Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Not everybody likes to study chemistry or human nature in detail. But it is good to know some simple facts about human nature so that we can take advantage of this knowledge and make things go the way we want it to or to avoid unwanted “explosions” in our lives. Some common questions asked include:
1. How to raise the money to start projects?
2. How to get others to support without having authority over them.
Many were paralyzed when they can not get the answers and solutions to these questions.
My friends and I had raised or earned millions of dollars from locals and foreign sources for our work and building our organizations. Many have asked me to help raise funds for their projects and were quite disappointed that often I could not help them. These people do not understand why they have something that is good which they believe others need and yet they have difficulties in getting people to finance and support them. To help these people understand the situation I used to give them this example:
There are boys and girls in our community, in our work place, in our universities, polytechnics and schools who are marriageable yet there are many who even at a very matured age are still single. This trend is causing concern in our society and the government has set up the SDU (Social Development Unit) to handle this situation of having too many unmarried people. What is the problem? The young are biologically compatible for marriage but the Chemistry between them is not right. Make the chemistry right and there will be more marriages. The people involved must take the initiative to win the spouse they want. Arranged marriages, with some exceptions, are not acceptable to many in modern times. If you have a successful marriage people will respect you. Similarly if you dare to start something and succeed people’s support will follow. Asking others to help you raise funds for your pet projects seldom works.
When Singapore became independent many had doubts that we could survive as a nation on our own. For the individuals just keeping their small pieces of cake to themselves was hard enough. To expect people to work together and produce a bigger cake for all to share was not a well accepted proposal. Most people fear exploitation by their fellow men. When success comes the sharing of the cake will not be equal. This common belief, if not debunked, would have hindered the cooperation between the important sectors of our society and bog us down.
In chemistry the past alchemists thought that natural organic compounds could only be made by the natural metabolic processes. Man could not synthesize natural organic compounds because we did not possess the vital force or “magic” required. This belief held up the development of natural organic compounds and organic chemistry for many years until a German chemist, Friedrich Wohler synthesized urea (a natural organic compound produced by the body) in the laboratory in 1828. Wohler proved that the common belief of the day was not true. We need more people like Dr. Wohler to create more breakthroughs for us to progress. The modern organic drugs we have today have improved and prolonged our lives.
Similarly people believe that only those with the “magic” (money and authority) can start or initiate worthwhile projects. Those without this magic are lame ducks that people shy away from. This is a pity. It is not true that we cannot start working without money or authority. Our successful private enterprises, non-government organizations, charitable organizations, some statutory boards have shown that they can start and get things done with their own “magic” and entrepreneurship. Many will gather around people with the right spirit and thinking, give their support, raise the funds and do what has to be done. It is part of human nature to do something good. Our society has done this for many years. Let us continue to cultivate this part of our nature and bring the best out of our people. These people do not seek fame or personal rewards. Being able to contribute and help others is good enough for many. Let us attract more such people to do public service. If we succeed our society will be a much better one to live in. If we can get the chemistry right we can do it.
Lee Kum Tatt
Sunday, May 27, 2007
This allowed everybody to participate in their own way in building the spirit of a great society which we are proud of. The hordes of common people who have made their contributions to our society in their various ways will know and feel what I am saying and feeling. Many are concerned about the present trend where so much emphasis is placed on money over everything else. They are often insulted when people make them feel that they did what they did because of ulterior motives with monetary returns in mind. The resulting negative effects can be disastrous.
Money is a tool which we can use to do good or evil. It must be used as a means to an end to do things for the good of our fellowmen and not for ourselves alone. Greed is to make money as an end in itself. Our society is a caring society otherwise we would not be what we are today. Building a great society is an ongoing process. Let us keep on strengthening our spirit to build this Great Society by what we do and not destroy what we already have.
My experience in raising money and getting cooperation from numerous parties for some good causes will follow.
Lee Kum Tatt
27 May 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
This question was asked by many graduates trained in Science & Technology. Here are some of the common reasons:
1. Matching jobs to individuals is one of the biggest challenges that face every employer and employee.
2. Most employees do not have a clear idea of the type of research they like to do. They grab whatever comes their way only to find out later that what they got is not what they want.
