A Different Sort Of Fishing Tale




THE RECENT Budget announcement pointed to the need for more funds to support infrastructure development in Singapore in the years to come.

Singapore’s progress has been hugely impressive since independence and there is an unwavering belief that the path taken from the start is the only one that Singapore could have embarked upon.

The progress of Singapore’s economy is a strong affirmation of this belief.

But, what if Singapore had taken another path from the start? How different would Singapore be?

There was likely always more than one option that Singapore could have pursued. Though the basis of any path taken would have leveraged on Singapore’s prime location as a hub for shipping lanes.

Parables And Hyperbole

Readers may know of about the famous, old story of a fisherman and business person that has likely appeared in many forms and in many languages. Here is a version that is on author Paulo Coelho’s website.

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There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

Paulo Coelho's parable of future fishing.
Paulo Coelho’s parable of future fishing.

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Selling A Fishing Industry

You could imagine that the PhD in business management made a similar proposition in Singapore many decades ago. Instead of embarking on a trajectory suggested by the fisherman’s puzzled response, Singapore was bedazzled by the PhD’s vision and embraced it wholeheartedly.

At a political level, there was a need to be seen to be a success too, especially after being shown the door by the Malayan federation.

The direction that Singapore embarked upon was also encouraged by many people from the West who were of the same mindset as the PhD in business management. Soon, people with that same mindset were created on the island itself. They liked the idea of more boats, more fish and vertical integration.

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Meanwhile, those who were more of the mindset of the Brazilian fisherman migrated to other countries in droves — Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom were their preferred destinations rather than less-developed Asian cities. This may seem a bit hasty because Singapore was developing towards becoming like London, Sydney and Toronto.

Those who remained either believed in what the PhD in business management had laid out for Singapore, or had no means of leaving the island for another country.

New Fishing Routes

As the years passed, the Singapore system was regularly amended to ensure that the PhD’s vision could be pursued with the best outcomes. And true enough, tremendous success was achieved by the PhD’s prescription.

However, his vision for the fisherman was close-ended, meaning there would be time at the end to bask in the success after all the hard work. Singapore eschewed this aspect of the PhD’s prescription. It embarked on a path that is open-ended, and this may not sit comfortably in some quarters, especially as people become more informed. As such, there will likely be more people seeking to alight from Singapore’s chosen open-ended path and embrace the original thinking of the fisherman, namely to be happy with what they are doing now. It suggests Singapore needs to find new people who want more boats and more fish.

Thus It Was Unboxed by One-Five-Four Analytics presents alternative angles to current events. Reach us at [email protected]

Main Image: / Shutterstock.com

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