By Fredrik Härén – an author, speaker and publisher on the subject of business creativity.
“As an author of creativity books, how on earth can you live in Singapore?” I have lost count on the number of times I have been asked this question. And when I reply “Because I think it is the best place in the world to live for a creative person”, most people think I am kidding and everyone asks me to explain.
But no, I am not kidding. And yes, let me explain.
I moved to Beijing from my native Sweden in 2005 because I wanted to be in Asia when Asian countries truly started to embrace creativity. The defining moment for me was when Hu Jintao held a speech to the Chinese people where he said that “China should be an innovative country 15 years from now”. Since I write books on business creativity I just had to move to Asia and see this shift happen. After two years in Beijing I knew two things: 1) I wanted to leave Beijing (a fascinating city but too much traffic, too much pollution and too little water for a Swede brought up in the Stockholm archipelago.) and 2) I wanted to stay in Asia.
So I went on a grand journey. While I was doing research for my book “The Developing World” I constantly traveled over a period of more than 10 months. I went to 20 developing countries and when I came to a new city that I thought had potential to become my new home town. I made sure my schedule allowed me to stay a few extra days to get a “feel” for how it would be to live there. I spent two weeks in Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai. Mumbai, New Delhi, Istanbul – and Singapore. Then I made a list of positives and negatives for each city. Obviously, Singapore won.
Well, many reasons. Like quality of life. (I drink as many fresh mango juices in Singapore as I did beers in Beijing), weather (no, I do not mind the heat – I love it.), security (I love countries where there is a chance you get your iphone back if you forget it in a restaurant), and convenience (like the fact that Changi airport has great connections to the world, since my work involves a lot of traveling with more than 100 overseas business trips to 17 different countries on 5 continents in the last 12 month.)
But those are the usual reasons that make most people come to Singapore.
But the main reason I live in Singapore is because Singapore, to me, is the one place on earth where it is the easiest to have a globally creative mindset.
Some people say Singapore is “Asia for beginners”. I do not agree. I think Singapore is “globalization for beginners”, or rather “globalization for early adopters.” With a huge mix of races, religions and nationalities, Singapore is not only the slice of the world – it is also a time capsule of what the world will look like in the future. And I love that.
New York may call itself “The Capital of The World” – but Singapore IS the world. Because unlike New York, which is a global city in the USA, Singapore is just a global city. A global city state. Singapore is a city in the world, not a city in a country in the world. And this makes it easier to have a global outlook here since nationalistic barriers doesn’t block the view so much.
A beautiful mix
A positive side effect of this is that Singapore is one of the least racist countries in the world. Now that does not mean that there is no racism in Singapore, but I have worked in more than 40 countries and I have never felt less racism than I do in Singapore.
And that is important to me. Not only because we are a mixed raced family with myself being from Sweden, my wife from the Philippines and my son a happy mix of Stockholm, Manila and Singapore.
As an European I am ashamed, and a disappointed, when European leaders recently have gone out to say that “the multi cultural society does not work”.
I just wish they would come to Singapore.
To live in a place that is celebrating “western New Year” and “Chinese New Year” is not only twice as fun, it also gives you the feeling that there is more than one way of doing things.
On a recent New Year’s Eve party we realized we were 10 people with 10 different passports. A friend told me how they had had an after-work-beer at his company and 14 people – from 14 different countries – showed up. At our wedding we had 40 guests from 8 countries and of at least 4 religions and 4 races, and, at the time, no one was counting.
It all just felt as the most natural thing in the world. The point of course is that it is NOT the most natural thing in the world. Unfortunately. In most places in the world it would be rare, strange and exotic to have such a natural mix of backgrounds. For people living in Singapore, it is so natural you do not understand how unnaturally natural it is. And how valuable.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that knowledge of your own culture and background is not important. It is.
It is often said that a person without roots is fickle, doesn’t know how to connect to who he is and easily can be manipulated because there are no basic values keeping him grounded. Roots are important.
But if one are going to use a metaphor (in this case of likening a human to a tree), one has to use the whole metaphor. Because it is equally true that a tree without branches also dies. A tree that is not spreading its branches out in all directions to gather as much energy as possible might have deep and strong roots, but it will still wither down and die.
Or in other words. To be rootless is dangerous, but so is being branchless.
And if your own culture are the roots, the cultures of the rest of the world is the energy that your branches need to reach out to so that you can get new ideas about how do do things by learning from others, be inspired to try new foods, get new habits and try new traditions. It will allow you to be curious of other ways of doing things, be inspired by different ideas and energized by alternate points of views. And that is what creates creativity.
And nowhere in the world is it easier to let your branches spread out than in Singapore. Want some American influence? Watch American Idol the day after it airs in the US. Want some Indian culture? Attend the Deepavali Celebrations together with 100 000’s of Indians in Little India. Want to practice your Chinese? Go and order frog in Gaylang.
The Icelandic vikings who lived 1000 years ago had a word for the people who never left their farms on Iceland, who never ventured outside. That word was “heimskur”. It means moron. As they saw it a person who did not open up to the world to find new ideas from other cultures was a moron. I think the Icelandic vikings would have loved Singapore. I sure know that I do. It is the one place that I have found that have the fewest heimskurs.
Too many people limit their potential, their creativity – and in the end – their lives, because they are not embracing the whole human spectrum of creativity. They are not taking full advantage of the potential of the world, because they are not living in the world. They are stuck in their own corner looking inwards, seeing what ever that is different as “foreign”. And I think that answers the question of why I am living in Singapore: because Singapore makes me more human by making me more part of the world. Part of humanity. And by being part of the world I have a bigger change to be inspired to have new ideas. Ideas that will benefit us all.
— Fredrik Härén