Innovation Blog

The Little Country That Can…and Will:  How Singapore Excels

By Shlomo Maital

   At Singapore’s Changi Airport last night, I learned a small lesson in why Singapore is one of the world’s wealthiest countries, despite having no natural resources.  It is because Singapore has built a culture of no excuses, seeking excellence in all that it does, because anything less will endanger its citizens’ wellbeing.  This culture was built right from the start, from the day Singapore achieved independence from Britain in 1965, and was shaped by its chief architect and first Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew, whose son now serves as Singapore’s PM. 

   Changi Airport is among the world’s best and most modern. Yet despite this, it is being massively refurbished and rebuilt.  Why?  Singapore insists on having the world’s best airport.  This is part of Singapore’s formula for attracting people and investors and multinationals.  And to have the best airport means constantly upgrading and improving, because the rest of the world is rapidly improving, too.  But it is not just about infrastructure, about getting your bag 12 minutes after the wheels of your plane touch down.  It is about service.

    I wanted to buy a present, but in the huge airport, did not know where to look. I spotted a young lady dressed in a bright red vest.  She was a tourism intern, studying at one of Singapore’s Polytechnic Schools. As part of her studies, she was required to do an extensive internship at the airport, working six hours every evening, with only a 30-minute break, and being on her feet the whole time, assisting travellers.

    I asked her where I could find a lady’s digital watch.  She told me (she knew where everything in the airport was, I know this, because I rudely gave her a small informal exam, out of curiosity).  Then she asked me politely if she could escort me to the store.  And she did. 

   Singapore’s port is among the world’s most efficient;  its system for charging for road use during peak hours, using transponders,   is now widely copied (including by London); and despite being a high-wage country, it remains a key manufacturing center for Asia.  It is corruption-free, because its civil servants are highly paid, hence do not need to take bribes – and most severely punished if they take bribes.  Singapore Airlines is among the world’s best, and it too insists on being #1, in aircraft, service and amenities.  Avis may have invented the slogan: We’re #2. We try harder.  Singapore’s mantra?  We’re #1. And we STILL try harder.