, Singapore

Secret for success: Think like the Rat

By Andrew Grant/ Gaia Grant

Despite the continued tales of economic woe internationally, Singapore and the whole of Asia in general are still focused on growth. Business professionals will need to take note of the trend to ensure they can contribute to strategic innovation and growth.

Singapore’s achievement and challenge
For the second year running, Singapore has joined with Switzerland and Sweden in taking the lead in overall innovation performance according to the 2012 Global Innovation Index.

Even though the government only recently began to recognise the importance of innovation, they are now providing significant amounts of funding to organisations to drive innovation, focusing on supporting entrepreneurs and increasing productivity in the workplace.

Apart from Singapore’s manufacturing sector, which has experienced a bit of a slump in recent months, other sectors are continuing to grow.

Dr Tan Khay Boon, Senior Lecturer at SIM Global Education says that, "Although the external environment for Singapore is still challenging, the domestic sector remains vibrant, supported by many construction projects and strong demand for tourism and hospitality services as year-end approaches.”

He adds that, "If the US can avoid the fiscal cliff and the situation in the EU does not worsen, Singapore should be able to avoid a technical recession.”

As Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratna believes, the challenge for Singapore going forward will be to restructure its economy to ensure sustained growth over the long-term so that Singapore can move “one whole level higher” in terms of productivity, skills, and expertise.

Staying ahead of the pack
So how is it possible to ensure your organization is engaged in proactive innovation to get that “one level higher”?

Consider the story of how the rat came to be part of the Chinese zodiac. According to traditional Chinese folklore, the rat is said to have won its position in the zodiac through its creativity, rather than through great physical or intellectual skill. I

In one story the Chinese tell, Rat found a way to compete and win the Jade Emperor’s race through guile. He succeeded in outwitting his friend Cat to enter the race, and during the race he rode on the back of Ox, considered the most tolerant, courageous and hardworking of all animals.

Just when the finishing line was approaching, Rat leapt over Ox's head to take first position.

By working smarter, not harder, Rat was able to stay ahead of the pack. Creative thinking allowed Rat to focus on and achieve his goal, and this is the approach that will help HR people navigate the challenges of the future.

In difficult economic times like these, innovation is considered to be the icing on the cake — a luxury you can afford to support only in times of plenty, when you are seeking ways to get a step ahead of the rest. But the pace of life has changed so much that innovation is now a core survival skill for HR— a necessity, not a luxury.

Innovate, don’t amputate
In order to simply to stay up with the rest, people at all levels of the organisation need to be able to think and act creatively, and organisations as a whole will need to live and breathe innovation. In an evolutionary twist, new adaptations must now emerge – not over thousands of years or at least generations, as they once did, but many times in a lifetime.

HR professionals in Singapore will need to start thinking ahead and moving ahead in cleverer and nimbler ways in order to help save their organisations from obsolescence.

Consider the following proactive innovation steps HR can take to ensure success beyond mere survival:

Move beyond talent management to leading strategic organisational growth

As Susan Albers Mohrman from the University of Southern California has explained, “A poorly designed organization is like a colander: you can pour top level talent and hours of effort into it, but much of this capacity will leak through the holes and/or be used up trying to plug the holes. A well-designed organization uses its talent effectively.

It limits the waste that occurs when valuable talent hours are used poorly and the frustration, cynicism and unnecessary withdrawal of the talent that HR works so hard to build.”

Focus on the opportunities for growth, not on the threats

Instead of focusing on the apparent threats and reacting to them, it will be better to focus on the opportunities for growth.

Elevate the importance of creative thinking as an essential work skill

Creativity must be fostered as an essential work skill in our contemporary competitive environment. In his Forbes article ‘Why does HR too often kill innovation?’, Karl Moore says, “We need a radically new mindset in many HR departments. They need to encourage managers to experiment.”

Ensure cost cutting measures are strategic, not reactive

Sudden reactive cuts, triggered by the fear of a recession or a one-off crisis, only frighten employees.

A Towers Watson survey of 700 HR executives in the US in 2009 revealed that it’s not easy to balance persistent pressures to cut costs with ongoing talent management needs, but that it is important, “to carefully assess people’s roles and contributions — especially in terms of their importance to the organization’s strategic focus and growth agenda — to ensure they’re not making cuts that could have an adverse impact on the business over time.”

Up until now the Singapore government has been quite successful in producing a complete ecosystem of research and development (R&D) and innovation, says Victor Tay, COO of Singapore Business Federation (SBF) – but he believes this "factory production process" must have the right ingredients of people, ideas, culture and education system, in order to move forward in creating "first-in-class products".

It will now be up to Singaporean individuals and organisations to ensure innovation is fully implemented at all levels.

Will it take a crisis for your organisation to learn the importance of innovation for growth, or will you be able to take the lessons from the Rat in order to help your organization to not only survive, but thrive? Despite the potentially overwhelming challenges ahead, growth and prosperity are still possible. It’s time to think creatively to get ahead.

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