Channel NewsAsia has picked up the Professor Phillippe Lasserre of INSEAD speaking at a seminar discussing the management of regional change. Lassarre has suggested that Singapore needs less central planning in order to catalyse creativity:

The choice – to a certain extent – is to accept some kind of what I have called disorder to promote creativity. It’s extremely difficult to be creative in a very planned and orderly manner

An entry on discontents in April questioned how limits on political freedom and freedom of expression inhibited (or enhanced?) creativity. These comments however, add the other side to that equation – that too much structure, even in a positive sense can reduce the need to innovate and think creatively. How many Singaporeans and expats living in Singapore have you heard refer to the nation as being over-pampered, spoilt, or looked after – just a little too well?

In this vein, Singapore’s Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has come out saying the nation needs to find it’s own ‘buzz’ to attract people in an Xinhua article. Tharman admitted that:

Singapore is referred to as a nanny-state, a “fine city”, with penalties for numerous offenses, and as lacking in creativity and an innovative culture…

…but also annouced ‘five key planks’ to ensure that the ‘Singapore Brand’ endures:

  1. Keeping the trust in the Singapore system
  2. being the most open city in Asia
  3. continuously remaking the country
  4. supporting individuals in breaking new ground
  5. strengthening a culture of excellence for all.

I wonder whether the ‘most open city in asia’ also includes non-economic openness? Singapore has thrived on its admirable efforts to provide one of the most open economies in the world, but if it wishes to capitalise on the creativity inherent in local and expat populations, it may need to look beyond economic freedom.

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The structure vs freedom dichotomy – and the need for both – is strikingly similar to the success of not just economies and political systems, but in the success of technological communications platforms. There has been some work that has suggested that the success of i-mode mobile internet in Japan for example, was due to NTT DoCoMo’s ability to strike a balance between open and closed systems to provide a platform that provided structure without restricting the activities of users. Perhaps policymakers in designing economic and political systems need to consider the need to allow people not to feel excessively restricted in their workplace, thinking space, and day to day lives.