Paths to success – I craft it or the state crafts it?

I am sure many of us already seen the “Summly app” making headlines, where Yahoo pays Nick D’Aloisio (a 17yo teen from UK) around US$30 million to acquire the app which he launched in November 2012.

For those who have not seen the news or are wondering what is the Summly app, you guys can visit the link

I am not sure how many of us are excited every time we see and hear of such success stories. But I am certainly sure that for such success stories to happen, there must be a conducive environment, which I will touch upon in a while.

Meanwhile, it is important to have our legs firm on the ground, and think about “What is a success story?”

What is a success story? Well, it could be somebody who dares to dream of something great and then dares to attempt to materialize it so that more people can enjoy and gain from the end product.

To dare to conceive an idea, and be bold enough to try to make it happen is already a success – a success of being able to stretch your imagination, to think out of the box, and perhaps be “out of the norm” by attempting something nobody or very few had thought about.

If the idea does manage to materialize into a concrete existence, it will be another level of success.

Most importantly, a success story must not necessarily be one that gets international recognition by organizations or bodies (as in the case of the Summly app). And it is important to acknowledge that most success stories have their beginnings in a what I call the “conceiving of ideas”.

So can anybody in anywhere on this Earth create these kind of success stories? Well, generally it is possible. However, to be realistic, the presence of some conditions and environment would greatly help.

One of those important factors that determine the type of environment is the mentality of the government of the day.

Is the government micro-managing almost every aspects of society – such as which are the economic sectors (e.g. Biomedical science, pharmaceutical manufacturing, aerospace and aviation, finance and capital, healthcare research, petrol chemical) the government is placing its resources in, and encouraging the channeling of resources in order to propel growth (anyway, is growth a zero sum game? If country A gets more, will as a result country B gets less) and to tap on the demand for such industries in the global market?

Is the government very obsessed with shaping the country to be a “super hub” (e.g. The hub of law, the hub of medical science and medical tourism)?

Is the government crafting academic curriculum such that it over-highlights “economically viable” subjects, such as those that perhaps contribute towards growing the economic sectors which the government has identified?

The government by doing so, wouldn’t it actually be pinpointing certain paths of success (the impression is created by default of the state’s endorsement and support) and directing people to those paths?

The government by doing so, isn’t it creating a mindset among the people that it is better for them to be in the “mainstream” than to be on the “sidelines”, and hence it is better to pursue their academic and career success in those aspects already identified by the government?

It may not be bad thing for the government to set priorities for the country. However, overdoing so would create the impression that the other sectors not highlighted by the government are “not economically viable” and henceforth, “not a path to success”.

In that kind of situation, where the perception of success is shaped constantly by the government, can we really expect many people to “stretch their imagination, to think out of the box, and perhaps be ‘out of the norm’ by attempting something nobody or very few had thought about”, if naturally everybody wants to be successful?

I think there are many paths to success, and these paths are not just restricted to the different paths of education (e.g different streams, different educational institutions) that the government had put in place (which somehow sometimes do lead to the recommended end of those “economically viable sectors”).

Too much micro-managing and pinpointing over which are the “success paths” will only likely serve to push more people (who are eager to succeed) into designated paths, and sort of “distort the decision making” of those who want to try something else, for they fear of being “sidelined”, being “left behind” or facing “the real possibility of failure”. Some people will start doubting themselves.

How many times have we heard people saying or making remarks such as those (and many more..)

1) “I love Literature, but what can I do in Singapore if I got a Literature degree?”,

2) “Are you sure being in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, you won’t be a teacher after all that hard work of studies?”,

3) “I have no interest in the law, economics, or even the business degrees, but I will try to apply for them and enroll in it, so that I can have a brighter future…”,

4) I’ve great interest and passion for gaming and the workings of it. When I was younger, I dreamt of creating my own gaming software and make many kids like myself happy. But as I grow older, I realize that the sector have no prospect, and I will probably be better off studying hard and pursuing some mainstream careers… My parents agree too…”

5) “I do not really have interest in the business degree, but many friends persuaded me to join them because they said the degree will land me in a well paying job. I’ve no love in what I’m learning now, and possibly what I will be doing in the future, but perhaps, the idea of earning big money can probably push me through…”

And to sum up this piece, somebody here in Singapore reading about the story of Nick D’Aloisio and Summly app, would probably say this to himself:

“I hope to be a Nick D’Aloisio of Singapore one day, and I certainly have the interest to develop apps. I have some know-how on how to make an app, and I can seek help to hone my knowledge. But will I be successful if I just develop apps? Will I earn alot of money or do just as well as my friends who are the scientists, financial consultants? Will my work be recognized?….”

So who determine our own success story?


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