IF success were purely based on a numbers game, Singapore - with its tiny population of about five million - would lose out consistently to its larger competitors.
But the ability to work together and put different talents to good use is a skill that not every country possesses, and this is a strength that the Republic can take advantage of to excel in a globalised world, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking to over a thousand students at the annual pre-university seminar yesterday, Mr Lee said that Singapore must develop its own talent base and attract good people from elsewhere to stay ahead of the pack. 'There are a lot of smart people in the world, and if we go head-to-head with them, we will be outnumbered,' he said. 'But if we work together as one team in Singapore, we can produce something beyond what lots of (individual) smart people can do.'
During the lively 45-minute dialogue that followed his keynote address at the University Cultural Centre, a relaxed-looking Mr Lee fielded a barrage of questions from his audience of teenagers, all of whom were eager to seize a rare opportunity to tap the mind of the country's top leader.
One junior college student wondered what the government was doing to address Singapore's wide income gap, even as major steps have already been taken to ensure that all children receive an all-rounded education in school.
'To make incomes completely equal, it's impossible. Nobody in the world has succeeded, not even the communist countries,' said the prime minister.
'The reason the income gap has increased is partly because at the top, there have been so many opportunities and people have done fabulously well. But at the lower end, because of competition from China, India and Vietnam, wages have just not been able to rise as they were able to until about 10-15 years ago.'
But Mr Lee clarified that the government would not hold back anyone who could be successful, even if it meant that the Republic's Gini coefficient - an index that measures a society's income equality - would be greater.
'If you are able to do well and prosper, that's good for you and good for Singapore. If Bill Gates were to come to Singapore, the Gini coefficient would be a lot worse. But Singapore would be a lot better off because he may bring Microsoft here and create hundreds or even thousands of jobs to improve the lives of many people.'
Mr Lee also touched on the types of skills that leaders of the future should possess in a highly connected society where information and news are so readily available via the Internet.
'He must develop the credibility and ability to command attention, such that when he and his team speak, they are able to get people to go with them and not just follow passively but to engage, participate and contribute views and be part of the problem-solving process.'
Mr Lee drove home the point that Singapore provided opportunities for all, including foreigners, to realise their potential and perform at their best levels. He urged the students to actively contribute back to society, even when they are successful later on in life.
'First and foremost, concentrate on your education. After that, when you go out to work, please make an effort to engage in social and community activities and be part of society,' he said.