Vital to 'join the dots' to see bigger picture

One of the common drawing exercises that children do is "joining the dots".

It is a journey of discovery for a child as he connects the dots in the right order to see a meaningful picture emerge.

The overall effect of this exercise is the ability to see connections not visible to the casual observer, and to appreciate how smaller, individual parts are related to the bigger picture.

But this simple ability seems to be missing in some who work in the public sector as planners and policymakers. They appear unable to join the dots and, thus, seem to have one-dimensional thinking and solutions.

To illustrate, take the incident of the two trains that collided at Joo Koon MRT station last year after a new signalling system was implemented. Had the people in charge of the project "joined the dots" to the old system, they would have been alerted to the possibility of complications arising from two different signalling systems working simultaneously.

The replacement of ElderShield with CareShield Life to provide for better disability care is another example of an apparent failure to join the dots.

Had those responsible for planning studied the implications and profitability of such a scheme when it was first introduced, they would have seen the advantage of not outsourcing it to private insurers.

Now, the reverse problem of convincing the public that the revised scheme is better has not been well received.

The recent cyber attack, where the personal data of 1.5 million people was stolen, is another example of a failure to see the dots joining up, as people routinely use their NRIC numbers as their login IDs and passwords to access government e-services.

The list goes on.

It is not meant to be judgmental, but to highlight the need to think more comprehensively.

One way that the people in charge can do better is by exercising the ability to "join the dots" to form a more complete understanding of issues when formulating and implementing policies and projects.

Hopefully, this essential skill of seeing connections that others might miss would be acquired more deliberately and become more transferable in the workplace.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2018, with the headline 'Vital to 'join the dots' to see bigger picture'. Print Edition | Subscribe