Creating "Bamboo Innovators" in Singapore


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Creating "Bamboo Innovators" in Singapore

  1. 1. Publication: The Straits Times, p A21Date: 1 April 2013Headline: Creating bamboo innovatorsin SporeUncertain conditions can breed innovativebusinesses, where risk-taking educators nurture flexible students.Creating -bambooinnovators inBy KEE KWN BOONFOR THE STRAITSTIMES"CAN mykidwatchhow you milkcows?""Can my kidsee how vouprint the newspaper?"These were questions asked byIsraeli inventor and entrepreneurGil Shweds mother when shetook him on educational "adven-ture trips"whenhe wasyoung,ex-posinghim to a dairyfann,a print-ing house, and his fathers officein 1972, whereat agefivehe saw acomputer for the first time.He soon signed up far compu-ter classes at age nine, a summerc&g jab at 12, aid took compu-ter science classes at the HebrewUniversity while still in highschool.Unlike his career-mindedpeers, Mr Shwed persisted withan idea first cooked up during hismilitary conscription: building atype of computer security soft-ware that linksup computer net-works in a way that would allowsome users access to confidentialmaterials while denying access toothers. He embarked upon theproject with two friends after ar-my conscription and without thesecurity of "proper" jobs.By 1994, the trios Firewallproduct won fhe best softwareaward at 3computer show, vindi-cating a venture capital firmsfaithin Mr Shweds vision. CheckPoint Software Technologies list-ed on Nasdaq in 1996. Its marketvalue today has jumped 12-fold toUS$lO billion (S$12.4 billion).Binding thetrio together was apioneering ethos where "educa-tion" with a "bitzulism" qualitywas at itsheart.A bitzuPist.isaHe-brew word that loosely translatesto 4pragmatist"with a resilientquality, like bamboo that bendsbut does not break in the wildeststormswhen even oak trees snap.Thebitzutististhe "builder,the ir-rigator, the pilot, the gun-mner,the settler all rolled into oneyt.Mr Shwed thinks of his homecountry Israel as a "start-up na-tion". "Wemanaged to create acounhy from zero. Weve had anentrepreneurialspirit forover 100years. One thing that really helpsus here isthat we dont have a lo-calmarket."Surrounded by hostile neigh-bows and with few natural re-sources,Israelhasthehighestden-sity of start-ups in the world,with one for every 1,800 Israelis.With a population of 7.7 millionwith 70 differentnationalities,Is-raelis think globallywhencreatingproducts and innovative firms.Developing human capital isthe key to growing the Israelieconomy. Its education system isnot about chasingafter instrumen-tal achievementssuch as "grades"or a "checklid-based holisticcur-riculum vitae" or "high gradua-tion salary". The education sys-teminIsraelismade market-rele-vant when plugged into an uniqueecosystemthat constantlysearch-esfor and supportsinnovativeide-as and new products to help build"bamboo innovator" companiessuch as Check Point.In "Singapore version 1.0s"growth since independence, theeducation system is meritocratic,highlycompetitiveand ustamlard-isedl,liftingthe technicalcornpe-tenceandsocialmobility of Singa-poreans to fit multinationalcom-panies (MNCs) with their ex-port-oriented strategies.This is augmented by highervalued-added servicesfromlogis-tics, shipping and maritime sup-port tolegal, finance and account-ing, generatinghigh wages to beatinflationary pressures. &Educa-tion 1.0" is about meeting theneedsof capableMNCswhichcon-nect Singapores small, open=on-times. A productive "bamboowworker is one who, when a windblows away hisMNC title and po-sition,can still remain aresilientinnovator to create value becausehe has that intangible quality thatis indestructible.MNCs are concernedabout theSingapore workforce lacking theinitiative and innovativeness de-sired by knowledge-based hdus-tries, thus creating a barrier to abreakthrough in wages and pro-ductivity. It isthe hollow "empti-ness" in its centre - the inti@-bles - that gives bamboo greatstrength and flexibility jna ragingstorm.The Singapore workforceis ac-- SolirrrT- cumulationof wealth and tangiileCEOandfoundet QR Shwed, anIsraelirho medassets for their own sake hasevolved into a sense of entitle-ment; a dangerous liability thatomy to the real marketplace.Yet the highly skilled work-force is not able to translate its"intangibles"in know-how intobuilding and even owning Ubam-boo innovators1. The "earningsy1accrued from this know-how xe-main with the MNCs.In investingLingo,a high-sala-riedMNC worker has a price eam-ings (PE)ratio of one while aMNC can have a PE value of 20erodes character, moraI d u e sand social cohesion.Reform attemptsthrough char-acter educationandcreativethink-ing alone arenot only difficultbutats0decidedlyoff-track. As mono-mist David Landes puts it, noth-ing dilutes drive and ambitionmore than a sense of entitlement.This kind of distortion makes aneconomy inherently uncompeti-tive.Insteadof the diminishingmar-ginalreturnsfromrepeating "Edu-cation 1.0", where school resultsare instrumental, these complexuncertain times require an educa-tion system that enables studentsto grope and reach directly intothe globalmarketplace, to be sen-sitiveand alert to existinganoma-lies and paradigms, and to howthings ought to function ahd be-have.Educators must connect andsensitise students to the chaoticglobalmarketplace. It isthis sensi-tivity and alertness that leads tocreating "bambooinnovatorsn.Reflectingformer deputyprimeminister Goh Keng Sweets viewabout the spirit of education asboth "a searchfor truth1and 9heway to a better life", Singapores"Education 2.0" system shouldcentre on how and why resilientmscontinue to create value inuncertain arid difficult times.The ,system should also edu-cate students who dare to become"bamboo innovatorsw like MrShwed, and who will build endur-ing creations. As former Israelipresident Shimon Peres said, "themost careful thing is to dare".k;s i u p w m p mThe writer is an investment professionalandformer accountinglecturerat theSingapore Management University.Source: The Straits Times O Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission requiredfor reproduction.