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On money, work and success
Economics with a conscience
THERE are fewer and fewer things that money can't buy these days, points out Michael Sandel, and it's going well beyond just material goods but into family and social life, education, health, journalism, law, and so on.
"For example, should there be a free market for organs like kidneys and also surrogacy? Where do markets serve the market and where do they not belong?" Prof Sandel poses, in explaining the thrust of his talk to be given here at the Singapore Writers Festival.
In his first visit here, Prof Sandel, Harvard University's "moral rock star", will toss up the question on what's the role of money and society. He published his first book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? in 2009 - after the 2008 financial crisis - which hit the right nerve in societies the world over and got people to question ethics in market economies. A few years later, he published What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.
"My argument isn't against free market economy but a market society, where everything is up for sale and dominates every aspect of life," he clarifies.
But the popularity of his books have surprised him. Prof Sandel's writings have been translated into 27 languages. His legendary course, "Justice", is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online and on television.
"I never imagined there would be this kind of public response to both books. My goal was to write about these ethical issues in an accessible way to the interested reader, and not just academicians," he says.
His books have taken him all over in the last five to six years, and especially to Asia, where he has found a "tremendous hunger for discussion on ethical questions and dilemmas faced in our everyday lives; in companies and governments".
"I think there is a yearning to engage in debate and reflect on ethical questions, especially at times when market values loom large," says the lecturer on political philosophy.
But he sees this also has a backlash against the heavy market economics and a strong faith in market mechanisms since the 1980s. He himself had started mulling over the issue of market value some 20 years ago.
To him, the most important questions are how to preserve the sense of community and social cohesion if social life is defined only in market terms. "After the financial crisis, many have realised that maybe markets are not almighty instruments after all. We're now living at a time when people ask questions about values and the good life and the public good."
"It's time we step back to think about how to create good societies using the best that market mechanics have to offer; recognising that markets cannot by themselves define the public good."
And he wants to hear what Singaporeans have to say about this.
By Cheah Ui-Hoon
"Michael Sandel on The Moral Limits of Markets"
5, 7pm-8pm, University Cultural Centre (UCC) Hall, NUS
Tickets at S$35 from Sistic
What holds women back at the workplace
HEATHER McGregor, the successful businesswoman and former author of the Financial Times' Mrs Moneypenny column, has always been a straight-shooter.
She has flustered her interviewers with her candour, make public jokes about her husband's passion for golf, and calls her three children Cost Centre #1, #2 and #3. The children are not allowed to retaliate. "When they're no longer financially dependent on me, they can complain as much as they like," she once said.
Small wonder then that Ms McGregor, or "Mrs Moneypenny", has a strong following among women. She's published six books, including Mrs Moneypenny's Career Advice for Ambitious Women and Mrs Moneypenny's Financial Advice for Ambitious Women. And she continues to speak publicly about the challenges of being a career woman.
At the Singapore Writers Festival next Saturday, Ms McGregor will be giving a talk titled "Can We Have It All?". She says: "One of the biggest challenges for women as they build their careers is that they think it's necessary to try and 'have it all'. But that to me is a recipe for disaster. Anybody who tries to do too many different things won't end up being really good at any one thing.
"Women tend to put everything into their workplace and then go home and put everything into their families. They don't stand back and look at their career as a whole, and look into their future to see what they need to do to improve their career. Men are much more strategic when it comes to career planning."
Women, she points out, have inherent traits and characteristics tailored for the workplace, such as strong EQ. "To succeed in the corporate world, you need both human capital - your skills, qualifications and experience - and social capital - your network of relevant people that allows you to access information. Both of these strengths are equally important. It's not what you know or who you know, it is what you know and who you know."
But to get higher up the ladder, Ms McGregor points out, hard work, delegation, self-promotion and financial literacy are critical. Which of these factors are women strongest or weakest at?
"Women are best at hard work. They have the most fantastic work ethic. In terms of weaknesses though, self-promotion is probably their weakest point. Women are not as good at self-confidence and putting themselves forward. I also know a lot of women who have difficulty with delegation. Meanwhile, financial literacy is something that a lot of women simply overlook."
