This article is an excerpt and adaption from a piece written by our well known local entrepreneur, Mr Sim Wong Hoo, the CEO of Creative Technology from his book, “Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millennium”.
What is “NUTS”?
“NUTS” stands for “No U-Turn Syndrome”. NUTS depicts a situation when you want to do something and you seek approval of a higher authority. You believe that when there are no rules saying that you can do such a thing, then the standard answer is “NO”!
In the US, when there is no sign on the road, it means that you can make a U-turn. When the authority do not want people to make U-turns, they will put up signs to tell you not to make U-turns.
In Singapore, it is the reverse. When there is no sign on the road, you are not allowed to make U-turns. When the authorities allow you to make U-turns, then they will put up signs to give you that right.
The two different systems serve the same purpose – to better manage the traffic. They may look quite similar, just coming from different direction, but the social repercussions are significant.
In Singapore, the no U-turn without sign culture has permeated every level of our thinking and every segment of our life. This no U-turn has created a way of life that is based on rules. When there is a “U-turn” sign or when there is a rule, we can U-turn. When there is no sign, we cannot U-turn.
When there is no rule, we cannot do anything. We become paralyzed.
Let me cite a personal experience. About 12 years ago, I took up the fine art of fly fishing. Fly fishing is not just about fishing, it’s about conservation, preservation of the environment and grace. Casting a fly is an art in itself and takes a lot of practice to master. So one Saturday afternoon, I decided to head down to the Nanyang Junior College (near where I used to live) and do some casting in the field. The weather was cool and the place quiet with only a few joggers on the track. I found an open area and set up my rod and began casting. Within 15mins, a white car drove up next to a field and a mean looking middle age lady walked towards me. Here’s how the conversation went :
MOL(Mean Old Lady) : “Excuse me, you cannot fish here!”
Me : “You mean got fish here ah?” (OK, I was intentionally being a little facetious, but I could not help it!)
MOL : “You cannot fish here!”
Me : Mam, I am not fishing. Let me show you that there are no hooks at the end of the line and I am just practicing my cast just like a golfer practices his swing.
MOL : This field is for sports. You cannot do this here.
Me : Mam, Fly fishing is a sport and this is public property. Those joggers are outsiders, if they can come in here to jog, I can come in here to cast. And may I know who you are?
MOL : I am the principal of this JC. Please leave the premises immediately (it was obvious to me by now that this old lady does not know what fly fishing is all about)… or I have to get my staff to evict you.
Me : Mam, if you want me to leave, then you’ll have to get all the joggers to leave too. I pay taxes just like they do and I am entitled to use this premises just like they are doing.
MOL : You must leave in 5 mins or I will get my staff down (angrily walks away and drove off).
A much nicer and younger lady teacher did appear later and while she understood my point of view, I recognized that she was just doing her job and I did not want to inconvenience her, so I decided to pack and leave. She thanked me for understanding the difficult situation she’s was put into.
Well, the point is this. Do you want your children to be studying in a school whose principal is so rigid and does not even know what fly fishing is all about (despite it being portrayed so gracefully in Robert Redford’s film, “A river runs through it”?). It’s almost as good as a teacher or principal saying, “Is the America’s Cup a Soccer event?” I shudder at the thought of what the future of Singapore will be like if children grew up under such parochial tutelage. This principal was definitely a case of NUTS.
Are we like that in Phoenix Contact SE Asia? I certainly hope not. To excel in the industry and what we do, we need to be innovative(our corporate creed). We need to make creativity our culture. While we need to work within the confines of some rules and regulations, we need to question these rules and regulations and make changes when necessary. Did you think the designers of this motorcycle on the left were suffering from NUTS? Because a NUTS case would say, “But motorcycles are suppose to have 2 wheels!”
Quite frankly, I’ve seen a few examples of NUTS cases, but I’m also glad to see many other cases where NUTS is definitely not the prognosis. As a management team, we have deliberately not put in place many regulations so as to nurture the flow of creative juices among individuals. Without citing specific cases, I certainly hope that we reflect upon our past actions and see if we are indeed suffering from NUTS.
And the cure for NUTS? Well, that’s for another article.