Kiasu: being afraid to lose, the evolution of personal and professional agency

DProf thesis

Chapman, J. 2023. Kiasu: being afraid to lose, the evolution of personal and professional agency. DProf thesis Middlesex University Business School
TypeDProf thesis
Doctorate by public works thesis
TitleKiasu: being afraid to lose, the evolution of personal and professional agency
AuthorsChapman, J.

Kiasu is a colloquial word prevalent in the Chinese Hokkien dialect of Singapore, my country of birth but not my ethnic heritage. It means ‘afraid to lose’ or ‘being afraid of losing out’1. Through a critique of my public works, this thesis explores the contextual relevance of my heritage and the shifting of my interpretation of kiasu from its original, literal interpretation of afraid to lose (money, status) to what it is we should be afraid to lose and on the evolution and development of agency generally, and my agency personally and professionally from its source to its continuous shaping. I examine how complex factors inform the mindset that is kiasu and the interplay between structure and agency serving as an enabler, inhibitor, and a constructive and destructive influence over the individual’s cognitive and emotional behaviours. I consider how it can exist as an influencer, to a lesser or greater extent, on human beings generally from fearing losing one’s job; potential; status; financial security; emotional security; health; life to the fear of losing the beauty of nature and indeed the planet. Kiasu can touch all aspects of our being. Rarely is it openly considered in business and yet it interpenetrates personal, proxy and collective agency2 in significant ways and can be an important driver subtly intimated, and harnessed tacitly, and perhaps somewhat irresponsibly, by the corporate to relentlessly increase sales and growth. Through this critique of my own works I propose how kiasu can both energise highly focused agency leading to economic success and serve to inhibit agency and negatively impact on other life areas, such as relationships, health and wellbeing. This is evidenced by and contextualised through my three selected Public Works (one of which is an emerging work) and how kiasu has influenced their creation and continues to influence the evolution of the continued development of my agency and how this concept has served as a positive lens on the grey areas of my core industry and tribe - the world of money and wealth creation commonly known as financial services. I am supported in this through the critical lens of autoethnography which has facilitated the emergence of new insights and which have been helpful to my own practice and hopefully contribute to the culture shifts that are now happening in many sector organisations. I conclude with gathering these valuable insights into explicit frameworks which align responsibility and commitment with values and integrity and lead to a shifting from what kiasu is traditionally attached to, to an empowerment to think more freely and ethically for the self. I contend this can lead to liberation through transformation, and to personal and social fulfilment and prosperity.

Keywordsagency; identity; money; success drivers; integrity; social; health; purpose; fear; kiasu; freedom
Sustainable Development Goals9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
3 Good health and well-being
Middlesex University ThemeCreativity, Culture & Enterprise
Department nameBusiness School
Business and Law
Institution nameMiddlesex University
PublisherMiddlesex University Research Repository
Publication dates
Online25 Mar 2024
Publication process dates
Accepted18 Dec 2023
Deposited25 Mar 2024
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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