Embrace change or be left behind

"Disruption" has become a hot buzzword in almost every sector.

From taxis to retail and media, new technologies are displacing old methods of doing things at a faster pace than ever before, and companies and individuals have had to scramble to keep up.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech that disruption will be a "defining challenge" for Singapore's economy in the coming years. Mr Lee said the country must opt to embrace change, and highlighted three key focus areas: Helping firms move into the digital space, supporting entrepreneurs and helping workers develop new skills. The Committee on the Future Economy - a task force formed to retool Singapore for the future - is working on this, he added.

Disruptive innovation is hardly new - Henry Ford's Model T car is an oft-cited example. This horseless carriage changed the face of transportation and the concept of mass production overnight.

Similarly, thumb drives, which took over from CDs in the data storage industry, have since been disrupted by the cloud.

What is unprecedented is the sheer speed of change roiling today's economy, which means no industry will be immune.

These challenges have not been easy for companies and workers to manage, especially amid an economic slowdown that has weighed on earnings and curtailed expansion plans.

While it is almost impossible to predict what the next big disruptive technologies will be, having a nimble and adaptable mindset is already half the battle won.

Not all of us can become the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, but approaching problems with an entrepreneurial attitude can yield fresh ideas and solutions, even within existing job scopes.

Singapore must embrace these changes - and, indeed, aim to become the source of disruptive innovations - or risk being left behind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Embrace change or be left behind'. Print Edition | Subscribe