Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Inside Cabinet... it's no wayang

This article I found on AsiaOne which is excerpted from the New Paper reminded me of my impression of Shell's local directors years ago when I joined their management program. Even if what the article said is true (not likely) it is terribly hard to sustain. Also the process is likely to reduce the quality of decisions most of the time because of the overwhelming desire to achieve consensus. That is why it is also impossible for other companies to compete successfully against Jobs at Apple. Can you imagine an iPod, iPhone, iPad etc., created by committees? The other IT companies create theirs in committees, and what is the result? Microsoft is marooned without Bill Gates, and Steve Ballmer isn't an entrepreneurial engineer and see how Microsoft struggles.

However Singapore can still do very well for a while. Very often you don't need to have the best ideas to be exceptional. In fact such winning ideas are losers if you cannot execute. Great businesses outside Tech industries are often built on simple ideas with first class execution and afterward brand investment and promotion. This is what I believe Singapore is trying to achieve. Sadly, steering the ship of state does not fall into the simple businesses that is so beloved by Warren Buffett. Fellow citizens, Singapore needs lots of luck! It would be cleverer to have a inner sanctum of absolutely brilliant leaders numbering not more than three or four. Consensus among almost twenty ministers is an oxymoron.

From the article,

Giving The New Paper a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at these pre-Cabinet lunches, Dr Balakrishnan said that when it comes to debating issues, Ministers are very frank when they disagree with each other.
"If I think you are wrong, I will tell you you are wrong," he said.
"I'm not telling you you're wrong because I'm acting or I'm trying to score points. I will have to explain why I think you're wrong, and the others listening will also have to decide."
However, that doesn't mean that the debates become unruly.
"We don't yell at each other," he said.
"But strongly held views are expressed. We're not an excitable bunch.
"But as you can see, there are important issues that we feel passionately about, and sometimes there are emotional issues too.
"That's why the teamwork is so strong. We don't score points with each other, we don't undercut each other, we don't yell at each other, we don't form factions, we don't play favourites...it's a very unique culture."
Labour chief Lim Swee Say said the sessions start with a difference of views so that all the best ideas are thrown up.
"We start with diversity, then we try to build consensus," said Mr Lim, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
"And in the process of trying to build consensus, we try to maximise our common ground, and at the same time, recognise the concern in terms of the differing views."

My take? I am no longer a twenty something year old to be persuaded on the above. Life just isn't so simple or idealistic. Are you telling me that these guys have no egos? Of course there is wayang, it is just much more subtle and all subterranean.

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