This week’s blog post features an early Siong Guan’s interview with ACS Echo, a quarterly magazine published by the ACS Board of Governors. Siong Guan was educated at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), Singapore, where he was the top student as well as head prefect. After graduating from ACS, Siong Guan he was awarded the President’s Scholarship to study at the University of Adelaide, Australia, where he graduated with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering in 1969.


Echo: Mr Lim, can you please share with us your experiences when you were schooling in ACS?

Mr Lim: ACS gave me a lot of opportunity for experience and exposure, be it in running societies, learning to work with others or lessons in leading. My time in the Boys’ Brigade (BB) was particularly impactful: I rose to the rank of Colour Sergeant and was the drum major. The BB was where I learnt how the demands on the leader means both taking on responsibility as well as offers a deep sense of fulfillment in doing something important and worthwhile through people and with people.


Echo: What were the forces that drove you to excel in school and to become a President’s Scholar?

Mr Lim: I never pushed to be top boy or President’s Scholar or anything. It was just a matter of doing as well as I could in whatever I had to do. This applied to every situation, whether in studies, prefectorial duties, helping fellow students, or whatever. I think too many people mistake “excellence” to mean “outstanding”. To me, “excellence” simply means being the best you can be. So if you are capable of 100 marks but scored 90, you have done only a 90% job; but if you are capable of 70 marks and scored 70, you have done a 100% job.


Echo: In school, did you have plans for a public service career?

Mr Lim: I am possibly one of the most “ambition-less” people you can find.  I certainly had no plans like wanting a career or other, I think most parents at that time felt that a public service career would always be a great idea because it offered security. We need to recognise that having a job was a most valuable thing for our parents, and so making sure their children had a good education so they could find a good job was the greatest contribution they could make for their children’s future.

How I landed up in the public service was straight and simple: there was no way I could have got to university, whether local or abroad, without a scholarship. My father was a taxi driver, my mother a schoolteacher. When I was offered a Colombo Plan Scholarship to Australia, it was a great opening for getting to university. It could just as well have been a scholarship to Canada or the United Kingdom or wherever. As they say, “beggars cannot be choosers”.

With the scholarship came a bond, which was ‘good’ as it meant you would have a ‘guaranteed job’. It never occurred to me that a bond was a burden or something to be broken.  When you take something from the government, it is totally fair to give back, no questions asked.  Incidentally, just to show how much the issue for me was simply to get a scholarship to university, I did not know where I would be going to in Australia when I left Singapore; the group of us went to Sydney, where we had a kind of introductory programme for a couple of weeks, and then only did I learn I would be going to the University of Adelaide.


Echo: Would you say that the ACS brand of education has something to do with preparing incumbents for a public service career?

Mr Lim: No. If we look at the list of Permanent Secretaries and CEOs of statutory boards, there are certainly many more not from ACS than there are from ACS. But there is one thing absolutely critical for me personally in my work, and that is the “fear of God”. I came to God through ACS, though people can come to God in a multitude of ways, and we all must very much hope that ACS is not the only way because the reach will be far too small.

The public service summarises its core values as Integrity, Service and Excellence. It is one thing to join the public service and subscribe intellectually and even by action to these values. It is another when you know that the driving force to observe those values in the way you lead your people run your organisation and relate to those around you, is the inner motivation based on being true to Jesus Christ and His Word. The statement I strive always to make in my words and my actions is: I can be trusted because I am a Christian; I seek to serve to the best of my ability because the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”. As a public officer, I must treat all people equally, irrespective of race, language or religion, but the drive to serve with excellence and the way I treat people comes from Christ.


Echo: What advice can you offer to our young students to help them chart their lives and careers?

Mr Lim: Learn all you can. Stop complaining. Do something. Look at difficulties and obstacles as opportunities to learn new things. You can never forever be on top. And you will never forever stay down. Be humble in achievement. Be circumspect in failure. Forgive. Honour your parents. God has given you talents. Do not waste them. Jesus loves you. Follow Him.


Echo: Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced in your illustrious career and what you have learned from them?

Mr Lim: Perhaps the most important thing I have learnt in all my years of work in the public sector is the centrality of people for all things, though I am sure this applies to all organizations, not only the government. People can make or break organizations. They can make the workplace either energizing and challenging, or enervating and boring. The deepest challenges are therefore leadership and the management of change. How can we create an environment where everyone is doing the best he or she can do, and feels there is the chance to be the best he or she can be?  This is a never-ending challenge, for which we have to recognise that people are not just physical and mental beings, but are also social, emotional and spiritual beings.


