We are certainly less optimistic about the future nowadays than our parents’ generation. I was somewhat taken aback by our own Economic Development Board’s prevailing marketing about ‘future-proofing’ business, industry or even the economy. Of course, to ‘future-proof’ is to prevent obsolescence and typically used in the context of business. But in today’s climate, it is almost implying that the future can only turn more gloomy. In any case, obsolescence-prevention often isn’t about just doing one thing, or taking on a single strategy and being permanently on an execution phase of it. It requires an overhaul of our impression of the word ‘future-proof’ – in other words, it needs to embrace the future itself!
In Singapore, I sometimes wonder if it is the government that needs to future-proof and do so by embracing change, appreciating radical ideas, abandoning incrementalism, in times like that. And I think the marketplace of ideas is what helps future-proof our ecosystem. Letting the wrong kinds of businesses die and improving the quality of manpower and talents through refocusing the education system on mastery rather than grades – these are things that will future-proof ourselves. Hanging on to old systems, and old ideas, rehashing the same old paradigm even under new guise, does little to help one remain relevant. Someone had commented that the government is more strategic than tactical and as a matter of fact, it puts our leaders slightly out of touch with the geopolitical realities of today. Being open means we continue to be easily affected by the headwinds around us but if we don’t have a bag full of tactics to stay on the course of our strategy, how are we going to remain relevant?
The next bout of growth is going to come from a new source of value creation, it will take more than just extracting from our thin labour, capital and land factors. Land has been stretch so thin the market gravitated towards speculation at some point (notably involving foreign investors). Capital domestically seem to be composed more of short-term, foot-loose sort that is conservative and not capable of being channeled to where it might be needed. Labour is in a bad shape structurally and will take a lot of time become more robust, having built our former base from striving for optimality in sync with industry rather than being built for robustness. The sort of agencies that continue to try and ply these traditional inputs and stuck on old metrics, fostering variations of the old kinds of ‘investment’ is not going to ‘future-proof’ our nation.
Embracing the future takes an enlightened view of considering the power of international markets and their ability to be transformed through knowledge and innovation, adding on to the inputs which they already have in the markets. It involves being selective about where we want to place accumulated capital to soak up the labour and land resources to generate and pull back value into the economy. It takes a transformed view of thinking about what domestic labour really mean and how they serve as units to generate and capture value in the international markets. We need to go beyond thinking about creating good jobs – but to consider, how our people should have access to boardrooms as capital owners, how people can contribute their slice of connections, know-who, relationships and networks to further our ability to generate and capture value from the international markets. Traditional notions of employment and units of individual businesses needs to be discarded if possible. Our leaders are hopefully enlightened enough to see how to drive this forward using new vehicles and new tools, discarding old vehicles and irrelevant tricks in the process.