Michael TeohMichael Teoh
 Global Award-winning Trainer & Speaker on Talent Development
 Founding Partner @ Thriving Talents



Our education system intends to build youths who are knowledgeable in important societal matters. Hence the need for them to memorize text books, score well in exams and read up history books by the mountains in order to widen their general knowledge. No doubt doing well in exams in school to getting a reputable recognition in university is important in one’s life progression and can only be achieved by mastering the requirements of scholars to excel in academic achievements.

However, an emerging trend which is becoming prevalent among demanding employers, investors and also society would favour to provide opportunities for youths or young talents who are more ‘Active’ and are Street-Smarts, coupled with good academic and knowledge backgrounds.

From the many interviews and training sessions that I have conducted to train up companies’ young talents, it was evident that employers are looking not for ‘Robots’ who have digested years of information from books and computer screens, but rather ‘Thinkers’ and ‘Initiative-takers’ where talents are able to evaluate situations and make ‘Value-adding’ choices that will satisfy the demands of their companies and stakeholders. This has caused a debate whether more Knowledgeable youths are needed in our younger workforce today, or do we need to train and coach them to be Wise youths, who are able to think on their feet, have a positive outlook in life and be able to work with others, while understand the patterns of human behaviour and our interaction with our environment.

Looking at the incentives given by the government, from employee training schemes to graduates upskilling programmes, it is clear that it has become a national agenda to train our talents, especially the young ones to be relevant and competitive to meet the demands of the industry, grooming their skills and exposures which would otherwise not have been covered (Or covered minimally) in our typical educational system setting.

I believe the term of being Street Smart is being ‘Wise’ where I have learnt, from my interviews with CEOs and successful entrepreneurs across 25 countries during my trainings and project work there, is that working hard these days may not guarantee you success, or a fast climb in the corporate ladder. Rather, working smart and being ‘Wise’ can set you a part from the rest who rely mostly on ‘How much they have learnt from books alone’ to ‘How much they have learnt about interacting with people in different environments and to work with them to accelerate the achievement of their goals.’

In my trainings to young talents in universities and companies, I emphasize on communication skills, leadership, entrepreneurial development and inculcating positive character values and behaviours that would compliment one’s knowledge learnt from books in academia and enhancing’s one’s senses towards human reactions from situations around them.

Being ‘Wise’ here can be summed up as knowing what decisions to make, what conversations to speak of, what opportunities to grab and who to seek knowledge and connections from, in order to further help you achieve your goals. Often times, being ‘Wise’ also requires one to think of ‘Win-Win’ situations where one has developed the sensitivity to think about others, their benefits to your ideas and proposals, and their interactions with you.

It is common to see how the term where in Asia, ‘Guanxi’ or ‘Relationships’ are of paramount importance in the art of doing business, compared to the perceived ‘Throat-cutting, Best Deal Getters’ perception of the West. In our society where titles like ‘Dato’, Tan Sri, or even a person identified as being elder to us’ carry significant value of respect from the younger generations, our society emphasizes more on having the younger generation pay their tribute and respect to the many years of experience and wisdom of our elders and having them work to gain their trust. Going into business deals and partnerships are not as simple or straight-forward as a ‘Profit or Loss’ statement (Though that is important), but rather based on the cultivation of relationships, trust, empowerment and stewardship.

This harmonious working environment can only be achieved once people become ‘Wiser’ in their interactions with other people. Knowing what to say, when to say it, who to say it to, who should know about it, where it should be said (In what setting) and how to work with people all become a part for talents being groomed to be wiser.

Knowledge is useful only when one can see the virtues of using it, at the most appropriate setting to grasp an opportunity that creates the most value!

Thankfully, it isn’t hard to groom young talents who may lack the worldly experience to meet the competitive demands of the industry and human interactions these days. Our educational system would get our talents to study and learn about all the knowledge needed for them to apply in their careers. What we can do as parents, teachers, employers and responsible citizens would be to invest in alternative learning programmes or allow these young talents to get involved with community work and projects for them to develop their senses to be ‘Wiser’ people. Getting them attached to mentoring programmes with experienced groups, to investing for them to attend skills-building conferences or simply just encouraging them to get involved more in extra-curricular activities would help boost their experience in interacting with others, making decisions and leading efforts.

With more people graduating every year and the employment market not growing as fast as people are graduating, young talents who want to make a living and start their progressive climb in their careers and business ventures, may need to look beyond books only for knowledge. They would need to interact, get involved and lead up efforts that would create value in their lives in order to become ‘Wiser.‘