Feb 10, 2007

What Madonna Can Teach Singapore

When I first heard Madonna's songs, I was in primary school. Now I'm a father with two kids. And Madonna is still going strong. Looking at the picture on the left, it's hard to believe that she will soon be 50 years old.

Singaporeans are
talking about Madonna again because she just got banned here. Ironically, Madonna probably does not care. She may not even know. She's the highest earning female singer of all time. Last year her concert tour sold out in Europe, Japan, the US and Canada and grossed US$260 million. Conquering a little red dot like Singapore can't be high on her list of commercial priorities.

Although Madonna does not need Singapore, I daresay that in some ways, Singapore needs Madonna. You may or may not like her music. But her life story holds, in many different ways, the lessons that Singapore, and Singaporeans, need to learn. I'll just highlight five:

Madonna as the Outstanding All-Round Student

Many young Singaporeans study too hard. They may have a passion for non-scholastic pursuits, but they don't know how to achieve the balance. Consequently, all-rounded Singaporeans are rare. Instead we often meet parents who have barred their children from taking part in sports or cultural activities, so that they can spend more time studying.

In her teenage years, Madonna spent a lot of time on ballet lessons. She even hung out at gay discotheques with her ballet teacher. But she was no dumb blonde. Despite all the time she spent on dance, she was a straight-A student in high school. In fact, she did so well that she won a scholarship to enter a top US university - the University of Michigan.

University of Michigan counts 25 Rhodes scholars and seven Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. It's currently ranked the 11th best university in the world. That's 25 places above NUS, and 60 places above NTU.

Madonna and the Courage to Take Risks

In recent years, the Singapore government has been saying that Singaporeans are too risk-adverse. We stick too closely to the standard paths. We place too much faith in paper qualifications. We define success too narrowly. We need risk-takers, we need dreamers, we need people who dare to veer off the trodden paths.

Like Madonna. Having entered a top university on a scholarship, she proceeded to do the Bill Gates thing. She quit without graduating. Like Bill Gates, she had a dream and she was going to pursue it. She would go to New York City and become a top professional dancer. She describes the pursuit of her dream here:
"When I came to New York it was the first time I'd ever taken a plane, the first time I'd ever gotten a taxi-cab, the first time for everything. And I came here with 35 dollars in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I'd ever done."
35 dollars was all she had then. She took a risk. Today, her personal net worth is estimated at USD 325,000,000.

Madonna as Entrepreneur

Singapore wants entrepreneurs. Singapore needs entrepreneurs. Singapore has been desperately trying to breed entrepreneurs, but after all these years, Singapore is still down to the same few poster boys & girls of entrepreneurship -
Ron Sim of OSIM, Olivia Lum of Hyflux, Sim Wong Hoo of Creative Technology.

Madonna is also an entrepreneur. Her product is herself. She is well-known to be a very serious businesswoman. In fact, the very staid, very serious financial magazine Forbes once
suggested on its front cover that Madonna was "America's Smartest Business Woman".

And guess what? With a net worth of USD 325 million, Madonna is richer than Ron Sim. She is richer than Olivia Lum. She is richer than Sim Wong Hoo. The next time Singapore wants a new model example on how to get rich via entrepreneurship, we should study Madonna's business strategies. Singapore wants its companies to go global, but Madonna was already a global brand 20 years ago.

Madonna As The Almost-Senior Citizen

Approaching their 50s, most Singaporeans start dreaming about collecting their CPF money and enjoying their sedate retirement years. Many Singaporeans were aghast by the government's decision to
raise the official retirement age to 62. This is despite the fact that many Singaporeans will probably not have enough money to support themselves comfortably in their old age.

Madonna obviously does not need more money. Furthermore she is almost 50. But she shows no sign of stopping. She doesn't even show any sign of slowing down. This year, she'll be making a
new movie. Last year, she did her sell-out concert tour around the world. Reports say that she worked on her dance routines 13 hours a day. This is the same woman who sustained three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken hand, in a horseback riding accident as recently as August 2005.

If Singapore's rapidly ageing population needs some inspiration on how to live life with more enthusiasm, Madonna could be their role model.

Madonna & Free Speech

Singapore has a poor reputation for free speech. Many Singaporeans are afraid to speak up. As recently as last Saturday, Dr Cherian George and I were at an
NUS seminar trying to convince the audience that such fears are largely groundless, that Singaporeans can speak up openly. Alas, later that day, I learned that even members of the ruling political party have adopted a strategy of making anonymous postings on the Internet.

