Encouraging innovation and adaptability with a startup mindset

Han Phay, Founder and Managing Director of Phay & Partners

If there’s anything we can thank the pandemic for, it’s for showing us the importance of adaptability. It tested businesses everywhere and made us question our strength in the face of uncertainty.

In this digital age where Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and other similar tools are making seismic changes within the industry, it has become essential for everyone – apprentices and business leaders – to be adaptable, innovative and forward thinking.

The UOB SME Outlook 2021 Study showed that three in five SMEs who embraced going digital are expecting a growth in revenue and seven in 10 SMEs feel more confident in their business recoveries after adopting digital initiatives.

In a sense, startups and SMEs manage to stay afloat regardless of the economic situation and this can be attributed to their entrepreneurial mindset and methodologies.

What are they you might ask?

Here is a closer look at three practices that encompass the startup mindset.

Having a disruptive mindset

It is high time that we learn to cultivate a good mix of risk-taking and conventional attitudes in the corporate world.

Having seen both ends of the creativity spectrum as an experienced entrepreneurship and digital marketing lecturer and trainer at LASALLE and NAFA, as well as a tech founder of 2 AI startups, it can be safely said that there is a jarring difference in boldness.

The ever changing nature of the corporate world creates a pressing need to balance traditional mindsets and out-of-the-box thinking in order for our society to move forward.

In the past year alone, digital acceleration can be seen everywhere. In fact, 73% of the organisations in Singapore have initiated digital acceleration in response to the pandemic. This means that we need to be able to adjust to such new advancements to facilitate progression.

As stability is largely valued in businesses, change can be scary but unfortunately, it is not avoidable. Thus having a disruptive mindset pushes us to be flexible and adaptable to any situation.

According to NTUC LearningHub‘s Employer Skills Survey, 84% of leaders believe that employee training during this period will help their businesses to develop stronger resilience during this downturn. Some of their training priorities include improving soft/adaptive skills (65%), improving relevant technical skills in their roles (64%) or beyond their roles (53%).

It was also noted that the top three adaptive skills that workers lacked were innovation, analytical reasoning, complex problem-solving, and creativity. This only highlights the importance of staying nimble as a player in the corporate world.

Just as Bruce Lee once said, “be formless, shapeless, like water.”

Embracing failure and passion

Here’s something you don’t hear everyday: success is the combination of failure and grit.

It’s old news that success is not an easy path and failure is to be expected but somehow most of us still find ourselves fearing failure. While it is common knowledge that the first step to success is to face our fears, what they don’t tell you is that once you face it, you’ll need lots of determination to bring your ideas to life.

Especially in Singapore, where the environment can be quite structured, it is normal for us to feel pressured when we see our peers on a different path than ours. However, it’s important, now more than ever, that we destigmatize failure.

This is something that we can learn from startups, which are essentially the product of accumulated failed ideas. The products and services that you see them offering are the ones that made the cut. Behind all of those are tons of failed attempts and lots of improvements.

Let’s take a look at the food & beverage (F&B) industry for example, cashless wallets and food delivery services for hawker centers are becoming a growing trend. While one might argue that cashless wallets and food delivery services are neither new or failed concepts, this is simply one example of pivoting around a sample idea.

It is worth highlighting that this is the product of pivoting, which is a very common practice among startups. With the incorporation of hawker centers into these services, new opportunities arise and now we can enjoy our favourite hawker food in the comfort of our own homes.

So what can we learn from this?

Whether we’ve got a failed idea or a mediocre one, we must learn how to make the right adjustments if we really want to sell it. We need to figure out what makes our product or service unique and find a way to accentuate that to better cater to our audience.

Remember, even bad experiences make good lessons.


As we continue to improve the things around us (working environments, technology, operational processes), we must not forget to upgrade ourselves too.

Think of it like trying to optimise our environments to better support our growth. What we are essentially doing is to achieve the best results by using the least amount of resources as possible.

Since the pandemic, 71% of the business leaders and employees surveyed felt the urgency to upskill and reskill in order to remain competitive in the job market. 84% said that it was necessary for employees to pick up new skills due to changes in the businesses.

Based on the LinkedIn Future of Talent report in 2021, an estimated 60% of companies acknowledge that Human Resource (HR) plays an important role in employee training and development, while businesses need to be ready to support their team members for personal development courses.

Be it through government schemes or internal employee training, there’s no reason not to improve ourselves.

In order for our businesses to grow, we also need to improve and add new tools to our skill set. This will allow us to be more proficient in multiple areas, leading to improved efficiency. In a way, self-improvement can almost directly impact your overall business performance.

Moving towards an entrepreneurial ecosystem

Thanks to technology, there are plenty of resources available at our fingertips. One can easily get more perspectives on the significance of the entrepreneurial mindset online. There is a need for a mindset shift within our community.

Based on my experiences as a startup founder and educator, I believe that there is a need to educate youths through proper mentorship. As a young entrepreneur back in the University, it was common to find myself lost as there wasn’t anyone my age I could relate to and I had little to no clue of what to expect of the startup journey. Driven by these experiences, I have made it my mission to give back to the startup community, especially to the youth entrepreneurs, through my own boutique agility consultancy, Phay & Partners.

We need to create an open-minded community and that starts from the young. Along with humility and courage, our entrepreneurs – young or old – have the power to make waves in the ecosystem.

As the corporate world continues to evolve everyday, it has become increasingly important for us to adapt and advance with it. Afterall, the startup ecosystem is growing rapidly and we trust that we need to shape our mindsets in tandem with these changes.