Leadership Camp – Part 2

singapore at night

(Click here to read Part 1 of my blog post on Leadership Camp)

When my wife and I decided to move to Singapore in 2003, we simply filled out a form and paid an application fee. We were required to provide a lot of information for that form and I remembered there was a big emphasis on our educational background and work history but nowhere in the form was there a column asking for our net worth.

At that point of time, my wife and I have lived in six big cities in four countries. We had completed many forms before for the sake of moving our lives around in search of better opportunities. As far as I could remember, our previous experience was that those forms all asked for some financial information about us. However, in the Singapore application form, we saw a different emphasis. It was clear that they did not want us to move to Singapore because of our worldly financial account but we were graded based on our own deeds – the practice of meritocracy. It was clear that Singapore collected people very differently from other countries that we have lived in before. At the end, my wife and I were happy that we passed that test.

I remember on one occasion, I mentioned the word ‘meritocracy’ and a highly educated person in North America (with English as first language) sincerely informed me that there was NO SUCH WORD!!

The above experience partially explains why Singapore, being a country of just over 716 sq km, has been plodding along nicely since 1965.

A few years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to meet the Chairmen of Berkshire Hathaway in the USA. Berkshire is known for having a sizeable investment across many industries, mainly in the USA, and its Chairmen are known for being very well-read and very wise. At the beginning of that short meeting, we shook hands with Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger and exchanged some pleasantries. They asked where we were from and we said our family was in Singapore. Mr. Munger, being an octogenarian, was seated on a sofa. He looked up slowly and said, “Singapore is a very efficient country, Yew has run the country well.” Mind you, Mr. Munger is an American who spent most of his life in the USA – he may or may not realize that ‘Yew’ is part of the first name and not the family name (which American call ‘last name’) of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew (LKY).

Yes, Singapore has moved on from a third world country into the current status. However, I think it took more than one person, Mr. Lee, to make the difference. I think it is the ‘LKY culture’ that works well so far.

Someone described LKY as a ‘hero who was created by his circumstances/era” (時勢做英雄)’ – in other words, he or she implied that LKY and the Singapore phenomenon was a result of timing or luck. I disagree with that:

  • at any given moment of time and era, numerous people exist but without any exception, all people fall within the normal distribution curve and the vast majority cannot measure up to it,
  • challenges and difficulties exist in all eras or times – there was no easier time per se but in fact time may be even harder ‘in those days’ (and in the future).

In the Singapore government circle, there is constantly a collection of high achievers and highly intelligent people. I would say this is the ‘LKY culture’. In short, it is a group of smart people with a high collective IQ who share the same vision.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to know a few of them and I would only say they represent some of the finest specimens of good people.  A group of people with outstanding IQs working together in the same direction AND with integrity is bound to have a lollapalooza effect.

Knowing ‘politicians’, we have heard of various forms of mis-behaviours – sex scandals, corruption, watching pornography during cabinet meetings, throwing trash/water/bananas when speakers are deliberating policies, shouting slogans, dragging their feet on policy making to stall the process (filibustering), etc.. Undesirable quality yields undesirable results.

Someone once quipped that high IQ teams can’t solve all the upcoming problems. It is true that mankind has proven its capability over and over again to create unthinkable problems. Well, there is no way to predict all the upcoming problems except if we had working crystal balls. Given this ‘never-available benefit’, in my humble opinion, solving those upcoming problems has little to do with visualizing them ahead of time! It is about ‘trying’ to anticipate issues and getting down right and getting dirty to figure out practical solutions when problems arise.

Sure, we are not all born with an equal level of intelligence and we all deserve to have a place on this planet in our own life time. In search of this equality and to explain the phenomenon that we cannot rationally explain, this quest may be one of the reasons why religions may console mankind and explain the unexplainable. I know God can do that!

Are high IQ teams helpful? The argument can be easier understood by handling it like a common algebra trick – inversion. Comparing with a high IQ group, can a low IQ team solve more problems? Or will a low IQ team with lesser merit cause more troubles or less troubles? The answer is simple, isn’t it? The odds are stacking against it.

My young friend, Brittany, is a US citizen who grew up in Singapore. She attended the American school in Singapore and eventually moved to boarding school in Minnesota, USA. She is now in university in the USA and recently, in reference to the late LKY, wrote:

To the world, he may have made one country, but to the country, he made the world.

Thank you very much.

I wish I was that wise at Brittany’s age.

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