Losing competitiveness

Should we be more concerned about losing competitiveness or creativity? Singapore just lost its top spot in global ranking for competitiveness and the explanation was ‘unfavourable geography’. It really wasn’t clear how geography was factored in but Asia certainly got a beating (maybe with the exception of China) probably because of the pandemic. Europe nations topped the ranking – they’ve been jostling with Singapore all the while anyways.

For most of our nation-building days, the objective was never topping rankings or rising up league tables. Those were by-products. It was always about bettering the lives of people. And our metrics were simple: home-owners as percentage of population, median income levels, access to clean water and electricity, etc. All of the progress on these simple metrics helped us get on rankings and league tables, which is really testament to the zeal and passion of our founding fathers and civil service.

But somewhere along the lines, we got lost in trying to get ahead in the race, to be better along the old metrics. And we forgot perhaps what we were bettering our lives for to begin with. We wanted to free our people from the constraints of a wretched existence without clean water or electricity, without a safe place to live in, without income security. We knew that improving their lives itself, making people more productive would help the society progress and move towards prosperity.

But maybe at that point, we didn’t expect ourselves to be addicted to prosperity, that we crave for access to luxuries for all, to desire better housing beyond top of the world public housing. Building a society where everyone is on an escalating escalator sounds good – until we pose the question, “where is the escalator heading to?”

To me, we should be more concerned about the lost of creativity. We should not feel pressured to prepare ready-made solution for everyone to get on the escalator, to have a sure formula or pathway to success. We should be expending our resources to enable people to find different escalators, to identify the various heights they want to reach and be able to reach them. Open up pathways, encourage the creativity and innovation; not just getting them to jostle on the same path.