Steve Wozniak should be taken out of Santa's "nice" list this year.
In a radio interview with BBC this week, the Apple co-founder dissed Singapore for its lack of creative people because the city-state doesn't tolerate bad behavior. "When you're very structured almost like a religion... Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished. Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great singers? Where are the great writers? Where are the great athletes?" Wozniak said.
"All the creative elements seem to disappear."
Wozniak obviously didn't witness the very warm reception those shirtless dudes outside Abercrombie & Fitch's new outlet here got over the past week...it also would have taken great athletic skills to burrow through the crowd and steal a picture with those abs-filled hunks.
And is he suggesting religious people aren't creative either?
But, Wozniak is right. Singapore isn't widely recognized on the global stage as a leading innovator or manufacturer of creative thinkers. We have yet to produce an Apple or a Mark Zuckerberg...or a Rebecca Black--it must have taken a tremendous amount of creative juices to come up with that tune. Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday...
But, Singapore's seemingly lack of innovation cannot be attributed simply to the country's "structured society" and intolerance for bad behavior for which you can be "extremely punished", as Wozniak calls it. No problem is that simple.
It's a challenge that locals here often debate about. Some of us have pointed to Singapore's education system, where students could do well simply by memorizing facts and figures--rather than applying knowledge--to solve problems. This is something the government now recognizes as an issue and is attempting to fix.
Others have pointed to Singaporeans' lack of gumption in facing potential failure in the world of startups and risky entrepreneurship. Some have also highlighted the country's significantly small community of inhabitants as limiting. When you have a population of over 307 million, like the U.S. has, you'll obviously have a much higher chance than Singapore--with its population of 5 million--of producing an Apple or a Zuckerberg.
More importantly, every society is unique. What works for one may not work for another, and what is acceptable in one may not be acceptable in another.
An "unstructured" society like the U.S., where there is less intolerance for bad behavior--if Wozniak's views are anything to go by--may have been the catalyst for creativity, but it also created an environment where illegal gun sales are now rampant on the Internet and online gun dealers have been linked to mass shooting incidents in the country.
Perhaps Wozniak would argue that there is no direct correlation between a country's social structure and crime rate, but I would argue also that there is no direct correlation between social structure and creativity.
Japan is a clear example of that. The country is widely recognized for its very formal and "structured" society, but it is also globally acknowledged for innovation across various industries including technology and automotive.
Silicon Valley may have been a model of tech innovation that worked for the U.S. culture, but it doesn't necessary have to be a model for Asian societies--as Japan has demonstrated.
Differentiated by culture and language, among others, Asia cannot be the next Silicon Valley as defined by Wozniak and the likes. We cannot replicate the success of one society by simply taking its culture and recreating it in another.
Instead, Asia will need to create its own brand of innovation and its own ways of inspiring creativity. Yes, even if it means we can't chew on gum while doing so.