahead through the current economic turmoil and beyond.

In my previous post I mentioned the difference in the US presidential election between McCain's politics of fear and Obama's politics of hope. During my visit over the past few days here in Singapore I've been listening to the insights of local executives and the thoughts expressed at the first Singapore Human Capital Summit. It seems as though there are two prevailing mentalities, similar in nature to the themes of fear and hope.

Let's call them surviving vs. thriving.

This mentality is focused almost exclusively on the short-term: let's hit next month's numbers and then take it from there. It's a reactive strategy, designed to do the bare minimium required to ensure economic (and, hopefully, individual job) survival. It's therefore also bereft of long-term strategic focus, considered thought, and high-level awareness of consequences - the intended and the unintended.

The other mentality is practical, yet future-focused. As one executive argued,
Right now I'm not putting money in marketing because who knows what the market will be doing in 6 months time. But I think it's important to invest in my people. If things don't get so bad, it means I've got a team that's ready to perform and I'll eat the lunch of my more reactive, fearful competitors who haven't similarly invested. But even if I have to shed some staff, they'll still have the skills when it comes time to hire them back later on. At worst, there's a relationship to be strengthened by developing their skills - and that relationship can also be the competitive advantage I need over other companies in a tight labour market!
Both styles, short-term and long-term, may be valid depending on context and a host of other variables. Looking at the above two philosophies, I know which company I'd like to work for. (And wasn't it an exclusive focus on the short-term that got the world into the current economic crisis in the first place...?)

Maybe here at the crossroads of Asia, the combination that Singapore has woven of "pragmatic long-termism" has some valuable insights. Straight from the lion's mouth.

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