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March Newsletter 2015

- 30 Mar 2015
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HARRY’S WAY

   

Lee Kuan Yew did it his way. The Singapore leader transformed his small island nation from a sleepy British colony into one of the economic powerhouses of Asia, all within the space of one generation.

In the process, he forged a distinctive model of economic development that underpins much of the Asian renaissance – authoritarian leadership mixed with a blend of private and state capitalism. It was portrayed by him – and plenty of others – as the Asian way.

Lee, who was known among family and Western friends as Harry, died last week; he was 91. He led his country for its first three decades after independence and he remained the country’s guiding spirit (with a seat in cabinet) for the remaining two decades of his life.

Apart from its strategic position on one of the main Asian trade routes, Singapore had few natural advantages when Lee became its leader in 1959 – it didn’t even have enough water to be self-sufficient. Yet five decades later he leaves the 5.4 million citizens of Singapore one of the most prosperous and educated peoples on the planet (third in terms of GDP per capita). His cultivation of business opportunities within a stable social environment and a centralised political system free of corruption turned Singapore into one of the great commercial hubs of the world economy and a beacon for foreign investors.

Lee also left a huge imprint on the rest of modern Asia: he was the driving force behind the formation of ASEAN, he was the anti-communist leader who kept the US engaged in the region, and he convinced China to emulate his methods and embrace a market economy (it was the key to China’s subsequent spectacular resurgence).

His leadership was lauded by people as far apart as China’s Deng Xiaoping and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. Deng described Lee, a much younger man, as his “mentor”. Thatcher admired him because of his vision, the strength of his convictions, and his plain speaking. Bob Hawke praised his forthrightness too: Lee’s warning that Australia could end up “the poor white trash of Asia” was a catalyst to the big economic reforms of the Hawke era.

Lee was born into a relatively affluent ethnic Chinese family that made its money in the maritime trade during British colonial rule. The family spoke English as its native tongue  and the children, all bright students, were educated at English-language schools in Singapore and then at British universities. Harry didn’t learn Chinese until his mid-30s, but he learnt Japanese during the occupation of Singapore and worked as a translator for the Japanese forces. After the war he studied law at Cambridge (and excelled) and returned to Singapore as a committed socialist, a labour lawyer, and an agitator for self-rule.

But Lee proved in those formative years to be a supreme strategic thinker and highly pragmatic. He was wedded to no particular ideology; he was prepared to test any seemingly good ideas and pursue those that worked. He embraced the dynamism of a capitalist economy but rejected the liberal democratic traditions that usually accompany it. Singapore, he argued, was too small and racially divided to adopt a path that could foster tensions between the island’s ethnic groups and fragment the drive for national development.

He moulded instead a system of centralised political control that drew on the best ideas and brightest people in the country. It tapped into Confucian traditions: respect for authority and family, and the selection of advisers and decision-makers on the basis of merit. The outcome was efficient, forward-looking administrators that were well-paid and largely corruption-free. He also decreed English as the common language, both to bolster the nation’s social cohesion and enhance its business and trading opportunities.

 Many people refer to Harry’s way as a “guided democracy”; the critics describe it as “soft authoritarianism”.

The ruling party has won every general election since self-rule, and for many decades absolutely dominated them. However, the law of the country was used in those years to inhibit and undermine alternative political parties and other voices of dissent.

After decades of success, the resilience and flexibility of Harry’s way is now being tested. Opposition parties attracted almost 40 per cent of the vote at the last general election, and many of the younger generation have taken to social media to air their criticisms of the old ways. Lee’s explicit trade-off between higher living standards and civil liberties may no longer be the pragmatic consensus.

 

BREAKFAST AT FRASER   

 

Join us for breakfast and a preview of Leadership Edge, the Keogh program for transforming likely prospects into the next generation of leaders.

The explanatory seminar for the 2015 program will be held in Perth on Thursday. The time and location is set out on the invitation. It’s not too late to register. http://le.keogh.consulting/rsvpmaker/leadership-edge-breakfast-event-perth-2015-4-1/

Leadership Edge runs for six months and will give participants a 21st century toolkit for harnessing the potential within themselves and others.  It will take participants beyond their comfort zone into a space of accelerated growth and possibility. They will emerge with a global perspective and an ability to engage and inspire others to reach for a quantum lift in performance. 

Applications for 2015 enrolment are now being accepted. For further details, go to the Leadership Edge website.

Keogh Consulting is a pioneer in accelerated, holistic learning, integrating theory, feeling and action with a proven ability to quicken the pace of transformation.  Our approach is very different – we are not about instructing, we aim to liberate.  By the end of the course, participants don’t do things differently, they are different and the doing comes naturally.

 

TASTER   

  

James Turrell is a manipulator of light. His retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra connects the beauty of light with the almost unnerving expanse of both physical and cosmological space. The American artist harnesses artificial and natural light, using it to “affect the medium of perception”.

Don’t be in a hurry. You need to immerse yourself in the exhibition to appreciate it. The trick is to slip the brain into neutral and let the eyes do the stimulating. Whole rooms are dedicated to what appear to be simple ideas: a single white hexagon projected into a corner turns into a cube; flickering with shades of grey,  a CRT screen becomes oddly mesmerising; and one room, lit in an intense pink, throws retinas into a spin upon emerging, transforming ordinary light to vibrant green.

And step into the Ganzfeld. A room, seemingly devoid of corners and walls, uses a slowly pulsing coloured light to create sensory deprivation. Standing in the middle with the gently changing light washing over you, it is quite easy to just … let go. Watching others experience the piece is almost as enjoyable as doing it yourself. 

This is not Turrell’s first Australian outing. One of his Skyspaces, Within Without (pictured), has been a permanent fixture at the NGA since 2010. The installation is intended to alter the way you perceive the sky. While apparently most effective at dawn and dusk, even at midday it is a mind-bending space to explore.    - RS

 

INSIGHT

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.    William Blake

 

 

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