Echo: Do you have any advice to offer students aspiring for a career in the public service sector?

Mr Lim:  The public service offers wonderful opportunities for self-development and for contribution to your fellow citizens. Where else can you find the chance to do something that affects so many people in so many different ways for so many years into the future? If you keep chasing the material things of the world, or the things that simply are nice and convenient and comfortable to you, you will soon discover that life has little meaning and purpose because you are spending your time and energies on yourself. The sense of purpose and fulfilment lies in contributing to the lives of others. Be “inner-driven” but “other-centred”. Some will find the opportunities for this in the public sector, some in the private sector, some in the people sector. See where your aptitudes and interests lie.  But seek, most of all, to be sure that God will be pleased to find you wherever you are.





It was remarkable how many talks I gave last week: 6 talks in 6 days! 

On Monday, it was with a Cru group at the National University of Singapore, on Tuesday it was at the Annual General Meeting of the EDB Society, on Wednesday it was at the Institute of Policy Studies Corporate Associates Breakfast, on Thursday it was at U@live at the National University of Singapore for NUS students and alumni, on Friday it was the Straits Times Big Read Meet at the National Library Board Building for the general public, and on Saturday it was at the Annual General Meeting of the Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore).

While the approach and contents of my talk were different for each audience, one important common underlying point was about how we approach inheritance.

There are three ways we can handle inheritance.

The first is to say, “Wow, I am really lucky!  My grandfather left me this inheritance. I will spend it and enjoy myself.”

The second is to say, “My grandfather left me this inheritance.  It is so precious.  I have to lock it up and make sure no one steals it.”

And the third is to say, “This inheritance is so valuable.  I need to work at keeping up its value.”

Of course, the best is to benefit in all three ways. And it can be done: Invest to keep up the value, Invest in a way which is safe and secure, and Invest to yield ongoing income that can be enjoyed

This approach to inheritance can be applied to material inheritance – money, valuables, property, and so on. But it can just as well be applied to intangible inheritance – the environment, law and order, education, sound organisation, good leadership, critical values and principles, as well as a culture of honour as the foundation for the peace, harmony, stability, and well-being of Singapore.

To honour does not mean to always agree or to support blindly; to honour is to love, respect, esteem, value, and care for others in the spirit of integrity, other-centredness, and responsibility.

May we all have the wisdom to choose well, and the courage to do right!




I learnt various things at the conference in Beijing (that I had mentioned in my previous blog), even while I enjoyed facilitating the many discussions on life and living. 

Here are a few the more memorable learnings:

(1) Strengthening relationships:  The 5:1 Principle

  • There needs to be at least 5 times as many positive moments as negative moments if a marriage is to be stable
  • It is a question of balance: a marriage needs positivity to nourish love
  • Couples heading towards break up do far too little on the positive side to compensate for the growing negativity between them

(2) Aristotle on Excellence:

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intensity, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

(3) SUMO = Shut Up and Move On

  • Stop talking and get something done!

(4)  Advice on making decisions in life:

  • What are your options?
  • Which option is best for you?
  • What are your reasons for thinking so?
  • Are your reasons good enough for you to choose that option?

(5) Was Tiger Woods Talented or Hardworking?

  • His father gave Tiger a putter when he was seven months old.
  • Before he was two, he and his father were on a course practising regularly.
  • Both father and son attribute Tiger’s success not to talent, but to “hard work”.

(6) Steve Jobs on Wealth:

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . that’s what matters to me.”

(7) Success & Failure

John F Kennedy in his last speech to the Massachusetts Legislature on 9 January 1961: “When at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us . . . our success or failure in whatever office we hold will be measured by the answers to four questions:

  • Were we truly men (and women) of courage . . . ?
  • Were we truly men (and women) of integrity . . . ?
  • Were we truly men (and women) of judgment . . . ?
  • Were we truly men (and women) of dedication . . . ?”

Marbles And Sweets



I spent last weekend in Beijing as a speaker at an event for selected students of Peking University, and as a facilitator in their small group discussions. I was asked to speak on the topic of “Life of Integrity”, which I began with a story on sweets and marbles:

“There was this boy who had a great collection of marbles and this girl with her collection of sweets. Each looked at what the other had and was envious. So they agreed on an exchange:  the boy to give the girl his marbles, and the girl to give her sweets.

