The culture of perseverance and hard work matters as much as innovation so bosses must play a part in instilling these values in their employees, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last night.
Mr Tharman said this approach was particularly important now as "there is less hunger" among the younger Singaporeans compared with 20 years ago.
"Something is changing in our new generation. Fewer believe in learning the ropes, taking time to develop skills on the job and working their way up," he noted at the Teochew Entrepreneur Award dinner held at the Ritz Carlton hotel.
Mr Tharman said this was a concern because, while technologies and innovation will remain the key driver for Singapore's economic future, "we will not become a truly innovative society, a place where people master skills in every job, if we lose a culture of believing in the value of perseverance, striving for our goals and learning and improving continuously on the job".
These old values still matter today and are highly relevant even for new-economy industries, where people do not succeed merely by having good ideas, added Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.
Restoring this culture in Singapore will start with children in school and continue through to tertiary education.
Mr Tharman said that the education system must evolve to help children figure out their interests and develop a passion for what they do because "working hard for exams does not always mean working hard in life".
He also challenged enterprises and employers to play a part.
"How many (employees) feel that they matter individually, each man and woman, to the enterprise and organisation? Why is employee motivation relatively low in Singapore?
"We must spend time to develop our people, individually, and give everyone a sense of opportunity if they work hard in careers, no matter where they start from.
"We must also develop a less hierarchical culture, one that empowers every individual and helps them see how their ideas, their experiments and their efforts to do the job well contribute to the whole enterprise."
About 1,000 guests attended the inaugural award dinner, where 28 entrepreneurs in the Teochew community - Singapore's second-largest Chinese ethnic group - were honoured for their achievements.
They included Ms Ng Wan Ching, founder of skincare product maker Porcelain, and Mr Lennon Tan, chief executive of financial technology firm Jing King Tech Group.
BreadTalk chairman George Quek - also the president of Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan which organised the event - urged successful Teochews to give back to the society and help build a better future for the next generations.