3. Their personal interests and the demands for research changes with the rapid changes in S & T. Because of this some quit their jobs and others become redundant. It appears that with a few exceptions (like University professors) there is no career for pure research in Singapore unless one is prepared to go into administration sometime during their career. There are a lucky few who can do both. Now it is better than it was about 50 years ago when Singapore had just become a self governing state.
4. People get confused with the various types of existing research activities.
I am one of the lucky few who had never been a full time professor. Yet I could do research, administration and teaching part time throughout my working life of more than 50 years. In the process I have learned to classify my activities into the following categories which may be useful as a guide for potential researchers:
Problem Solving Research
1. Routine Work.
A fresh graduate usually starts with the routine work where he puts his technical skills into use. In the beginning it can be exciting. But soon it can be boring to some.
2. Problem Solving
Problems usually arise in our routine work. Solving some of these problems can be quite challenging. This is where the staff with initiative can be differentiated from the ordinary ones.
3. Innovative Research
An innovative researcher is one who “itches” to improve things all the time. He uses his knowledge and skills to improve procedures, methods, processes, and products. He has a base to start with and broadens the scope of his work or business when he succeeds. The “modifications” he introduces may be modest but his contributions can be very significant. Sometimes this is called “Applied Research”.
4. Creative Research.
Creative Research usually involves the quest for new knowledge whose application will open up new frontiers. Such work can produce inventions, patents or new fields for more research. They produce great scientists like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklins and Alexander Fleming. It takes a lot out of the individual and it gives one a good feeling when one succeeds.
5. Academic Research
Academic Research is usually carried out by university professors and teachers. It is part of their continuous education programme required to make them better teachers in this fast changing times. The exceptional ones will become Nobel Prize winners, who make new discoveries or produce new theories for others to study.
Our professors are also involved in “Mission oriented” research where they deal with “Problem solving, Innovative and Creative Research” and act as consultants at the same time.
Research is a very desirable activity to be involved in. It has its Joys and its Pains like every other human activity. It is good to know what these are and that they exist. I will share with you some of my experiences in research in the articles in my blog to follow. We need more researchers of all types. I hope you will join our rank.
Lee Kum Tatt
22 May 2007
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Singapore had a referendum in 1963 and voted to join Malaysia because of this belief. Singapore did not have what were considered important to have: natural resources, large population, big hinterland, financial reserves, special technologies and skills in our people. We do not even have water of our own!
How are we to eradicate poverty and diseases and provide enough jobs, education and housing for our people having just emerged from a war, a colony and still facing "confrontation" from Indonesia?.
These beliefs were very demoralizing and paralyzing to many. Fortunately we have people who dare to challenge some of these myths and beliefs and they were proven right. If we had wrung our hands and complained or cried we would not have the Singapore we have today. We must learn from these people how they did what they did.
What we needed was not just capabilities alone but collective confidence in ourselves as a society. Our collective instinctive intuition to do things our way was put to the test. Many discovered how creative they were if only they dared to try. Our successes built up our records and self confidence so important to earn others' trust in us. This is an essential element for success.
Our people have demonstrated that we still have the survivor instinct and spirit in our culture to serve and the survivor instinct we inherited from our forefathers to do the necessary. Yes, there are many who might appear to be doing queer things. Cynics ridicule their ideas and critics criticize their actions.
But these people persevered. They stuck to their beliefs and proved their points against other formidable beliefs of the time. These people are usually passionate in what they believe in. Their rewards are the satisfaction they get when they succeed.
Besides challenging selected myths we also need dedicated and courageous people who can help improve areas that needed improvement especially in the development of our manpower, selected technologies and other areas that are still controversial.
What we lack is not intellectual power and authority alone but enough people who can work together for a good cause to improve the lives of our fellowmen. Many such people have stepped forward for many years. Let us, as a society, continue to attract more of these people to step forward not by money or authority alone but by showing our appreciation and recognition of their work and spirit.
