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Speech by
Ms Daisy Irani
MEDIA AND THEATRE PROFESSIONAL
AT THE POLYTECHNIC’S 56TH GRADUATION CEREMONY
TUESDAY 10 MAY 2016 (SESSION 11)

Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen and all of you wonderful fresh, young graduates of Singapore Poly,

Like you, my daughter is graduating exactly 7 days from now. My Husband decided to give her advice on how to deal with the competitive world outside. You know the usual fatherly bluster - “ you don’t understand how aggressive it is out there. How dog eat dog !!”. To get her to visualise it, he told her that popular story which I am sure many of you have heard from your dads.

A Singaporean and an American were on a safari in Africa together when they spotted a lion. Unfortunately , the lion spotted them as well and said - whoa that's lunch. Naturally the two tourists turned around and began to run for their lives. As the lion was closing in, the Singaporean stopped, began taking off his hiking boots and began putting on his running shoes. The American was flabbergasted. That is so crazy, said the American, you think you can outrun the lion by changing into your running shoes? No lah, don’t be so blur,of course I can't outrun the lion, said the Singaporean - I only have to outrun you! Guess who was the lion's lunch?!

That was it. My daughter called me in a panic. " Mom, it sucks to be an adult " she said. Those were her exact words, spoken just a few days ago. Obviously she is in the same predicament as you. I had to have a chat with her. Which was very useful, because now I can say the same to you. And then you decide whether it works for you.

You are on the verge of entering a world where you will be making decisions. All the story illustrates is that you have to be clear headed in assessing the situation and prompt in the execution of your plans.

You have put in the hours, you have put in the hard work and now you are breaking free. Breaking free off the rigour of process, breaking free of the control of the system, breaking free of the demands of your parents, breaking free of all limitations real or imagined. You are a totally liberated person, free to make choices in the pursuit of personal happiness.

Happiness! Is it elusive in the workplace? Do you know,that only 10% of people wake up in the morning and say " Oh man, I am so happy with what I am doing, can't wait to get to work". That’s what a recent study revealed. Well what about the other 90%? Apparently they fall into various categories of “it sucks to go to work” types.They are the ones who need a coffee fix to get started every morning. Starbucks has made a business out of their misery.

I know that's a super cynical view of the world. I just needed to get your attention.Don’t panic, the media industry isn’t a vampire which will suck the happiness out of your soul. It just sets up the question - how do you become part of the elite number of “fulfilled” people?

I don't have a Harvard Business School answer for you but I can share with you my home brewed formula.

It's about dreams, visions and reality! You begin by dreaming. Then you put a game plan around your dream and it becomes a vision. Then you ground it in reality. Simple, right?

Your dream is important; however impossible it may seem. I am not talking about your silly daydreams - you know, if you are a one legged person dreaming of beating Usain Bolt at the 100 meters sprint, forget about it. I am talking about that dream you have that is rooted in passion. Please don't let go of it ever, whatever the odds.

So how do you beat the odds? By wrapping your dream in a game plan. As I said, a dream with a game plan is a vision. Mind you, keep your vision to the short term – perhaps no more than a year. Then have a clear game plan as to how you will gather experience and excellence in your area of passion. Repeat and refresh your vision periodically and you will grow and prosper. Fall into a groove and you will be condemned to mediocrity.

This is particularly true of the media industry where the ecosystem is changing so rapidly. If you are not on the ball somebody else will eat your lunch. You want to be in the business of telling stories, well they better be relevant, be recent – in some cases immediate and be delivered using the technology of the day. The audience today is spoilt for choice, is unforgiving and demanding of excellence. You want your voice heard in the cacophony that exists - you will need to re-invent yourself more frequently than Donald Trump combs his hair.

Now as you build your mini visions allow me to offer some unsolicited advice. Your first challenge as a media person is - how do I connect with my audience? You are competing for attention. You are competing for eyeballs in a world that not only has so many stories to tell, but so many unique ways to tell them in. Television content has broken all barriers. The cutting edge productions like CSI or House of Cards have transformed the industry. They are on offer on cable for appointment viewing. And they are available for binge viewing on streaming sites. So where does that leave us? The technology part of it should not worry you. That’s just a function of affordability. With the resources available to us we have done a pretty good job with shows like Zero Calling and Point of Entry.

But what i think will truly attract you to an audience, is your creativity. All of you have marvellous stories to tell. You just have to tell them truthfully. You have to tell them in a voice that your audience recognises. You have to connect. You have to be able to 'see' your story, 'hear' the voices of your characters and 'feel' their pain, happiness and conflicts. I had the privilege of being involved in some of the country’s iconic shows – Under One Roof and Phua Chu Kang. So, let me tell you why they resonated with every soul in the country. UOR was so totally representative of the middle class heartland of Singapore. Every character was carefully crafted. Each one of us recognised them from characters in our own lives. Sometimes as ourselves. We saw them grow and evolve with ourselves. They came to represent not just a Singapore that we love but a Singapore that we aspired to be. Not in some highfalutin philosophical way but in a real, practical, earthy sense. UOR connected. Phua Chu Kang on the other hand was all about the working class hero. Holding his own in a world that was becoming highly judgmental of people who “hadn’t made it”. But you know what really kept people riveted to the show? PCK spoke Singlish. The language in which we are most comfortable laughing at ourselves. PCK was able to express himself with a precision that was impossible to replicate in any other language. He connected. So, like PCK, if you want to be best media person in Singapore, JB and some say Batam, you better connect lah !

