This was triggered by an article and response in the Singapore Straits Times.
Poet and Economic Development Board director Koh Buck Song wrote an article in the Straits Times June 22, 2005 about innovation in social development. “The key is to see it through”.
Joyce Tan Swee Yee won the award for Outstanding Social Worker Merit Award for 2004. Mr. Koh touched on issues she has worked all her life on. So she wrote a reply which was published in the Straits Times Jun 27 in which she said
“Unless we truly, deeply, madly value the individual citizen, there can be no true, long-lasting social development.”
Yesterday, my friend Hung Nguyen told me a story about a wealthy Asian patriarch, and I have very slightly adapted it below:
The illustrious and prosperous gentleman of the East had 5 sons, each with a family of his own. To whom would he would leave the bulk of his wealth.
In those days, it was the practice to give control of the wealth to the woman of the family. So he needed to decide which of his daughters-in-law would be the best.
He decided to test them over five years in this way, giving each daughter-in-law 5 kernels of corn and telling them he was going away and would return in five years.
The first thought he was a crazy old man, probably going senile and threw them away.
The second thought the 5 kernels must be very special, probably magical and so thought to capture those magical powers by eating the corn.
The third thought that these were given to her for safe keeping and she put them in a very special box that would protect them and put the box in a vault.
The fourth wanted to be innovative and ground the kernels into flour, and started looking for great recipes that would maximize the impact of that tiny amount of corn flour.
The fifth decided that the best thing to do would be to plant the corn.
So she prepared a planting bed and watched over the corn.
They grew tall and beautiful, and she harvested the corn, keeping some to plant for the next season, doing this for each of the five years.
The old man returned, and asked what had happened to the corn he had given his daughters in law
The first said “What corn?”
The second said “They weren’t magic, I ate them and nothing happened.”
The third said “Here they are, EXACTLY the way you gave them to me.”
The fourth said “I found this world-class recipe for those kernels and here is the exquisite morsel I made from the corn”
The fifth said “Come with me to the back of the house”, in front of them, spreading as far as they could see were rows and rows of maize plants, green and lush, waving gently in the slight breeze.
The old man knew he had found the right person to inherit his wealth.
In his article, Koh Buck Song gives his view of the major obstacles to following through on social development innovation. I read it as meaning that it is the lack of follow through that results in the inability to harvest sustainably from efforts at social development.
For me, focusing on the follow through is like trying to work out how the first four daughters-in-law can follow through to maximize the impact of their five kernel’s of corn. Five is Five and stays five. (even when innovatively cooked into a worldclass recipe for eating)
It was the fifth daughter who saw the potential of the kernels of corn and nurtured them, who saw the kernels grow and multiply. Five becomes 100’s becomes 1000’s and keeps on going…
All the training and innovation will come to naught as with the first 4 daughters-in-law.
The individual citizen is like the corn kernel – all the potential is there – in each person.
Accepting all the possibilities and nurturing them to fruition, harvest and re-seeding is a joyful process.
The key is to Truly, Madly, Deeply Value the individual citizen.
What if we change citizen to customer? How would you read the story?
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