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Image credit: skl0

By now, the news that has gotten Singapore abuzz with opinions, is the arrest of artist/vandal, skl0. The news broke on mainstream online publications, Channel NewsAsia and TODAYonline, but at least on this writer’s personal news feeds, people have been sharing their opinions on Twitter and Facebook, with calls to action under the hashtag banners of #freeskl0 or #freestickerlady.

I believe there’s a lot that our start-up culture can learn from skl0. This is my first post with the e27 blog, but I’ve spent my entire youth and present life playing in Singaporean indie bands. Like start-ups, independent artists like sklo or bands have a belief and passion in what they are doing, and I’d like to take the opportunity to draw some parallels.

1. Add value to peoples’ lives.

There is an intrinsic belief that what we do matters. For artists, we believe that “art betters lives.” It’s as simple as that. For start-ups, that is true as well. When you have an idea, and it starts to take shape inside your head, a lot of it stems from that seedling of an idea, that what you do, will matter. There was a problem that needed solving, there was a more efficient or effective way to do something. While skl0’s was more abstract in nature, the tangible benefits to what she did, was to freely spread some joy into our lives with her off-beat humour and her artistic take on some very ingrained cultural tropes unique only to Singapore. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that most of us would buy one of her stickers if they were made available and the price was right. So whether it’s something abstract or something tangible, always add value to wider society.

2. Doing it anyway

There’s a certain Do-it-yourself ethos that I admire in skl0’s work. Yes, it’s subversive and guerrilla, some will argue it’s vandalism and against the law. Fair points, but it distracts us from the admirable quality of her bravery. To get out there and do it anyway. She had her idea, she had her raw materials and the talent required to conceptualise the idea, develop it and finally produce it.  Some times, we’re paralysed with how we want to move forward that we don’t, or we over-clutter ourselves with so many contingencies that what was once a simple, effective idea becomes an immovable boulder, incapable of getting any sort of further traction. While erring on the side of caution is smart and admirable, maybe it’s also good to review our ideas once in awhile, and just get cracking when the clarity strikes.

3. Believe in your product

Bravery is related to this point. She had the guts to do what she did. But bravery also stems from a core belief that what you are doing, matters, or will make a difference. Or that regardless of the naysayers, you believe that your idea deserves to be unleashed into the wider public. The thing that I love about startup culture, is that it starts from somewhere. It’s a moment of clarity and inception, that in many ways, can be considered a miracle of thought. When artists work, while there is a lot of factoring to how others might perceive the work, but there is also an urge or compulsion to do it the way you want to do it. I think that personal faith and belief in the idea that matters, is what sets aside the ideas that we see in effect today, and those that get shelved in the dusty portions of our brains.

4. Communicate effectively

The whole idea of sklo’s personal crusade was to disrupt the way we thought about every day things. The medium she chose to do it in, were classic forms of graffiti and sticker tagging. The medium played a part in how we reacted to her messages. It was perceived as offbeat, daring and a little rebellious than to go through the standard communications channels (eg. writing a forum letter to the newspaper.) It was classic adbusting, where one reacts to mainstream media messages, remixes them into a personal opinion, and is effectively creating a dialogue instead of accepting a monologue. Finally, there was a viral quality to what she did. While the works were curated on her blog (http://skl0.tumblr.com), the public were noticing her works and sharing them on social media services, and helping to chronicle them as well.

As startups, we can think about how we want to communicate, and who we want to communicate it to. Usually, both questions are inter-related, and if you communicate effectively, you save time and energy on your own end. And ultimately, we need to tell people what we’re up to! Clearly worded messages always cut through the clutter of big, pompous words. But that’s another article for another day.

5. Success and perception

skl0’s work ultimately led to arrest. As we see what fate befalls her, we are at the precipice of deciding whether what she did should be considered success or failure. To this point, I will argue that it is a matter of perspective. If she fulfilled what she’d originally set out to do, and perhaps even did it all knowing that the police were looking out for her and that she might get arrested one day, I think she can claim a success for herself, because she stayed true to the course. Others might see it a different way, that being arrested is the ultimate price to pay, and from that she ought to learn her lesson, turn over a new leaf, turn her back on this type of thinking and become a productive, functioning member of society again. I suppose the final lesson we can all learn from skl0 is that we all get burned. It’s a part of life, and how we deal with those difficult times, determines our success or not, if at the very least, to ourselves.