Sunday, August 16, 2009

The conditions of creativity

TED Talks: Paul Romer's radical idea: Charter cities

Stanford economist Paul Romer has come up with a radical concept, "charter cities". Basically, this idea comes from the outstanding success of Chinese special economic zones. In 1979, China designated Shenzhen, a small village next to the prosperous economic city, Hong Kong, as one of four economic special zones. At that time, China's national economy was strictly managed based on economic plans built by the central government. China had few private companies and virtually no economic freedom. But things were total different in economic special zones like Shenzhen. Economic freedom was secured and foreign companies was able to invest there without restriction. A lot of companies from Taiwan and Hong Kong actually made a direct investment in Shenzhen and it changed the destiny of Shenzhen forever. Since 1979, Shenzhen has achieved an incredibly rapid economic growth. Now it is a prosperous metropolitan with the population of 6 million.

Shenzhen's success would have never taken place if not for the neighboring Hong Kong, which had been governed by Britain before it was returned to China in 1997. Hong Kong was allowed to rely on sophisticated British legal system(good rules). It brought huge benefits to businesses operating in Hong Kong. Shenzhen learned how to make good rules from Hong Kong.

Paul Romer generalized this particular success in Hong Kong and China into an idea "charter cities". A "host country"(e.g. China) provides a "partner country"(e.g. Britain) with a small tip of territory or a "charter city"(e.g. Hong Kong). In return, the partner country provides the chartered city with a set of rules the most suitable for economic and social growth.

In other words, now Paul Romer is trying to "reproduce" Hong Kong all over the world.

How audacious he is! A typical conformist Japanese would think that his idea was too radical and "unrealistic". They would say "well, a good idea, but it is simply impossible to implement". They would even laugh at his idea. But is it a right thing to do? Maybe, we Japanese should not shut down one idea simply because it looks impossible to realize now. If we want to be imaginative and innovative, we must be open to any idea no matter how absurd it looks.

I don't know how realistic he idea is. But I do respect him by speaking up an idea that he believes worth spreading. It might have taken him a courage to express this idea because it would look too radical and almost impossible. I also respect the culture of English speaking societies where any ideas are not rejected just because they are against their common sense. As long as your idea makes sense, they allow you to give it a try. If we don't tolerate this kind of try and error, we will never be able to produce creative results.

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