TL;DR – Disrupt, solve problems, be humble.
Since a couple of years ago, I’ve been interested in the tech startup ecosystem in Singapore. That’s why I find as many opportunities as possible to visit and learn about the different tech startups in Singapore. Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting Grab. The visit was part of the Learning Is Triggered (LIT) series of events organised by Young NTUC and SkillsFuture.
At the event, Ms Ong Chin Yin, Head of People, spoke about the journey that Grab took since its founding. She spoke about some of the key principles that guided Grab’s in its journey from a small tech startup to a dominant regional company. As I reflected about what Ms Ong said, I realised that applying the same principles to our work can help us be successful in our careers.
Here are three principles which I think we can apply to our work:
1. Disrupt, or be disrupted
Grab believes that it must disrupt the way things are done. If they don’t, then they’ll be disrupted. That’s why it continuously conducts experiments, encourages its staff to learn, and keeps on innovating. Similarly for us, we need to realise things are constantly changing. Gone are the days where one skill, one job can last one lifetime. Technology is making a lot of jobs redundant. At the same time, there are jobs today that didn’t exist five or ten years ago.
So it’s important for us to keep abreast with the developments of our industry. And even consider moving to other industries that have better prospects in the future. If we wait until we lose our jobs to start preparing for a new job, then it’s too late.
Better start preparing for tomorrow’s jobs today.
2. Solve other people’s problems
Ms Ong told the participants of the event that Grab is constantly looking for ways to help solve other people’s problems.
It started with solving people’s problems in transportation. Now, it’s diversifying into other areas like food deliver, and payments. In time, it aims to be the “everyday super app” that reduces the friction in life and brings us closer to the things that are dear to us. Grab believes that solving other people’s problems effectively and efficiently is the best way to make money while also doing good.
That’s a very important point. Often, one of the first questions I hear people ask when talking about whether they should move to a new job or role is whether they’ll be able to make more money than they currently are. I think that’s the wrong way to think about the issue. If you can’t help the company solve a bigger problem, or you can’t create greater value for the company, why should the company give you a higher pay?
So, if we want to have a higher salary, we really need to think about how we can help our company solve bigger problems. To do that, we probably will need to deepen existing skills, as well as pick up new skills.
3. Be humble
When Grab first started out, its founders, Mr Anthony Tan and Ms Tan Hooi Ling, personally went around Kuala Lumpur to get taxi drivers to use their app. They apparently would “stalk” drivers at petrol kiosks, taxi queues and depots, airport, hawker centres, “begging” them to sign up and use their app. They also personally conducted training sessions to teach the taxi drivers how to use the app.
That story of Grab’s early days reminded me of an advice someone once gave me. We should always remain humble and never think that it’s beneath us to do any job.
In other words, to be successful, we should never think that we are “up there” and that there are jobs too small for us to do. If there’s a problem that needs solving, and we are the best person to solve it, then regardless how big or small job, or “dirty” it gets, we ought to have the humility to get the job done.
All those points serve to be timely reminders. In this day and age of rapid changes, we can’t assume that we will have the same job, be in the same company, or even be in the same industry our entire working life. Companies come and go. And with them, jobs. IBM just laid off hundreds of its workers in Singapore.
Rather than wait for the government to do something to ensure our job security, it’s more important that we stay humble, get ready to disrupt rather than be disrupted, and be able to solve bigger, more complex problems for other people.