Monday, 10 August 2015

What does it mean to possess the "pioneering" spirit?

This year's NDP was a remarkable and momentus event. With Singapore celebrating its 50th year of independence, all stops and expense caps were lifted, and the festivities were launched in full flow.  The propaganda machine was cranking overtime, with celebrations (rightly so, in my humble opinion) focused on the development and progress of our island nation since its humble inception, the efforts of the pioneer generation in establishing and contributing to Singapore's progress.

Much has been said about the spirit of the pioneer generation, and how it has enabled Singapore to notch its laudable achievements in a relatively short span of time. So what exactly is the this "pioneering spirit" that the foundations of this country was constructed with?

Like any other concept, I do feel that there are many facets to this "pioneering spirit", but my interpretation is that this spirit revolves around the fundamental premise of "daring to fail". No doubt lots of determination, hard work, blood, sweat and tears ensued from our pioneers, the striking thing is that the leaders of that generation dared to pursue their vision for our country. Essentially, they went forth with a "nothing to lose" spirit, so why not go full steam ahead, do your best and see what happens. If it doesn't work, then let's head back to the drawing board and let's see what we can do to solve the issue.

(Look, obviously there was something to be lost then, it's not as if Singapore was a new settlement in your version of Sid Meir's Civilization 1965, but when you are pretty much a somewhat nascent political party that has been through massive political upheavals and turmoil during those times, I would think that might make for a rather qualified opinion as a party with "nothing to lose".)

Perhaps the circumstances at that time allowed for that motto to be widely adopted. After all, if you possess neither riches nor reputation, chances are you'll be more open to attempt and scale new challenges, to grasp issues by the neck, in order to progress. I guess with the advent of politics and the overall progress we have seen over the last 50 years, there's much more to lose than if you try something and fail miserably. The labels that Singapore has been accorded (first world country, high education standards, etc) have not made it easy for business, political and societal innovation as well. What if our leaders try out something new and it fails? It doesn't help that the incentive system makes sense for folks to adopt a "don't rock the boat" mentality, but that's another topic for another day...

Yes, I do acknowledge that there have been new policies that have not worked out so well, but what I'm attempting to convey is my sense that our country has become either more afraid, or apathetic towards the notion of developing themselves, for the sake of maintaining a facade, that you know says, "look, we've solid, we've not failed before". You can see pervasive examples all around you. Why choose a neighborhood school instead of a brand name school? Why try your luck at launching your business instead of being a corporate lawyer? Take the safe route that has proven to yield success at the end of the day. Conform to societal expectations. Don't end up a failure by trying out this new path, These are the messages that have been instilled in the younger generation of Singaporeans these days.

It's hard to change the way society has been programmed. You can't change the societal fabric and culture, you have to set the right incentives and punishments in order for the culture to evolve naturally over a couple of generations. And how should one do so? Well I'm not paid S$2 -3 million dollars a year, so let our top dollar ministers figure it out. :p that's a common rebuttal from any political critic, and is very much an easy route out to take, but hey, seriously when you get paid that kind of money, you expect top drawer results and things not to mess up. Like when you buy Robin Van Persie for GBP20m, you expect him to produce the goods, which he did. The problems of incentives, expectations, and the natural selection of executable actions - we'll come to that some other day. Anyhow I digress.

I don't have readily available answers on how to effect change towards a more "daring to fail" spirit that our pioneer generation possessed. What I do have are some possible solutions on effecting change as a personal level.

One is to constantly develop your thoughts on how you would react if you happen to lose everything overnight - yes, everything. Your capital, your family, your friends, your little luxuries. How would you react and feel in that situation?  It's tough and calls for what may seem like a ludicrous fantasial thought process, but one would eventually start to live more simply, which would allow you to take massive chances whilst protecting your downside (which would be way less expensive to maintain. Hey, a man who could live on beans would be able to have explore much more opportunities than a man that needs to live on a diet of grass fed michelin starred steak no?). The other side benefit is that one would be more grateful for what he currently possesses, which may increase his standard of living.

Another is to adopt more of a growth oriented mindset, instead of a fixed mindset, towards living. Instead of the natural focus to protect ones ego and keep your reputation intact (at least to your own self in most cases), developing a growth oriented mindset calls for the focus on the process and development of ones skills through undertaking challenging tasks, instead of just focusing on the end results. By doing so, you'll end up leveling up different facets of your character and personality and gain satisfaction from doing the work that allows you to get there, instead of a more binary satisfaction granting process when you either get the result you want or don't. Ever hear of the phrase that says "the process is always more important than the result" - yes, that's the hallmark of the growth mindset. With this mindset, failure is just one more rung up the levels of development, instead of an attack to your current status.

I don't endeavour to change our society. My only drive is to be a better person when I go to sleep each night, hopefully through learning something new each day, from every interaction and every chance that I have. That, itself, is a big enough task for any individual to undertake. And with that, I do hope to be able to instill some of the "daring to fail" spirit the pioneer generation possessed in my character, to push my boundaries and live life more fully.

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