Breakfast Notes #48 (HDB,Confucianism, History)
Good morning friends.
Here is what I want to share this week.
- George Yeo's Book Launch. His first of three books has just hit the shelves. Take a gander. Trust me, it will change your life.
- Quote of the Week. Liu Thai Ker, Singapore's favourite Architect highlights the importance of education, “A young mind is like a blank canvas. It absorbs everything like a sponge and the key lies in ensuring that they absorb the right things.”
Here is the 48th serving of the Breakfast Notes.
Reads Of The Week
Here are the reads of the week.
- The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis. In the US, there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together. The author explains how the decaying economic value of the humanities is causing great unrest in young American elites. Like all things, he suggests that the way out is a great moderation of expectations. If you want to know why some believe student loan debt cancellation ain't enough and why American millennials are often angry, check this piece out!
- HDB and Miss Universe. What makes public housing desirable? In most countries, public housing is perceived to be a liability and a cesspool of social ills. In Singapore, over 80% of the population lives in public housing. One thing that shines through in this interview is his utter contempt for buzzwords. As a young architect, he knew the buzzwords were 'new town' and 'neighbourhood', but no one knew how to operationalize them. He then dedicated himself to intense research, consultations and site visits. The lesson is instructive- follow the buzz, and operationalize the idea.
- Too Big To Think. Why is it so hard to do creative work in a bureaucracy? Paul Millerd takes a deep dive as to why big consulting firms have lost their mojos. The truth is as Millerd puts it, 'As organizations grow, they inevitably add rules, structures, layers, and policies to manage the complexity. This comes with many tradeoffs, many of which are worth it, but it’s quite hard to scale effectively while still cultivating an environment where weirdos can thrive. ' Eventually, your creativity is suffocated and you become yet another cog in the corporate machine. This is a sobering reminder that I must hold on to my creative spark. Guard it jealously!
The Confucian Gentleman
If you asked me as a 16-year-old that I would one day have a meal, much less work on a project with one of Singapore’s best statesmen in a decade’s time, I would have laughed you off.
But, here I am today, absolutely honoured to have shared a stage with Mr Yeo. (I also had the horror and honour of going after Professor Tommy Koh)
You have heard Mr Yeo described as a ‘polymath, a renaissance man, a thinker, a philosopher.’
I added one more.
To me, he is a 君子， the Confucianist gentleman.
In Analects 1.1, it is said
I will say this in Chinese first
学而时习之，不亦说乎？ 有朋自远方来，不亦乐乎？ 人不知而不愠, 不亦君子乎?
In the first line, Confucius says, ‘Is it not a pleasure to learn and apply your insights at the opportune moments?
As a political leader, he was a practitioner. He applied his wealth of wisdom to make sound policy decisions for the long-term prosperity of Singapore. This very building we are in is one example of his many contributions to our country.
In the second line, he says ' Is it not a joy to have friends arrive from afar?'
As a thinker, he has introduced novel ideas, germane to our national discourse. He invigorates any conversation by the sheer brilliance of his thoughts and his imaginative analogies. Mention the ‘bonsai tree’ and immediately, George Yeo comes to mind. It is no wonder that he has guests who come from afar and take great pleasure in his companionship.
In the third line, Confucius states, 'To be unacknowledged or misunderstood by others and yet to harbour no resentment, is this not the mark of a true gentleman?’
As a man, he responded to unfair and excessive criticism with grace and calm. To those who did wrong against him, he bears no resentment. He has this serenity and composure that I can only dream of. For those of us who have the privilege of knowing him, we get to catch a glimpse of his unassuming and quiet kindness.
This book is a gift because it is a distillation of Mr Yeo’s musings and an extension of him. It will invite us to aspire greatly, reflect deeply, and act intentionally.
Follow Your History
I work at Enterprise Singapore and I am intensely curious about our history. The Grandfather of Enterprise Singapore was Singapore’s National Productivity Board.
It had a mission: Make Another Satisfied Customer.
40 years later, did this mission change? At first, I thought the obvious answer was ‘Yes’. After reflecting and reading, I realized that we had only broadened our mission.
We remain focused on raising productivity because our workers and enterprises remain our customers.
We focus on strengthening innovation because we aim to satisfy the customers of tomorrow.
We focus on accelerating internationalization because we aim to satisfy the customers overseas.
Be it 1982 or 2022, we are here to make another satisfied customer.
The lesson I learned in exploring the archives is one that is perfectly encapsulated in this quote by the French priest and intellectual, Ernest Dimnet, 'The history of the past interests us only in so far as it illuminates the history of the present.'
The Bicycle Face
Like the bicycle, people in 2022 will continue to blame societal problems on technologies they don't like.
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Thank you for reading this and truly, may the sun shine upon your face,