Our history is full of the work of these people if we care to look for them. These people still exist in spite of the materialistic world we are fast moving into. Our institutions and mass media should do more to highlight the work of these people.
With more such people we can build a great society like the ones we descended from and not just a wealthy one. We must continue to give room and opportunities for these people to play their role and contribute to our society as the famous American scientist Benjamin Franklin did.
Who knows, we may throw up a few Benjamin Franklin of our own in the process in the near future. We need our own Benjamin Franklins' for our progress and become a great society.
Lee Kum Tatt
18 May 2007
Many houses and churches, made mostly from timber in those days, were burned by fire cause by lightning during a thunderstorm. These fires destroyed many homes and caused considerable hardship and misery to many families. Many people accepted this as a catastrophy caused by nature and that man could do nothing about it.
Franklin in his search for a solution wondered what the properties of lightning and thunder bolts were and whether they were the same as electricity. He conducted his famous kite experiment. Few understand how the experiment worked but Franklin's experiment successfully proved that lightning was actually static electricity.
He did not stop there. He used this finding and his knowledge of electricity and invented the lightning rod to protect people's homes and churches from being burned down by lightning. Instead of acknowledging Franklin's contribution his invention created some serious controversies for some time.
Many people in Benjamin Franklin's days used to believe that thunder storms and lightning bolts were acts of God, to discipline sinners and to teach them important lessons. Some also believe that lightening strike trees where devils take refuge. Others believed Satan, his demons and witches tried to destroy God's holy churches and people's homes. Many resisted putting an iron rod above or next to the cross on the roof of a church.
The sacred explanations were vouched for by leading authorities of the day. Historians have written many books on Benjamin Franklin's life and his work and this controversy were described in many of them. This Lightning Rod controversy has become as famous as Benjamin Franklin's Kite experiment.
Franklin used his scientific knowledge to prove and solve this particular problem. USA and the world honour this great man for this and his other work. Frankliu's Kite experiment may look simple but his interpretation of the phenomenon has helped to solve a very complex problem by his invention of the Lightening Rod.
The question now is "how do we hope to produce some Benjamin Franklins from our midst?" How can we use modern science to help? Can we be less gullible, challenge some selected myths and refrain from taking too much for granted? Can we also try to be less cynical of other's ideas and concepts and give them the credit they deserve? Give our potential Benjamin Franklins a fair chance to participate in building our great society. We all have the right to demand this in a free society.
Lee Kum Tatt
19 May 2007
Dr. Lee Kum Tatt was the founder chairmen of the Singapore Science Council, Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR), Singapore Standards Council, and a member of Board of Governors of the Singapore Polytechnic for 21 years besides many other appointments and activities. He also created the famous RISIS gold orchid which became a great Singapore souvenir.
He tells me that Benjamin Franklin is one of his hero scientists who inspired him to do many of the things he did in his life. Dr. Lee has been deeply involved in the building of the science infrastructure Singapore needed in the early days of its development. These activities included promotion of science, building scientific, technological and educational institutions. He actively participated in the establishment of organizations and buildings for the application of science and technology for national development. Through the Quality Movement and R & D activities of national and personal interest he introduced and upgraded the technology of our industries. He encountered obstacles in the process but he managed to get many people to work with him. Read the articles in his blog to understand how he managed to do what he did. He challenged and succeeded in overcoming selected myths that stood in his way.
