One of the things I enjoy most about working in Singapore is how it’s always changing. While it has a clearly defined local culture, there’s also a strong global focus to the economy that makes the country very outward-looking. The government actively promotes innovation and start-ups, so it was no surprise last year when the world’s first driverless taxi debuted on Singapore’s busy streets.

In fact, Singapore is keen to position itself as a test bed for technical innovation, which it sees as its key growth area. Singapore has a stable environment within which to innovate: its marketplace is small enough to be controllable, and it’s small enough to allow its government to take a planned and long-term view on how the economy will develop. Companies here can get feedback from their experiments quickly, so they know where they stand

And innovation practice in the country is looking healthy. At one end of the scale, Singapore attracts global companies like Google and Facebook who have both placed their Asia headquarters here. At the other end, the government agency SPRING is responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow and build trust in Singapore products and services; this means developing innovative and resilent organisations.

In order to put innovation at the heart of the economy, it’s been vital for Singaporean companies to speed up their innovation cycle. However, this is where the contrast between the traditional values of the culture and an innovation mindset can clash. The key behaviours for innovation include a high tolerance of risk, a fast feedback loop and low levels of deference.

While every society contains people with entrepreneurial drive, there have been observations that the workforce at large in Singapore does not naturally have a risk-taking mindset. The culture as a whole promotes compliance and deference to seniority. Education in the past has been didactic: it was more about teaching than encouraging children to learn how to learn. The very stability of a cultural and commercial environment that can provide a safe base from which to innovate can also put a brake on it. Think of the old phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”: when you’re too comfortable it gets harder to agitate for the future.

At Potential Squared we set ourselves the challenge to develop leaders for innovation and change. We all know it’s quite easy to stir up discontentment with the status quo in an organisation. But leaders who are looking to enthuse people about innovation and change face a much more challenging task. We believe that the way forward for leaders is to start by changing their habits:

  • Don’t dictate a vision – instead set a challenge
  • Don’t make decisions – instead create experiments
  • Don’t just ignite ideas – also prepare the organisation to accept them
  • Don’t just give people time – also provide the resources people need to act quickly

Innovation is about disrupting the norm, but change is about making it stick. The curious mindset already exists in Singapore, and the task that we’re supporting is making a difference that lasts.