Learning from Singapore
The tropical rain pours down from thunderous dark skies onto Singapore. The work on the soon to be run Grand Prix circuit carries on, people huddle beneath umbrellas and the air becomes fragrant, damp and delicious.
Singapore is a city that has always looked outside, a port, an imperial outpost that became an airport with a city attached. Singapore is a business. It exists to enable the world to connect here at the tip of Malaysia. From here you can easily visit any number of Asian cities. The management has created a place that is too civilized for it to be exciting yet so comfortable and friendly that it is the place to stay when you want to recuperate. You can also get an injection of cosmopolitan, open and multi ethnic Asia. Its corporate ethic demands all religions are both acknowledged and unimportant. The purpose of the city is to be profitable.
Nothing blows you away here. Except the way you grow instantly comfortable. It is a place that is hard to leave, it seduces all the senses and the persistent chatty friendliness of the people is its own delight.
I left my phone in a taxi and had it returned. A combination of the ever present security eye that photographed me leaving the taxi and a persistent concierge. It was missing for an hour. And I wonder if this is at the heart of the Singapore ethic. So many of my working associates told me, “thats Singapore!”. Not that it it is inherently more honest just that maintaining a reputation for safety and honesty is important for business. Even the taxis admonish thieves on painted car side billboards.
The Grand Prix is a Singapore event, international to its core. The people of Singapore will watch the event on their TV, it is too expensive to watch live. Their government will close half the city and use the event to maintain Singapore on the world’s lips. Singapore is nothing if it is not a brand. Yet my Singapore Airlines flight from Delhi was not great, the airport is beginning to lose its shine and the atmosphere of Singapore feels, somehow, less of a shining pinnacle and more of a tiring mall. The spectacular new architecture fronts gambling. Seoul, Shanghai and KL are all ascending brightly as nodes in the new Asian led global economy. Singapore seems caught in its history as an outpost of The West. The management brought in Richard Florida to learn of the creative class, they legalized homosexuality and hoped to fire up the creative economy. But creativity needs tension and that takes you back to the basic civility of Singapore. Maybe it will always be a service business more than a creative business? I hope not. I loved it here. A few small but provocative moves could make all the difference in a world hungry for ideas that spring not from war but from peace, and Singapore has a lot to teach us about that.