An Optimist’s View of the Disruptive Future

by Patrick Liew on January 16, 2017

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace.

As they say, what has worked for you in the past may not work in the future.

If you travel on the same road, you’ll reach the same destination.

To reach a better destination, you need to improve the road or find a better road.

Better still, create and develop the best roads and help others to also reach their desired destinations.

While you cannot predict and prevent disruptions, that does not mean that you have to resign yourself to apathy, passiveness and complacency.

You can proactively develop an effective mindset, model, culture, operation and condition.

In doing so, you can pioneer, respond to, and leverage on disruption to propel yourself to the next level of growth.

Remember, if you don’t change the changes around and within you for the better, these changes may eventually change you for the worst.

Do you see the doughnut or the hole?

Be mindful that there’s no better time to do whatever you want to do, enjoy whatever you want to enjoy, and achieve whatever you want to achieve than right now and in the near future.

The brightest future is up for grabs. Seize your destiny now.

Let me share with you why I’m cautiously optimistic about the future.

1. Faith in Humanity

The faster the world changes, the more we will return to the roots of our being, the core of our values, and the heart of our aspirations.

These are things that you cannot find online or download from the Internet. Neither can they be programmed and executed through digitization, computerisation, robotisation, mechanization and automation.

Such technology cannot in and of itself help fulfil the deepest human needs, enhance the sense of security and stability, develop meaningful and satisfying relationships, and find personal fulfilments.

With the power of the most advanced machines backing humanity, it’s hard to believe that these machines will make us collectively poorer, unhappier, and less satisfied with life.
The rise of more advanced machines can and should help us become more enlightened in focusing on what truly matters in work and life.

As a result, we can become more purposeful, productive and progressive to achieve worthier pursuits.

Instead of asking, “Do you know there are millions of machines that can do your current job?”

Why not ask, “Do you know millions of machines will create millions of new opportunities in the future? What’re you going to do about it?”

2. Strength of the Human Spirit

Disorders, disruptions and dislocations have always happened throughout history albeit not in the same way and as fast and furious.

Through major crises – man-made and otherwise, including wars, pandemics, droughts, and socio-political upheavals, the human spirit has risen in response and prevailed in so many ways.

Many pessimistic predictions in the past have failed because they underestimated the human ingenuity in pre-empting, preventing, and proactively responding to evolving and even debilitating situations.

In Singapore, you can build on a rich legacy of pioneering spirits and achievements.

Within less than one generation, we turned a Bright Little Red Dot, comprising mainly of migrant stock, and with low fiscal reserves and little natural resources into one of the most developed and liveable countries.

At the beginning, Singapore did not even have enough water to keep the people alive. Yet today, we export water-treatment technologies all over the world.

It has been forecasted that due to climate change, there may be a global drought in the near future. If there’s one country that can survive the drought, it’s probably Singapore.

If you look around you, you may know that many of the trees and plants were imported and were not supposed to survive on our soil conditions. Yet, we found ways to make them thrive and to beautify our land.

History has proven again and again that we should never underestimate the divinely-inspired human spirit.

How high is your DQ (desperation quotient) to survive and succeed in the disruptive future?

3. Rise of Leadership and Teamwork

The Chinese has a saying, “时世造英雄” or “乱世造英雄”.

In essence, it means that when the situation or crisis demands it, a leader will rise to the occasion.

History has shown that leaders and their teams will stand out and step up to lead people through major changes, challenges and crises.

These leaders of the new age know how to earn trust and win the hearts and minds of a more educated, well-connected and resourceful people.

When they have won the respect and trust of the people, they can better help their people face realities of the forthcoming challenges.

They can inspire the people to make major improvements to undergo and grow through the challenges.

They have to put humanity at the heart of technological and other advancements.

In doing so, they can improve employment, employability and strengthen livelihoods and lifestyles.

Leaders who don’t have a heart to love and serve their people do not qualify and deserve to be leaders.

If they are ethnocentric and driven by their own profits or interests at the expense of people, they will not stand the test of time.

They cannot use technology to overpower the world neither can they shape the world through just bits and bytes.

These leaders will soon be removed and replaced.

A new and better generation of leaders and teams will rise to fulfil human potential for growth and achievement.

In Singapore, there’s ground to be optimistic because we have not only a relatively good team of leaders, we can also draw from a depth of good leaders from different spheres in society.

Besides those who are well-known, we have many other wise leaders like Richard R. Magnus, Lim Siong Guan, Tan Gee Paw, Fock Siew Wah, and Peter Ho. These leaders may not be well known but they can stand with the giants in the developed world.

All great countries and communities depend on great leaders and teamwork. We have many of such talents in our Lion City to help us build a brighter future.

4. Moral and Ethical Governance and Values

There is a growing voice to check and balance growth of machines to ensure that they do not devalue, discriminate or even decimate significance, contribution and dignity of humans.

