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Money Is An Idea: Skillsets For Thriving In The New Economy

by C J Ng

Contrary to most expectations, the New Economy isn't so much about new technology. The New Economy is about knowledge, and hence it is sometimes called the Knowledge-based Economy. That means the person who can learn, organise and apply knowledge faster than others can easily thrive in the New Economy.

Since knowledge doubles itself every 10–15 months, that person may need to work with networks of people, where each contributing his/ her experiences, expertise and connections, to get things done.

The Only Failure is the Failure to Participate

The late American inventor and philosopher, R. Buckminster Fuller once mentioned, "The only failure is the failure to participate." I guess he must be referring to the New Economy, because in the New Economy:

1) Many things happen at the same time such that there isn't anyone who can track all that has happened; and,

2) Things are happening so fast that certain information have already expired when your receive it.

As such, the only way to keep abreast of times is to participate in what is happening around you. There are 3 areas that anyone has to work on if he/ she is to truly participate in the New Economy:

1) Technology and its Applications;
2) Networking and Interpersonal Skills; and
3) Mindsets, Beliefs and Attitudes

Technology and Its Applications

While the New Economy isn't so much about technology, it will still play a very important supporting role. The common misconception is that everybody would need to get a degree in I.T. or Life Sciences in order to secure a job in the future. Fortunately for most, all we need to find out is the nature of each new technology that props out and the applications of that technology.

For example, the nature of the Internet is that it is the most efficient way to communicate, distribute and transact, anywhere you are in the world. It eliminates most of the constraints imposed by geographic distance and time zones. It can be integrated with a computer system that can store all online activities in a database that can be analysed and acted upon later.

By understanding this, you will know that the Internet is a good way to save long distance phone calls through e-mail. You can use some software to sort who are your classmates, penpals, close friends, not-so-close friends etc., and then customise your e-mails to send each group.

In the business sense, you can use the integrated features of the Internet to tell you who are your best customers, what they buy, how much they buy etc. You can then customise e-mails and faxes that are directed at various groups of customers at very low costs.

Some experts call this Customer Relationship Management or CRM for short. I say that you, and anybody else, can also derive at your own CRM if you had known the nature of the Internet and use a little common sense to derive at the possible uses of it. In other words, you don't need to do CRM programming yourself. All you have to do is to tell a programmer what you want to achieve, and he/she will do it for you!

The same applies to Life Sciences and other emerging technologies as well. As the 19th-century sociologist, Max Weber, pointed out that new technology is created because of there are certain things that current technology cannot achieve. While this new technology may create some breakthroughs resulting in newer technologies, such breakthroughs will only give us value only if we can understand its nature and find uses for it.

In the early 70s, DuPont, the company that invented Nylon, invented a more advance version of synthetic fibres called Kevlar. It wasn't until the late 80's that some people finally understood the nature of Kevlar—strong, light and flexible, that it was made into bullet-proof vests and helmets. Now, Kevlar-made products include canoes (someone realised that it's water-proof as well), snowboards, motorcycle bodies etc. The people at DuPont knew everything about Kevlar, but what the world needs is someone who can find an application for it.

Hence, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to find out what you can do with rockets. The same applies to other fields as well, be it Life Sciences or anything more advance in the future. You can find out more through reading more, studying more (introductory knowledge to the Life Sciences is included in all undergraduate programmes at NUS and NTU), and better still, network and find out more from other people.

Networking and Interpersonal Skills

In the past, networking refers to hooking up 2 or more computers together. However, networking between people can be the surest way to find business partners, investors, suppliers, customers, and even help you get the job you have always been dreaming of.

Networking is not a new concept. Traders and merchants from countries as diverse as India, China, the Arabic countries and even European countries had relied on personal networks to trade and build businesses for hundreds of years. As the legal institutions of the time were not very advanced, merchants would only deal with people whom they know well, so as to avoid fraud. Incidentally, the stronger connections a merchant had, the more successful he became.

Part of networking is the building of interpersonal relationships, and this will take some time. As best-selling author Harvey MacKay puts it, "Dig your well before you are thirsty." Networking takes time, and has to begin long before you see the need for it.

You may ask that, with the Internet, we'll have access to all kinds of information around the world, including whether a person is reliable or not, so why network?

The fact is most venture capitalists will not even look at a business plan unless that business plan was given by someone they know personally, or by a referral through their friends. I am doing what I'm doing right now because I belong to the same network as my investor of my business plan, who then promptly agreed to invest on my business idea, and gave me the post of CEO to take charge of this new business unit as well.

In a smaller scale, if you happen to be a waiter or housekeeper at the Ritz Carlton as your vacation job, and you also got a chance to serve Bill Gates while he was here in Singapore. Not only did you serve him well, you also sent postcards to him regularly after he went back to the U.S. About 1 year later, you graduated from your studies and are now looking for a job. You write to Bill, asking him to give you a character reference, and because you served him well and has been sending postcards to him regularly and sincerely over the past 1 year, he agreed. Now, armed with Bill Gates' reference on your character, wouldn't you find it easier to get a job anywhere you wish?

As things move very quickly in the New Economy, having strong networks can help you gain access to information that even the Internet does not have access to. You'll have access to a pool of resources known as collective wisdom, that is the combined knowledge of every individual in the network. Now if you want to find an application for a new technology, knowledge or idea, your network may just provide you with the answer you've been searching for.

