On multiplier effects
By Toh Hsien Min
Ideas are overrated. I learned this for the first time during the early years of my career, when I worked in the venture capital industry going into the dotcom bust and saw a stampede of companies shopping themselves around on the back of an idea that they would only sketch out upon the signing of a non-disclosure agreement, which often turned out to be some version of being the new Webvan. This isn't to say that ideas are worthless. Rather, the ideas that are truly groundbreaking - whether Google's PageRank, Stein's paradox, or the Fosbury Flop - are few and far between, while the multitudinous ideas generated in "brainstorming" sessions often have very little value. Back in the dotcom era, I grew to think that the most valuable ideas were those that you could freely tell anyone about, NDA be damned, for nobody would be able to productionise it but you. But ask me today and I might propose a looser generalisation of that, ahem, idea, which is that the value of an idea is directly proportional to how much of it you implement.
I was reminded of this recently when the call for contributions went out for Food Republic, a proposed new anthology to be edited by Daryl Lim, Ann Ang and serial anthologist Tse Hao Guang. You see, many years ago Alvin Pang and I kicked around the idea of doing an anthology based upon food, to the extent of exchanging and debating what the call for contributions would look like, but a generous view of how it petered out might be that we were just too busy engaging in various gluttonous encounters to get around to curating accounts of these. If action is the coefficient to realising value from an idea, then our coefficient in that instance was, well, the same as the result.
So when the indefatigable Joshua Ip of Sing Lit Station (SLS) came calling earlier in the year to ask if I might consider a role as an unpaid non-executive director on the SLS Board, it didn't take long for me to say yes. A principal reason is that I admire Joshua's ability to quickly and effectively translate ideas into resources and programmes that provide opportunities to the literary community and help us all to grow. To the extent that I can contribute to the multiplier effects that this literary non-profit is contributing to the growth and development of Singaporean writing by bringing ever more ideas to fruition, I feel a duty to do so. Hence, after obtaining permission from my employer, I accepted the new appointment in August this year and quickly pitched into my new responsibilities of providing independent oversight and challenge.
It is early days, but so far my impressions are positive. The charity is well run and well governed on the whole. As with many small organisations, it faces challenges with meeting all its skillset requirements with its small staff and with growing its financial resources to be effective and sustainable (and as unlike a dotcom's as possible), challenges that so far it is rising to vigorously. I do, nevertheless, have areas for possible improvement to feed back, which I shall compile by my ninetieth day of association with SLS, but for now I'm happy to report that the inside view of SLS is every bit as robust as the view from the outside that I had until a few months ago.
And since you're here... if you likewise share the SLS vision for what the Singapore literary scene can become, which is not exactly orthogonal to the vision that has kept QLRS running for the past seventeen years, I'd invite you to lend a helping hand too. Simply visit the link on the right hand side and donate any amount you wish to. As one of my best friends says, sharing is caring! Because SLS is a registered charity and Institution of Public Character, if you're tax resident in Singapore, enter your tax reference and any donation above ten dollars is 250% tax deductible. Moreover, your donation stands to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Cultural Matching Fund, effectively doubling your impact.
This issue of QLRS is, as always, chockfull of ideas that our various contributors have nurtured into pieces of art. Our crop of poetry was very competitive this quarter, which may not seem so obvious in the number we eventually chose to use but only because in a handful of cases I could see how the poems could get even stronger with some more reflective editing. The short stories Kai Chai has picked this quarter are excellent - all of them reeled me in even as I marked them up for posting, to the extent that I had to stop and properly read each of them. As for Criticism, we were at one point anxious that we might have no reviews to publish, only for three to surface (or resurface in the case of the one that had been misplaced) relatively late in the day. Each of them contains views on some of the exciting writing emerging in Singapore, but as ever in the spirit that honest feedback can help with growth and perhaps, just perhaps, the maximisation of the next big idea.QLRS Vol. 17 No. 4 Oct 2018