Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Average is the new exceptional"

Earlier this week, it was reported that Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, speaking at an entrepreneurship talk, remarked that Singaporeans, compared to those living in less well-off societies, seem to have less of an urge to be "exceptional" in what they do; in fact, the Minister said that most Singaporeans apparently are satisfied with just being competent or being above average in what they do.

Reading his remarks, I will assume the Minister has not watch the video above (note: for those of you all who prefer to skip the jokes, the serious part of the video starts from 3 minutes and 55 seconds onwards).

On a more serious note, I find it a gross over-generalisation to say that Singaporeans lack the urge to be exceptional. I do not know about you all but several of my colleagues took leave to help their children prepare for the recent PSLE papers. And I suppose you all will still remember those JC students one or two years back who reportedly broke down into tears when they realised they have not gotten all As for their A-level examinations. And let's not forget about those local athletes whose ultimate dream is to participate and win at the Olympics Games. I do not think we Singaporeans are somehow slackening off to wallow in mediocrity; working hard we still are.

Also, although the Minister may not have explicitly said so, it will seem that he was using a rather narrow definition of exceptional, in that he seems to equate "exceptional" with being the best in something and/or achieving greatness. Undoubtedly, there is this aspect of "exceptional" but as was highlighted in the video above, there is perhaps a need to go beyond this narrow definition of "exceptional" to recognise that people can be just as "exceptional" even as they perform ordinary or mundane tasks without ever achieving greatness or prominence. To borrow the words from the video above: "Average is the new exceptional".

In addition, the Minister seems to identify satisfaction with being competent or above average as perhaps some sort of sin or personal failing. Admittedly, there may indeed be those who choose to do just enough, instead of putting in their best, because they lack the motivation to do so. However, more often than not, being competent or above average is already the best one can achieve. And even if one chooses to be satisfied with being competent or above average, it need not necessarily be the case that he or she is complacent and not motivated enough to strive for exceptionalness. Instead, it is perhaps that they realise there is more to life than being exceptional or that, as stated above, exceptionalness goes beyond being the best or achieving greatness.

Anyway, as a friend of mine said in his Facebook status update: "if everyone is exceptional, that will be the new average and then everyone will need to be exceptional among the new "average"..when will this cycle end?"

In the end, we need to realise that although we may not be movers and shakers of society or people of prominence but we are all, in our own way, exceptional. And we should not let other people, no matter how exceptional they may be, tell us otherwise.


Anonymous said...

You assert that "we are all, in our own way, exceptional;" This confuses the exceptional, with the unique. We are, indeed, each of us, unique. But being exceptional is something else altogether. That is about going beyond barriers and limitations, whether externally or internally imposed.

Don. said...

If everyone is exceptional, then nobody is.

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