Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cross my palm with silver...

Had a consultation with ZH who is thinking about taking philo at the uni. He was wondering what philo majors ate after they graduate. At first glance, philo doesn't appear to be a practical subject that lends itself to too many job openings for work that actually pays money. I told him to clear his JC hurdle with the best grades he can get for all his current subjects first, then if he still wants philo at the uni, go for it. Simple cause-effect: flunk 'A' levels, no uni. No uni, no philo. A nicer tutor might have given him the glass-half-full view instead. Whatever.

As I continued to discuss The Future with him, my crystal ball predictions for the job market and the economy overall looked something like the following:

In our region, it's clear that there's no way we can compete along the industrial manufacturing line any longer. Even in high-tech manufacturing, we're going to be hard-pressed. Anything we can make, our neighbours can make cheaper. They have the materials, lots of hungry human resources, and the desire to match us in economic success and prosperity. They are already moving into their own industrial age and they'll easily edge us out of the game if we're not paying attention.

Fortunately, we are. We know our neighbours are aiming for self-sufficient bread-and-butter issues, and so we have to move on to a new niche -- the "knowledge-based economy". In other words, we're in the business of selling ideas. Hence, our job market will need thinkers and creatives, and probably creative thinkers plus those who can manage and channel the right brain-power to the areas that need them the most.

We'll be developing in areas like education, the arts, entertainment, industries that can produce unique -- and therefore valuable -- objects and/or experiences. We'll also be brokers for thoughts and ideas, perhaps in technology transfers or political-social-ethical theory, like Athens might have been to the ancient Greeks. ZH, philo may not be such a bad choice after all.

For us, mass production has taken us as far as it can go. Our clientele can no longer be the mass market because our industry can never expand large enough to supply the demand from a growing mass of newly affluent peoples from our neighbouring countries, not to mention India and China. They can more than adequately mass manufacture for their own people anyway, so they don't need us for that. Where they are becoming competent in providing the necessities of life for their people, we will be providing quality of life.

We have to target a clientele further up the value chain from the ordinary masses. Customization is the way to go, ideas and designs that distinguish the better off from the riff raff. We're talking about smaller value-added industries creating [whatevers] in exclusive quantities that a higher class of people are willing to pay a premium for.

It's the only strategy that'll help tiny us survive in a world that is slowly but surely growing overwhelmingly humongous day by day. We will survive by creating, then making peoples' dreams come true. While the world learns how to live longer and better through their increasing capabilities, we'll survive by giving the people something to live for.

The reality is, our competitive arena is never going to be a level playing field for us. We are too small, too weak, and too helpless to compete head-to-head with any of our neighbours. So we have to ask ourselves what game we are playing so as to take our best advantage. I propose that we are at the dog races. All the thoroughbred greyhounds lined up, whichever crosses the finish line wins.

However, in this game, we're not any of the greyhounds. If we were, out of the starting gate, they'll eat us for breakfast. No. We're the hare -- a tiny, defenceless, fuzzy thing mounted on a track that the dogs chase in order to motivate them to run faster. The hare represents to the dogs the possibilities that could be, and is always moving faster than the pack. It cannot afford to be caught because it will be torn to shreds, but that also means that the race is over and everybody loses.

In case you haven't noticed, life here is already like that. If our future progresses along rational lines, our future promises to be quite exciting. It's up to us to convince ourselves that in the next 10, 15, 20 years, this is the place to be and make it happen.

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