Creativity and functionalism make a great city

All we need now is to nurture a creative society to take Hong Kong to new heights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 3:44am

Recently I attended a fruitful meeting in Stockholm on media and suicide, exchanging the latest knowledge with researchers from around the globe and discussing how we can use technology to connect the disconnected ones, especially the young.

Social media is a double-edged sword that can be contagious in spreading news of suicides and inviting copycat action among the vulnerable. But it can also be a platform to help someone who might not be reachable through conventional means. It is challenging to move with the times and identify the means to engage with vulnerable people effectively.

Stockholm is known for its beauty, its buildings and architecture, its abundant clean and open waters and its many parks. The weather is still cold at the moment, varying daily between minus 3 degrees Celsius and 7 degrees.

Stockholm has about 100 museums and a visit to the Nobel Museum reminded me that creativity is very important and it is something that could be missing in our education system. Sometimes our school curriculum and parents are too examination-oriented and the children do not experience the joy of learning.

Even some of our university students are too focused on getting high GPA scores only.

Creativity, or lack of it, is also very much connected to the environment. High rents and a lack of investment in research and education can adversely affect creativity.

There is not enough space and room to bring out the talent in our young people.

In Sweden, the government provides free education and museum entry is free to children under 17. We don't need a department of creativity in a university. Creativity needs to be nurtured and developed rather than taught. However, it is creativity that keeps a country ahead of others, especially in a knowledge-based economy.

Functionalism is also widely practised in Sweden. The houses and furniture are engineered and developed to meet the needs of the masses.

Ikea is a Swedish company that produces innovative designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, appliances and home accessories.

What began as a backyard furniture business has turned into a multinational conglomerate.

Functionalism in Sweden concerns not only accommodation but is also part of the social psyche. Rational thought permeates the entire society. It influences many aspects of life in Sweden such as hygiene, childcare, housework and family planning. One of the prominent figures in this was 1982 Nobel Peace Prize winner Alva Myrdal, a sociologist and politician who strove to make women equal to men and was a driving force in creating the welfare system in Sweden. She died in 1986 at the age of 84.

Swedes like to see that their products work well and contribute to their well-being rather than simply maintaining the status quo.

Swedish functionalism can also be seen in the way men and women look after the family and how they maximise their talents and resources for the benefit of the family.

But functionalism per se might be a barrier to improvement. Creativity alone might just produce a useless product. However, creativity and functionalism can take a country to new heights.

Locally, the bureaucracy can defeat creativity. This is especially so when one tries to get data from government departments for research.

The rules to obtaining information are not only functional but are also designed to put people off.

These are hurdles and barriers to nurturing creativity in the community.

There are many challenges ahead for Hong Kong. I hope our energy and attention can be deployed to nurturing a creative community so that we can fully embrace creativity and functionalism in our policymaking and governance.

Paul Yip is professor of social work and social administration and director of the centre for suicide research and prevention at the University of Hong Kong