The link between creativity, freedom, and entrepreneurship
November 4, 2011 by Terence LEE
At a plenary session of the World Entrepreneurship Forum held in Singapore on 3rd November, entrepreneurs, thinkers, and a French mayor gave their takes on how to encourage entrepreneurship globally.
But the remark that encapsulated the discussion turned out not to be from the panelists, but a member of the audience during the Q&A session.
We don’t just need STEM education — science, technology, engineering, and mathamatics; we need STEM LA, said the American who has lived in Singapore for many years.
‘LA’ stands for liberal arts education, which refers to a curriculum that imparts general knowledge, so as to develop the student’s intellectual abilities and critical thinking skills.
‘La’ also sounds like ‘lah’, a common Singlish word often appended to the end of sentences which can mean many things.
The nexus between creativity, freedom of expression, and entrepreneurship was a major theme during the session.
Dr Ray O Johnson, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation, talked about howAlbert Einstein had difficulty understanding time and the concepts of past, present, and future.
But instead of letting his deficiency become an obstacle, he sought to understand time from a different perspective, and this led to the discovery of the theory of relativity, which states that the passing of time can be hastened or slowed by velocity and gravitational pull.
“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” he once said.
Creative minds like Einstein can only flourish in environments that allow for it.
According to Ray, a society that tries to manage innovation instead of supporting it would ultimately fail. This very critique was leveled towards the Singapore government by INSEAD professor Patrick Turner in a recent article.
Gérard Collomb, Senator-Mayor of Lyon, France, spoke of things cities can do to create the right environment for innovation. One of the ways is to let culture and the arts flourish. Artists must not feel like they are left on the fringes of society, he noted.
While the link between culture and entrepreneur may sound distant at first, Collomb believes that cities with a flourishing cultural life would attract the best minds, since culture is related to a high quality of life.
Singapore, in an effort to promote itself as a “renaissance city”, seemed to have gotten the memo.
There has been a concerted effort by the government to promote arts and culture. The iconic Marina Bay Sands, besides housing a casino, is also home to the ArtScience Museum, which recently featured exhibitions by great artists Salvador Dalí and Vincent Van Gogh.
Events like the Singapore Biennale and Singapore Arts Festival are designed to position the country as a city for the arts. Local artists can also seek funding from the National Arts Council to support their works.
Besides arts and culture, the political space has also opened up. During the recent General Election in May 2011, the government has, for the first time, legalized the use of new media for political purposes.
This opening up of Singapore society is what Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping described as the ‘New Normal’ — a term used to describe the changes to the country’s socio-political landscape leading up to and after the recent General Election in May 2011.
His missive was a response to what he describes as a “politically correct” answer given by Prof Su Guaning, President Emeritus of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), in response to a question about what Singapore has done to generate entrepreneurial buzz in the city.
Prof Su simply rattled on about how Singapore’s pioneer leadership was the key reason driving the country forward even today.
Kwon Ping, in an attempt to provide a more “honest” answer, highlighted how the younger generation’s aspirations and demands for more autonomy and independence has caused the government to loosen up political control.
He added that Singaporeans have more freedom to express themselves today than they did decades ago, a trend that has encouraged Singaporeans to become bolder and more independent in their thinking.
Kwon Ping himself is a vocal Singaporean who’s not afraid to challenge boundaries. After all, as a journalist, he was jailed by the Singapore government for two months after writing allegedly ”pro-communist” articles for the Far Eastern Economic Review.
Currently, Banyan Tree manages over 20 resorts and hotels, 60 spas, 70 retail galleries, and 3 golf courses.
As Singapore continues its climb towards becoming a world class entrepreneurial city, it is inevitable that the government wants the country to be seen as a society that welcomes diversity in all its forms.
Visionaries like Steve Jobs, after all, are known for their unconventional thinking. He once told a New York Times journalist that “doing LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” He even suggested that Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once.”
Not something you’d say in Singapore, which has a tough policy against drugs.
Going forward, the government finds itself with the unenviable task of nurturing the next Zuckerburg on one hand, and maintaining the country’s stable business environment on the other; a challenge indeed.
This explains why the government and its agencies have been schizophrenic in many respects.
While our political leaders welcome international artists, the Singapore Art Museum won’t hesitate to censor exhibits that are deemed ‘inappropriate‘. While the ruling party wants to foster critical thinking, the mainstream media is still skittish about criticizing government policy. And while the government wants to promote entrepreneurship, our education system doesn’t reward failure.
I sincerely hope these are part of our society’s growing up phase.
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About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE