Win with Honour with The 4 Way Test

Winning with Honour l The 4-Way Test

As we start a new week, let us be inspired by this sculpture by Mr Victor Tan Wee Tar that is nestled in the beautiful Singapore Botanic Gardens, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

In this sculpture called “Passing of Knowledge”, a continuous stream of water connects a larger figure and a smaller figure – “knowledge, like water, is vital to life”, and “the water is symbolic of the passing of knowledge from generation to generation”.

The sign that accompanies the sculpture explains: “This embodies the Rotarians’ hope that the values cultivated by The 4 Way Test will continue to be a guiding principle in human relations for our future generations.”

And what it is the 4-Way Test?

Of the things we think, say, or do, let us think:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?

Wishing one and all a great week ahead!



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Winning in Work and Life is More than Knowledge and Skills

Schools and universities see much of their role as sharing knowledge and developing skills, rather than guiding their students on winning in work and life. All of us know that in leading our organizations, what we look for when we recruit or promote people is not just competence and experience, but also trustworthiness and dependability. 

We wonder whether we can trust the people we choose to deliver on what we expect of them, both in terms of timeliness and of quality of work. Will they do their best according to their talents and capabilities? Will they produce work they can be proud of? Will they observe deadlines, and let us know if they will not be able to meet the deadlines? 

We also wonder whether our people will cooperate, collaborate and support each other as necessary and appropriate. Will they see the broader organisational objective and responsibility, or approach work in self-pride and selfishness?

Can we trust our people in their attitude towards their work and towards each other? Will our people honour their word, and honour each other?  Will they deliver on their promises?  Will they look out for each other and function as family or as a team?

Universities and schools fail to make the point with their students that to succeed in work and life, they need to be trustworthy and not just competent in their skills and abilities.

Trust is the most important currency for long-term relationships – we all know this instinctively! Trust is both critical and essential in relationships with parents and family, with friends and relatives, with bosses, colleagues and subordinates, with business partners and customers, and with government and the community. And Honor is the Foundation of Trust.


How can we understand Honour?  Some people think Honour is too ambiguous an idea, and could be better understood if we were to use words like Integrity or Respect. But while integrity and respect are certainly important aspects of honour, they are not adequate.

To understand the depth of Honor, consider the question:  What is the difference between Liking and Loving?  When we say we like something or someone, we mean that there are characteristics about the thing or the person that appeals to us. Liking, therefore, is in fact a very self-centered way of thinking.

On the other hand, when we say we love someone, we will continually be thinking of what we can do to please that person, make the person more comfortable, bring joy to the person, and raise the person’s sense of well-being. Loving, therefore, is a very other-centred way of thinking and behavior.  Unfortunately, the word “love” has been very much debased in many situations to simply mean “like very much”.

If we can draw this differentiation between “liking” as a self-centered frame of mind and “loving” as an other-centered frame of mind, we will be able to similarly appreciate that “respect” derives from a self-centered frame of mind: Does the person deserve my respect?  What is it about him or her that is worthy of my respect? In contrast, honour springs from an other-centered frame of mind.

A common situation would help clarify the wellspring of honour. If you were riding an escalator in a city where the convention is to stand on the right, an interesting question is why you yourself stand on the right.  If you were doing so because that is the social convention, then all you are doing is to “follow the crowd”. But if you were standing on the right out of regard for those who may wish to move faster by “overtaking” you on the left, then what you are doing is an act of Honour, an act of other-centeredness.

The Virtuous Circle of Honor

The world would be so much a better place if honour were a natural way of thinking and behaviour.  This is where we enter the virtuous circle of

  • Honour in Individuals (each one being the best he or she can be according to their talents and abilities) leading to
  • Honour in Families (starting with honoring our father and our mother) leading to
  • Honour in Communities (David Halpern, in his book The Hidden Wealth of Nations, forcefully makes the point that “richer nations are happier, yet economic growth doesn’t increase happiness”, and explains the paradox by saying “the hidden wealth of nations – the extent to which citizens get along with others – independently drives both economic growth and well-being.”) leading to
  • Honour in Organizations (which include businesses, social enterprises, and the behavior of leaders) leading to
  • Honour in Nation, which in turn enables Honor in Individuals, and so on.Winning wiht Honour l  The Honour Circle.jpg

This last, “Honor in Nation”, can be explained with the example of Singapore. Singapore is a small country with a population of around 5.5 million and a land area of 278 square miles, a nation with absolutely no natural resources, and smaller than New York City, London or Tokyo.  If you were to look at any map of the world, Singapore would fit quite nicely within the letter “o” of its name. Its population is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious. Pew Research Center found Singapore in 2014 to be the most religiously diverse country in the world.

How has Singapore managed to survive and thrive despite the challenges of geography and demographics? 

The answer lies in Singapore being a brand of trustworthinessBrand Finance, an international brand consultancy firm based in London, named Singapore the strongest nation brand in both 2015 and 2016.

Brand Finance explains, “Nation Brand value is reliant upon GDP (i.e. the revenues associated with the brand).  Singapore’s small size means it will never be able to challenge for the top spot in brand value terms, because its brand simply cannot be applied extensively enough to generate the same economic uplift as ‘brand USA’ for example.  However, in terms of the underlying nation brand strength, Singapore comes out on top.”

The strong Singapore brand springs from two acts of honour as a nation: it is a people and a government who can be trusted to honour their Word – to deliver on their promises, observe the rule of law, protect international property rights, and deliver on quality and excellence – and who honour Each Other – recognizing that ethnicity, language and religion are visceral issues, aspects of life left to individual choice but in a way which does not impinge upon the freedom of others to similarly choose for themselves, and in this way maintain community harmony and social stability.

