A pretty good article to understand the S'porean mindset, and maybe explain why we are in the doldrums today.... Take some time to read this.....
Excerpts from No U-Turn Syndrome (NUTS)
Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millenium by Sim Wong Hoo
Whats is NUTS? NUTS is when you want to do something and you seek approval of a higher authority. When there is no rule saying that you can do such a thing, then the standard answer is NO ...
In the US, when there is no sign on the road, it means that you can make a U-turn. When the authority do not want people to make U-turns, they will put up signs to tell you not to make U-turns. In Singapore, it is the reverse. When there is no sign on the road, you are not allowed to make U-turns. When the authority allow you to make U-turns, then they will put up signs to give you that right.
The two different systems serve the same purpose - to better manage the traffic. They may look quite similar, just coming from different direction, but the social repercussion is significant. In Singapore, the no U-turn without sign culture has permeated every level of our thinking and every segment of our life. This no U-turn has created a way of life that is based on rules. When there is a U-turn sign or when there is a rule, we can U-turn. When there is no sign, we cannot U-turn.
When there is no rule, we cannot do anything. We become paralyzed.
I call this "no-rule=no-do" phenomenon - the "No U-Turn Syndrome" or NUTS.
Singapore has prospered under a rule-based system for many years. When we were at a lower level of development, we needed many multi-national companies to come to Singapore to invest. What these MNCs needed were a very reliable group of managers and workers who could follow exactly the rules set by corporate headquarters overseas. Since they did not want their overseas subsidiaries to innovate anything, they wanted us to stick closely to the rules, no funny deals, no crazy ideas. They were here to teach us, not to listen to ideas from us.
The efficiency and no-nonsense style of the Singapore government is well-known. It has brought us prosperity and a good life. A rule-based system is essential here too to get everybody to toe the line.
But the world has changed. And it is changing faster and faster. So fast that the rules that were set yesterday are no longer valid and cannot serve our new needs. It is not a matter of setting new rules to meet the new situation because by the time new rules are formulated, they would already be out of date. It is a matter of how to survive and prosper in environments where they are no rules.It is a matter of how to live with ambiguity. Things are no more black or white, things are in shades of gray. How do we deal with them? What is wrong with this? There is nothing wrong if we choose to be stuck in the old world of our own where nothing changes.
To meet the challenge of the new world, to meet the challenge of rising to a knowledge-based economy, we have to innovate like mad. How can we innovate when we need to obey rules to innovate? Innovate means to create things out of nothing, it means moving into uncharted territories where there are no rules.
How can you innovate when you have to get approval of somebody who looks at a rule-book first?
Such is the syndrome of NUTS. NUTS is everywhere in the society including schools, offices, hospitals, parks, factories and even in our homes. Yes, in Creative (Singapore) too. Here are some hilarious examples, they make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. I am sure you can tell me more.
NUTS #2-"Creative Resource"-needed approval?
When our corporate headquarters were completed in 1997, we needed to give it a name. The placeholder name was Creative Technology Centre. Made sense, but it was a boring name that everybody had. I wanted a special name, because we are "creative". So the usual names like, "Creative Building, Plaza, Complex, House..." were suggested on the name list. I rejected all of them. Finally we came out with a very good name, "Creative Resource" - the source of all creativity - and everybody loved it.
But wait, before we could go ahead, we had to submit the building name for approval. What! I was shocked. I needed somebody else"s approval for the name of my own building. By some faceless committee that I did not even know existed. Imagine having the name of your baby being approved by somebody you do not know.
Hey, that is the regulation. OK, we submitted and no prize for guessing the right answer. The answer was NO. The reason given was that the name was not "Centre, Plaza, Building, Complex, House etc..." There was actually a list of approved names in the rulebook and we were only given the impression that we could name our own building.
I nearly jumped through the roof when I heard the answer. It was a very typical case of NUTS. "Resource" was not in their rule book, hence the standard answer was NO. I was not going to give up on this right. So we fought back and wrote letters to appeal. Finally, after a long process, our name was approved. Whew!
NUTS #3 - Cannot sing Singapore songs!!
While we were preparing for the opening ceremony of Creative Resource, we wanted to have a lot of creative fun. We prepared a lot of performances by our own staff. We were very fortunate to have invited the Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong to grace the event. We wanted to show him the best creativity in us.
The opening fanfare idea was to have a big group of kids running into the building, singing a medley of Patriotic Singapore Songs. It was going to be very delightful. After the songs were arranged and recorded, at the last moment, someone in the team decided that we actually needed to seek approval from the authority because of copyright issues. The answer came back was of course a NO.
There was no rule to say that you could do a medley of Singapore songs. There was a rule that said we could sing the Singapore song in special celebratory occasions like ours, so this was allowed.
Our people started to panic, because there was no time to change the recordings. They sought my advice. They were thinking of canceling this delightful fanfare and disappointing the kids, from our Creative O child-care centre, who had practiced so hard for this event.
I asked them why they had thought of seeking approval for a private function especially when the answer could be a No. they were afraid that the TV stations were there filming and it might have constituted a copyright infringement!
There were a few NUTS at work here. First it is my own staff who were NUTS, they were toeing the line so tightly that they felt the need to seek approval for a private function that was not controversial at all. I was sure that the PM would give his 100% endorsement. Then we had the
NUTS at the approval side who looked at the rule book and said No.
I asked them to go ahead and just do it, even violating the rejection letter. Some of my NUTS staff must have freaked out. I told them I would bear the full responsibility. If I had to pay a $2000 fine, I would pay it. In the worst, worst case I might go to jail for it - that would be interesting too.
In fact, the PM in his impromptu part of his speech also said, to move forward, we would have to "just do it". It was a timely message.
NUTS #4 - No Title
Recently, Creative had just spent a few million dollars investing heavily in a company. The key person in the company was needed urgently to launch a new ".com" project that could be worth a lot more in the future. In the era of the Internet, timing is everything. Then suddenly, he told me that he needed to go for reservist during the critical period. This meant that his whole team could be crippled because his leadership was not there. I told him that there should not be a problem, as he could always apply for a deferment. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister has told me in the Technopreneur 21 committee that, reservist duties should not hinder Technopreneurship because the affected reservist could apply for deferment and it would be considered favourably.
So the staff wrote a letter to apply for deferment. It was rejected. I told him to write an appeal, mentioning Creative"s involvement and all the relevant and valid reasons for such critically needed deferment. It was still rejected and we were running out of time.
I guess I had to step in. I wrote the letter personally again, citing all the reasons and the ".com" time-critical factors. It was still rejected. I was very upset by this. It was already the last working day before he had to go in-camp. I had to call the officer personally. I identified myself, including my role in the Technopreneur 21 committee and appealed for the fourth time. The answer was still NO. after all the reasons were given, the answer was still NO.
Well, they had liberalized then - if you were a new employee of a company, the deferment would be allowed. I argued strenuously that the key person was more than a new employee. He was a new employee of a company for which we had spent millions to acquire. No! An acquisition does not constitute the equivalent of a new employee. A new employee IS a new employee. Period. The rule book never said that the people in a new acquisition are new employees. Therefore they are not "new employees", regardless of the fact that their employee status are the same in principle. It does not matter if you are Sim Wong Hoo or the T21 chairman. NUTS is NUTS.
It almost drove me NUTS!
Fortunately, I heard from some people that I would get a better chance if I were to call the unit Commanding Officer. I asked for his name and phone number and the officer obliged. I managed to track down the CO on his handphone at the very last minute. The CO was an understanding man because he was also a reservist and in the computer line. The deferment was finally granted.