Tan Kin Lian
19th May 2007
Challenging Selected Myths
When Singapore became self governing in 1959 and later as an independent country in 1965, many believed that Singapore cannot survive as an independent nation. Singapore had a referendum in 1963 and voted to join Malaysia because of this belief. Singapore did not have what were considered important to have: natural resources, large population, big hinterland, financial reserves, special technologies and skills in our people. We do not even have water of our own! How are we to eradicate poverty and diseases and provide enough jobs, education and housing for our people having just emerged from a war, a colony and still facing “confrontation” from Indonesia?. These beliefs were very demoralizing and paralyzing to many. Fortunately we have people who dare to challenge some of these myths and beliefs and they were proven right. If we had wrung our hands and complained or cried we would not have the Singapore we have today. We must learn from these people how they did what they did. What we needed was not just capabilities alone but collective confidence in ourselves as a society. Our collective instinctive intuition to do things our way was put to the test. Many discovered how creative they were if only they dared to try. Our successes built up our records and self confidence so important to earn others’ trust in us. This is an essential element for success. Our people have demonstrated that we still have the survivor instinct and spirit in our culture to serve and the survivor instinct we inherited from our forefathers to do the necessary. Yes, there are many who might appear to be doing queer things. Cynics ridicule their ideas and critics criticize their actions. These people persevered. They stuck to their beliefs and proved their points against other formidable beliefs of the time. These people are usually passionate in what they believe in. Their rewards are the satisfaction they get when they succeed.
Besides challenging selected myths we also need dedicated and courageous people who can help improve areas that needed improvement especially in the development of our manpower, selected technologies and other areas that are still controversial. What we lack is not intellectual power and authority alone but enough people who can work together for a good cause to improve the lives of our fellowmen. Many such people have stepped forward for many years. Let us, as a society, continue to attract more of these people to step forward not by money or authority alone but by showing our appreciation and recognition of their work and spirit. Our history is full of the work of these people if we care to look for them. These people still exist in spite of the materialistic world we are fast moving into. Our institutions and mass media should do more to highlight the work of these people. With more such people we can build a great society like the ones we descended from and not just a wealthy one. We must continue to give room and opportunities for these people to play their role and contribute to our society as the famous American scientist Benjamin Franklin did. Who knows, we may throw up a few Benjamin Franklin of our own in the process in the near future.
Lee Kum Tatt
18 May 2007
Benjamin Franklin And His Lightning Rod.
Science taught me that problems will remain as problems if no new solutions were found to solve them. People who choose to stick to the safe middle ground and are comfortable with their routine are not those who will invent the lightning rod which created controversies like Benjamin Franklin did in the mid 18th century. Many houses and churches, made mostly from timber in those days, were burned by fire cause by lightning during a thunderstorm. These fires destroyed many homes and caused considerable hardship and misery to many families. Many people accepted this as a catastrophy caused by nature and that man could do nothing about it. Franklin in his search for a solution wondered what the properties of lightning and thunder bolts were and whether they were the same as electricity. He conducted his famous kite experiment. Few understand how the experiment worked but Franklin’s experiment successfully proved that lightning was actually static electricity. He did not stop there. He used this finding and his knowledge of electricity and invented the lightning rod to protect people’s homes and churches from being burned down by lightning. Instead of acknowledging Franklin’s contribution his invention created some serious controversies for some time.
Many people in Benjamin Franklin’s days used to believe that thunder storms and lightning bolts were acts of God, to discipline sinners and to teach them important lessons. Some also believe that lightening strike trees where devils take refuge. Others believed Satan, his demons and witches tried to destroy God’s holy churches and people’s homes. Many resisted putting an iron rod above or next to the cross on the roof of a church. The sacred explanations were vouched for by leading authorities of the day. Historians have written many books on Benjamin Franklin’s life and his work and this controversy were described in many of them. This Lightning Rod controversy has become as famous as Benjamin Franklin’s Kite experiment. Franklin used his scientific knowledge to prove and solve this particular problem. USA and the world honour this great man for this and his other work. Frankliu’s Kite experiment may look simple but his interpretation of the phenomenon has helped to solve a very complex problem by his invention of the Lightening Rod. The question now is “how do we hope to produce some Benjamin Franklins from our midst?” How can we use modern science to help? Can we be less gullible, challenge some selected myths and refrain from taking too much for granted. Can we also try to be less cynical of other’s ideas and concepts and give them the credit they deserve? Give our potential Benjamin Franklins a fair chance to participate in building our great society. We all have the right to demand this in a free society.
Lee Kum Tatt
19 May 2007
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Joy of Achievement
Today Science & Technology affects every aspect of our life. You can make things happen and your reward is the satisfaction you get. It is difficult to describe these wonderful emotional feelings in words which made people do things that some do not understand.
