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The Hot Pan Effect

Discipline, discipline, wherever you go people talk about it or more so the lack of discipline.

Aug 2018: Discipline, discipline, discipline, wherever you go people talk about it or more so the lack of discipline.

What is discipline?
Simply put it means obeying mandated laws and rules. The rules may be those issued by parents, teachers, institutions, religions, the government and employers. They also represent generally agreed long held traditions in every society, that have served its members well.

Every effective system of laws, and rules has two key aspects, Adequacy and Compliance. The process, procedure and rules must be adequately designed for meeting the required and smooth functioning of society (these are called laws) Secondly it must be complied with (this is called order). Hence the term 'Law and Order'

Many organisations and societies have clear rules and laws, but yet there is no discipline. Why?

All individuals are born free. It is normal human nature that people will do what they like, when they like, seek to maximise their earnings, comfort and convenience with minimal effort.

This thinking implies, humans are by nature socially indisciplined. Hence the need for awareness, education, training and enforcing discipline.

Why should any normal person wish to submit themselves to rules? We have to compromise and give up some personal preferences, individualism and liberty to fit in with the society we belong to or choose to be part of. Yet everyone tries to do the minimum possible.

Discipline is achieved by three ways.
First way is 'Internally generated discipline' by the evolved persons who always do the right thing, of being respectful of others and our environment.
Second is 'Regimented discipline'. This is achieved by constant training, education etc. starting at an early stage in life, where discipline becomes an ingrained nature.
Third and most commonly used approach is 'Enforcing discipline' works on the principle of fear. A system of punishing offenders, those that break the rules or the laws. So that the offender and others dare not readily repeat the offence.

In fear driven societies such as dictatorships, communist and theocracies (ruling in the name of God) which are totalitarian regimes, discipline tends to be very good, because individual liberty is non-existent.

In democracies discipline is poor because everyone knows their rights but somewhat forgetful about their individual responsibilities and social duties.

How can we introduce discipline?
Take the case of a country like Singapore probably one of the most disciplined and yet liberal society with a free market economy. They have the most disciplined and productive citizens and workforce in the world. Singapore's real per capita income is actually the highest in the world, because almost all it's income comes from human endeavour and no exploitation of natural resources.

How does one bring about discipline?
The Hot Pan Effect illustrates how discipline works.
It is based on three predictable effects of any indiscipline, akin to touching a hot pan.

  • Effect is predictable (hand will certainly get burnt)
  • Effect is painful
  • It is instantaneous.

It is predictable that the hand will get burnt, it will be painful for sure and it happens instantaneously. While freedom in Singapore is great for doing right, the penalties for wilful breaking of laws is harsh because prompt and effective enforcement of the laws and rules is very strict.

Discipline begins at the top.
If leaders and role models are honourable, and committed, discipline automatically follows. If they lack integrity no amount of laws can bring about discipline.

The next time we complain about indiscipline, it might be a good idea to review our own behaviour.


by Gurvinder Singh


Singaporeans are global citizens. They are respectful of themselves and others and the law. However Singaporeans also demonstrate the problem of too much discipline. They are productive and tend to be friendly but in a restrained manner, lacking that spark that comes from chaos and unpredictability.

Traditional Indians tend to be very disciplined. Modern Indians on the other hand have no idea about discipline, and revel in the chaos of our indiscipline often considering it a virtue, called 'Jugad' meaning 'a fix'.

What is the best approach?
In a world dependant on innovation, the best approach is to have a balance between an almost reckless mind and disciplined behaviour.

Gurvinder Singh

Gurvinder Singh is an engineer by education, Industrialist by professional experience. I have travelled and  conducted business both India and abroad (34 countries). 

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