1. Learning from Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

    January 23, 2014 by nick.halley


    By Professor Calestous Juma

    When history is said to repeat itself, it is never for good reasons. George Bernard Shaw captured this when he said: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience

    The question of whether nations can learn from history nag policymakers around the world. Part of the problem is that history is handed down through a variety of interpretations that do not reflect reality. But contemporary history, if genuine presented, can offer policy makers with lessons they can learn from.

    This is the central message in the book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World, by Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, with Ali Wyne. This is a contemporary account of Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking as told through a series of interviews.

    His central message is that history can repeat itself in a positive way if the world community pays attention to contemporary lessons. When Lee Kuan Yew took over as Prime Minister in 1959, Singapore’s annual per capital income was $400 and is now estimated at about $60,000.

    Singapore’s lessons for other developing countries have yet to be fully appreciated. This is partly because much of the discussion has tended to focus on rhetorical arguments about relationships between governance and economic growth.

    In fact, governance distinguished Singapore from its neighbors. As Lee Kuan Yew says: “They are not clean systems; we run clean systems. Their rule of law is wonky; we stick to it. We become reliable and credible to investors.”

    His key message on the driving force behind Singapore’s success is simple: “The quality of a nation’s manpower resources is the single most important factor determining national competitiveness. It is the people’s innovativeness, entrepreneurship, team work, and their work ethic that gives them that sharp keen edge in competitiveness.”

    He emphasizes the importance of knowledge in economic transformation but also rejects the classical separation between scholarship and entrepreneurship. “Those with good minds to be scholars should also be inventors, innovators, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs; they must bring new products and services to the market to enrich the lives of people everywhere.”

    This lesson from the evolution of Singapore’s educational system poses great challenges for most developing countries. They run outmoded educational systems that do not reflect the entrepreneurial demands of modern times.

    How to reform educational systems to keep pace with contemporary challenges is one the most important leadership lessons that developing countries can learn from Singapore. In stating that “demography, not democracy, will be the most critical factor for security in the 21st century,” Lee Kuan Yew emphasizes his belief in the supremacy of the quality of human capital.

    He connects this to three attributes that he considers vital for global competitiveness: entrepreneurship (seeking out opportunities and taking calculated risks); innovation (creating new products and processes that add value); and management (opening new markets and distribution channels).

    Probably the most enduring theme in Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership style and conviction is the role of learning. His vision of workers of the future reflects greater autonomy “to manage their own control systems, supervise themselves, and take upon themselves the responsibility to upgrade. They must be disciplined enough to think on their own and to seek to excel without someone breathing down their neck.”

    This lesson might appear to run counter to popular perceptions about Lee Kuan Yew’s own leadership style. But he expects the same kind of “creativity of the leadership, its willingness to learn from experience elsewhere, to implement good ideas quickly and decisively through an efficient public service.”

    In addition, he argues for a leadership style that can “convince the majority of people that tough reforms are worth taking, that decide a country’s development and progress.”

    One of the critical areas that require tough decisions include large infrastructure investments that lay the foundations for economic growth. Singapore built “world-class infrastructure…good communications by air, by sea, by cable, by satellite, and now over the Internet.”  But such long-term investments demand not only having long-term economic vision, but consistence and predictability in the rule of law.

    Lee Kuan Yew remains optimistic about the economic future of developing countries: “There is no reason why third world leaders cannot succeed…if they can maintain social order, educate their people, maintain peace with their neighbors, and gain the confidence of investors by upholding the rule of law.”

    To achieve success, these leaders must have Lee Kuan Yew’s determination, consistency, and persistence. They must set out to do something concrete and cannot just focus on the trappings of statesmanship. His advice is simple: “Anyone who thinks he is a statesman needs to see a psychiatrist.”

    For developing countries, history can repeat itself, but not necessarily in the caustically pessimistic way that Karl Marx describes when he said it repeats itself “first as tragedy, second as farce.” Lee Kuan Yew presents a more optimistic outlook. His insights are an important source of inspiration for present and future leaders.

