The fear of being an individual is a more noticeable trait in Singapore. This is the fear of standing out “inappropriately”, in a way that is not approved by the majority. This is not surprising given the country’s Confucius heritage which places a lot more emphasis on the collective than the individual.

Shopping is a national pastime. But there is an apparent shortage of independent brands here. People will tend to only buy a brand that is already established as “good” in European/American markets. Not many are game to try something different.

At work, employees tend to shun opportunities to make decisions, to take more control over their own work*. The fear of doing something wrong outweighs the potential rewards of initiative, personal empowerment, and individual accomplishment. An employee would rather have the boss tell her exactly what to do, than to take control of directing her own work. Even at a management level, decision making seem to be very committee/group driven; even in cases where the authority is vested in a single individual.

I would suggest that in such a circumstance, where the need for group approval is very strong, the fear of non-approval will severely limit the rise of creativity, new thinking, and new trends. In today’s fast-paced world, there may not be time enough for each new meme to be established enough for the wider population to adopt it. And in this waiting, the country risks being always the follower, and never the leader.

Thus we come to the billion dollar question: in the face of such entrenched cultural foundations, what can be done to start shifting mindsets onto a more change-embracing (and thus pro-innovation) track? And if this works for Singapore, could it work (on a far larger scale) for China?

* This is a sense I had gathered from the various conversations I have had with middle- senior managers in large corporations.