The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

It Would Seem People In Asia Don’t Believe You Can Learn Through Play …
February 20, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: Comment


So I saw this ‘ad’ for coloured pencil’s in a Singaporean supermarket.

Can you see the mental bit?

Go on – look a bit harder.

Got it? 

Yep, they’re saying WRITING is the most fun you can have by yourself!

Now while there are other things you can do by yourself which are way enjoyable [allegedly] – that is not what I’m whinging about.

What bothers me is that this ad talks about coloured pencils interms of writing instead of drawing or exploring your imagination.

Now I’ve said this before, but if Singapore continues to undermine the importance and value of creativity/imagination – especially with kids – then I believe it will severely affect the prosperity of the country, because not only will they find it much harder to keep talent in their country, they will be reliant on people who have been ‘trained’ to follow orders rather than develop their own thinking which can – and probably will – have sever ramifications on the economy of the CityState.

The irony in all this is that Singapore – as I’ve said plenty of times – is one of the greatest examples of creative and visionary thinking in the World, however it seems the current leadership don’t realise what Lee Kuan Yew did – nationalistic success comes from creative thinking, not just corporate thinking – so I can’t help but feel that interms of Singapore’s economy, it’s more a case of ‘hanging on’ than expecting great leaps forward.

[And when you consider the re-balance of Global Economic Power towards the East, this is especially concerning]

I truly hope the powers-that-be realise this before it’s too late because whilst I am not devaluing the importance of classic academia subjects – without creativity and imagination – you end up restricted in what you can do/think/achieve and in a place as small as Singapore, this is something that they cannot afford to let happen.

To anyone Singaporean – especially a parent – I encourage you to watch the clip below …

… and to the people who did the ‘ad’ for the coloured pencils, I suggest they check out this classic Lego spot and learn from it before they fuck up with their next bit of work.

Finally, I leave you with this absolutely brilliant quote from Peter Ustinov …


Remember that next time you stop your child from exploring their creative side. 🙂

32 Comments so far
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The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything: Abraham Maslow.

Comment by John

This is a great post, a really great one. George will be so happy. I hope every Asian parent reads it and sees what they are doing to their children and their country before it’s too late. Fantastic quote too. This issue sort of plays into the same argument Marcus has been getting grief over yesterday. You’re on a roll Robert and I love it when your passion side shines through.

Comment by Pete

maybe its the events of yesterday but i fucking love this post and petes right, its similar to the issue going on in german adland at the moment.

too many people associate creativity with art/design based output but thats fucking bollocks especially where commercial creativity is concerned.

if people dont think upfront about the problem they have to overcome, whatever is produced will achieve fuck all so the sooner people in power and parents understand just how important creative thinking is in achieving bigger prizes for both the individual and the masses, the better well all fucking be.

love the ustinov quote but the fucker was a legend, like tommy cooper and the lego ad.

its posts like this that makes me proud of you campbell and unlike those blinkered cocks in many german ad agencies, you dont just write about it, you try and make something happen which is why you get the praise and they just get sour-kraut.

Comment by andy@cynic

Please please get this video of Ken in front of ALL teachers in Singapore – “my contention is that creativity is as important as literacy” … “and we squander it” – damn well squash the fuck out of it they do ! – man – do they even know how to spell creativity ?

Comment by fan

andy dear, did you spend all night on that comment, just to get the sour-kraut in there?

Comment by lauren

Thanks for the blanket-racism of illogically assuming that all Asians think alike just because of a single ad. Very white of you. And BMW must love you for your Youtube insert–btw, unless you’ve been living under a rock–salons, symposiums and the exchange of ideas has been a global phenomenon ever since primordial sperm fucked primordial eggs. Get a clue.

Comment by huh

Hello Huh – I can absolutely see what you’re getting at – but my intentions are not to try and imply ALL Asians lack creativity [if you read previous posts you’ll see how passionately protective I am about the place and as I said, I believe Singapore is a role model for creative thinking] however the education system here DOES limit exposure/credibility to creative disciplines – and while I am not saying the current sylabis is wrong – I do believe it can be enhanced so as the World changes, places like Singapore are not reliant on those individuals who are the exception to the rule and actually have a system in place that advances and encourages free thinking for all.

