Why innovation is the most important national strategy for Singapore

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Why innovation is the most important national strategy for Singapore

Francis D'Cruz 3 min 2633 1
Why innovation is the most important national strategy for Singapore

Good design thinking was a key reason for Singapore’s successful journey from third world to first, and it will be critical in the country's future transformation, for it to remain an outstanding city in the world,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD), first Ministerial Forum PM Lee explained that design is a core element of Singapore’s nation-building, and “nothing we have today is natural, or happened by itself.”

Design thinking and innovation are core capabilities for Singapore and have always been.


As I reflect on Singapore’s birthday, it dawns on me that Singapore has not changed in many ways – despite the phenomenal growth and prosperity from the humble days of the small fishing village that Sir Stamford Raffles founded in 1819 to its modern skylines today. Although Singapore's founder and other nineteenth-century residents would no longer recognise the island, they would at least be able to identify with certain aspects of Singapore’s modern economy.

Celebrating the Bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of Raffles goes to show how well our young nation has manoeuvred itself from colonialism to independence. The founding fathers of the nation (who transformed the country into one of the” four dragons” of Asia) were agile enough to overcome three to four recessions and ensure that we are better equipped to face global challenges.

Quote extracted from Oral History CEntre's interview with Dr Albert Winsemius in 1982

For example, attracting foreign investments and housing the population have been a continuous focus for the nation, whereby PM Lee Hsien Loong advocated that major policy makers had to understand the issues, define the problem, come up with creative ideas and solutions, prototype the ideas, test out the innovations and constantly review the thinking and solutions.

He added that this goes beyond the application of technology, economics and sociology, and requires a "deep understanding of human beings, their emotions and psychology, including how individuals behave and how society works."

Growing up in the 70’s, I had the opportunity to personally experience the transformation in Singapore. I remember being able to run around freely in a very rustic environment called “kampong” (village) which was very prevalent at that time. Some years later, we had to move to a flat due to the redevelopment in our area and for the first time we had automated sanitary facilities. Although it is not so glamourous as a subject, the key point here is the speed of the transformation and its immediate impact. The same speed of change applies to the career landscape.

In the 70’s and 80’s, it was prestigious to have a skilled blue-collar job. In the 90’s, we saw more people switching to PMET jobs and in the 00’s, the technology and services jobs were the call of the day. We are now at the point where transformation and disruptive technology is pervasive and has made a big impact on the economy. ​

This is evident in the culture of the leaders like Finance Minister Mr. Heng Swee Kiat to be forward looking as seen in the policies and government agencies to drive and sustain these initiatives. In the 2016 Budget, Mr Heng launched the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), which drive transformation at the company, industry, and economy-wide levels.

This approach is at the heart of a master plan unveiled to help Singapore navigate a more uncertain global environment in the next 10 years. It is clear that in order to make Singapore stay ahead in this challenging global economic climate, it must remain open and connected to the world, help its people acquire skills for jobs of the future, and ensure that its companies scale up fast for a challenging climate through innovation and transformation.

It is promising to see that Singapore is already on its path in leveraging innovation as its strategy to sustain growth. We are among the 16 countries identified as an “Innovation Champion” by the Consumer Electronics Trade show (CES) in January 2019. In the second edition of its International Innovation Scorecard, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) ranked Singapore in fifth place.

Seven strategies of Singapore

Innovation transforms an idea into a new and improved product, process or service. New technology is a visible expression of this, but there are intangible, organisational innovations too.

“Companies are like countries,” according to our Managing Director Yann Hamon “businesses need to continuously maintain their innovation capability to stay relevant and sustainable.” This is also the core of why innovation!’s vision, as we strive to use our expertise to accelerate organisational transformation and incubation of effective innovation strategies. Over the years, we have helped large enterprises to change their ways of working, upskill the people through coaching and training, in order to develop their resilience and readiness in face of rapid digital disruption.

We have also been dedicated to build an innovation ecosystem to bridge big companies, start-ups, governments and academies in Singapore. Our meetup community, red dot innovation! has grown to over 3000 members in 2019. We have been putting together vibrant sharing, discussions and activities to enable the exchange of ideas, facilitate collaborations and help inventors to grow their ideas fast and efficiently. We will be having more of these sessions online in the coming months, so please stay tuned for updates on our social media channels.

“The current innovation landscape in Singapore is prospering with a lot of emerging startups and technology unicorns. Nevertheless, a bright future relies on accelerating this process and increasing the impact of the startup ecosystem on the economy, the employment and the quality of life of Singaporeans.” said Laurent Basset, Principal consultant for innovation at why innovation! and co-founder of the red dot innovation! platform.

Innovation is a learning and social process and given the age of digital disruptions, it adds to the complexity and scope of innovation processes requiring a broad set of complementary skills. Innovation enhances this total factor of productivity and creativity and this is clear for all to see in Singapore.

Eventually, progress depends on how human skills and technology interact to improve processes and raise performance. Innovation enhances this total factor of productivity. I’m proud to be part of this innovation movement.

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