A few thousand friends and colleagues who have worked with me shared the same experiences. These people are the common people, the businessmen, industrialists, professionals, students, teachers & professors, Government employees, bankers and politicians and people in my community. When we worked together we enjoyed what we had to do. Many of us rose in this environment. We did something noble, something good for our fellow men. We enjoyed ourselves and treasured the experience and friendship with pride and satisfaction.
This gives us emotional satisfaction, something we need in our life and in our work. We believe that if we do good, good will come to us in one form or another. If you want to know how important emotional satisfaction is, try doing without it.
Complex scientific theories can put many people off. A medically qualified doctor is more easily acceptable than a Ph. D. in science. The medical doctor removes pain and the latter inflict pain by removing ignorance. Science has therefore to be carefully but actively promoted. That is part of my life’s mission. The beauty of science is that we can apply it without having to know the complicated theories. Many parties have to be involved. How to produce more scientific, technological and technically trained personnel fast enough was a great challenge to the Singapore Science Council in our early days. We had to attract talents using science and whatever little we could offer. The history of the Singapore Science Council forms an important part of the history of science in the national development of Singapore. Many have asked me to record how some of the events happened for history’s sake.
A. The Promotion of Science.
What is science? What can it do for me? Many do not see why they need science at all. To achieve our mission we had to overcome all these and more. Educating people under these circumstances was not easy and it took time which we did not have much of. Here are some of the actions we took and the projects we did where some lessons can be learned. Many of these were quite unorthodox, incredible and some were considered as impossible tasks when these activities were first initiated. Lots of human effort and financial resources were required which we managed somehow to pull together. We must continue to develop this know how and practice the skill of working together for our own good. We will lose a lot if we loose this capability. Here are some of the untold and little known stories on how some of the projects were initiated. Projects develop through stages which overlap. Some champions for these projects are needed to ensure that the people involved work smoothly together during the transition periods to achieve continuity and purpose of the missions.
Lee Kum Tatt.
8 May 2007
A1. The Popular Singapore Science Centre.
When the Science Council first mooted the idea of building a popular science centre in 1967 it was thought to be the fantasy of a few impractical enthusiasts. We were ridiculed that we could not even get our priorities right.
How are we to get this project approved to get the few precious million dollars required? As Chairman of the Council I had flown the balloon to test the atmosphere. A few council members supported the move. During a side trip I made to London in 1967 I made a special visit to the London Science Museum and met the director of the Museum. We discussed our proposed plan to set up a science centre in Singapore. The director was enthusiastic to our idea. We even identified a lady curator of the Museum who was ready to come to Singapore for a few months to help us make a detailed study of what should be done. We needed funding for this lady to come to Singapore.
As this project has a lot to do with education and manpower development I approached the late Mr. Kwan Sai Keong, Permanent Secretary and Director of Education Services for a UNESCO consultant to help us. Without hesitation he agreed. The ball was now in our court to proceed further. A special committee was formed in late 1968 in the Science Council comprising of :
(i) Chairman , Mr. Ronald Sng, G.M. Singapore Chartered Industries
(ii) Member, Mr. Sng Yew Chong, Director , Technical Education, Min. of Education
(iii) Member, Dr. Bernard Tan , Sr. Lecturer , University of Singapore
(iv) Member. Mr. Rex Shelley, G.M. Hume Industry. (F.E.) Pte Ltd.
The Science Council finalized the appointment of the UNESCO consultant and Miss M.K. Weston of the Science Museum, London was in Singapore from Sept. 27 to Nov. 30, 1969 to help in the drawing up of the proposals after consultation with the important sectors of Singapore’s society. In this report the main benefits Science Centre would contribute to Singapore were summarized as follows:
(a) it would greatly complement the science and technical education programme receiving urgent attention then;
(b) it would provide the adult population with a quicker and greater understanding of technology and its part in Singapore’s industrialization programme;
(c) it would stimulate in the younger generation an interest for a career geared to industry and thus overcome the past preference of parents for white collar jobs over blue collar occupations.
