It’s been an interesting week. Friday saw me ankle deep in storm water in Mumbai as the monsoon hit with a vengeance. All around me, the street sleepers where dashing for cover, and the slums that ring the city were festooned with blue tarpaulins to keep the rain out of the fragile structure. Traffic was at a stand still and it took me more than 2 hours to traverse the city. Mumbai, like all the Indian mega cities is becoming crushed under the strain of rural migration, hopeless infrastructure and burgeoning businesses. Sitting in the rain it’s hard to imagine how this place will look in 2020 – probably even more crowded, polluted, impossible.
As I took a cab out to the airport the cab driver asked me where I was travelling. ‘Singapore’ I said … a long pause ‘Singapore is very clean’ he replied wriley. Yes indeed, thought I, Singapore is very clean. As I arrived the big story of the week was the flood in Orchard Road – the glamour shopping street of the centre. Normally the super efficient storm drains would whisk the stuff away almost before it touches the ground, but this time a drain had blocked and there was much criticism of the department with responsibility for drainage. Apparently the flood was up 10 feet deep in some places. However, in the ever efficient state of Singapore, when Heidi, our Hot Spots team member in Singapore, ate in a mall on Orchard Street that evening, she tells me there was no sign at all of flood damage- such was the efficiency of the clean up operation.
- The role of the state vs. the role of the company: I recall last year at the London Business School Summit a CEO observing that in China the brightest go into the government, whilst in India they build companies. In Singapore it is the government's Economic Development Board that is relentlessly cajoling and encouraging companies to create Singapore as a magnet for talent. In India, the government appears to play no such role. It is the companies that take the initiative. For example, the four major Indian IT companies – Tata Consulting Services, Wipro, Infosys and HCL are taking it upon themselves to build a world-class management pipeline through their executive development initiatives and their corporate universities.
- The importance of Quality of Life: One of the most surprising findings of the first phase of out Future of Work Consortium was that when we surveyed executives in western and Asian companies and asked them to think about what would be important for the future – many talked about ‘work life balance’. This flew in the face of my own prejudices about an Asian workforce. I thought than many Asian workers were prepared to move for a thousand more dollars. Instead, it seems that the future of work in Asia could be increasingly about the quality of work/life balance and quality of life
- Creating clusters: Executives around the world have looked for decades with some envy at clusters such as the Silicone Valley cluster of IT companies, VC’s and designers. It's this super charged context that has allowed companies such as Apple to flourish. Asia would like to have the same. The challenge is to what extent in the future governments and industrialists can create what in the USA emerged organically over many decades.
So as I leave Asia I am reminded of the point the China expert shared with us in New York a couple of weeks ago – that trying to imagine Asia’s future growth by either reference to the past, or indeed by reference to the growth of the west would be a very, very foolish thing to do. Already we are seeing very different patterns emerging and for those of us fascinated in the future of work – watching these patterns emerge is an exhilarating sight.