Singapore’s 50th birthday prompted some Hongkongers to reflect on our own progress and prospects. In many ways, Singapore and Hong Kong are sister cities, with similar histories, cultures and populations and both have long been beacons of entrepreneurism and wealth creation.
To be frank, though, Singapore has pulled ahead. After outpacing us in economic growth for years, its GDP per capita now stands at around US$56,000, compared to US$40,000 for Hong Kong. Singapore is second in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Ranking, while Hong Kong is seventh.
Why have we fallen behind? When I’ve raised this question in the Hong Kong business community, many people have come to the same conclusion: Singapore has had the confidence to dream big, while Hong Kong has been hampered by fear of change and fear of failure.
Singapore’s transformation from outcast to one of the world’s most successful nations is due in large part to the sheer boldness of its leaders, in both government and business. As the German poet Goethe wrote: “Whatever you dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
Of course, Hong Kong too has its fair share of bold dreamers. Consider Li Ka-shing, chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings and the richest person in Asia. He built himself up from humble beginnings after being forced to leave school aged 15.
To reignite Hong Kong’s dynamism and growth, we need a new generation of Li Ka-shings. Yet in my own work as a leadership consultant, I observe that many talented Hongkongers are holding themselves back. An identity crisis for our city seems to be affecting the individual psyche.
In many big companies, I find executives are cautious about rethinking their business models and reinventing themselves as leaders – a potentially damaging flaw in a fast-moving, technology-driven world where curiosity and engagement are the hallmarks of success.
It’s time to reenergise our self-confidence and rekindle Hong Kong’s unique entrepreneurial spirit. As a city that’s part of China, we do not have Singapore’s independent identity – but with the tremendous opportunities for growth, the only thing holding us back is ourselves.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Be bold, dream big.