On the night before the exchange, the boy went through his marbles to pack them off in a bag.  He came across a marble which was particularly attractive. He decided to hide it under his bed.  Then he came across another marble, and again decided to hang on to it.  He packed off the rest of his marbles.

The girl also went through her sweets and put them all into a bag for the next day.

The day of the exchange arrived.  Each gave to the other what had been packed.

That night, the girl was so happy with her new collection of marbles. She went off to a pleasant sleep. 

The boy looked at his collection of sweets and said, ‘I wonder whether she had given me all her sweets.’ He could not get to sleep, weighed down by the thought that the girl might not have been honest with him.”

Thus ends this story about integrity: Oftentimes, what we wonder of others is basically a reflection of ourselves. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the wonderful golden rule taught by Jesus Christ. “Do not do unto others what you would not want them to do unto you” is the wisdom of Confucius.

Integrity runs in the veins of those who want to have peace of mind in a trusting relationship with others.


Little Red Dot

On my recent quick trip to the United States, I had the opportunity and privilege to meet Singaporeans in San Francisco and speak about Singapore’s Financial Reserves and GIC. I had given much the same talk in the past to Singaporeans in Shanghai, New York, and London. There is no escaping knowing them to be Singaporeans once they begin to speak: It is the expressions and the welcome of home. All the Singaporeans invariably think of home, not just their memories of their childhood but their hopes for Singapore to be a great place – the best place – for Singaporeans. Singapore is a point of honour for them, an idea to defend, a home to protect, and a future to secure.

To understand why financial reserves are so important to Singapore, we need to understand geography and history. Less than 20 years ago, a foreign leader referred to Singapore as the Little Red Dot, a point Singaporeans should not be forgetting. If we look at a map of the world, Singapore fits into the letter “o” in its name, unlike many countries whose names fit nicely into their geographical boundaries on the map. And unlike some other small states, we have no natural resources. We are a little dot among states with large land areas and large populations. While Singaporeans may not like to be reminded of this, it nonetheless holds true that “no one owes us a living” and “no one else is responsible for our security.”

And to understand more deeply the need for large financial reserves, we need to remember history. Not everyone learnt history in school, and many who did stopped learning Singapore history in Secondary Four, if not earlier in Secondary Two. While there is the annual reminder on National Day of Singapore’s independence and sovereignty, what an adventurous and risky course Singapore took to “leapfrog” the immediate neighbourhood to link up to the whole world as our economic hinterland is often unspoken, perhaps little understood or even unknown by many Singaporeans.

The point about history is not to hold us back and hold us to the past – it is to give us context for what we need to do to make Singapore a great place for Singaporeans. We cannot escape our geography, but we can make good use of history to create a worthy future for ourselves and our families. It is a whole tapestry about Konfrantasi, water, sand, granite, and food.

When we know our history, we can be clearer about requiring our children to grow up with the capacity for thought, enterprise, and self-confidence to make a Singapore for their time.  In addition, we will understand why business in Singapore needs to have its unique capacity for competing on the world stage founded on values of integrity, quality, reliability, imagination, responsiveness, and an unending drive for excellence.

I explained GIC as the fund manager for Singapore’s financial reserves, with the task of preserving and enhancing the value of the reserves, and of helping to contribute towards the government budget each year. The government is allowed to use up to 50 percent of the Net Investment Returns, calculated on the basis of expected long-term real returns multiplied by the net assets (that is, after deducting the liabilities like the special government securities that have been issued to the Central Provident Fund Board). For the next Financial Year, the government is taking into the expenditure budget a sum of $8.1 billion from the Net Investment Returns, which amounts to two percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

GIC ranks among the large sovereign wealth funds in the world with well over USD100 billion under the management of GIC. It invests in a whole slew of asset classes – equities, debt, real estate – in both the public and private markets, and in both developed and emerging markets across the world. It is headquartered in Singapore with eight overseas offices in Beijing, London, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo. A ninth office is also about to open in Sao Paolo.

An important question is how much of foreign reserves is enough. Obviously, the greater the needs and the more Singapore buys from the world, the larger the foreign reserves need to be. Thus an appropriate balance needs to be struck between spending on the current generation and keeping resources for future generations. The way this is done at present is the Singapore Constitution allowing the government to use up to 50 percent of the long-term real returns for ongoing expenditure, with the rest retained for continuing investment for the benefit of future generations.

