Wisdom for startups – through Mandarin and Malay proverbs!

27th Jul 2013
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In an earlier column, I wrote about how some Indian proverbs are very relevant and inspiring for entrepreneurs, thanks to their messages for startups: learn from your experience, don’t over-plan, be flexible, be creative, don’t be reckless, work hard in teams, learn from failure, and so on.

Last week I launched another book on “Singapore Proverbs,” consisting of English translations of proverbs from languages and dialects spoken in Singapore, such as Mandarin, Malay, Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese and Tamil.


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Here is a selection of Malay and Mandarin proverbs which will bring inspiration and humour to entrepreneurs: they cover the importance of learning from experience, building strong foundations, the politics of power-play, importance of thrift, value of networking, choice of appropriate mentor, necessity of perspective, realistic limitations, power of teamwork, need to learn on the job, lifelong zeal, and sheer gut and confidence!Malay Proverbs:

When learning to swim, seek out the duck; when learning to climb, seek out the squirrel.

Sitting alone narrows the vision, sitting with others opens the mind.

Even a mountain will eventually collapse if you dig at it daily.

A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.

You can't get at the precious sago without first breaking the bark.

If you fear being hated then it is best not to be in power.

Even the back of a machete can be sharpened.

Be cautious in times of plenty, be frugal in times of hardship.

One who is skilled at cutting the cloth must also be able to stitch the pieces together.

Do not swallow all that is sweet and rich, do not spit out all that is bitter.

The mountain you seek will not move; once the fog clears, you will see clearly.

With desire comes effort, with refusal comes excuses.

If you fear being tossed by waves, do not build your home near the ocean shore.

The earthworm does not imagine itself to be a dragon.

Mandarin Proverbs:

I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.

When you always rush, you never get to your desired destination.

The participant’s perspectives are distorted; the bystander’s views are correct.

The winner of war becomes king; the loser is put into history books as the bad guy.

You cannot judge persons by their appearance.

Each flower is seen differently by each person.

If you don't go into the tiger's cave, how will you get the cub?

Over-confident soldiers will certainly be defeated.

Three feet of ice does not result from one day of cold weather.

The old horse in the stable still wants to run 1,000 miles.

On this world there exists no such impossible tasks, they fear only those with perseverance.

If a person has stamina, things will be accomplished.

If the roots are not removed during weeding, the weeds return next spring.

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