Even at this stage there was still doubt that the Science Centre Report would be accepted by the Government. I had to personally appeal to the Minister himself and others for their support. In August 1970 the Parliament of Singapore approved the Science Centre Bill. The Science Centre would be managed as a statutory body. Mr. Wee Cho Yaw, the President of Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of UOB (United Overseas Bank) was appointed on November 21st as the founder chairman of the Singapore Science Centre. The purpose of the Science Centre was to establish and maintain the $9.5 million Centre which will exhibit objects illustrative of the physical sciences, applied sciences, technology and life sciences and industry. The Science Centre was also to promote the dissemination of knowledge in science and technology as one of its important functions.
After this there was plenty of work still to be done which could not be left to the Ministry of Science & Technology officials alone. We needed a concept and the type of exhibits the Science Centre should have. We needed to know how to select an architect (foreign or local) who can put the concept together and put up a suitable building. We needed a suitable piece of land with room for future expansion. We got a 16-acre lake side area in the Jurong Town Centre, east of the Jurong Centre. We needed a CEO and other support staff to help build and operate the Centre once it was established. We got Drs. Barthal Singh and Leo Tan from the University to be the first two CEOs. Mr. Wee Cho Yaw, when his term was over, was succeeded by another colleague of his, Mr. K. C. Tan. Mr. Tan was then Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Tan served the Science Centre as its chairman for 12 years! This was a critical stage and was beyond the facilities and resources the Science Council can handle at that time. Nevertheless everybody chipped in. The Science Council continued to get assistance from Asia Foundation and other bodies to help our committee members and CEO’s gain experience on how Science Centres are run overseas. The views of the Science Council which initiated this multi million project were constantly sought in the implementation stages. Mr. Ronald Sng, representing the Science Council, served as the deputy chairman of the Science Centre Board for many years.
The Singapore Science Centre is one of the best if not the best in the region. It has achieved its original objectives and more. My generation has laid the foundation and it is for the present and future generation to build on them. Congratulations to the present management of the Science Centre for doing a wonderful job.
Many expressed surprise that the Chinese Chamber of Commerce presidents themselves were personally involved in this project and have put in so much effort and given so much and for so long. My answer is why not? As humans we have feelings. We will always do what gives us a good feeling to do so. These two gentlemen have done many other good deeds besides this and they have earned their positions in our society. This represents some of their contributions. I also asked some of my other friends why they did what they did with me. Their common reply was “We are proud of what we did and we enjoyed doing it”.
We salute these people. How we wish there are more of such people.
Lee Kum Tatt
8 May 2007
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
The number of students studying science in the schools, polytechnics, and universities has grown many, many fold. Science has become a subject of choice with many students. Our industries have also expanded tremendously thanks to the availability of enough science minded graduates.
Many job opportunities are opened to S & T graduates in both the private and public sector. The question of what type of positions a science graduate can hold is no longer an issue.
The question most S & T graduates ask today is how to find a job that will suit and satisfy their individual likes and needs? This is a very difficult question for any single body to answer as the likes and needs of individuals are so varied.
Many are interested as to how they can climb up their professional and career ladder. What kind of rewards can they expect?
Although many career guidance groups are available and doing a good job there is still need for senior and respected S & T graduates to step forward and share their experiences and personal feelings with the younger generation of S & T graduates. The medical professional bodies are doing this very well for their members.
The other scientific professional bodies can learn from them so that their younger members can benefit from the experience of their seniors as to what to expect from their chosen profession and the career path.
All professions can provide very satisfying rewards. These rewards come in various forms, many of which money cannot buy. If these joys can be expressed by those who have experienced them they can inspire others to follow their examples. This is what we need – more leaders with the right values built on our treasured culture.
I will share my feelings of satisfaction with you on the “rewards” I received as:
(i) a research worker in the laboratories
(ii) a head of department of the hospital laboratories
(iii) as an honorary teacher all my life
(iv) as founder chairman of Singapore Science Council
(v) as founder chairmen of SISIR and Singapore Standards Council
(vi) as an individual.