The reason I bring this up is because I am afraid. I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am. I am terrified that our core culture may be getting diluted. Globalization! The Frenetic social media! The targeted marketing! It’s what is defining modern life style. Well you are going to say – Hey Daisy, you are right, but it is so difficult to avoid being influenced. It’s hip, it’s cool, it's groovy. Groovy! is that a word you still use? No? But you understand what I am getting at. You are rightyou can’t duck all the stuff they throw at you at a social level. But at a professional level if you let the outside world set the rules, you are more likely to lose, for sure. Trust me. I have seen concepts built on the basis that – Oh it worked for Hollywood or Korea or Japan, so it should succeed here. Most fall on their face. There are exceptions, of course. Formats like American Idol are localised and become hits. My point is that you need to be agents of change. Instead of localising global content please use your creative genius to globalise local content. Singaporean literature, poetry and theatre are already doing it. There is no reason why you, the new media professionals cannot carry the torch forward as well.

So back to your vision. Remember I said it needs to be grounded in reality? Well I think we are coming to the fun part of my speech. This is where I get to gleefully tell you that the best laid plans can go for a toss if you are not clear headed about the world you are going to be working in.

First. The media industry loves aspirational people. Ambition is considered a virtue in some places. So go for it but remember to always keep your passion at the core. Don't rush. Evolve. Embrace learning and growth.

I started as an actress. Learnt the craft from great mentors. Gained the confidence to direct. Then to produce and to write and then to launch - OKTO, a new channel for MediaCorp. It's been a journey of slowly but surely converting my passion for the media into a successful career. A final word about ambition. Please don't overreach. Don't let it get the better of you. -Think about it – all great footballers don’t necessarily make great managers.

Second. Be combat ready to deal with the reality of the hard corporate world. Your exuberance, your enthusiasm, even your freshness can be very abruptly crushed by your bosses. Sometimes with good reason and other times by poor judgment. Don’t let this deflate you. I have had the wind taken out of my sails on several occasions. That is the hazard of being in a creative industry managed by commercially driven interests. In fact, selling your idea is one of the most exciting parts of working in this industry. Creative concepts of any sort are the only product that isn’t totally commoditized. When you get into the ring with your idea you have to operate like a prizefighter. You have to be quick on your feet. You have to duck, you have to weave and you have to find that opening to deliver your knock out punch. But it’s a contact sport and you have to expect to get beaten up too. And when that happens, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again!!

Third. The media industry is not all drugs, sex and rock‘n’roll !! If you want that lifestyle, try the banking industry! Well I am not being completely honest. There is quite a bit of “emotional” rock’n’roll in the business. That’s because you can swing from the abject terror of hoping your work does not fall on its face to the total thrill of delivering a hit. You will be plagued by self doubt at times and with ego busting rush at others. I’ve been there. I have spent sleepless nights fretting over why my ideas did not work. And enthralling evenings receiving awards for productions like Living With Lydia and Daddy's Girls. I can tell you, whether you are making a documentary, or delivering the news or producing a TV show – you are going to be competing in an extreme sport. I promise you it's addictive. Let's just say it's better than the drugs and sex - and it's all rock'n'roll!

But always remember you are not in it by yourself. The media business is not for prima donnas. It is a team business from ideation to execution. So all your thrills and spills are going to be shared experiences. So don’t be scared – you are not going to be the solitary emotional punching bag for the whole industry! Remember the code of the media industry is like Akhira says in “The Jungle Book” – “The wolf is the pack and the pack is the wolf”. For sure,my best memories of being in the is business are always going to be the packs, the teams I hunted with.

So, dear fresh graduates, you already have a head start - learning the ropes at a prestigious institution like SP, taught and mentored by a group of teachers who have honed their own skills in the working world. As long as your visions are rooted in reality you will keep gathering the experience that will make your dreams come true.

As a final piece of advice, and it is final , I promise you - let me tell you a little tale.

A journalist was interviewing a very successful business magnate. He/She asks the magnate, “ Sir, Please you have to tell me the secret of your success.” The Magnate puts on his most profound look and says “ Two words”. “Two words only? Oh please tell me what are these two words which have defined your success?” The Magnate responds “ Right decisions”. “ Wonderful” said the journo,” but do tell me how did you come to make these right decisions?”. “One word” said the Magnate. “ Oh do tell me what is the single word?” said the journalist. “Experience” said the magnate. “ Experience? With all due respect sir, that seems so obvious. So how did you come upon this deep experience to make right decisions? Please share this with me”. “Two words", said the magnate. “ Oh what is it?What is it? This is a secret you have to reveal with your fans sir. Do tell what are the two magical words? “. The magnate took a dramatic, pregnant pause and said “ Wrong Decisions”!

So go forth and have the courage to be different, to be wrong and to be brilliant! On that note let me make the “right decision” by ending this speech. I welcome you to the wonderful, mysterious and hugely rewarding world of the media and I wish you all great success in your careers. Break a leg !