Mindset change vital to produce innovators

An office worker at Raffles Place.
An office worker at Raffles Place. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ongoing discussions in the media and in public forums all agree that we need to go beyond the formal education system to produce more all-rounded students who can think out of the box, be more curious, creative and self-reliant, and take risks, even though they may occasionally be confronted by failures in their pursuits.

In particular, recent Forum letters ("Embracing failure part of Silicon Valley's success" by Mr Seah Yam Meng; Wednesday, and "Sense of curiosity needed for innovation" by Miss Lee Kay Yan; last Saturday) have reinforced the necessity for these intangible, but nevertheless vital, values that will contribute to bringing out a much-needed entrepreneurial and innovative streak that is lacking in Singapore.

What is sometimes not recognised by our education system is that students require holistic education to be able to be innovative and help solve real-life problems that do not come with labels attached.

This is why we cannot yet boast of having our own home-grown inventors, innovators, world record-breaking athletes, and world-renowned artists, musicians or singers.

The question we often ask ourselves is why, with a healthy business environment, a vibrant economy and hard-working people, we are still unable to build an entrepreneurial and innovation-centred culture.

Is it because we have mollycoddled our children into achieving top academic grades without being able to consider creative life solutions?

Have we distributed social benefits and handouts too liberally so that the need for initiative and self-reliance is reduced?

Why is there an over-emphasis on career-safe jobs and materialistic pursuits at the expense of experimentation, challenging norms, embarking on risky ventures, and developing passions and desires that would create a greater impact on society?

Why do we frown upon experimentation and the possibility of failure?

Fortunately, this concern is being addressed by the Government, with definitive measures and incentives for greater entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and value-creating skills in schools, universities, polytechnics, and workplaces.

The school system should allow students to develop a passion for entrepreneurship, financial management tools, business models and creative thinking that would encourage autonomy and independence, innovation and creativity, as well as risk-taking.

Our greatest challenge is to create a strong, sustaining entrepreneurial culture. A mindset change towards greater risk-taking is needed that will tolerate or even celebrate failure, and support alternative avenues for, and perceptions of, success.

The spirit of entrepreneurship, risk-taking and acceptance of failures will greatly benefit from mature, high-level thinking and change in our social policies.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Mindset change vital to produce innovators'. Print Edition | Subscribe