Geography and history dictate the wisdom of Singapore maintaining a significant level of financial reserves in order to assure the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and independence of Singapore. 

For GIC to do its job well, we need a continuing flow of talent to perform the investment functions with skill and competence, and also to support the investment operations with efficiency and effectiveness. To this end, GIC offers about five scholarships each year for undergraduate studies anywhere in the world, and also runs an annual GIC Professionals Programme for up to 20 new who have just graduated from university or who have worked for up to 3 years after graduation.

In addition, GIC offers internships for large numbers of undergraduates each year so that they may get familiar with what GIC is about and can then decide whether they wish to consider a career in GIC.

More information is available on the GIC website: Enquiries from students and parents on the GIC Undergraduate Scholarships, GIC Professional Programme and GIC internships are always welcome:



I just read a book “Loving Our Kids on Purpose – Making a heart-to-heart connection” by Danny Silk. The book makes many good points about raising children. I thought it would be useful, particularly for those with children of any age or those hoping to have children, to quote just a small selection from its pages.

“Taking good care of our children begins with learning to take care of ourselves. This is what we learn every time we get on an airplane. When flight attendants go through their spiel, they are explaining what to do if there’s a drop in cabin pressure: Put your oxygen mask on first and then help your kids and neighbours get theirs on. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t last long trying to take care of another person. You have to have a high value for taking good care of you! Somewhere along the road, somebody taught us that a worn-out, burnt-out, frustrated, bitter parent is a good one. Somehow that’s holy and noble. Actually, it’s a sign that you’re not getting enough oxygen.

“In order to take care of ourselves, we need to learn how to set up healthy boundaries with our children. We need to put a fence around our yard, complete with a gate.

“Passive parents have no fence around their gardens because the passive relational style says, ‘Your needs matter; mine don’t.’ Often, these parents struggle to get a respectful response form their children because they’ve done a good job communicating to their kids that they do not respect themselves. Their own needs are not important to them, so why would the children value what their parents need in the relationship? 

“There are also parents who are more aggressive and teach their kids that it’s the children’s job to keep a safe distance from them. They have an electric fence around their garden. Get too close and you’ll get zapped.Their aggressive style says, ‘My needs matter; yours don’t.’ 

 “But neither of these styles is what we want to teach our children because in both cases, someone is being disrespectful. We want them to learn that in a healthy, respectful relationship, the needs of both of us matter.

“Another key to setting healthy boundaries is telling those around you what you will be doing instead of trying to get others to do something for you. As parents, it is easy to get into the routine of barking out commands. ‘Pick that up!  Come here. Stop being so noisy. Be nice to your brother!’ Our homes are filled with the illusionary practice of controlling each other. But since we no longer believe in that hocus pocus, what then shall we do? Begin telling others what you will do instead. Practise being powerful by controlling something you do control, namely, yourself. Say things like, ‘I will listen to you when your voice is as soft as mine. Take your time.’  Or, ‘I will manage your fight with your brother, just like a referee. Only I charge ten dollars each for each fight I referee.  Ready?  Go!’ When we make these statements, we have the ability to enforce what we say is important to us, and it doesn’t require other people to give us control over them.  We simply control what we can control.”

It seems to me the idea of simply controlling what we can control can be applied to many more situations at work and at home than how to deal with quarrelling children. Other-centredness does not mean simply giving in to others. Other-centredness is fundamentally about mutual respect.   



My 5-year old granddaughter asked me, “What is chewing gum?” She had picked up the word “chewing gum” from a book.

How am I to answer the question? I could show her pictures. I could describe to her what it is like. But the most basic point is that chewing gum is the experience? How could I adequately teach her what chewing gum is without including the most important point, which is the experience of chewing gum? But chewing gum has been banned in Singapore for more than a decade because of the public nuisance it was causing with irresponsible people putting the gum on seats, throwing them on the floor, and even disrupting train services when the doors could not shut properly when gum was inconsiderately placed between the train doors.

