Top Down Singapore and Change

As many of you know, I live a majority of my time in Singapore.  Singapore is a city-state that has transformed itself over the past 45 years since being founded in 1965.  Like many Asian countries the system of government is a single party democracy.  And more importantly, it is a a country that has very strong central planning.

Centrally planned countries, economies and such involve careful top down planning.  And that approach to governance and growth has served Singapore very well.  But I believe that this must change.

Top down planning works best when you have the ability to study the results of others and select solutions from among those that have worked for others.  You look at education and pull some from Japan, some from the USA some from the UK.  Hopefully the best from each place.  Top down or central planning is VERY efficient when the models you adopt are clearly successful.  You can have public debate or not, you can engage in discourse but ultimately you can make difficult decisions, ones that may not be short term popular but which you know are long term effective for transforming your country and its economy.

Where the top down approach fails is when the path is not well known.  For example, one of the stated or public goals for Singapore is to transform itself from a “skills” based to a “knowledge” based economy.  Translated this means that Singapore has progressed from being a country that has a large manufacturing sector to one that wants to do more inventing, creating and design instead.  Driving this is the fact that Singapore has been so successful that now they are a leading first world country and as such have GDP per capita and incomes that no longer allow manufacturing to be competitive here.  Manufacturing plants move out of Singapore to nearby Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines.  A skills based economy implies manufacturing but a knowledge based economy implies something more like Silicon Valley.

So now Singapore has embarked upon a series of initiatives to encourage their population to become more entrepreneurial.   What Small World Group does here is operate and manage an incubator for small companies as a part of this transformation mission.  We are much like the mouse in the Aesop fable of the lion and the mouse.  We are small but perhaps our steady limited actions can be a helpful part of the overall solution.  To complete this metaphor, we gnaw away to set the lion free by starting little high tech companies in the area of clean tech.  And our presence here and our work was enabled by top down planning.

But …

Top down planning won’t work if the ecosystem which they hope we help to create has to be planned.  This has to grow organically.  And it has to be free to take technology in directions that the startups and their entrepreneurial leaders feel is significant, can be profitable, etc.

The act of starting a company is filled with missteps, changes of directions, pivots and such.  Entrepreneurs feel their way in to success.  As Steve Blank likes to say – “no business plan survives first contact with customers”.

Moreover as this transformation occurs – moving from a skills to a knowledge based economy – overall the entire country will be come less manageable by top down methods.  That is why the USA and Singapore are so very different.  The USA is planned bottoms up.  It can pivot surprisingly fast for a country of 350M people.  If something is not working we can all agree to drop it.  But in a centrally planned top down approach – like the now defunct Soviet Union – quick pivots result in no change or revolution.

In the USA we don’t have to have a revolution in order to make fast changes.

So as I finish this essay, I wonder what is in the future for Singapore as they embrace this more unpredictable and certainly less planned future?


Posted in Essays, Investing, Personal Stories, Singapore Incubator, Spiritual Threads

Great Questions!

Like all of us, I get asked to fill out surveys so very frequently.  All surveys ask questions like – “please rate this service from 1 to 5 where 5 is great and 1 is terrible”.  And if the service or functions I am asked to rate matters to me I try to complete them.  But honestly this is rare because the results of such surveys are not very helpful because the survey is designed to confirm things that the sponsoring organization or person already believes true.

There are better ways to construct surveys.  To me one of the very best is along the lines of Meyers-Briggs tests.  In these tests you are asked a series of questions that force choices.  The best example is – “Do you prefer mercy or justice?”  Now, of course, nearly all people prefer to be associated with both qualities.  But in this test you can only choose one or the other.  In making this choice you are forced to reveal some aspect about yourself and your thinking.  (let’s hold this thought for just a moment!)

LinkedIn is basically an online resume service.  Yes it has people connections but …

When you get a LinkedIn request don’t you accept most of them without much thinking?  Why not increase your “network”.  So what if many of the links that build up have little value or reflect connections that you honestly trust.

So along comes Mixtent and this provides Meyers-Briggs like focus to the relationships you have on LinkedIn.  Wow.  It takes time but there is a way to clean up things on LinkedIn and it remains anonymous.

I encourage many of you to give it a try!

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Sustainable Energy – Another Budget to Balance

There is a terrific book to recommend to all the readers of the Blog – Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air.  The author does a complete (that both understandable and believable) energy analysis for the UK.  The overall conclusion is that becoming completely self sustaining is very challenging and impossible without nuclear (now even more challenging post Japan tsunami) and without buying renewable produced energy from solar generated in North Africa.

I suspect that pretty soon every group of people that think of themselves having a political or economic self identity will have to go through this same analysis.  And many will find the answer that it is very tough or impossible without changing dramatically how we live or expanding our sphere of this group.  Let’s look for a bit why this is.

I have built green homes in both Indiana and California.

The California home has an energy surplus and is considered very green by any standards.  We even include rain water collection.  The house in Tiburon shows a surplus of electricity of about 3000 KW-hrs per year.  We use about 0.3 therms of natural gas and  100 gallons of water per day.  Having a “green home” is relatively easy in Tiburon, CA.  The weather is never very hot or very cold and it is very sunny perhaps 7 months of the year!

The home in Indiana has somewhat similar solar PV power but has much more solar thermal.  I did this to try and really make a difference in the heating bills for the winter.  But in fact doing that is really hard.  Indiana is not as sunny as California throughout the entire year.  In the winter it is much colder and in the summer it is hotter than Tiburon and has much more humidity.  All of this makes the load larger in every season.

According to 3Tier – FirstLook solar maps the Tiburon house receives about 2x as much usable solar PV radiation than the Indiana home.  That’s a huge difference.  The same reasoning works for solar thermal and unfortunately when you check the maps relating to wind you find a similar answer.  Indiana just does not have much renewable sources of energy.

Finally, if you look into other more exotic forms of renewable energy, Indiana also loses.  California has fault lines (and earthquakes) and along these fault lines are the best sites for geothermal energy.  California has mountains where snow accumulates in the winter and slowly thaws for much of the summer and this enables good hydropower sites.  Indiana is relatively flat.

So when you read statistics like – Indiana ranks 2nd worst in the USA in terms of “Green” score. It makes sense that the hoosier state uses lots of coal to produce its energy!  And it also makes sense when you read that California will get more than 30% of its energy from renewable resources by 2020.  California is renewable resource rich and Indiana is not.

As the author of “Sustainable Energy” found, the same facts apply to the UK, except they have abundant wind resources.  But very little sun (no surprise) and little hydro.

How can this gap be closed for the UK or IN if we must displace burning carbon compounds to CO2 with something that is sustainable?  The most obvious is to move to nuclear, but I believe this will be most difficult for some time due to the tragedy in Japan.  Next alternative is to use energy that is sustainably produced from another region; this will tend to impoverish the region that must constantly import to survive.

So barring some magical invention not known today, both the UK and IN are left with no good alternatives.   Where as California has many.

Other ideas?  Submit them to Small World Group and we will turn them in to funded Clean Tech companies!



Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives