Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How the Mighty Fall(Singapore): Stage 1 - Hubris Born of Success

I have just read Jim Collins' book(2009) 'How the Mighty Fall' & is amazed at the many similarities Singapore has despite the book focusing on companies.

The book is Jim Collins focus on the dark side after his 2 earlier books(Built to Last, Good to Great) focuses on the bright side of what it takes for companies to thrive & be great.

Whether it is empires, companies or countries, the framework of decline can be used for the majority of cases. As Singapore is often called SG Inc by netizens, it makes appropriate sense to apply the framework to Singapore's hybrid regime. Afterall, the hybrid regime is akin to the top management of a company.

Why Success Often Sows the Seeds of Failure
I shall focus on Stage 1 in this blogpost. The seeds of failure are sown according to Jim Collins after the top management fall victim to various forms of hubris born out of success:

  • pursuit of growth beyond what it can deliver with excellence. This is most obvious- Grow GDP at all costs like cancer. This tiny island doesn't have the infrastructure to accomodate so many people. The citizens used to have pride in world class public transport & healthcare facilities. What kind of excellence with the frequent breakdowns & hospital beds along corridors? Reputation is going down the drain.
  • arrogant neglect. PAP - People's Action Party. Their values & motto are neglected & discarded. Instead they are consumed by greed (Pay And Pay, Pro Alien Party).
  • undisciplined leaps into areas where a company cannot become the best. China & India have a plentiful supply of cheap workforce given their massive populations. How can the labor union chief of SG Inc. tell the peasants to leap into cheaper wages, faster, better(long hrs) with such high cost structure such as exorbitant mortgages which drains retirement $$$?
  • bold, risky decisions that fly in the face of conflicting or negative evidence.
  • denying even the possibility that the enterprise could be at risk, imperiled by external threats or internal erosion. 

This is an important flowchart. Why important? Because we need to note the overlaps.

Stage 1 overlap with Stages 2 & 3
Stage 2 overlap with Stages 1 & 3
Stage 3 overlap with Stages 2 & 4 
Stage 4 overlap with Stages 2 & 3
Only Stage 5 overlap with grasping for air.

Collins research has shown that companies often move through the stages of decline in sequence though it is possible to skip a stage. Some companies move quickly through the stages, while others languish for years or even decades. Some stay at 1 stage for a long time & then quickly pass through another stage.

Warning signs for Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success (Blue = Jim Collins)

According to Jim Collins, there are warning signs for Stage 1 - Hubris Born of Success. He said that the presence of warning sign/s does not necessarily mean you have a disease, but it does indicate increased probability in that stage of decline.

An analogy i can think of is dengue fever. Having fever might be a normal ailment but if there are other symptoms associated with dengue, the probability of disease shoots up.

Success Entitlement, Arrogance
Success is viewed as 'deserved', rather than fortuitous, fleeting or even hard earned in the face of daunting odds, people begin to believe that success will continue almost no matter what the organization decides to do, or not to do.

So many scholars from the military in the government. Mentality is Yes, Yes, Yes = entitled to success/promotion. Just do without question.

Neglect of a Primary Flywheel
Distracted by extraneous threats, adventures & opportunities, leaders neglect a primary flywheel, failing to renew it with the same creative intensity that made it great in the first place.

The primary flywheel is taking care of the people. After discovering how easy to suck $$$ out of the peasants with state capitalism, they have succumbed into $$$ sucking opportunities.

'What' Replaces 'Why'
Rhetoric of success (We're successful because we do these specific things') replaces understanding & insight (We're successful because we understand why we do these specific things & under what conditions they would no longer work).

How can the hybrid regime know the Whys when they are in their ivory towers surrounded by Yesmen & Yeswomen.

They also don't understand the condition of obedient workers have long expired. Yet they still hang on to an education system churning out docile, obedient workers when there's plentiful of such workers in China, India etc when those countries have opened up.

Decline in Learning Orientation
Leaders lose the inquisitiveness & learning orientation that mark those truly great individuals who, no matter how successful they become, maintain a learning curve as steep as when they first began their careers.

Evident in how those elite leaders in their 'command tents aka ivory towers' don't experience & learn from 'the trenches' in public transport, govt hospitals etc to formulate policies. Relying on those Yesmen for fake answers.

In the case of public transport, i don't see how buskers performing at train stations & staff giving out stickers solve the overcrowding problem. Mere gimmicks to a distasteful situation when those top brass don't experience it day in day out.

Putting Oneself on the Line to Learn:

Discounting Luck
Instead of acknowledging the luck & fortuitous events might have played a helpful role, people begin to presume that success is due entirely to the superior qualities of the enterprise & its leadership.

Look at those new hybrid regime candidates successfully being parachuted into parliament through the party brand (though is stinks) & goodwill accumulated by 1st generation leaders. They won't have such luck if is 1 on 1 eg. Tin Pei Ling(PAP) vs Nicole Seah(NSP).

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