When doing the right thing is the wrong thing

I never imagined my first post on this site would be related to politics.

When LHL announced Pritam Singh as the leader of the opposition, my first thought was, – why bother announcing it? As part of my voter research, I’d stumbled upon the term earlier in Wikipedia, with LKY as the first-ever leader of the opposition. It never occurred to me that the role would have access to resources tagged to it.

The point about resources is why i think this is worth thinking about.

Like many other things I think about, they stem more from curiosity than passion in the subject. Therefore, I’m not so much interested in politics, as I am in trying to figure out how politics contributes to Singapore’s growth as a nation.

Without speculating the intentions of the announcement (since I’m not much of a mind reader despite what I like to think), I’m going to instead focus on what that statement from the ruling party means from the lens of corporate growth strategy – with Singapore as the organization, and growth referring to the general well-being of the nation.

Every business has core lines of business that deliver growth. No matter what that core is, its growth will eventually decline and then stop. Singapore, as an organization, is no different. The PAP is like the division heading the core business, responsible for the growth of the organization. The PAP has its own culture, idiosyncrasies, metrics for success etc. Through the years, it’s been finely tuned to efficiently deliver the outcome it strives for, whatever the outcome may have been determined to be.

And yet the day must come when an organization’s core business stops growing.

It could happen for a myriad of reasons, with disruption being one of them. When that happens, most such organizations never recover because they’ve never made the effort to seek out additional engines of growth.

The solution then is to be actively seeking out new opportunities. New possibilities for the next engines of growth for the organization.

Organizations have tried to do this by establishing new teams within the existing structure tasked to do so. But when it comes time for resourcing, the desire for growth ends up allocating resources to the core division and starving out the new teams. In the case of Singapore, the teams are exploring new ideas, policies that improve the well-being of Singaporeans.

I’ve been dipping into complexity and leadership of late. With a question as complex as what should Singapore do next, coming up with a compelling response is in equal parts figuring out WHAT to do and HOW it is done. And the opposition presents opportunities to up-level our capacity for both.

My hypothesis: LHL’s recognition of the leader of the opposition is an attempt to seek out new engines of growth for the nation. The announcement sends the following messages:

  1. It’s time to explore new engines of growth
  2. it’s going to take a team who thinks differently from the core business division
  3. It’s going to take resources to experiment so take it with my blessings

I feel, for LHL to make that statement, speaks to the level of maturity of our political climate.

My analogy so far is that PAP is a division of a company. But their status as the ruling party also means they actually wear 2 hats. Meaning, they are not just executives, but also board members. Their concern isn’t restricted to winning votes or a strong mandate, but also to make sure the organization stays true to its mission – the well-being of Singaporeans over the long term.

I’ve heard comments that if LKY looked at the results of the election, he’d shake from his grave. I don’t think so. I think he’ll be elated with how the situation is unfolding.

During my short stint as a civil servant, I remember a particular training session on policy drafting. The trainer shared that if you took a knife and opened up his heart, you would not see a PAP flag, nor will you see an opposition flag.

You will, instead, see a Singaporean flag.

LHL’s decision to recognize and give resources to the leader of the opposition isn’t an easy one because resources don’t exist in a vacuum. Recognizing the leader of the opposition means they have to take away resources from the core business to explore future opportunities. I’m way oversimplifying it, but it looks like PAP is ceding control in the short, medium-term for the long-term good of Singapore.

Tasked with the long term prospects of Singapore, we are in essence facing the innovator’s dilemma – a theory by Clayton Christensen, the father of disruptive innovation where.

Doing the right thing is the wrong thing

This dilemma is at the heart of the ruling party’s relationship with the opposition.

WP has proven itself as a team with the quality of candidates, as well as their connection with voters. This has made LHL’s decision easier to make.

Yet WP’s resonance on the ground also means, collectively, we Singaporeans have reached a level of political sophistication. You can only sell a solution to a problem the customer is aware of. Therefore, in an ironic twist, the ruling party’s decision to sell this solution – of recognizing the leader of the opposition – actually reflects a vote of confidence that Singaporeans will be discerning of not just of the work the opposition is capable of doing, but also that of the ruling party to grow and develop the nation.