I like to invite others to join me and share their experience in the application of S & T to inspire the younger generation to join our ranks for the good of our society and Science.
Lee Kum Tatt
1 May 2007
Here is Dr. Lee’s interesting reply on his concept on how to differentiate wishful thinking from positive thinking.
Tan Kin Lian
I have (heard) much about the “magic” of positive thinking. But there is also much material on how positive thinking can lead to wishful thinking.
How do we know where to draw the line between “positive” and wishful?
The line between positive and wishful thinking is a matter of the mind and the stage of development of the thought. For me it is affected by the following factors: My character, my values and my sense of responsibility. Together these three factors provide the driving forces that make me do most of the things I do or did. If these forces harmonize it will make things easier for me. If these forces clash I will have doubts about proceeding until I sort out my priorities. I need “positive” thinking to proceed beyond this point. If I do not believe in myself I cannot expect others to believe in me.
I must know my character. My science education has taught me to enjoy doing new things, open new frontiers, getting new knowledge through research, and developing new schemes, processes or products. I am easily bored by doing routine. It’s worth my effort doing something new and getting the fun from doing it.
My values are what my parents and my culture gave to me and expect of me. It pays to help others and to improve things for them. This has been my upbringing. I want to make my parents happy always and people to appreciate what I do. This is my reward.
My responsibility is to my family, to my profession & career and to my society and country. My career requires me to initiate new activities and open new frontiers from time to time. I need initiatives to fulfill these responsibilities. Keeping the right balance has been my challenge. I did many things which I was not officially expected to do.
My Concept of the Thought Development Process
For me thoughts develop through stages. These include : 1. Fantasizing, 2. Analyzing, 3. Organizing and 4. Realizing.
Stage 1 and 2 are essentially mental. Some of the initial fantasies can be rejected outright.
After analysis ( Stage 2) some fantasies can be made into wishful thinking, dreams to be pursued or fulfilled or even desirable goals to be achieved. At this stage I can visualize more clearly what I want and how I should go about to get it done.
Stages 3 and 4 involve physical action in Organizing & Planning, Implementation & Monitoring. What are the resources and people we can count on and How to make them work to produce the results we want. This requires work and sweat.
Finally positive thinking is required to see the process through with faith and trust in myself and those I have to work with. Without positive thinking and determination there is a tendency to give up as soon as there is a hitch.
The mind, which is our life force, will do the rest just like the force that keeps our heart pumping, lungs breathing and metabolism going without our ability to control it. The important thing is to keep this life force, the mind, active by keeping myself healthy.
Wishful thinking is plunging into action without giving too much thought to stages 2, 3, and 4. How much we can do will depend on how we make our character, values and responsibilities guide us. If we misjudge our own capabilities it can be disastrous.
Lee Kum Tatt
2 May 2007
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
But Kum Tatt has shown that he has a way of testing his sixth sense, which we cannot understand, before he plunges into action. I have seen this happened in many of the things he did. Now we become his believers and supporters instead of being his cynics and critics.
In the RISIS case, he was proven correct in:
(i) his decision to encase the orchid in gold.
(ii) his prediction that people would buy this product and even queue up for it
(iii) his forecast of the first year’s sales
(iv) his belief that the gold orchid would not be a passing fad but can be a business that can be sustained. RISIS is now 31 years old!
Science students are trained to with the intangibles and handle the abstracts. We cannot see the atom, gravity and electro magnetic forces but the science people will spend time to experiment and produce evidence to show that these things exist. They produced concepts, and theories about them to predict how these forces can be put to more and better use. This is how science progressed.
Science & Technology affects every aspect of our modern life. We reject scientific theories and hypothesis at our own peril.
Kum Tatt is no longer considered a crazy scientist but a creative person who can become a hero sometimes when he can make the incredible credible. He is still learning how to teach us make the incredible happen just as he has taught us how to apply the use of science to improve our lives.
Predicting the Unpredictable
I have no crystal ball nor was I given any 5 year plan to implement during the greater part of my professional career. I was often given a general mission to fulfill and insufficient financial and manpower resources to do what had to be done in my days. Because of this many of the things I did may appear to have happened by chance and not planned. Many, who are used to routine and working under close supervision, find it difficult to understand how I can work without any definite plans.
