Within every deskbound Singaporean exists a creative soul.

When I look at Singapore, I see a nation of highly committed workers focused on growing their incomes, extending their exports, expanding services to generate incomes and build stores of wealth whether for a rainy day. Beneath these solicitors, accountants, and engineers, are dreams of being a musician, an artist, a dancer—all pushed aside to pursue ‘a proper job’.

There are reasons why these closeted creatives exist.

Being in the nascent creative industry involves a trade-off in terms of income. According to the Singapore Wage Report 2011, the top 10 percent of managerial level personnel in creative industries such as app development and artistic directing earned about S$4,700 in median monthly income as compared to managers in other job functions such as IT and Research and Development consultancies who earn a gross median income in the S$7,500-$8,000 range. Passion gives way to pragmatism at some point as other factors weigh in, depending on the weight of responsibilities and order of priorities, as when one tries to reconcile other lives that depend on you and your own career aspirations. Demand for creative talent is currently limited to support services required by dominant companies, hence people do not often get orders for design solutions that cross departments like, ‘design a new customer experience’, but instead get the sort that are more commercial in nature (‘design my next furniture ad and make sure that sells more furniture than my competitors’).

Creating institutional demand for good creative talent requires talent to be present in the job market. Companies need to see bottom-line impact from creative solutions or their contribution to creativity would be confined to charity, funding initiatives for creative works, art, or product design. When companies can see the contribution of creative solutions in offering better products and services will they then find means to create rewarding jobs for this purpose.

Having fair remuneration does tend to increase the desirability of a job in addition to the possibility of career advancement as revealed in a 2013 NTU survey of about 200 local undergraduates regarding factors influencing their career choice. We are bound by Asian values, a term that was explained by New York Times journalist Philip Bowring to encompass several key themes, such as family solidarity and an emphasis on kinship. This also means that the influence of intimate ties (of family and relatives) bears weight on one’s choice of career. Parents are likely to bring up only one or two children in our society but that would not stop them from spending 5.3 percent of average monthly household income on private tuition (as reported in Singstat’s Household Expenditure Survey 2007/2008). In other Asian countries we see a replay of examination focused education systems. In China, competition for varsity places is intense, with students attending state-funded cram schools, putting extra hours of study to reach higher scores. After school programmes reinforce the focus on examination grades with Japan’s Kumon has become an international hit offering its mathematics and language programmes in 48 different countries and regions around the world. It is also a commonly held view that parents expect their children to provide for them in return in their twilight years, hence the emphasis on careers that yield status and capital gain.

However we cannot expect that every child will do well in the preset templates of comfortable jobs that well-meaning parents choose for them. There will be some who would want to chart their own path or others who realise that being a mediocre accountant, corporate lawyer or engineer is no longer satisfying and this search for meaning may come to late when they realise that they have defined themselves to narrowly to their career and without it have no other identity.

To bridge this, it is beneficial to be exposed to as wide a variety of experiences as you can and best yet to start early.

Increasing exposure to the creative industry in a child’s formative years can lead to the discovery of innate talent in various areas, including the arts.

The good news is that modern parents who have grown in a highly connected world can immerse their children in the arts or empower them to use the  Internet  to access a vast range of resources which are related to creativity and creating available to those who seek it. There are programmes for writing, video making, book production and instructional videos available for the amateur music producer and scriptwriter. Bringing awareness to such resources could possibly be done by having a quality web directory of such resources which can be easily located using a search engine.

In addition, exposure to creative cultures can also be inculcated in local education. Enabling students from the undergraduate level to work at a startup (such as young companies gathered at Block 71) during summer holidays could expose them to a creative and entrepreneurial culture of young persons who probably just graduated themselves. Nurturing creative talent requires a conducive social environment accepting of failure and overflowing with energy and commitment. Creative communities are a source of ideas, inspiration, and much needed moral support in growing designers. This is linked to Neville Hew’s earlier piece on The Importance of Right Brain Thinking in Education where he emphasised integrating innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in the education system.


There is also still hope for those who have been hit by a mental block to a possible creative career when they are 40. Here, it is not about using set lists of successful corporate job holders turned creatives such as Robert Wong, Executive Creative Director at Google, a former accountant to convince those in Asia to make the switch. Rather, empowering them from the ground up by giving them opportunities to realise which creative outlets gives them joy. Free concerts, subsidised plays, art shows, conferences on creative works are some of the avenues where awareness can be raised among the wider audience of the possibilities available in the creative sector.

Taken together, the empowerment of existing talent can encourage more to join the creative economy by enforcing its relevance in the corporate world, incorporating it into today’s rigorous curriculum and maintaining a conducive environment for people to make the leap of faith to switch careers to something that they have always wanted to do all along.

Tiffany Tham

Tiffany Tham

Creative at Cavewoman Creative
Inquisitive, tree-saving, fiercely egalitarian Tiffany enjoys transcending the ordinary to find the significant.
Tiffany Tham

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