“Please – Send Us Some Chaos!”

By Shlomo   Maital   




  Yesterday I ran a Workshop here in Singapore with some talented entrepreneurs and managers, in an effort to map Singapore’s innovation ecosystem.   Earlier, using the method developed by my colleague Prof.  Amnon Frenkel, we had done similar maps for Israel, Spain, France, Germany and Poland, as part of an EU 7th Framework project. 

   In this method, we ask participants to list the most important innovation ‘anchors’ (in the language of economists: ‘stocks’, or more or less fixed elements) and ‘processes’  (flows, or dynamic interactions among the anchors). 

   To my surprise, the participants listed as a key ‘process’ for Singapore:  ‘lack of chaos’. (This is more of a gap than a positive process).   

    Singapore is a highly organized disciplined society.  It has to be – it is a small archipelago, not much space, with three different and disparate ethnic groups (Chinese, Indian, Malay).  From the outset founder Lee Kwan Yew realized this could be chaotic, and established a well-disciplined system.  In the West it is criticized as being undemocratic, but we see often how excessive ‘democracy’ causes gridlock and dissension in other countries. 

   Creativity and innovation all require some degee of disorder and chaos.   A high-tech company I once consulted for has a sign on its stairwells:  Hang on to the railing!   Now – how much risk will its employees undertake, when the message is given, that they must hang on to the railing when going down the stairs?  Singapore, as a nation, is remarkably wealthy and squeaky-clean, free of corruption, #1 in ease of doing business, and strategically agile.  But perhaps, my participants say, it is paying a price for all this systematic discipline. 

   The Bible says, ‘the wolf and the lamb will lie down together’.  Woody Allen comments: Sure!  But the lamb won’t get much sleep.  Can nations get the wolf of creativity to lie down with the lamb of discipline?  And if they lack the wolf, can they still be creative?

     If your country has some chaos to spare (mine sure does!),  please, package it and send it by UPS to Singapore.  They will gladly trade you for some of their discipline.  And this will be Pareto-optimal – we’ll all be better off.