Thinking about this made me think about trying to bring about change in organisations. Often there is resistance to the change because people consider it unnecessary, inappropriate, or impossible to achieve. Most often it is due to an inability to visualize the benefits of the change. We can imagine what we would lose much better than we can imagine what we would gain. The benefit of change is about a new better experience. But how do we explain the experience when the change has not been done? Much too much energy is wasted arguing about the unsuitability or impossibility of a change, instead of getting on with the change, and then evaluating the worthiness of the change through actual experience. Companies that entertain such argument for too long can never be winners or leaders.

As pointed out in the book THE LEADER, THE TEACHER & YOU, Change is a matter of Leadership and the role of Leadership is Change.  Leadership us about making (good) things happen that on their own would not happen. Organizations should adopt a “learning by doing” approach. Make progress by trying rather than arguing.

Of course change is a challenge. Machiavelli said about change and innovation: “And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful of success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have as his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new until they have seen it proved by the event.”

On the other hand, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, once First Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, has said, “The only way to avoid making mistakes is not to do anything. And that, in the final analysis, will be the ultimate mistake.”

The only way to really know what chewing gum is all about is to chew gum, just like the only way to really know what change is all about is to change!




have been speaking on global leadership at the stars Singapore Symposium.  I had spoken three times previously on leadership at stars Symposiums, twice at the quaint medieval city of Stein am Rhein in Switzerland, and once in the seaside Chinese city of Penglai in Shandong province. The Symposium was held for the first time in Singapore over the period 16 to 19 February 2014.

The stars Symposium is positioned as the leadership development “Symposium for Leaders of the Next Generation.” I was attracted to it because I think it is an extremely smart idea, and since it is managed by a Swiss foundation – the stars Foundation – I expect it to be of high quality and reliability. 

Many programmes around the world are run for people who have already reached senior levels in companies and organisations; but stars Symposiums are organised for participants who are up-and-coming – they are nominated by chairmen and CEOs of their organisations because of their superior performance and high potential. 

I find the stars not only exciting for its content, but also for its very extensive global network of alumni comprising participants and speakers of the nine Symposiums that have been held thus far. Because I believe in the mission of the stars Foundation, I have agreed to serve on its International Board.

The Symposiums help to prepare the “Leaders of the Next Generation” by:

•             Enhancing a better understanding of the economic, scientific, political, cultural, and social challenges that will impact businesses and organisations in the next 5-10 years,

•             Broadening their horizons through interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue with peers and global leaders from all fields, and

•             Contributing to their personal development to drive responsible choices and sustainable actions. 

The stars Symposiums have some very distinctive features. Each Symposium has about 100 international participants, aged 35-45 years old, mainly from Business but also from Science, Politics, Culture, NGOs,  and Media.  The programme is highly interactive, with an inspiring slate of speakers addressing the issues that would shape the evolving future, issues like demographics, technology, economics and politics. Its alumni of participants and speakers now total close to a 1000 from more than 75 countries. The annual Symposium at Stein am Rhein focuses on global challenges and trends, the one in Singapore focuses on global and Asia-specific developments and challenges, and the programme in China focuses on global and China-specific developments and challenges.

I believe the stars Symposiums represent an excellent opportunity for companies and organisations all over the world to expose their next generation leaders to big ideas for the future, as well as build up their global network of contacts. And Singapore with 37,400 international companies, including 3,200 from China, 4,400 from India, 7,900 from ASEAN (ex-Singapore) and more than 7,000 MNCs from developed countries (60% with HQ functions) would be a wonderful place for international companies to expand the horizons, perspectives, knowledge, and networks of their key staff through the stars Singapore Symposium.


You can find more information about stars here:



The Swiss Pilot



Davos, where I attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the end of January, is, of course in Switzerland. Switzerland is a beautiful country of snow and mountains, though I do not like the cold much. Driving me around was a wonderful Swiss who flies Lufthansa cargo planes but makes a point of taking leave every year during the WEF season to drive WEF participants around. So for a week he stops flying to New York and Atlanta, and instead drives between hotels and meeting places, because he finds it interesting to meet people and soak to some extent the excitement and busyness of Davos. I wonder if any Singaporean would see life in a similarly open, curious, and venturesome manner!

As we were driving to Zurich airport, I contemplated the inspiring scenery of the Alps and remarked that people have said “Switzerland is God’s country.” “How,” I asked, “could anyone see such rugged, powerful beauty, and yet believe there is no god?” 

“Yes,” my driver said, “And he did a good job!”  

We laughed, but how true: God does a good job!