Comment by Rob

no i didnt lauren, my brilliance lets me create racist off the cuff comments at will.

youre a fiesty fuck arent you huh!

rob is many things but a racist he is not. you just have to read his boring fucking blog to know he loves and respects the place.

theres no way hes using one fucking print ad as his justification for this post, jesus with that level of rationality, youre playing right into his hands. look he can be a cock but where reading culture is concerned hes pretty fucking good which is why so many of asias best companies talk to him about connecting with society because he knows how fed up people are of being treated like idiots. the ad he uses is simply as an anchor to the post, therell be fuck loads of other stuff hell have to derive his opinion and given the bastard works with teachers, universities and government he will be more informed than you give him credit for.

why dont you stop going on the attack and give us your perspective and remember its about education policy, not the talent of individuals.

and the bmw reference wasnt some subliminal advertising concept. it would be a good one but the fuckers not clever enough to of come up with it.

Comment by andy@cynic

Regardless of the situation in Asia, I know as a parent of 3 little girls I want them to have a breadth of knowledge because that is what will help them succeed in whatever path they choose as opposed to being skewed towards a particular industry based on the education policy/philosophy of the Government in power.

For what it’s worth, I think this is a great post and Huh obviously hasn’t met Rob because if he had he’d know Rob hates people who makes big calls on single pieces of information.

Though I do think Huh and Andy would get on famously.

Comment by George

Great post on a topic that’s very, very close to my heart. And I’m not just saying that because it features one of my favourite speeches ever, Sir Ken Robinson’s. No. This post show how much you care about Singapore and its people Rob.

Huh, Rob isn’t saying that all Asians think alike. You should be offended in any way. And certainly not because of that ad. But as a case in point, there are more ads like this. I walked by a children’s art centre over the weekend which promotes itself as “a disciplined approach to creativity”, which is a fundamentally flawed proposition to my mind.

As Andy pointed out, Rob is incredibly well informed on this topic and has actively worked with this issue for several years. What he is saying [and what pisses him off] is that many Asians are discouraged to explore their inherent creativity; to nurture their rich creative capabillites because their creative talents aren’t valued by society the way literacy or numeracy is [the things that are typically assumed to get kids into a higher paying job].

Culture play a huge role here and when it comes to the education system, I personally find its rigidity and focus on literacy and numeracy to prevent children from fulfilling their creative potential. And that’s also the point Sir Ken is making. The good news is that I think this is beginning to change for the better. Creativity – real creativity not just art – is increasingly being recognized as the most powerful asset anyone can have to be properly equipped for life.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

hey huh, are you a member – current or present – of the local education system? well, i am, and i certainly agree with rob on the ominous lack of creativity in the singaporean’s education. my current school actually offers a (compulsory) course on creative thinking, which is pretty laughable – trying to TEACH you how to think creatively, after years of going through the primary and secondary school systems where they strip all that creativity out of you by implicitly AND explicitly sending students the message that there is one right way of succeeding in the education system – by pure memorization, by agreeing with all your teacher says is right, and absorbing that ‘right’ opinion as your own belief even if you aren’t convinced.

The video of Sir Ken Robinson is fantastic, and one quote of his that I totally agree with is that school actually seems to educate the creativity out of us, rather than encouraging it and growing it.

A creative mind is more than just expression in the performing arts – a creative mind can find a way out of any tough situation; a creative mind can do an infinite amount of good. “Why not?” is way more powerful than sticking to the tried and tested. I’m sure you agree with that too.

While Rob may be white, I’d like to point out your “Very White” comment was just as racist and stereotypical. It’s a two way street, pal. Walk your own talk.


Comment by theletterzee

I can’t agree more with Andy. I’ve known Rob for three years and he’s the f-u-r-t-h-e-s-t thing from a racist (I’m a Chinese Singaporean by the way).