The RISIS gold orchid is one such example. Many people tried to create a truly Singapore souvenir soon after Singapore’s independence. Many attempts were made but none succeeded. There was no lack of cynics and critics who run down efforts by others to create new things. Where moral support is needed any disparaging remarks can be very damaging. Some of us have to deal with such cynics more than others.
I initiated the gold orchid project to fulfill a promise I made to my wife during our courting days in 1955. This started off as a hobby after my return from a trade mission to east European countries in 1967. Our European lady guides were so delighted to receive the live orchids we gave them. I felt that if I could preserve the orchids in gold many ladies will be mesmerized by them. This was just my gut feel not many shared but I pursued it as a hobby.
One of my ex-staff offered to give me some metal forming solutions to experiment on in 1973. The hobby and experiments produced some very interesting and promising results after 1 ½ years. With this I persuaded SISIR to set aside $25,000 from its reserve fund to carry on the research to produce the prototypes using better facilities instead of make-shift plastic tanks and rectifiers I used at home.
We presented one of the first gold-formed orchid to Mrs. Benjamin Sheares – Singapore’s First Lady in 1975. I felt strongly that the people of Singapore and tourists would be very keen to own the products when we produce them. Not many shared my enthusiasm on this matter. Originally we planned to launch the product in early 1975 through a local souvenir manufacturing company. The deal fell through.
Although we have no experience in marketing souvenir products we decided to launch the product ourselves. We stepped up the prototype production with a couple more staff. The number of rejects were frighteningly high. In addition we still had to produce the promotional and packaging material and do the marketing etc before the product could be sold. We defered our launching date twice over a period of eight months because of difficulties encountered.
Finally we formed a private subsidiary company SETSCO Pte Ltd just three days before the launch to handle the project. The general feeling of many was that we would fail.
The launching day, 19th April 1976, came. My gut feel and sixth sense were proven right. Singaporeans and tourists queued up in our four appointed retail outlets. The sale was rationed. Each customer could only buy one RISIS orchid. The 3000 orchids we had were sold out in a few mornings. ( Pl. see photo attached).
This experience produced another challenge. How to produce the orchids fast enough to meet market demand? To build an establishment consisting of production, marketing, financing and promotion etc. from a prototype project requires some major decisions. Important questions had to be answered.
(i) what were my sales projections like to plan for the size of the plant
(ii) can the sales be sustained or will it turn out to be a passing fad?
How does one expect to answer such questions without any past experience or record? The sales figure I gave was $2.0 million for the first year. I was then asked how I arrived at that figure. Our people then were accustomed to assess imported products and industries where the sales and profit figures can be more easily ascertained. However there was no way to predict other than through gut feel what the sales figure would be for a new venture like the RISIS.
My answer was that the figure given can be likened to a Sunday Ice Cream. It is very attractive, sweet and appetizing but mostly nuts. If they like it they buy it. I invited those who asked me the questions to give me their own views and figures which they can justify and on how we can go about achieving their projections. I even invited anyone who was interested to participate in getting us through this stage. There were no takers to my offer. My prediction was accepted.
Our sales for the first year touched $1.98 million. This represented a sale of about 100,000 pieces of orchids, a figure few would expect, for the first year. The pre-tax profit was more than $700,000. After that it was easier to project the sales and profit figures for the following years.
If we had been tripped by these “normal” procedures the project might not have taken off. I am thankful to my minister and members of SISIR’s Board for their trust and support they gave to me. We accepted the challenge and enjoyed making the incredible happen. We hit the target on the dot. Whether this was sheer good luck, a fluke or my psychic sense is anybody’s guess.
There was no magic in what I did. I just practiced what I preach. “When in doubt be positive”. I was proven right. This is what counts. The late Mr. Hon Sui Sen, then Minister for Finance, congratulated us for a “signal” success. This was worth more than anything else anyone can give to me.
Lee Kum Tatt