I recall a meeting in Davos with a Swedish company. We observed how Sweden and Finland were so good in design and engineering: both countries are the home of SAAB, Ericsson, Ikea and Nokia, among other well-known international names. How did this come to be? Our Swedish friend said, simply, “Because we are Lutherans: we work hard.”  

The reference to Lutherans is a reference to what is often called the “Protestant work ethic” that states: “work hard, save well, do a good job.”  To me, it is a very interesting point, that the capacity and willingness to work hard defines the culture of a nation and paves the way for success.  

Perhaps there is something about small countries, whether it be small land mass or small populations, that the sense of vulnerability and need for sovereign independence leads to enterprise and the spirit of drawing together, studying hard, and working hard.

Some closing observations on Switzerland. Almost every three months they have a referendum on something or other, where every Swiss citizen gets to vote on some national issue.  Every so often they vote on whether to stop having national service: each time they have chosen to keep national service. And those who fail to perform their annual in-camp training of 21 days a year have to pay an extra tax amounting to three percent of their annual income – not a small sum! Such is the Swiss conviction that they themselves have to defend their land and their independence.  

Even more interestingly, recently they had referendums on whether to lower the number of working hours a week to the mid-30s, and to increase the number of public holidays a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the Swiss but surprisingly for the rest of the world, they voted against both the changes! My Swiss pilot explained that both measures meant less work hours, so who is going to pay the extra taxes to make up for the loss in productivity?

The mentality of the Swiss is one that we would all do well to espouse…for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, and for our country’s sovereignty. 

The “Digical” Revolution: Sharings from the World Economic Forum


I was in Davos recently attending the World Economic Forum.

One session I attended addressed the “digical” revolution, as meaning changes taking place in the digital and physical worlds, and how they interact with each other.

A speaker said that to get a sense of tomorrow, he recently took his family to Disneyworld, where electronics and robots have been cleverly brought together for surprising entertainment. Yet the longest queue was not for the rides, but the kids lining up for a hug by a princess. The point is that human beings live in the dimension of the physical and emotional.

As a signboard at Davos prominently said, technology does not change the world – people do. What and how to use technology is our choice.

Another speaker spoke very thoughtfully about how innovation comes into our lives. He remarked that looking back at history, innovations that take root are where they replace “non-consumption” rather than “consumption“.  

Take the example of the transistor. For a long time, engineers tried to re-engineer radios by trying to use transistors in place of valves. This did not succeed, whether it be for reason of novelty or reliability in the early days of the transistor. The transistor took hold as an innovation good for life when Sony introduced the transistor radio. Suddenly the teenagers could each carry around their own music, even though the sound quality was not that great in the early transistor radios – the important thing was it gave the youngsters mobility and independence. Improvements came later, and today valves hardly play a role in the life of any ordinary home. It was a case of a new innovation gaining acceptance by establishing a foothold in “non-consumption”, namely, consumers who never had radios, rather than by replacing valves for those who already had radios.

Another observation concerned electric cars. Huge efforts have been going into trying to directly replace the petrol-driven cars. Yet the most successful introduction had been with hybrid cars. No doubt, as the technology improved (especially with battery technology), newer models of cars would come about. On the other hand, like the transistor radio, if a consumer market could be found that required only short distance travelling and did not require cars to go at very high speeds, electric cars could be expected to “take off”.  Is there such a potential market?  Perhaps there is, if we think in terms of simply driving around in the immediate neighbourhoods rather than long distances with their demands of endurance and speed. Think about what is the most popular development in China today: motorised bicycles! Could we imagine the future as evolving from today’s motorised two-wheelers to three-wheelers and then the four-wheelers we call cars?

The speaker also mentioned how the steamships for cross-ocean travel came about. When the steam engine was first applied to ship propulsion, they were not found or perceived to be reliable enough for cross-ocean travel. So for many years the sailing ships held sway, while the steam engine became increasingly used for ships moving up and down rivers where issues of reliability were not so severe or life-threatening as land was always nearby. The steam engine was increasingly installed on cross-ocean ships as back-ups and auxiliary power for several decades, until engineering and technology caught up in terms of cost and reliability.

The point in these illustrations is that innovation has most succeeded where applications first induce or replace “non-consumption” rather than directly replace existing consumption.

Perhaps such an understanding also apply to organisational development, where the first changes are in “hybrid” mode rather than full replacement, and people get comfortable with change through an approach of “evolution in execution, revolution in results”…