The Dutch have an impressive "duality of focus" that encourages both independent thinking and consensus-based decision making, as well as the knack of turning adversity into opportunity, President Halimah Yacob noted yesterday.
And there is much Singapore can learn from their experience, she said in an interview with Singapore media at the end of her five-day state visit to the Netherlands, on which innovation was a key focus.
"The Dutch people are not afraid of experimenting, and not afraid of getting off the beaten track," she said. They "have this knack of looking at a particular risk and then converting it into something of value".
Madam Halimah visited innovation hubs in the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. She also met Dutch government officials in The Hague.
It was the first such visit by a Singapore head of state to the Netherlands, and Madam Halimah's second state visit, after Brunei, since she became President last year.
She was hosted to a state banquet by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, and also had dinner with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Ten agreements - on water management and food science, among others - were also inked.
In her interview, Madam Halimah highlighted Dutch innovations in the areas of water, agriculture and the circular economy.
They look at the waste and they see how they can convert that into economic activity (and) new opportunities, and that's what they've done.
PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB, on Dutch innovations.
"It's not just reduce, recycle, reuse for them - it's much more than that," she said, referring to the circular economy model which aims to reuse and regenerate resources as much as possible. "They look at the waste and they see how they can convert that into economic activity (and) new opportunities..."
Madam Halimah also said Singapore can learn from the Dutch "triple helix" model in which government, academics and industry collaborate on solutions. "They've been able to crystallise very well the triple helix, where the three components... work very closely together," she said. "It's not just loose cooperation - somehow they become very much hand in glove."
The Dutch have also expressed interest in learning from Singapore's SkillsFuture initiative and emphasis on lifelong learning, she said. "The Dutch realise that talent is scarce and talent is difficult to attract and equally difficult to retain."
Asked what more Singapore could do to build a similar culture of innovation, Madam Halimah suggested that this could start at home.
"For instance, when children come back home, don't ask them if they've finished their homework. Ask them what questions they asked their teachers," she said. "It's encouraging the children to think... You multiply that throughout society; constantly questioning. I think that's important."
The President also attended a reception for overseas Singaporeans last Friday. More than 300 people showed up, some coming from as far as Belgium and Finland.
Those present included Mr Kyle Tan, 31, who runs an Amsterdam-based start-up that uses artificial intelligence to compare construction blueprints against what has been built. Its method takes less time than manual checks, and enables costly mistakes to be caught early.
"I've always wanted to do this,"he said. "I think Singapore badly needs innovators."