Moral conscience will ensure that automated technologies are developed to serve us and not the other way round.

The latest advancement can help us unlock human potential to do well and do good – in a cheaper, better, and faster way.

Even if humans falter, they’ll rise up again.

What we need to do is to refresh our spiritual pursuits and review our moral, ethical and compassionate values.

We need spiritual and moral innovations more than at any point in history.

If not, the cloud and cyberspace may someday become a godless and lawless world without any value system.

Will we go through another Big Bang (think – nuclear bombs made through 3-D printing technology with some fissile material), Ice Age (think – uncontrolled Climate Change) or pandemic (think – lab-generated viruses as bioweapons) to reboot humanity?

Or worse still, will there be an apocalypse to end the human story? Will that be our choice and direction?

If we believe in the good of humanity, the forces of good will prevail. Evil will have no place in our communities, online and otherwise.

In this regard, I’m grateful and thankful that the rule of law is widely respected and obeyed in our Bright Little Red Dot. We have fought and will continue to fight the scourges of injustice, corruption, and crime.

The Golden Rule sits well and good on the fleshly tablets of our hearts and in our society.

5. New Possibilities and Opportunities

In time past, new models, structures, systems, technologies and processes have been developed to improve effectiveness, efficiency and efficacy.

Every major change, challenge and conflict has put an end to long-held positions, powers, possessions, practices, and other preferences.

However, improved outcomes, results and impacts have not made humans totally irrelevant, redundant or replaceable.

In fact, they have created many opportunities and possibilities.

The Industrial Age redeployed humans and animals for other purposes and pursuits.

Similarly, the Information Age created new breakthroughs that allow us to scale up and step up to a higher plane.

In the past, the advent of computers and other technologies saw many prophets of doom predicting the death knell of conventional businesses and business practices. They also painted many doomsday scenarios.

While it’s true that a lot of businesses collapsed by the wayside, there were still many others that had transformed to become stronger and better.

The workforce was generally repositioned, re-skilled and retooled to be deployed for new tasks, jobs, careers, industries, businesses, markets, and other opportunities.

Through it all, we have also witnessed eradication of poverty and unprecedented prosperity like never before.

Our Creator has given us one of the greatest gift – the power of choice. The options to move forward and bring forth greater good are in our hands.

If you look out for opportunities and possibilities, you’ll find many ways to do well and do good – especially as a result of technological advancement and other major disruptions.

We have the power to create accelerated and scalable solutions and make the world a better home.

Are you complaining about the darkness or lighting up a candle to lead others out of darkness?

6. Pursuing Lifelong Learning

All over the world, there’s a calling and trend for lifelong learning.

The first line of defence and attack against negative disorder, disruption and dislocation is education.

Lifelong learning – and not just formal education – is the only inoculation to prevent value-creating jobs, careers and businesses from being unduly devalued, disintermediated and disintegrated.

In the past, you go to school to make a good living; in the future, to make a good living, you need to continue to go to school.

To succeed in the new age, you need to have a passion for learning and be a self-directed learner.

You need to learn how to learn and learn how to capitalize on new opportunities and on things that matter.

As you come to grip with advancement of technology, there’ll be more focus on moral, character, civic, physical, and artistic developments and project management.

These values are not easily quantifiable or measurable but they’ll spur you to strengthen 21st century skills.

The 21st century skills are skills for higher-order thinking to help you understand, control, improve and master cognitive processes.

In addition, these skills can also be cross-fertilized and be built upon to help you develop other skills to support you in pursuing different pathways of excellence.

These skills may not be easily executed by current automation technology. They can help you create, manage and respond to technological advancement.

They include leadership and persuasion skills, self-directed learning skills, high-touch and aesthetic skills, emotional and inter-cultural skills, and giving back skills.

These skills can help you develop empathy, capacity, ability, adaptability, agility and tenacity to pursue a higher plane and live a more purposeful and fulfilling life.

The battle cry in the new age is, “Learn or Die!”

As we face a fast-changing world, Singaporeans are slowly but surely beginning to realize that they need to continue to learn, improve and achieve better productivity and results.

We have taken the initial steps and we’ll take many more and better steps to turn Singapore into a learning nation and a nation of lifelong learners.

Are you mindful that there is an unwritten expiry date to the relevance of your current knowledge and expertise?

Is there a limited shelf life to the validity of your educational certificates in the real world?

Have you jumped onto the bandwagon of lifelong learning?

Through lifelong learning, we can have a key to secure our future and unlock the door to a brighter future.

7. Culture, Eco-System and Platform for Growth

Singapore aims to be a Smart Nation; an open, diverse, and digitally-driven society.

We have a strong infrastructure and eco-system which we are still improving, to support stability, security and sustainability of our growth.

Our growth story is underpinned by the fact that many of our pioneers are of migrant stock. They have not only a can-do spirit but also a do-or-die spirit to make things happen.

