I recently gave a talk at the National Library Board during which I discussed a shift that I believe will define Singapore's next chapter of success. I talked about a move away from the traditional "five C's" of success - cash, car, credit card, condominium, and country club membership - towards a new currency, five Cs built instead on creativity, collaboration, contribution, compassion and confidence.
Over the past five years, I've watched Singapore slowly tilt in the direction of these new values. But it was the day that Lee Kuan Yew died - March 23, 2015 - that this shift truly became clear to me. Singapore suddenly tapped into deep reserves of emotion and character. The day-to-day interactions of friends, and even strangers, transformed into opportunities to share the moments at which their family's historical trajectory had been positively impacted by the policies created under Mr Lee and his team.
As it grieved, Singapore started a journey towards a common identity and a renewed spirit of optimism for the future. The death of Mr Lee meant that Singapore was now, both publicly and privately, in the spotlight as a small nation state that the rest of the world could learn from. There was a hunger to understand the success that Singapore experienced in the 50 short years under the country's most pivotal leader. This country's people, values, and potential are now seen under a more optimistic light.
This optimism for the future is based on Singapore's inexhaustible and best resource - its people. As any other national asset would be, the potential found in Singapore's people should be harnessed, capitalised upon, and measured. This is where we will see the most important impact of these new five Cs:
Creativity nurtures new ideas that lead to better productivity, value, and impact. In Singapore, we are seeing a shift away from self-serving creativity. I see this in the work of independent creative educators like Tong Yee and Kuik Shiao Yin, the founders of the Thought Collective who are creating an empathic dialogue that puts a spotlight on Singapore's social and emotional capital. Helping to put social enterprise on the map in Singapore has helped Shiao Yin on her path to becoming a nominated MP. Multi-disciplinary local designers like Chris Lee from Asylum are establishing new and differentiated brands, products, services, and experiences that elevate the value of design for business and improve the everyday lives of Singaporeans.
Collaboration requires that we come together to work on and complete tasks that achieve common goals. This is happening in unexpected places; for example, The Public Garden, which sets up the venues and creates the connections that provide visibility for independent businesses, artists, and craftspeople. The internationally acclaimed Design Film Festival, put on by Singapore-based design consultancy Anonymous, puts Singapore in the middle of a global design conversation, with films on architecture, fashion, photography, street art, motion graphics, technology, and the subcultures of design.
Contribution involves taking actions - both big and small - that lead to greater impact for benefit of the community. Superhero Me, launched in Singapore by Logue, a film and storytelling firm, is designed to help children build their confidence and give them a means to create a vision for who they want to be. Playeum, a social enterprise focused on arts experiences for kids, encourages children to express their unique voice through art.
Compassion encourages an empathic mindset, and using that ability to understand and challenge prejudices, discover commonalities and inspire action. I saw this in action during the days after Mr Lee's death, when young and old queued for hours to pay their respects, helping those affected by the heat by passing out umbrellas or offering cold drinks. Over past few years, several new hawker centre programmes have sprung up that ask patrons to return their own trays and dishes, encouraging courtesy towards cleaning workers. And foreign workers' rights and needs have been increasingly highlighted, as evidenced by campaigns like the flying drones that delivered gifts to foreign workers, part of a Happiness from the Skies campaign - jointly organised by Coca-Cola Singapore and the Singapore Kindness Movement - that brings a focus to the important role foreign workers play in Singapore today.
Confidence means being bold enough to create the disruptive change needed to design sustainable growth for the future. This is happening in areas like the burgeoning tech startup scene where the public sector is matching venture capital investments as well as teaching kids in grade school how to start their own companies. Career ambitions for young Singaporeans - and even more importantly, their parents - are broadened by actions like these.
To fully realise the value of the new five Cs, we need to collectively take three paths:
- Embrace creativity as a mindset. As a country, Singapore must recognise that creativity is native to its culture, and be bold enough to create the disruptive change needed to design a future that navigates the modern-day complexity and challenges that it and every other country face.
- Unlock creativity in as many people as possible. As a business, across both the public and private sectors, Ideo has been honoured to work with individuals and organisations to understand the needs of citizens and consumers, in service of delivering positive impact and value. Now, we are seeing more people utilising the tools and mindsets of designers to effect change in organisations and in the world, even in places not traditionally known for creativity.
- Celebrate the creative role models Singapore has already nurtured. The new five Cs will be made up of individuals and initiatives, rather than material goods and luxury. Supporting those who are helping to bring about a more creatively confident future for Singapore will multiply the effects of their efforts.
We must look back to look forward, and Singapore's achievements should be celebrated. This is one of the smallest nations in the world to have become financially independent, our exemplary healthcare system has a track record of positive outcomes combined with affordable cost, and we have one of the best water resource management systems in the world. And that list goes on, from quality public housing to a well-designed public transport system.
The resourcefulness, courage, and creativity it took to build these things were vital for the success Singapore has seen to date, but it also forces the question: What's next?
On a societal level, Singapore's values of learning, prototyping, and care make it well-poised to be a player in the next economic superpower - the growing worldwide creative economy. This, combined with its small city-state size and the fact that it is highly networked across the public and private sectors, means Singapore is ready to play a lead role as a creatively confident country.
I encourage you to keep your eyes open and recognise the small- and large-scale forces that will define Singapore's new currency and next chapter. By leveraging the strength of its people and its well-designed systems, Singapore will foster and nurture a new currency that helps it realise its untapped creative potential. I'm excited for SG50, but even more optimistic about what we can build together for SG60 and beyond.
The writer is managing director of Ideo Singapore
This article was first published on September 19, 2015.
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