Saturday 24 December 2011

What the Woz!

Was Woz Right?
By Shibani Mahtani and Sam Holmes, The Wall Street Journal, 22 Dec 2011

Last week, Apple’s lesser-known Steve delivered Singapore – the small, business-friendly state trying to make its name on the entrepreneurial map – a sharp slap in the face.

Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, alleged that a company like his could have never emerged in “structured” Singapore, a place he said does not encourage people to think for themselves and dishes out “severe” punishment for bad behavior.

“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?,” Mr. Wozniak said in an interview with the BBC.

While many agreed with Mr. Wozniak’s rather brutal analysis of the creative climate in Singapore, they also pointed to Singapore’s own achievements in the digital world – particularly home-grown company Creative, which spent many years in a legal battle with Apple for patent infringement. Apple paid a US$100 million settlement to Creative, the brainchild of Singaporean Sim Wong Hoo, in 2006.

Some also praised the Singaporean government’s efforts to create a business-friendly, unapologetically capitalist climate that they say has done much to encourage entrepreneurship and the arts in the city-state.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to a number of creative professionals, start-up founders and entrepreneurs in Singapore, who have dedicated their lives to carving out a niche for themselves in the controlled city-state. Here are their reactions to Mr. Wozniak’s comments:

Min-Liang Tan, CEO, Razer

Singapore-born Min-Liang Tan heads up the U.S.-based gaming peripherals maker Razer. His group recently secured $50 million in venture capital and is looking to double its headcount to 700 over the next year.

I don’t necessarily agree that you need chaos to come up with creativity. Some of the great design work that we’ve been coming up with has come from Singapore. The structured, rote-learning environment as a whole is actually a positive thing. It is up to the individual whether he or she finds the right place to bring his or her talents to bear…[Razer] tends to be a bit laissez faire in our approach to work. These guys can play games all day long if they want to, but they’ve got to get their work done.

Trevor Healy, CEO, Amobee

Prior to joining mobile advertising company Amobee, Mr. Healy, who has lived in Silicon Valley for more than a decade, was the chief innovation officer at Telefonica Europe and vice president at Paypal Inc.

I would say that Wozniak is wrong. A lot of the growth in Silicon Valley was based around chaos – new immigrants coming in, new technology being developed – and people like Woz identify with that chaotic timeframe. The fact that Singapore is so organized is irrelevant and doesn’t mean that it can’t be chaotic. If you look at what is happening in Asia – new immigrants coming in, new businesses and [multinational corporations] opening up in Singapore – it has a lot of the same characteristics as Silicon Valley in 1995. Innovation and creativity can come from any location, the key is not social structure but access to venture capital. That is something that will have to be improved upon.

Sonny Liew, Malaysian-born Singapore-based illustrator

Sonny Liew is the Eisner Award-nominated artist behind comic titles such as “Malinky Robot” and graphic novels such as Marvel’s takes on “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” and Disney Press’s “Wonderland”.

It has always been the presumption that the system [in Singapore] stifles creativity, but the relationship between systems and creativity is complicated…In Singapore, alternatives to following the academic path were never really presented to us, so you just tended to follow the path of least resistance. You could probably say the system isn’t very active in promoting creativity, but that’s different from the idea of active resistance. Maybe the resistance gets internalized, which is so much worse – but not quite the same thing.

James Chan, venture capitalist, Principal at Neoteny Labs

James Chan looks after investment at Neoteny Labs, a Singapore-based fund backed by Japanese venture capitalist Joi Ito. The fund has helped incubate start-ups such as Viki and Animoca.

I would generally concur with Steve’s observations, but only if Steve had been referring to the Singapore 10 years ago … Singapore today is akin to a multinational corporation. It’s a fast-moving ocean liner amidst the Straits of Malacca, and a growing proportion of its inhabitants – both local and immigrant – have had it with running the economic rat race and are asking more fundamental, existential questions. The Singapore of old could never afford the human resource to develop the creative aspects of its society. The Singapore of today can, and is trying hard to do so. Singapore can now put down lifeboats and let helicopters and seaplanes visit and leave. It unfortunately lost a bunch of its creative elements along the way as it transitioned from sampan to cruise liner, because it simply didn’t have the economic space to accommodate them.

Adrian Pang, Actor and Artistic Director, Pangdemonium

Mr. Pang, raised in Singapore, spent eight years working as an actor in the U.K. before returning to Singapore, where he was involved in theater and local television. In 2010, he established a theater company – Pangdemonium – with his wife, Tracie.

The subject of censorship in art in Singapore has reared its ugly head time and time again [and] the issue of inadequate government funding for the arts has become an annual [gripe]. I have worked for a TV corporation that, in my opinion, is so hindered by conservative socio-politico-economic norms that our TV industry is 25 years behind “the West.” As a young country so obsessed with “nation-building” for the past 45 years, we have been so focused on academia at the expense of true adventure. That part of the Singapore psyche conveniently called “kiasu-ism” has made us tread the “safe” path, for self-preservation, security and survival, and we have now evolved into a people preoccupied with having a lifestyle, rather than a life. Looking at it with a fresher perspective, I would say that things have improved dramatically over the last decade. There are more arts practitioners as well as more people being patrons of the arts than ever before. I think Singapore is undergoing our own quiet revolution – a renaissance of sorts. Give us a few more decades and I’m sure Mr. Wozniak will change his mind.

Wozniak: Apple Couldn’t Emerge in Singapore
By Shibani Mahtani and Sam Holmes, The Wall Street Journal, 15 Dec 2011

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, said a company like Apple could not emerge in societies like Singapore where “bad behavior is not tolerated” and people are not taught to think for themselves.

“Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished” Mr. Wozniak said in a recent interview with the BBC. “Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?”

Speaking about the late Steve Jobs, his former business partner, he said that allowing creativity was more important than wearing a suit or the length of your hair. Mr. Wozniak, a computer engineer and programmer, founded Apple Computer Co. — now the famed Apple Inc. — with Ronald Wayne and the late Mr. Jobs in the mid-70s.

Speaking specifically about Singapore, he said that though many people are educated with well-paid jobs and nice cars, “creative elements” in society seem to have disappeared. He added that inspiring creativity was important to a company like Apple.

Earlier this year, Mr. Wozniak visited Singapore to speak at a motivational talk series organized by Singapore’s Workforce Development Agency and the National Trades Union Congress.

His comments come at a time when Singapore is actively trying to woo creative tech companies like Google and Facebook to invest in the tightly controlled city-state. Just today, Google launched a US$120 million dollar investment for a data center in Singapore, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

Speaking about Internet innovation, Jayson Goh, Executive Director for Infocomms & Media at Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said he was happy that “many innovative Internet companies” had chosen Singapore as the focal point for their investment in Southeast Asia, specifically naming Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook.

“We will continue to work…to enhance the infrastructure to create a conducive environment for enterprises to provide innovative solutions,” Mr. Goh said.

Singapore actively encourages startups and entrepreneurship in the city-state. According to government statistics, 29, 798 companies were formed in Singapore in 2010 across all sectors, a 13% increase from the previous year.

At the groundbreaking ceremony of Google’s Singapore data center, its Southeast Asia head Julian Persaud praised Singapore for its “fantastic business environment” and transparency.

“It is very easy to work with the government,” said Mr. Persaud, adding that cooperation from the government and Singapore’s regulatory framework was a big reason for the company’s heavy investment in the city-state.

No comments:

Post a Comment