  2. The Sponsor as the face of organisational change

    November 25, 2013 by nick.halley

    A large proportion of projects are not given enough executive level attention. Due to this, a large number of projects ultimately fail, as they move further and further away from the business’ core competencies, and strategic alignment between business and project breaks down. In order to overcome this, effective organizations recognize project sponsorship as a key part in any project. It is very important to have active sponsors who support change. Sponsors establish direction for the future, communicate through vision, and forge aligned, high performance teams.

    Dr. H. James Harrington, CEO and Douglas Nelson of Harrington Associates, have written a white paper explaining further how an effective sponsor, who sits at an executive level, can help eliminate the barriers to change and ensure the rapid and effective implementation of project outcomes. Commissioned by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the white paper, outlines characteristics and skills of a strong sponsor, including; power, sense of urgency, vision, public role, private role, and leverage. It includes a small but effective tool for assessing the suitability of a person for a sponsor role.

    The following statement from Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide (PMI, 2013b) provides the foundational concept for this whitepaper.

    “A sponsor provides resources required for change and has the ultimate responsibility for the program or project, building commitment for the change particularly at the senior management level across the organization. Direct responsibility and accountability for the change needs to be clearly defined and accepted at an appropriately high level within an organization. Consequently, the sponsor for a change effort should be someone who has sufficient authority, influence, power, enthusiasm, and time to ensure that any conflicts that could impede the change are resolved in a timely and appropriate fashion.”

    Read the white paper HERE hosted by PMI.

  3. Creativity: Finding Creative Space

    August 22, 2012 by admin
    Creativity is an essential part of innovation. Creativity requires the two sides of the brain working together; right side for imagination and the left side for logic and planning.Creativity is one of the best ways to set an organisation apart from its competitors therefore creativity is a core competency for leaders and managers.

    Many people think that creativity can’t be taught and either you have it or you don’t. Well, this is a wrong perception. Research shows that everyone has creative abilities and the more training received, the greater potential for creative output.

    One of the factors that improves creativity is setting up the right environment  for creativity.

    Below is an interesting article by James Harrington  about setting up a creative space.


    People often call on their creative powers only when they’re faced with a problem. This is unfortunate because underutilizing this gift results in a reactive rather than a proactive approach to creativity. Individuals need to develop and use both their proactive and reactive creative powers to make maximum use of their creative potential.
    Individuals or groups are motivated to become creative for different reasons. The most common are:
    • A significant emotional or traumatic event (e.g., your car doesn’t start in the morning, so you need to create a new way to get to work)
    • Playfulness, brainstorming, or listing new ways to come up with something (e.g., a new way to serve a hot dog, such as on a stick)
    • Systematic, purposeful creativity. The objective is to fill a void or come up with a better way to do something. It needn’t be playful or problem-solving in nature.
    • To satisfy a personal desire. Some individuals are driven to look at things in a different way, or they feel the need to be creative.
    Creativity can occur at any time and any place. Sometimes we’re very creative; at other times, it’s just impossible to pluck out an original thought. We can do a lot to prepare ourselves to become more creative. To become creative, the following three conditions must be present:
    • Time. Extra time is often required to develop and sell a creative solution that isn’t in line with an individual’s or organization’s culture.
    • Environment. It’s difficult to be truly creative when you’re continually interrupted by phone calls, questions, or children climbing onto your lap.
    • Success. Nothing gets Felix’s attention better than when we’re recognized because we come up with creative new solutions.
    Our emotions and actions are directed by our preconceived notions about the environment in which we find ourselves. We enter a library and begin to talk softly and move carefully. We go to a party and laugh and smile more. We go to work and become more conservative, reserved, and formal. This behavior is not only acceptable, it’s expected. We’ve been trained to conform to the expectations related to a given environment or situation.