But she's hopeful of the future, saying: "I am sure we will see fairer and equal representation of women in the upper rungs of business and politics, and I think it will happen possibly in my lifetime and certainly in the lifetime of my children. I think that the recognition that women 'hold up half the sky' is very strong these days."
Ms McGregor hopes to give more advice to women when she comes to Singapore, where incidentally she lived during the late-1990s.
She adds: "The thing I really admire about Singapore is the determination of the government to provide a working environment that makes it possible for companies to operate and thrive. Business likes certainty, and open, fair and transparent regulations - all of which Singapore possesses in great quantities."
By Helmi Yusof
"Can We Have It All? With Mrs Moneypenny"
Nov 7, 7pm, The Arts House
Tickets at S$20 from Sistic
What work looks like in future
AYESHA Khanna is the CEO and co-founder of The Keys Academy, an enrichment firm which provides secondary school students the opportunity to apply their problem-solving skills to real-life business challenges faced by leading companies. She has been published and quoted in The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes and, of course, The Business Times.
At the Singapore Writers Festival this Saturday, Mrs Khanna will be speaking on a panel on "The Future Of Work", together with social entrepreneur and Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin as well as Future-Moves Group CEO Devadas Krishnadas. Mrs Khanna, who has an economics degree from Harvard University and a masters of science in operations research from Columbia University, says: "Within a decade, the idea of a dedicated desk with a computer on it will be considered quirky and quaint. People increasingly want flexibility in working hours and place of work, and young entrants to the labour market are willing to exchange full-time employment for less-rigid freelancer arrangements. Complementing the trend is the rise of coworking places. In Singapore, spaces like Working Capital and The Hub are providing not only the space but also the culture of freelancer communities."
Mrs Khanna thinks there are several factors changing work as we know it: "Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously wrote that 'software is eating the world', referring to how almost every industry from medicine to law increasingly depends on software. Governments are rushing to upskill workers in computer programming. Computer science classes became mandatory in the UK last year for children between five and 16 years old. Singapore is introducing coding and robotics in schools.
"Second, the automation of work and the displacement of jobs as a result. According to a 2013 report by Oxford University, computers and robots will take over 47 per cent of today's jobs, including white-collar work like accountancy and legal work. Employability will shift from those who know technology to those who are entrepreneurial and can work creatively with technology.
"Third, the digitisation of work and the competition from the developing world. Students from countries like Brazil, India, China and Bangladesh now have unprecedented access to high-quality education through free online platforms like EdX, which offers free courses by Ivy League universities like Harvard. The democratisation of education means that the 'elite advantage' of students from countries like Singapore and England is forever gone."
Mrs Khanna says to prepare for the future, Singapore must bring the workplace to academia and forge more partnerships between companies and schools, universities and vocational institutions - all of which are steps being taken as part of the government's SkillsFuture programme. She describes the future worker as a "tech-literate, creative thinker adept at cross-cultural collaboration".
Work hours will also change as "tracking work hours will not be as important as achieving measurable results. Take strategy consulting - if a business needed management consulting advice, it would have to employ very expensive firms like McKinsey which hired business school graduates from schools like Harvard and Stanford. Today, companies that want strategic advice can have Harvard MBA grads directly on a project basis from online marketplaces like HourlyNerd and MBA&Co. The same is true of other skilled professionals - designers who can be hired on the marketplace Dribbble, software engineers on TopTal, or lawyers on UpCounsel."
Mrs Khanna predicts that the hot industries of the future will be advanced manufacturing or 3D printing, infrastructure for smart cities, robotics and machine intelligence, the sharing economy and marketplaces, logistics (aviation, rail, transportation), bioengineering, nanotechnology and materials science.
By Helmi Yusof
"The Future Of Work" panel discussion
Oct 31, 11.30am to 12.30pm, National Gallery, Auditorium. (The Gallery can only be accessed via the entrance at Coleman Street, facing St Andrew's Cathedral.) Entry is free for Singapore Writers Festival 2015 festival pass holders. The pass is S$20 from Sistic