“A company like Apple could not emerge in societies like Singapore”

steve wozniak

Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak raised his eyebrows on Singapore’s creativity in his interview with BBC a few years back.

He said a company like Apple could not emerge in societies like Singapore. There is a difference between creativity and innovation Arguably, we are innovative… Just not very creative.

Creativity is starting out on a fresh idea while innovation refers to the incremental improvements made on existing ideas. The fundamental difference is that innovative people shift paradigms while creative people create new ones.

Quoting Former Wildlife Reserves CEO Bernard Harrison, “We do a great job of innovation but fall far short of being creative.”

He asserted that creativity was beaten out of us from the day we got enrolled in kindergarten. And he’s not the first to point fingers at school teaching methods.

I beg to differ.

Don’t blame our education system for stunting creativity. Yes, we dare not challenge our teachers or actively ask questions. Our education involves intense memory work and regurgitation; creative thinking is as good as zilch. Back in secondary school, essay writing tests always felt like contests of ‘who remembers it best’ and ‘who can write the most and hit as many points as possible’.

Many of my friends even went on to prophesy questions as though they were the genie in Aladdin’s lamp. Revision would then involve writing and rewriting predicted answers to boost recall during the actual examination.
This is even more apparent in subjects that are largely factual. Can our education system be improved to help us become creative? So long as our mindset is fixated on the east, I think not.


Our eastern culture hampers creativity. Whilst we are getting more westernised in terms of outlook, the eastern culture remains predominant in our blood. Our respect for elders compromises individual freedom; this does not support creative thinking.

The eastern culture values membership and social validation – we think the preference of others indicates our own preference. (This is also why Singaporeans tend to join in long food queues at coffee-shops.) We only like to do what others are doing or have been doing.
Even for take-home tests that are thought to improve quality of answers; we would arrange meet-ups with friends to discuss – because the more the people agree on a same answer, the more we think it is correct. We tend to conform and inevitably murder creativity.

For the western culture, individualism is recognised and each has his own perspective. The probability of generating something new is much higher, and this is little wonder why the west is often revered for its creativity. Our culture transcends the education system and prevails in all aspects of our lives. I think the problem isn’t about our education system. Moreover, creativity is not something that can be taught.

Creativity cannot be taught – the onus is on us to learn it. As with all things, it takes self-discipline and dedication to learn. We must possess the drive to pick up new skills and think for ourselves.

No matter how good the environment enables creativity to be nurtured, nothing will happen if we do not make the conscientious effort to think (and act) against the norm.

I came across a commentary article by another young Singaporean on the BBC interview.

Please allow me to quote the writer in full, “We need more folks to say ‘Fuck, just do it.’ Not ‘Fuck, forget it.’” Only then can Singapore become a create society.

Creativity starts in us, for us, by us.



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About the author

Mendi Ang

Mendi Ang is a young (patriotic) Singaporean student. Her musings can be gathered from her travel observations, chats with adorable old ice cream uncles and even your conversations on the train. Inspiration is all around.

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