Here's why enterprise is the key to international successBY GYAN NAGPAL
In recent years, Singapore’s popular press has been all over the immigration debate - painting an entire gallery of pictures. Ageing workforces, a shrinking labour pool, jobs locals don’t want to do, the government’s view on economic growth, the public angst, overcrowding concerns and various ministers weighing in on topics ranging from infrastructure development, inflation, to transient talent. A nerve has been touched, and everyone has an opinion. Yet, the current debate is built on noticeably 20th century foundations - namely locational identity, fiscal considerations and protectionism.
The 21st century is a markedly different place. One defined by speed, boundary-less (global) thinking, innovation and collaboration. And the most precious ingredient of future national success isn’t going to be money, natural resources or even people. It is going to be - enterprise.
If you ask any economist to pick the one biggest advantage a developed country has over a developing one, the answer will probably be – “high quality institutions”. Institutional strength - which combines economic, legal and political mechanisms like a functioning democracy, the rule of law, efficient bureaucracy, lack of corruption, or evolved capital markets - are fundamental to both widespread national and individual prosperity. Because strong institutions help “effort” prosper.
Yet institutions are but one of two ingredients of enterprise. The other is - raw, burning ambition.
As every story of runaway success has shown us, social aspirations are the world’s singularly greatest economic force. The desire to go well beyond what previous generations have created. To grow well beyond natural progression. The ability to reject the given and take some risks. This is what fires up widespread success. And in today’s global world, aspirations are proving to be limitless and global too. The equation therefore looks like this-
Enterprise = Social Aspiration x Environmental Support For Success
In my opinion, this should be the central debate going forward. Fortunately, for us today, Singapore has developed one of the best environments to incubate enterprise. It is now easily one of the three best places on planet earth to grow a business in; because here, supportive institutions don’t just drive - but accelerate entrepreneurial success.
But, how strong are we on the other side of this equation? Do we have the most aspirational minds to take advantage of this – and how can we get more? Where can we attract them from - and quickly? Circa 1960-90 - in the slower, more linear environs of the last century - the USA did exactly this. They used the hook of high quality tertiary education to get the world’s best and brightest lining up at American immigration counters.
In the 21st century, size will not matter as much, neither will location. National ambition, foresight, flexibility and risk taking will. On the enterprise scale, Singapore can become a top five player in Asia, if it opens it doors to global entrepreneurs looking for a place to drop roots.
So let’s de-link this debate. Some people will continue to track the demand and supply dynamics of Singapore’s workforce. How many construction workers do we need? What about cleaners? Or how many middle managers do those investment banks climbing skywards at Marina Bay need? While important, we shouldn’t confuse this with Singapore’s potential for enterprise leadership.
Just as the 20th century gave us social brands like The American Dream, Swiss Secrecy or Japanese Quality, is it now time for Singaporean Entrepreneurship?
Author Bio –
Gyan Nagpal, Author Talent Economics (Kogan Page, December 3, 2012).
Gyan is an award winning talent strategist and leadership coach, who is deeply invested in researching changes to the global talent pool. Currently based in Singapore, over the last decade he has helped some of the world’s largest organisations build significant business franchises across the Asia Pacific Region. As CEO and Principal at PeopleLENS Global Associates, Gyan trains and coaches leaders on their role as talent champions; and travels the world speaking on leadership and talent topics. You can follow his work at www.PLGAonline.com.