Level of Striving

I was listening to Daniel Ek, Founder and CEO of Spotify speak in an interview with Tim Ferriss. And one of the themes he touched on about the difference in the competitive environments in Europe vis-a-vis America struck me. For a society that gives more ‘security’ for basic survival such as Sweden, there is more people exploring music careers and they might be on welfare for a few years and there isn’t much stigma in that. Meanwhile, when the state only does minimal in terms of provision of a minimal level of living standards, there’s a lot of striving at the lower strata of the society just to put bread on the table.

I think too often, we tout the advantage of competition without looking more deeply into the construct and consequences of competition. It certainly deserves more attention because a large part of competition is created by our societal systems, policy mechanisms. And in part, it is a policy whether we want most of our society to be striving at the level of survival, constantly worried about bread and butter issues; or to be striving at higher levels, where they are able to contribute at the level of innovation and creativity.

With creativity and ideas, I think volume is necessary and quantity is also somewhat correlated with quality. The ability to generate ideas and test them as a society is so important. As Singapore genuinely transit into more and more of a knowledge-based economy, and with pressure coming from ‘inequality’, I think we should be rewriting the narrative around so-called ‘welfare’.

We have been using quite a fair bit of resources to support entrepreneurs and corporations and treating them as engines of growth because they create jobs. But wouldn’t it work the same to suggest that if we are able to support a group of people – who would already be striving so hard to improve their lives – to be able to have a little more of their bases covered. That way, they would be able to strive at a higher level, to apply their creativity, and to perhaps kick off ventures that also become engines of growth?

Our obsession with jobs came at a time when the masses were not super educated and didn’t have much qualifications. And we created jobs as the populace own means of creating jobs would tend towards low-wage kind of roles. But generations have followed, education levels have risen – there should be more means of job creation by the local population, and we have seen that. Instead of having people compete for limited jobs, and striving like the way they’ve been striving for survival, why don’t we create room for individuals to strive at a higher level – to be the one creating jobs, new experiences and the future?


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  1. […] beyond thinking about the level we are getting our people to be striving at, we ought to be considering the adverse impact on our organisations and societies for breeding […]