Creativity is more than knowing you need it

Creativity is more than knowing you need it

Creativity is more than knowing you need it

Thirty years ago a senior member of modern SIngapore’s founding elite told me that the country needed to improve its creativity. As an instinctively creative person, given an early start in life among some of the most creative people in the UK, this was music to my ears. Intention is a big part of achievement, especially in Asia where effort is accepted as the price of progress and accomplishment is measured whenever practical. Music to my ears, as someone who can teach creativity. It is not rocket science – but neither is its practice easy.

Where has SIngapore’s creativity got to?

Singapore made the first big creative step when it became independent in 1968. Lee Kuan Yew, the man who shaped early modern Singapore, was perhaps spurred on to take a huge risk by the patronising headlines in most of the rest of the world’s media. ‘Poor Singapore’ they said, ‘No chance of survival for this asset-deprived, incongruous island ruthlessly expelled from Malaysia for being too successful.’ History shows how right Mr Lee’s creative – at the time often referred to as ‘reckless’ – gamble was. Singapore flourished in the more than 50 years since.

One giant creative leap does not guarantee everlasting success, as the United States discovered after its spectacular landing on, and return from, the moon. Risk is not creativity, as the British Prime Minister is in the process of discovering over Brexit. Intention is not achievement, either. That is the lesson SIngapore is learning. Sure, the intention is there. Sure, there are many pockets of creativity within the country. Sure, creatively bright people are emerging all the time. And yes, a road ahead is visible to all who would look for it. That does not include everyone of influence.

Creativity in politics is tougher than in any other department of life, especially when it is constrained by democracy. Those who, like me, promote democracy as the apparently least bad of all ruler systems, have to understand that it is not the same as making all your decisions by majority vote. Indeed, it is actually the opposite. It involves creativity, risk, education, persuasion, growing up.

There are eight questions I pose about an individual, a company or a country to get a sense of the true creativity it will produce:

[1] How easy or difficult is it to challenge the existing order, politely, thoughtfully but with resolve?
[2] What historic / childhood influences – social, philosophical, religious, emotional – are playing to this body’s concept of success?
[3] What is the (collective) view of madness? I don’t mean raving lunacy but ribbald didactics.
[4] Does the judgment / justice exhibited allow for the quirky, the non-conformist and the people who make extreme suggestions as a way of stirring others’ imaginations?
[5] Are credible attempts made to deal with ‘different’ approaches to life in an atmosphere of calm?
[6] Do the powerful welcome challenge or do they defend themselves against it?
[7] Is learning to ‘read’ people / audiences minute by minute and to adapt using the information to deploy suitable ways of communicating, commonplace and part of the regular curriculum?
[8] Is it understood that toughness is a crude technique best applied lightly and after thought?

By any measure SIngapore has some way to go to achieve positive answers to all these questions. That is not to say it isn’t way ahead of many other countries both big and small. It is not an implied or actual criticism of past achievements but a celebration of them. It is the biggest compliment that anyone can pay another – ‘ you have the ability to learn’.

‘Your full potential’ is often used as a political encouragement to believe you can achieve what you want. When Zhivago was in the depths of creative despair, literally frozen up in Varykino, he said ‘What a wonderful time to be alive’.

We are not in the depths of despair or climatically ruined (yet). But we are severely challenged to take the next step in identifying what a human being is.

Humans have always had that challenge. None has had it like we do today.

What a wonderful time to be alive.