Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pleasureless Drones

What is wrong with hanging on to a "stable job" at all cost and not taking risk?

Financial District

It seem like a lot of the people I know seem to subscribe to the mentality, work hard, play safe, and make lots of money. I know in Singapore, people still subscribe to the 5 "C"s -- Car, Condo, Credit Card, Cash and Country Club. And in their pursuit, they seemed to be locked into the rat race.

For some others who have read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" and other non-fiction books, many of them just focus on some of the book's messages, and mainly on one -- GETTING RICH. I do not deny that being "Rich" is nice, but one thing is for sure, how do you consider yourself rich?

Time and over again, I meet a classmate who asks me about investing in properties, or purchasing luxury cars. Sometimes, I get asked if I know anyone selling country club membership for golf clubs. To keep up with appearances, some of my friends spend a significant part of their salary on nice things. (Not that this is wrong) However, they make a lot of sacrifices to get there, mainly by spending long hours at work, keeping secrets to hold their managerial position, or be involved in office politics, climbing up the corporate ladder.

I read this quote recently and it really resonates with me. "Even if it means getting it wrong; the average Singaporean professional would rather do the wrong thing, the right way - than the right thing the wrong way. " Yes, this is totally Singapore, and somehow, the culture makes the workers follow a "procedure" even if it might lead to failure, and when it does, no one is really to blame for following procedure.

When you think out of the box in Singapore, many organizations do not reward you as they feel that you are a "loose canon" even when it may lead to certain success.

Singapore workplace from an employee perspective is about receiving instructions, following them closely to protect from accountability, and continue on a crooked path - as long as it was the one set out. And if you're asked to innovate new solutions? Freeze until further instruction and solid approval. Everyone wants to play it safe.

In such work environment, coupled with the huge expenses everyone is incurring from buying nice homes and driving expensive cars, STRESS is very common, and I feel that many of my friends do not have time to socialize and are pretty much "lifeless drones" working to make payments, securing their position in their companies and playing it safe.

In recent years the Singapore government started movements to encourage innovation and productivity in the workplace -- even entrepreneurship! But with a cookie cutter policy, standard operation procedures and tons of red tape and bureaucracy, Innovation is trapped.

Being in Silicon Valley, Massachusetts, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and now even Jakarta, I realized that one other thing is missing BIG time that is wrong with the attitude and mindsets of the people in Singapore -- Passion.

From young, children are trained in schools to take exams, learn to do "past years papers" and assessment books. Most of the pleasure in learning and experimenting is easily washed out by the tons of unnecessary things that is taught in class because it is "examinable"

In universities, the best students will go to the "most popular" courses, and upon graduation, work in positions and companies that pays best. It can be seen by the Government's plan to steer students in certain jobs, by "creating an industry that pays well" and then offering courses, but as shown from experience, forcing students good in maths and science into Electrical Engineering did not help Singapore's semiconductor industry, nor is the life sciences yielding any results.

Simply, there is lack of passion.

Without passion, companies in Singapore can still get the most out of their employees by offering $$$ however, they will not get the best. The average worker in Europe or Australia who works from 9am - 5pm with a 2 hour lunch is still far greater productive than a Singaporean who works from 7am - 10pm. Poor leadership and unmotivated teams mean people wait around for instructions, and then run in circles trying to get a job done they don't know how to carry out without proper guidance.

Getting talented people in a hardworking team is not always the solution. Nurturing the right business environment, and making the best of the members in your team, rather than picking the best team, and working them to their strengths is key.

In short, we need more empathy and passion, and a new change in mindset if Singapore wants to compete to be world class. But for now, money may motivate, but companies must realize that they cannot buy passion and creativity.

-- Iron Bowl

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