    It’s a good idea to set aside a specific location where you can exercise your creativity. It doesn’t have to be a grand place: It could be a workbench in the garage or an old desk in the cellar behind the furnace. In my case, it’s a desk in a small back bedroom. The important thing is that in your mind – as well as in your family’s or business associates’ minds – it’s your space, and there are specific rules associated with it:

    • Rule 1: No interruptions are tolerated unless it’s an emergency.
    • Rule 2: The clean-desk policy doesn’t apply here. Don’t take time to organize the work area, and make it clear that it’s out of bounds to your spouse and or co-workers.
    • Rule 3: Make your creative place visual. Use lots of Post-its to write down your good ideas, and stick them up around your area. Make sketches and flow diagrams and put them on the walls, too. Put up interesting pictures and change them often. Your creative place should stimulate ideas, not impress others.
    • Rule 4: Create a relaxed atmosphere. Have a comfortable chair, one that you can lean back in while your mind goes blank and opens to creative thoughts. Have furniture that you can put your feet on. Choose a spot that’s not too hot or cold.
    • Rule 5: Have the right equipment. Be prepared to be flooded with new ideas. When they come, you need to be able to capture them rapidly. Things that can be useful are:
      • A computer
      • Lots of paper
      • Colored markers
      • A tape recorder
      • A CD or tape player
      • A filing system
      • A corkboard
      • A bookcase
    • Rule 6: Have a focal point. This is something that relaxes you when you look at it. It could be a window that you look out of or a small aquarium. An ocean scene or an abstract painting works well.
    Each person’s creative place is unique because it must fit into his or her individual personality. Does this mean that it’s the only place where you’ll be creative? No. It’s a lot like the treadmill you buy and put in your house to jog on. When you get on the treadmill, you don’t start eating a sandwich; you start to jog. Just because you have a treadmill doesn’t mean you can’t jog around the block.

  4. Web Services – Ultra Fast Broadband increases the demand for video

    August 15, 2012 by admin
     Taryn Hamilton, [1] from internet service provider Orcon, writes that in a bid to boost productivity the NZ government has committed $1.5 billion towards providing fibre optic cable to three quarters of Kiwi homes and businesses. The expected improvements in productivity, competitiveness and standard of living will come about by how businesses actually use the new technology to their advantage. In the UK and Europe higher broadband speeds have seen the uptake of watching video over the Internet skyrocket.  It is predicted that 90 percent of traffic growth on the Internet in the coming years will comprise video transmissions for both work use and for leisure viewing. Driven by video, Internet traffic is predicted to grow some 400 percent by the end of 2013 – which is not too far away!  In the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer radio and TV service recently accounted for between 20 and 25 percent of Internet traffic. A similar percentage of internet traffic was experienced by US, Netflix’ online TV and movie streaming services.  Cloud computing coupled with ultra fast broadband services have created an opportunity for businesses to minimise costs and improve productivity.

    [1] Hamilton, T., (2011), Get ready for UFB, NZ Business, Vol 25, Iss 6, p 53, Adrenalin Publishing Ltd., Auckland

    Neil Crawford


  5. What’s an Entrepreneur? The Best Answer Ever

    July 9, 2012 by admin
    According to dictionary.com an Entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. Wikipedia defines an entrepreneur as a person who is willing to help launch a new venture or enterprise and accept full responsibility for the outcome.But what does being an entrepreneur really mean? A risk taker? An innovative person? Or something else? If someone wants to be an entrepreneur, it’s very important to know the right ingredients of entrepreneurship in order to apply them to be a successful entrepreneur.

    When searching the internet you will find that the most commonly known characteristics of an entrepreneur are:

    • Risk takers: an entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.
    • Sacrifice: entrepreneurs also are willing to sacrifice. They give up family time and other personal time, they gave up the comfort and security that working for other people can give. A willingness to make decisions in the absence of solid data.
    • Creative: entrepreneurs are able to make connections between unrelated events or situations. Entrepreneurs often come up with new and simple solutions.
    • Determination: successful entrepreneurs do not believe that something cannot be done, they try again and again till success.

    There are a lot of articles on the internet on entrepreneurship and its definition and how to be an entrepreneur, one of the highly recommended to read is “What’s an Entrepreneur? The Best Answer Ever ” on Inc.com. The article suggests another definition to an entrepreneurship.

    “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”

    By focusing on entrepreneurship as a process instead of personal characteristics, the definition opens the term to all kinds of people to adopt.

    What do think? Do you agree with this definition?


    PS. Two great videos on what is an entrepreneur can be accessed here: