In order to be globally competitive, we need to start opening ourselves more to the world.

2018 is a World Cup year. This year, 32 teams from all over the world will be competing to be the World Champions, a feat achievable once in every four years.

In our real world – we are facing similar competition on a daily basis. We just don’t treat it like the World Cup, but we should. Every day, the global economy sees competition. The strongest, or the fastest, or the most innovative, or the most adaptable are the ones that win. This competition is not just about economies, but also ideologies, businesses, jobs, talent etc. With a fast-changing world, the competition gets even more frenetic. Adaptability and ability to move fast become increasingly the desired trait. What is relevant for us ordinary people is how we can sustain our living in this fast-changing environment? 

There are no easy answers to this question. But perhaps we can distil the ingredients that are essential to becoming competitive as a talent (in business, entertainment, sport, academia etc) in this new world environment.

Naturally, training, practice and developing skills are very important to be competitive. However, taking this a step further – these skills need to be developed and benchmarked to global standards. These should be global skills. Global languages, global outlook and attitudes. These skills will also further need to be honed against that global standard. To do this, we either send our talent to sharpen their skills amongst the best in the world, or we bring some of the best in the world to us. 

But training and developing skills alone to match global standards will not be enough. Talent, like flora and fauna, will need to have the right conditions to grow and bloom. Trying to match the world’s best without the right diet, encouragement, discipline etc will not work. So we need to replicate the best conditions for talent to flourish. In particular, to grow and develop intellectual talent, there need to be conditions that allow the mind to explore limits of knowledge and challenge norms to bring about new ideas, and new skills. A key principle in order to achieve this – create intellectually open and globally diverse minds in order to stimulate new ideas, bring about creative tension and preserve checks and balances.  Like the rich tropical forests in our country, preserving and balancing the diverse eco-system of talent is vital to ensure that the natural advantage of diverse talent brings about the opportunity to enrich each other.

The 21st century promises significant disruptions but with it new opportunities for the disruptors. This is the time to move forward openly into the world instead of retreating out of fear and seeking a false sense of protection. Yes, going forward is going to be uncomfortable – but the cost of not doing so will be far more immeasurable for decades to come. We cannot afford to be left behind. 

Basic education needed for uncertain future occupation

We fear that artificial intelligence – AI – will be taking away jobs from us in a big way. Although similar concerns were raised during the days when robots were introduced to the factory floor to automate manufacturing – in truth, the impact to the availability of human jobs was not significantly affected. But this time we now increasingly fear that jobs for humans will finally be threatened by technology – by AI, purely because technological development is far outpacing our ability to learn and adapt to new things. The jobs we know today may no longer be relevant in the future. Will there be new jobs or occupation in the future in such AI driven economy? And we know that it will not be easy for us to be retrained, reskilled – to unlearn and relearn new things. Thus, this begs the question of what kind of education should our children be given in order to survive in this uncertain future? Perhaps we should forget about teaching the next generation biology, physics, law, accounting etc. Perhaps we should teach them even more fundamental skills and habits such as reading, creativity, empathy, adaptability, curiousity, research, learning, problem-solving, interaction and the likes. What do you think?

Colourful offices to inspire creativity and innovation, like Google?

Amongst many things, Google is also well known for its creatively designed office and work spaces. The logic behind the colourful and playful design is to create environments that can nurture creativity and innovation within the people that work in these places. Google is acknowledged as one of the most innovative companies in the past decade or so with a variety of products and services that are significantly impacting and changing our lives.

This is quite a common trait of many tech companies too. And similarly these companies also adopt conditions that are designed to encourage creativity and innovation.

Of course, such conditions are not only confined to office space design. Values, management practices, and leadership play equally big roles.

I believe that environment shapes culture, and in the case of Google and the likes, how much do you think the office and work space design (colourful and playful) contribute towards the respective organisation’s innovative culture? 

If you want innovation, you have to encourage independent thought

We live in an age where technology, customer expectations, and markets shift rapidly. Sticking with dogma and age old ideas, methods, products and services will no longer cut it.

Assuming that we believe in the above – and I would not be too far off the mark, I’d guess – then we need to be able to adapt, respond, anticipate these shifts before and as they happen. We need to be agile, and most of all we need to be innovative. We need to find even more effective solutions to old and new problems. What worked in the past will not guarantee to work in the future.

Innovation is the key to winning in the fast changing world.

But innovation is not just an activity. It is more than that. It is a mindset, a culture, a function that everyone plays – and not just some people in labs and research centres.

Like creativity, you cannot force innovation. Like creativity, innovation must be allowed to flow, naturally. The biggest enabler for innovation is allowing individuals the freedom to have independent thought.

The seed of a new idea would only come from a ground that is fertile with many different thinking. In groups of people, society and organisations – allowing people to think different allows them to explore new ideas, test new perspectives, find new solutions in ways never been thought of before. A social group that emphasises conformity over individuality will psychologically limit the collective minds. This is often the subtle tyranny of the majority.

A society or organisation that is conscious of these subtle effects will need to take steps to allow individuality and take these steps even further by bringing in people who would be expected to see things differently – given they come from different backgrounds and thus would naturally see things differently. Artists will see different solutions to problems than would engineers or accountants. People from different industries will see different ways to solve problems. This is vital in order to encourage innovation. Societies and organisations will need to infuse their own culture and groups of people with people from other backgrounds in order to create a much richer diversity of thought.