Kuik Shiao-Yin: Changing Mindsets to Achieve Business Success

More than ever, entrepreneurs need to challenge their own assumptions and move out of their comfort zone to thrive.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kuik Shiao-Yin witnessed many business owners struggling to cope with the crisis. As the co-founder of consultancy and training provider The Thought Collective, she sought a way to provide these enterprises with a framework to help them make the changes they needed to thrive.

To do so, she adopted a set of principles from her long-time client, GIC, to help entrepreneurs challenge their own assumptions, embrace long-term strategic thinking, and shift their mindsets to overcome new hurdles.

She then collaborated with SBF to train SME owners to adopt this framework. Her training sessions would form the first of a three-part process known as the MAP initiative, which SBF launched in April 2021 to provide its members with a guided journey for business transformation.

BizQ spoke to Ms Kuik on the urgent need for businesses to transform, the reasons entrepreneurs find it hard to change, and the steps they can take to address them.

Why is it important for businesses to transform, especially during this challenging period?

You want to pre-empt the positive change that is going to happen to you. Depending on what sector you are in, the changes can be dramatic, or it can be gradual. However, it is certain that change is happening.

Hence, I think the mindset shift is preparing for the idea that there is such a thing as change. The easiest lie you can tell yourself is that nothing will ever change. And you know, objectively looking at it, that is not true.

Yet, by nature, people are inclined to be reluctant or hesitant to change, especially when you are talking about the kind of extreme transformation that is required today.

Why are business owners still reluctant to change even when they know they need to?

Human beings have a strangely high tolerance for enduring terrible situations. There are business people I spoke to who are fine with being in a situation that clearly is not working out for them. But the idea of having to challenge every single assumption that they have about the way they have been doing things is incredibly difficult and likely to take time.

How would you try to convince them to embark on this journey of transformation?

Firstly, for those who are already successful, they do not see any need to change. For them it is important not to be complacent. You never know what may come, so you have to accept the idea that change can come for you.

Then there is a second group where things are not working out for them. They are not succeeding, and they know that something needs to change, but they are really hesitant or fearful that if they change, things may become even worse. So for this group, I would ask “What is it about your current failings that makes you feel so comfortable that you do not feel the need to change?”.

It is strange, but some people have become used to just failing and not doing too well. And that becomes the norm for them. It becomes far scarier for them to imagine that they can be a success.

So it is about convincing business owners to look at themselves more honestly?

The main thing is for people to be unafraid of being honest with themselves, and that is the scariest thing. You have to examine the situation you are in right now, no matter how difficult that is, and be brave enough to challenge some assumptions.

If you find that those assumptions are still working out for you, then there is nothing to be scared of. But if you challenge the assumptions and realise something is actually misaligned, you need to do something about it before someone does it on your behalf.

Once a business owner recognises the need to transform, what are some of the challenges that a person might face?

The biggest challenge is the people around you. Just when you decide that you are going to make a change, you will be surprised at how other people around you are comfortable with the current situation, and are reluctant to take the leap of faith with you.

So that is the first thing you must be mentally prepared for, to overcome the inertia of a change of mindset by the people around you.

Can you describe the framework you are trying to teach under the MAP initiative?

What I am bringing to business people is a set of principles. They are based on the same principles that GIC uses to invest long- term, to think long- term, and to guide their own organisation. I find it very useful to look beyond current situations, so that you do not lose sight of the bigger picture.

These principles are very handy yet simple enough to help businesses jumpstart their transformation and question some of their fundamentals. They allow you to focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.

How important is passion when it comes to building a sustainable business?

Passion is important as it tells you what you are willing to go through to achieve success. But passion does not necessarily mean talent; it does not necessarily mean strength. You do not want to build a business based on passion alone. What you want is to invest enough in your passion so that it becomes a talent, perhaps even a strength.

So what can change a passion into talent and strength is a long-term investment of time to build up the skills and experience you require. It is far more sustainable to build a business based on what you are strong in.

The MAP initiative, launched by SBF on 1 April 2021, is supported by DesignSingapore Council, GIC, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Institute for Human Resource Professionals, Korn Ferry, Singapore Polytechnic, SkillsFuture Singapore, Singapore Institute of Management, and The Thought Collective. The pilot run is open to SBF members in the Wholesale and Retail Trade sectors, and serves to systematically guide businesses in their transformation journey.