Create value with human ingenuity

I agree with Mr Ngiam Tong Dow's assessment that our failure to raise labour productivity is partly attributable to our inability to think outside the box ("From adding to creating value: The next frontier"; last Wednesday).

A new paradigm is required.

Singapore's economy has transitioned from labour-intensive activities with low added value to more technologically sophisticated forms of production, and eventually to high value-added manufacturing, banking and finance, and research and development.

Given our lack of natural resources, all of this progress has been underpinned by a carefully groomed pool of skilled labour and a pre-emptive push to adopt cutting-edge technologies and methods.

In a brave new world where other nations can just as easily replicate these desirable characteristics, Singapore must strive to stay one step ahead.

Therein lies the value in not just mere innovation, but ingenuity, the quality of being original and inventive.

The world of business tells us of the "first-mover advantage", whereby the first party to enter a given market segment is able to assert and consolidate its position before competitors can react, thereby gaining primacy.

Therein lies the value of ingenious concepts and solutions.

For example, the first Apple iPhone was assembled from technologies that had already made their way onto the market in one guise or another - touchscreen functionality, a compact mobile processor, and so on.

It was the ingenious manner in which these components were integrated, streamlined and French-polished that made the iPhone the first device of its kind, and rendered it an industry game-changer.

Likewise, the Singapore economy can leverage the power of ingenuity to retain the first-mover advantage and remain at the top of the game.

In order to implement this new strategy, we must begin from the ground up, first by reviewing the tertiary education system.

Memorisation and repetition of antiquated concepts will not suffice.

Ingenuity stems from an effective thought process. Therefore, students must be taught how to harvest information, marshal it into more useful forms, interpret the resulting data, draw their own conclusions rather than rely on those found in textbooks, and generate their own ideas.

When Singaporean workers think both within and outside the box, we create a culture that naturally aspires towards new horizons.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Create value with human ingenuity'. Print Edition | Subscribe