I have recently visited Singapore and one cannot but help to be impressed by this city/state. From the moment that you step off the plane there is an air of cleanliness and high tech moulded into a organised and aesthetically pleasing society.
The more one delves into Singapore the more one finds things to admire. Singapore is a clean and modern looking city with state of the art structures moulded together with open green spaces.
Transport is modern and efficient with a high dependence on technology. Hotels are modern and use the latest in technology to enhance the user experience whilst still focusing on high levels of personal service. Not only are you equipped with a hotel smart phone for everything from booking discounted tickets to guiding you to your destination, but the staff will also provide excellent service for the less technically minded that require a personal approach.
The laws and regulations are sensibly shaped to ensure that everything runs efficiently and that many of the Western problems are avoided. For example, visiting migrants are employed for a maximum of two years and half of their wages are banked and given to them when they leave at the end of their stay.
The nearest thing to defiance by the population seemed to be a childish delight in not observing the yellow lines in the subway that determine the side of the corridor that you walk on! With that as the major crime one can feel very safe.
So why would I think to write a blog about entrepreneurship on a city that has embraced innovation so completely?
One could argue that Singapore, being so new has had the advantage of starting with a clean slate. However, that is equally true of a number of countries around the world and yet they have not achieved such progress.
Clearly Singapore has an advantageous position for likely investors in the Far East, and it was that very fact that started to ring alarm bells about the future. As I was shown around my Singapore guides were very knowledgeable about who had designed and built much of what is Singapore today.
However, the names of the investors were invariably from outside of the country. Someone from Las Vegas built the large dominant three building hotel by the bay and it houses a casino that holds 25,000 gamers at any one time.
This development by outside investors has been a deliberate approach by Singapore with low tax rates and incentives and it has been a very successful policy for the creation of Singapore today.
But I started to wonder where the homegrown innovators were in Singapore. Clearly they have a good academic education system that develops well-qualified and healthy Singaporeans. Not only do they study hard in school, but also the schools have programmes to tackle obesity at its root cause so as to reduce the strain on the health service in later life.
This education leads the students to be able to take on the higher positions on the Singaporean employment ladder with aspirations to be doctors, lawyers and other professional people. This is, of course, why there is a need for a migrant policy that attracts workers for the lower paid jobs.
But them I realised that the ordered life from school tand on into adulthood through a highly regulated society means that the very important skills of entrepreneurship such as risk taking, creativity and uniqueness are difficult to come to the fore. One of my guides told me that he and his wife nearly had a heart attack when their son said he wanted to be a musician rather than a professional person!
Clearly Singapore will continue to be a thriving community that is a model of technical and urban creativeness. Clearly Singapore will continue to provide excellent services to its people in areas such as health and social welfare.
But why should it reduce its return on excellent policies by relying on the innovation of outsiders and providing profits for outsiders? For example, the hotel on the bay returns profits in the billions each year. Once low taxes are paid what happens to the rest? Singapore could be so much more if it were to do more to encourage entrepreneurship amongst its highly educated students.
My other abiding memory of Singapore is of a people walking the pavements almost in unison, of school children all in uniform walking in lines and of every citizen avoiding jay walking fines by standing at crossings waiting for the green light even if there are no cars around.
The yellow line in the subway corridor has almost become a metaphor for me. I would so like to see Singapore flourish even more by crossing entrepreneurial yellow lines themselves rather than depending on outsiders. Sanitised streets are one thing, but please don’t sanitise the population.
I remember a slide I use in presentations of the one back sheep in a flock of white sheep. The slogan refers to our natural uniqueness and says “You laugh at me because I am different, but I laugh at you because you are all the same:. Let us see Singapore creating more black sheep!