Rob’s criticism of the education system in Singapore is quite justified. I work in it, so I should know a little about it. Most students are still highly uncomfortable with taking risks, which is a prerequisite for creativity (Sir Ken Robinson said as much). I once gave my students the freedom to re-imagine the parameters of their project. But most of them felt extremely uneasy, as they’re more concerned about doing “what’s right” so they’re guaranteed an excellent grade, which they believe will secure them a high-paying job.

We still have a long way to go. But I think things are slowly changing (for the better). For a start, Singapore now has a school dedicated to the arts.

Comment by Mark

Hello Huh …

I am genuinely interested to hear why you think I am so wrong so if you could be specific with the issues you feel are incorrect and refrain from name-calling, I’d be really interested to hear your point of view.

If you want to do it in private, feel free to email me at … rob2 at cynical-world dot com



Comment by Rob

[…] turtles – Bounce Back To Life: Chingay 2008 – Star Wars & Me – Musings of an Opinionated Sod: It Would Seem People In Asia Don’t Believe You Can Learn Through Play … – Hard Hitting in the Lion City: Funnier than […]

Pingback by Daily SG: 20 Feb 2008 « The Singapore Daily

So as the Singapore Daily blog has linked to this post, it can only be a matter of time before the Immigration Department come looking for me – so if I’m not back from lunch, assume they’ve found me and I’m currently “residing” in International Waters.

Hope not – I get sea sick!

Comment by Rob

on a completely unrelated topic – our mate katie c has a cool thing going on… thought you’d be into the idea:

Comment by lauren

Zee, I believe we come from the same school.

My creative thinking class was one of the worst classes I had ever attended, and throughout the term I kept thinking that my professor kept trying to force us into becoming creative, (and worst of all, she was extremely biased to males which made me even more unwilling to participate in that class). This was certainly not the way to encourage creativity, at least from my point of view.

Singapore is essentially a factory: students are basically expected to study harder, memorise more and more facts that they almost instantly forget once they get out of the school, get straight As for their exams, get good, high-paying jobs and essentially help the country get richer. And the cycle continues.

There are more and more people who get it (those in the creative industry like Rob, artists and playwrights,students like Zee and myself), but I think there are tons more who either don’t see the need for creativity in this country, or are just happy with the way things are (mainly because they’re the ones benefiting from the old way).

Am I even making sense? Rob, I was slightly alarmed when I looked at the colour pencils ad and couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Have I been so brainwashed by the education system? *shudder*

Comment by Nabilah

I survived! YAY!

Hi Lauren. Katie sent me the link to the site and I love it. To make accountancy ‘interesting’ has to be one of the toughest briefs in the World so she should be right-royally chuffed with herself.

As for you Nabilah … I don’t think you’ve been brainwashed so don’t worry – besides I’m probably talking shit as ‘Huh’ suggests, ha!

What I know is that people don’t like change and they certainly don’t like it when someone has a counterpoint of view which they perceive places them in a negative light [which was not my intention] … however the philosophy of education in Singapore is primarily focused on numeracy and literacy so communication like the one above can have a subliminal influence on society – be it intentional or not – that inturn can start creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course not everyone will react this way – however the scary thing is the masses often delude themselves that everything is fine [especially if the ‘system’ is working well for them] which is why an “outsiders view” often represents greater clarity than those “inside” – but not always.

I hope people don’t read this post as a planner trying to create debate for the sake of his own benefit, I’m a guy who loves Asia/Singapore and doesn’t want to see the creative brilliance that lies within people be systematically ‘bred’ out of them because of an educational policy that is seemingly skewed to the benefit of specific industries.

Then there’s the point Zee raises about ‘memory’ versus ‘knowledge’ but I talked about it here …

… and to be honest, I’ve got to get on with some work 🙂

PS: It’s sad you see Singapore as a ‘factory’ … and I know you’re not alone so I really appreciate you commenting here and I love your blog too.

Comment by Rob

I’ve read this post over and over again, and can’t for the life of me work out why someone would think the person who had written it would be a racist.