Since then, we have continued to open our doors to foreign enterprises and individuals who can support and contribute to our economy and society.

We are one of the most globalised cities, with strong connectivity to the world and this is one of our strengths to excel in the disruptive future.

There are evidence to show that diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism can contribute to improving creativity and innovation.

If we can leverage on our wide spectrum of local and overseas talents and enterprises, we can become disrupters and not be disrupted.

We have also started the process to shape and influence our culture to be future-ready and be operationally-ready to secure our future.

The government is mindful that the brutal and harsh winds of change will produce both winners and losers.

It’s looking at how to help vulnerable workers to upgrade themselves and become more resilient. In addition, it’s strengthening the social safety net to help the poor, needy and disadvantaged.

Fortunately, Singapore is probably one of the few, if not the only country where political leaders are not compelled to plan only until the next general election. In fact, they’re known to plan 20 years in advance wherever possible.

Furthermore, as a small country in terms of size and population, we can make decisions, implement policies, and galvanize resources more effectively and efficiently than most developed countries.

The challenges faced by Singapore are the same challenges faced by other developed economies.

If there’s a country that has what it takes to overcome the challenges and rise to greater heights, the country is Singapore.

8. Look Out For Gaps

Can we eat dry cells and power banks to recharge and revitalize our lives?
Advanced technology can scale up and accelerate our power to create, protect, and raise the quality of life. On the contrary, it can also scale up and accelerate our power to destroy, harm, and lower quality of life.

It can change our jobs, careers and businesses on an exponential level.

On the other hand, it can also help us raise our commitment, cooperation, collaboration, and co-creation of solutions on an exponential level.

For everything that’s put to death, something new will rise up and it will give us new dreams, hopes and optimisms.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24-26 KJV)

Every disruption can lead to a demonstration of our God-given potential to achieve greater good for humanity.

Disruptive forces, including robots, drones, Internet of things, artificial intelligence-driven devices and other innovations may be able to take over many jobs and businesses.

However, they may not be able to fully perform all the tasks, including tasks that revolve around leadership, abstract thinking, aesthetic, emotive, personalised, and persuasion factors.

Develop and leverage on intelligences that these disruptive forces may not have, including moral intelligence, metacognitive and fluid intelligence, creative and innovative intelligence, entrepreneurial and financial literacy intelligence, intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence, and intelligence for leveraging technology.

Study what advanced machines cannot do or cannot do as well as humans, and what they can do better with humans.

Automation can replace many routine jobs. However, it may not be able to perform non-routine jobs that require cognitive, emotive and social skills.

For instance, with advancement and lowering of costs in genetic sequencing, genetic counsellors are needed to advise and support patients in responding to their genetic inheritance.

Specialists are needed to systemise the way chatbots engage clients, update their content, and craft their dialogues.

Find niches that you can influence and be a net contributor to them. For instance, as the world works towards becoming less reliant on fossil fuel, new industries and jobs will be created to exploit neo-energy and renewable energy sources.

Indoor farmers will be needed to capitalize on hydroponic and aeroponic technologies to produce food in a controlled environment.

Adapt to and capitalize on new situations through cultivated attitude, new knowledge and learned behavior.

Proactively identify gaps that cannot be fulfilled or be adequately fulfilled by disruptive forces and value-add on these gaps in order to have more stable, secure and sustainable business, work and contribution.

As one of the fastest aging countries in Asia, there’s an increasing need for jobs to cater to the elderly. These jobs require empathy and social skills.

Provide outstanding customer service by integrating the best of technology and heart-warming services. The “high tech and high touch” combination and synergy will position you to stay ahead of the crowd.

Be mindful that for every business and operation that is being disrupted, new jobs and opportunities will be created.

For instance, while technology can generate information, there’s still a need to make sense of the volume, variety and velocity of information generated.

Professionals who can analyze and draw insights from data can help their employers to strengthen their competitive edge and results.

The new opportunities that are being created as a result of disruption may have higher value-additions and are more lucrative and fulfilling.

As a Singaporean, you need to take charge of your life and play an active part in helping our country develop a desired future.

Reflect, evaluate and correct yourself. Don’t hang on to any dogma, discipline, and direction.

Bury your past, avoid negative friends, and give up on old ways if they do not help you to go farther and faster in life.

Work with likeminded and diverse people who can encourage, educate and empower you to greater successes.

If each and every one of us does our part, we can beat whatever challenges come our way.

Our country can only be as strong as the commitment of the last and the weakest person in contributing to our growth in the future.

9. Developing Resilience

Disruption by definition of the word indicates that it’s an unexpected development.

Besides man-made turbulences, there’ll be natural crises that may also have an impact on current and future operations.

While you may not be able to predict disruptions, you can build a more resilient and an ever-improving business model in response to evolving knowledge, competence and practice.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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