Presidents - Garden metaphor
I have been hugely encouraged by the reaction. I have had colleagues who said that the “what” in the garden which I had described in terms of the four “I”s: the internationalization, the integration, the industry, innovation, was something that they felt they could easily internalize instead of a laundry list of 20 things that we wanted to do. It had been distilled in a way that they felt they could walk around and actually repeat what it is we wanted to do. That was one of the things I was trying to achieve, that people would know and it would become instinctive, rather than scratch their head and say, what was it the president said of the 20 things she wanted to do? I can remember two or something. So that was a part of it, and the reaction has been positive. Everybody could recite that back to me and probably can do it in their sleep now.
The other part was much more in a sense, touchy-feely and much more relational, and it was about the garden metaphor that I had used. People felt like—at least the reaction I got from like maybe 50 different people who have spoken to me or written to me—all of them except one said that was a metaphor that really worked. Many people said they could relate to it. It makes sense when you say that we want to cultivate this beautiful garden for everyone. It was a happy feeling. There were those who said they can totally understand the need for some weeding periodically. They can totally understand the need for pruning periodically, and there were those who said we recognize the hard work behind gardening. So, the reactions were varied, but the metaphor worked I think for many people. As I mentioned there was just one person who said that it was kind of out there, but one out of 50 is not bad.
When I think about Gardens by the Bay and how large a garden it is with different parts of the garden, you have the domes which require different temperature, different treatment, you have the different ethnic gardens, etc. I use that as a metaphor because I don’t mean that the garden is just one monolithic whole. There are different patches in the garden. We all have our role to tend our patch of the garden, but the whole is a beautiful garden, and it is greater than the sum of the parts. My role, I think, is to identify —working with colleagues—what are those parts of the garden that we want? Do we want the domes? Do we want the ethnic patches? Do we want some outdoor garden? Do we want the gardens sheltered? Do we want a pavilion in the garden? And that is the next order of detail that we are getting down to that needs to be worked through with everyone.
So, if I say we are going to have more integration as part of the garden, how is that to be played out? Is it integration in interdisciplinary terms, for education, for research? Is it integration across the alumni-student cycle? Those are different parts of the integration garden, and we need to agree what integration looks like, and we need to find the right gardeners for the different practices of integration as such. We need to be able to identify the strengths and passions of the different gardeners, some of whom prefer to be working in a greenhouse and others who are very happy to be out in the sun, some who like to be tending to the pond in the garden and so forth. And so it is about good judgment as to what the strengths of individuals are, and we all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have blind spots. We can’t do certain things, and why do we then pursue a path, a track for an individual where that is where his or her weaknesses are? Should we try and match where the strengths are so that the individual comes to work, on a daily basis, feeling fulfilled, that my strengths are recognized and what I am doing is making a difference to the larger garden. It is easier said than done. It is definitely easier said than done. But I think the metaphor worked because people recognized that that is what we need to do, we need to recognize the strengths of different people, match the job and the strengths, and sometimes, to then move on from what is your strength to another area where you don’t have strength, but because you are interested and you want to learn, you are actually developing a different skill set as well. And as I said, all of this works very well in theory. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, to mix my metaphors.