have been speaking on global leadership at the stars Singapore Symposium.  I had spoken three times previously on leadership at stars Symposiums, twice at the quaint medieval city of Stein am Rhein in Switzerland, and once in the seaside Chinese city of Penglai in Shandong province. The Symposium was held for the first time in Singapore over the period 16 to 19 February 2014.

The stars Symposium is positioned as the leadership development “Symposium for Leaders of the Next Generation.” I was attracted to it because I think it is an extremely smart idea, and since it is managed by a Swiss foundation – the stars Foundation – I expect it to be of high quality and reliability. 

Many programmes around the world are run for people who have already reached senior levels in companies and organisations; but stars Symposiums are organised for participants who are up-and-coming – they are nominated by chairmen and CEOs of their organisations because of their superior performance and high potential. 

I find the stars not only exciting for its content, but also for its very extensive global network of alumni comprising participants and speakers of the nine Symposiums that have been held thus far. Because I believe in the mission of the stars Foundation, I have agreed to serve on its International Board.

The Symposiums help to prepare the “Leaders of the Next Generation” by:

•             Enhancing a better understanding of the economic, scientific, political, cultural, and social challenges that will impact businesses and organisations in the next 5-10 years,

•             Broadening their horizons through interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue with peers and global leaders from all fields, and

•             Contributing to their personal development to drive responsible choices and sustainable actions. 

The stars Symposiums have some very distinctive features. Each Symposium has about 100 international participants, aged 35-45 years old, mainly from Business but also from Science, Politics, Culture, NGOs,  and Media.  The programme is highly interactive, with an inspiring slate of speakers addressing the issues that would shape the evolving future, issues like demographics, technology, economics and politics. Its alumni of participants and speakers now total close to a 1000 from more than 75 countries. The annual Symposium at Stein am Rhein focuses on global challenges and trends, the one in Singapore focuses on global and Asia-specific developments and challenges, and the programme in China focuses on global and China-specific developments and challenges.

I believe the stars Symposiums represent an excellent opportunity for companies and organisations all over the world to expose their next generation leaders to big ideas for the future, as well as build up their global network of contacts. And Singapore with 37,400 international companies, including 3,200 from China, 4,400 from India, 7,900 from ASEAN (ex-Singapore) and more than 7,000 MNCs from developed countries (60% with HQ functions) would be a wonderful place for international companies to expand the horizons, perspectives, knowledge, and networks of their key staff through the stars Singapore Symposium.


You can find more information about stars here:



The Swiss Pilot



Davos, where I attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the end of January, is, of course in Switzerland. Switzerland is a beautiful country of snow and mountains, though I do not like the cold much. Driving me around was a wonderful Swiss who flies Lufthansa cargo planes but makes a point of taking leave every year during the WEF season to drive WEF participants around. So for a week he stops flying to New York and Atlanta, and instead drives between hotels and meeting places, because he finds it interesting to meet people and soak to some extent the excitement and busyness of Davos. I wonder if any Singaporean would see life in a similarly open, curious, and venturesome manner!

As we were driving to Zurich airport, I contemplated the inspiring scenery of the Alps and remarked that people have said “Switzerland is God’s country.” “How,” I asked, “could anyone see such rugged, powerful beauty, and yet believe there is no god?” 

“Yes,” my driver said, “And he did a good job!”  

We laughed, but how true: God does a good job!

I recall a meeting in Davos with a Swedish company. We observed how Sweden and Finland were so good in design and engineering: both countries are the home of SAAB, Ericsson, Ikea and Nokia, among other well-known international names. How did this come to be? Our Swedish friend said, simply, “Because we are Lutherans: we work hard.”  

The reference to Lutherans is a reference to what is often called the “Protestant work ethic” that states: “work hard, save well, do a good job.”  To me, it is a very interesting point, that the capacity and willingness to work hard defines the culture of a nation and paves the way for success.  