Succeeding in Work and Life

Success in work and life depends not just on knowledge, experience, competence and skills, but also very much on trustworthiness, reliability and dependability.

Trust, in turn, is founded on Honor, where other-centeredness plays a central role, as against the selfishness and self-centeredness which drives much of the behavior of individuals and organizations all over the world.  

The fundamental premise of Honor is that honor is what we offer others out of consideration for them, with no expectation of getting some reward in return, though it may be an act in “enlightened self-interest” where the resultant goodwill, peace and harmony makes the honoring effort more than worthwhile. Honoring springs from an other-centered frame of mind, much like “love”.

Universities and schools need to help their students understand that success in work and life is more than skills and knowledge. It is essential to be trustworthy and dependable. 

And parents and families should recognize that it is they who will determine whether universities and schools can do this effectively, because they are the ones who create the moral foundations in the home that will make their children accept or reject the message of honor and trustworthiness.

So, if you want to succeed at the work place, and/or want your child to succeed in life: Honour Your Word and Honour the People Around You.

By Lim Siong Guan and Joanne Lim (co-authors of Winning with Honour, and The Leader, The Teacher & You)


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The Significance of the Term “Pioneers of the Next Generation”



The Committee on the Future Economy recently released their report entitled: “REPORT OF THE  COMMITTEE ON THE FUTURE ECONOMY: The Pioneers of the Next Generation”. The term “Pioneers of the Next Generation” has a very special significance which most Singaporeans would probably miss. Why is this so?

In an Straits Times Op-Ed article that was published on 2 June 2016, “Getting to the Future with Honour”, which I had co-authored, reference was made to a study by Sir John Bagot Glubb called “The Fate Of Empires And Search For Survival” (William Blackwood and Sons, 1978) that was cited in “Winning with Honour” by Siong Guan Lim and Joanne H Lim (Imperial College Press, 2016) in consideration of the  question: Would Singapore Fall?”“

In his study, Glubb studied 11 empires over 3,000 years and found that every empire lasted only about 200 – 250 years. This is mystifying because one could have thought that technology would have allowed the later empires to last longer.

Glubb uncovered the mystery by finding that all the empires went through six stages – the Ages of Pioneers, Conquests, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, and Decadence – before its eventual decline.

Winning with Honour l  Page 361.png

Each stage has its own characteristics:

  • Age of Pioneers, a period of amazing initiative, enterprise, courage and hardihood.
  • Age of Conquests, where the principal objects are glory and honour for the nation.
  • Age of Commerce, when values start shifting from the self-sacrifice of the initial pioneers to self-interest, and the acquisition of wealth starts taking precedence over everything else.
  • Age of Affluence, where money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men.
  • Age of Intellect, when business people who had made their wealth seek the praise of others by supporting art, music and literature, and institutions of higher education.
  • Age of Decadence, which comes about due to an extended period of wealth and power, selfishness, love of money, and loss of a sense of duty.

Glubb found that nations decline not because their people do not have a conscience, but because of a weakening sense of duty accompanied by an increase in selfishness and the desire for wealth and ease.

In his study, Glubb stated that the Age of Decadence, the last age before the decline of the nation, is marked by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state and weakening of religion.

Glubb affirmed that his analysis of the rise and fall of empires also applied to small states if the small state had also tasted power and affluence.

Many thoughtful people see signs in Singapore of five of the characteristics of the Age of Decadence – namely, defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity and influx of foreigners, as well as incipient signs of the last two characteristics – namely, the welfare state and the weakening of religion.

Glubb’s basic finding is that nations rise with the energy, determination, and hard work of their people as they seek a better life through affluence; and nations ironically fall after they achieve affluence as they weaken in their imagination and drive for new success.  

The interesting question is whether Singapore can avoid a natural fall after the Age of Affluence by starting a new growth curve with an Age of New Pioneers seeking a new way of success and affluence. This is where the proposed return to the “Age of Pioneers” by the Committee of the Future Economy is of paramount significance and importance for the future of Singapore.

As mentioned on page 363 of “Winning with Honour”, the Age of Pioneers is a period of amazing initiative, enterprise, courage, and hardihood, characterised by an extraordinary display of energy and courage. Pioneers are always ready to improvise, experiment, and innovate as opined by Glubb: “Untrammelled by traditions, they will turn anything available to their purpose. If one method fails, they try something else. Uninhibited by textbooks or book learning, action is their solution to every problem.”

Glubb sagely noted: “ ‘The only thing we learn from  history,’  it has been said, ‘is that men never learn from history’, a sweeping generalisation perhaps, but one which the chaos in the world today goes far to confirm. What then can be the reason why, in a society which claims to probe every problem, the bases of history are still so completely unknown?”

Should Singapore be able to learn the lessons from the history of the human race and successfully break the same patterns constantly repeated over 4,000 years under widely differing conditions of climate, culture, and religion, Singapore would prove itself to be exceptional and unique once again.

Can Singapore break the pattern of decline that has plagued nations over the course of human history?

The answer lies in all of us committing to espouse the ancient virtues of courage, patriotism, and devotion to duty, and ensuring the objects of ambition are glory and honour for the nation and collective whole, and not for self-interest.

Should Singaporeans be willing to learn from history and commit to building a culture of continual innovation and excellence that fills the minds and drives the lives of Singaporeans of every age, Singapore has a chance of creating history by not only defying the odds of developmental history that spells a certain social, economic and spiritual doom, but also defining what it means to be a First World Society where individuals look out for the well-being of each other.

Dare we choose courage over comfort and certainty for the continued success and survival of our nation? This is a question for every Singaporean to answer.

By Joanne H Lim

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