Networking can take place anywhere as long as there are people coming together to interact. This includes clubs, associations, talks, seminars, events, schools, workplace etc. In fact, I managed to sell my Complete eBusiness Training Programme to a friend that I had known when I was involved in the Youth Group at Alexandra Community Centre about 5–6 years ago. Most of my clients were actually people I had known through seminars, talks and organisations such as Business Network International (BNI) and Singapore Business & Professional Women's Association (SBPWA).

Mindsets, Beliefs and Attitudes

This was what my mother used to say, "Be a good student, then you'll get good grades. When you have good grades, you'll get a good degree. When you get a good degree, you'll get a good job and a good pay."

Fortunately for some and unfortunately for others, having a degree these days may not be as lucrative as it was. In the past, the salary gap between a degree and non-degree holder was huge. Now, if you are a degree holder working in the private sector, you may lament that after spending 3–4 years of hard work obtaining that degree, not to mention the amount of money and opportunity costs invested on the degree programme, only to find out that the non-degree holders are not earning too bad anyway.

That is actually the good news, because if you are earning significantly higher than others, guess who will go first if your company is to restructure?

This also brings to the notion of job security. It is now extinct. You may say that you can join the civil service so that you can enjoy good pay, good job security and good employee benefits as well. Unfortunately, most government sectors are going to be privatised soon, and the remaining ones may be cutting down manpower to create a lean and mean civil service.

My mother used to also say that, "If you don't study hard, you'll end up as a hawker." Although my mother was a schoolteacher before she retired, a good hawker can earn 5–6 times what my mother did at her highest salary scale.

I'm not discouraging anyone from studying or getting a degree.I'm just pointing to the fact that having a degree alone will not ensure success in life. This is the belief that has been passed down for generations, which unfortunately, is no longer true anymore.

The purpose of a degree now is something deeper and more challenging. It is now truly the place to learn about the nature of things (technological and otherwise), network and test ideas.

Since job security is extinct, you may better off to prepare to be an entrepreneur eventually. Since corporations are getting flatter, which means chances of promotion are smaller, why not set up your own shop and be your own boss?

It doesn't take a lot of money, nor even a lot of experience and expertise to be an entrepreneur. You'd probably need some experience in the field of course, but the key ingredients will be your understanding of technology, and the strength of your network. With adequate insights about the marketplace, and with support from your network (they'd like to make money from your idea too), you can gain access to capital, customers, suppliers, loans and just about everything you need to start your business.

I decided to set up shop to create the Complete eBusiness Training Programme after 6 months working for a web developer because I saw there are business people who do not know enough about the nature of the Internet to profit from it. Through my networks, I got my investor, customers, suppliers, expertise and other resources. Now the training programme has been approved by the Skills Development Fund to award 80% subsidy to all participants who are the staff and owners of Small and Medium Enterprises in Singapore.

I have a friend who sells plastic bags (the types used for supermarkets) to France. The bags are outsourced to manufacture in Malaysia. My friend had lived in France for a number of years, so she grew her networks while she was there. The average annual sales turnover for the past 5 years is about US$2–3 million. Apart from the cost of manufacturing, there are only 2 staff in the office to maintain, i.e. my friend and her husband. My point is, it really doesn't take a lot of money, experience, expertise, or even risk to start a profitable business.

This brings to the last belief that I'd like to mention, and that is the beliefs we had about money. While it is true that money does not grow on trees, it is not as mystical or so difficult to earn as it's made up to be. It certainly is NOT the root of all evil, otherwise we will not be donating this evil creature to churches, temples and the charities.

Money is just a medium of exchange. In the distant past, we have to barter 1 cow for 10 chickens. With money, we can sell the cow and purchase 3 chickens, 3 ducks, 1 dog and have some savings just in case. How much money we have depends on the value we provide to others. If we put in effort to rear the cow, and all of a sudden, Mad Cow disease strikes, we are not going to provide much value to the market. Hence, we are not going to make much money. On the other hand, if we can guarantee that our cows are Mad Cow disease-free, and at the same time promote the benefits of beef and diary products, we may be able to raise prices because we provide more value now. This, by the way, is exactly what Australian farmers are doing.

So if you are able to provide more value, and educate your customers that you are providing a lot more value compared to others, you'll probably make more money than others, whether you are a businessperson or an employee. Isn't this the main reason that you get promoted and rewarded at your job as well?

Conclusion

In fact, there is no such thing as the New Economy, or the Old Economy, because there's only The Economy. The same principles of effort, diligence, thrift, demand/supply etc. applies just as well. What is new is that things are moving faster, and knowledge is growing at an exponential rate. We have to change certain aspects of our lives not because the entire has changed, but because we can build certain skill sets that will help us thrive in an ever-changing world. These skills can be developed at work, in school, and just about anywhere else. The important thing is to dig your well before you are thirsty, so participate before it gets too late. If you do just that, a whole new world awaits you.

C J Ng is the founder of Cydj Business Performance Consultants, providing you with turnkey operational solutions that improve business performances on a sustainable long-term basis. Cydj gives you fast execution, tried and tested experience, effective strategies and actionable plans.

 

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