Perhaps there is something about small countries, whether it be small land mass or small populations, that the sense of vulnerability and need for sovereign independence leads to enterprise and the spirit of drawing together, studying hard, and working hard.

Some closing observations on Switzerland. Almost every three months they have a referendum on something or other, where every Swiss citizen gets to vote on some national issue.  Every so often they vote on whether to stop having national service: each time they have chosen to keep national service. And those who fail to perform their annual in-camp training of 21 days a year have to pay an extra tax amounting to three percent of their annual income – not a small sum! Such is the Swiss conviction that they themselves have to defend their land and their independence.  

Even more interestingly, recently they had referendums on whether to lower the number of working hours a week to the mid-30s, and to increase the number of public holidays a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the Swiss but surprisingly for the rest of the world, they voted against both the changes! My Swiss pilot explained that both measures meant less work hours, so who is going to pay the extra taxes to make up for the loss in productivity?

The mentality of the Swiss is one that we would all do well to espouse…for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, and for our country’s sovereignty. 

The “Digical” Revolution: Sharings from the World Economic Forum


I was in Davos recently attending the World Economic Forum.

One session I attended addressed the “digical” revolution, as meaning changes taking place in the digital and physical worlds, and how they interact with each other.

A speaker said that to get a sense of tomorrow, he recently took his family to Disneyworld, where electronics and robots have been cleverly brought together for surprising entertainment. Yet the longest queue was not for the rides, but the kids lining up for a hug by a princess. The point is that human beings live in the dimension of the physical and emotional.

As a signboard at Davos prominently said, technology does not change the world – people do. What and how to use technology is our choice.

Another speaker spoke very thoughtfully about how innovation comes into our lives. He remarked that looking back at history, innovations that take root are where they replace “non-consumption” rather than “consumption“.  

Take the example of the transistor. For a long time, engineers tried to re-engineer radios by trying to use transistors in place of valves. This did not succeed, whether it be for reason of novelty or reliability in the early days of the transistor. The transistor took hold as an innovation good for life when Sony introduced the transistor radio. Suddenly the teenagers could each carry around their own music, even though the sound quality was not that great in the early transistor radios – the important thing was it gave the youngsters mobility and independence. Improvements came later, and today valves hardly play a role in the life of any ordinary home. It was a case of a new innovation gaining acceptance by establishing a foothold in “non-consumption”, namely, consumers who never had radios, rather than by replacing valves for those who already had radios.

Another observation concerned electric cars. Huge efforts have been going into trying to directly replace the petrol-driven cars. Yet the most successful introduction had been with hybrid cars. No doubt, as the technology improved (especially with battery technology), newer models of cars would come about. On the other hand, like the transistor radio, if a consumer market could be found that required only short distance travelling and did not require cars to go at very high speeds, electric cars could be expected to “take off”.  Is there such a potential market?  Perhaps there is, if we think in terms of simply driving around in the immediate neighbourhoods rather than long distances with their demands of endurance and speed. Think about what is the most popular development in China today: motorised bicycles! Could we imagine the future as evolving from today’s motorised two-wheelers to three-wheelers and then the four-wheelers we call cars?

The speaker also mentioned how the steamships for cross-ocean travel came about. When the steam engine was first applied to ship propulsion, they were not found or perceived to be reliable enough for cross-ocean travel. So for many years the sailing ships held sway, while the steam engine became increasingly used for ships moving up and down rivers where issues of reliability were not so severe or life-threatening as land was always nearby. The steam engine was increasingly installed on cross-ocean ships as back-ups and auxiliary power for several decades, until engineering and technology caught up in terms of cost and reliability.

The point in these illustrations is that innovation has most succeeded where applications first induce or replace “non-consumption” rather than directly replace existing consumption.

Perhaps such an understanding also apply to organisational development, where the first changes are in “hybrid” mode rather than full replacement, and people get comfortable with change through an approach of “evolution in execution, revolution in results”…