I like this post lot. Obviously.

Good morning.

Comment by Marcus

Well Huh, firstly let me compliment you on your name chioce, as you can see everyone’s going ‘huh?’ Secondly I think since Rob didn’t single out Yellow or Brown pencils (there’s not even a white pencil in the picture), he’s hardly being racist.

But seriously, I think that your comment (not you) is good additional evidence of what Rob is saying about Singaporeans. This country has reached so far on being creative, unfortunately a by product of that was that at least one whole generation had to simply be ordered or coaxed into doing something without understanding why, and I do believe what is possibly the world’s fastest transformation wouldn’t have been possible without some degree of “Just do it now, I’ll explain why later” attitude.

But like with all short-term measures it comes back to haunt, the generation that was raised on unquestioned obedience for the greater good spread that idea to the next while teaching them. Now, the third generation, which I presume you and people like Zee and others represent, see how the world learns and are now asking questions about “Why do this?” and finding there’s either no one with answers, or perceive this questioning as rudeness, leading the current generation to swing between apathy (something we have discussed with Zee) and aggressiveness to anyone passing a judgement on Singapore’s lack of a creative population (this is why I said your reaction is another good evidence why Singapore desperately needs to encourage open minded, free spirited thinking in all subjects).

Finally I think you will find most Singaporeans agreeing with the view that the average level of vision and resourcefullness of Singaporean’s doesn’t come close to that of LKY’s generation, surely this points to a more systematic failure rather than a case of racist perspectives?

Comment by Hari

Without reading the comments so far yet, I have to agree with the post; and also state just how brilliant that Lego ad still is.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I can’t talk at the moment Mr M, I’m out trying on White Wizzard hats for size!

You’ll understand what I’m on about when you read the comments 😉

Comment by Robert


I think its an area that many countries in Asia are starting to deal with better. My knowledge of the area is more limited (apart from asking my wife and in-laws), but I think its part of the traditional culture (just like it used to be/often still is in the uk) to look at creative people as different.

Especially as looking after the family is so important, spending time on creative things may have seemed frivolous.

China’s acceptance of experimental architecture is just one good sign for the future though.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Rob’s not racist; sizeist but not racist.
I recently read some report which said China’s new found appreciation of experimental architecture is driven by the belief it impresses the West more than it being something they desire themselves.
No idea if that’s true but given some of the stunts they’ve pulled in the past to attract foreign investment and information, I don’t think it’s totally outside the realms of possibility.

Comment by Bazza

That was someone at Herzog & de Meuron – the amazing architects behind the fucking amazing Prada store in Tokyo.


I was there last week and it’s truly amazing – does more for the Prada brand than any ad could ever muster – and while Japan is quite well known for investing in ‘brand defining architecture …

[See the simply stunning Audi Tokyo showroom –

… I can see why they would say that about China and why there is probably a fair degree of truth behind it.

Off home now to burn some crosses and put on my Grand Wizzard suit.

Comment by Rob

mmm… Herzog & de Meuron…

Comment by lauren

That’s why I love you Lauren – tell most women that and they’d think they’re a shoe designer, ha!

Comment by Rob

That’s why I love you Lauren – tell most women that and they’d think they’re a shoe designer, ha!

Comment by Rob

But theyre swiss.

Comment by John

Yes … that’s why they were the perfect choice for Prada … specialists in “Safe Danger”

Comment by Robert

Btw Rob, were you referring to my blog when you said you loved “your blog”? Haha, that slipped past me for some reason, but I’m not worthy! 😛 Been a bit tormenting myself lately about what to blog about (and as you can see, am abit confused about my blog direction as well). How do you find something to blog about everyday?

Comment by Nabilah

Hi Nabilah – of course I was talking about your blog. I know I have a very healthy ego, but even I would find it distasteful to go someone’s site and talk about how great mine is.

As to how I find something to write about each day – surely you just have to read my rubbish to see I am a firm follower of the QUANTITY not quality philosophy, ha!

Comment by Robert

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