Madonna has much more testicular fortitude (to steal a phrase from Cherian). She's not afraid to push the borders in her music. Throughout her career, she has repeatedly used political, sexual and religious themes and imagery in her work. The only time she ever really backed down was in relation to her ninth album, American Life. The video for the single was filmed in the run up to the second Iraq War, and its content was deemed "unpatriotic" by early reports. She withdrew the video, saying:
"I have decided not to release my new video. It was filmed before the war started and I do not believe it is appropriate to air it at this time. Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video."

The album did badly in the US but according to Wikipedia, did better in countries which did not support the Iraq war. In France, the album reached No. 1 and sold more than 500,000 copies. One major reason for her great success in France was the large anti-war community and their pleasure at seeing an American artist that opposed the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

Wikipedia tells us that Madonna does not support US President George Bush. She endorsed Wesley Clark's Democratic nomination for the 2004 United States presidential election, in an impassioned letter to her fans, saying that "the future I wish for my children is at risk." In the autumn of 2006, she expressed her support for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election. She also urged her fans to see Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. She is a person who is unafraid to speak up for her political beliefs.

Today, Singapore has banned Madonna. The grounds are that her latest Confession performances contain scenes that are religiously impermissible in Singapore. The decision could be right. Madonna has a lot to teach Singapore - but perhaps we're just not ready.


Anonymous said...

Yes, our government would like us to take risks, but only in the business world. The few decades of national education have made the majority of the people take lesser or no risk. If we are all risk takers, we would not be just taking risks in the world of business.

That, lies the danger of giving the people the ability to take greater risks.

I believe that they are also big risk takers too, more like gambling kind of risks and their bets are in billions. I hope that we are winning the game...

kf said...

Instead of being s secular state that separates politics and religion, we are now a fundamentalist state that champions all religion over society. This is a sickening state of affair.

Anonymous said...

Risk is risk. It doesn't matter if it's in business, at the casino, playing a game, doing some extreme sports or in any other thing in life. Every individual has a different approach, attitude towards and appetite for risk.

However, each individual should be left alone to himself/herself about how much risk to take and make decisions accordingly. The PAP government should just butt out of people's affairs.

Banning Madonna is just hypocrisy.... saying one thing and doing another, so very typical of the PAP government. Allowing Crazy Horse to parade flesh for money, yet getting hang ups at Madonna's performances. Letting police circle CSJ like a pack of jackals, as though he has strapped a nuclear bomb to his chest;, and neglecting bigger crimes in society. Casinos and the supposed championing of family values. You get the idea.

Come on! At least be consistent and make up your minds. Don't be wishy-washy, like trying to come up with a convincing excuse why the GST hike is needed.

Oh, and Ho Ching is a very big risk taker - and she squanders taxpayers' money billions at a time. I call her a 'danger seeker' - like those people who seek thrills skydiving without a parachute. Good luck for the landing, I hope she's 'winning'.

Anonymous said...

I agree with kf. I find Singapore is fast becoming a right wing xtian fundamentalist stronghold much like Bush's America.

Anonymous said...

people sure do love a success story. Why didn't you use the example of recently deceased anna nicole smith? She possessed a lot of madonna's qualities, and is definitely a risk taker. The difference is that she embodies the flip side of risk taking. That statistically speaking, if you take a big risk like drop out of school and take dancing lessons if you don't have talent, you won't end up successful.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Anna Nicole Smith?? I just checked her biography. She wasn't good in her studies; she didn't balance studies with success in anything; she didn't take any risks; a large chunk of her money came from the rich old man he married, rather than from her own career success; her own career success in any event doesn't compare to Madonna's; she was never regarded as a brilliant businessperson; she's not known for expressing political views of any kind; as an entertainer, she never achieved any success even close to Madonna; and unlike Madonna, she can't inspire the ageing population because she died at a rather young age.

I guess those are the main reasons why I didn't use the example of anna nicole smith.

lakeside girl said...

Highly enlightening, Mr Wang.

I didn't know all these about Madonna before i read this post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Mr Wang. Always thought Madonna was pretty street-savvy at using her music to push the edge of society's norms, much like art. Didn't know she was great at school too, just like Jodie Foster.

straydog said...

Madonna is banned because we have many powerful Christians at the top. Ironically, in the West it is not happening as they are religiouly more tolerant.

Then again, it is this kind of censorship and control that creates the risk averse climate.

Cool Insider said...

Interesting analogy and an excellent post. I agree that Madonna has shown many attributes which contributed to her staying power in pop music and other areas of entertainment despite many of her peers fading into oblivion.

I think the other trait about Madonna which we could learn from is her ability to re-invent herself time and time again. She had so many changes in costumes, hairstyles, musical trends, and sassyness over the decades. Each time, she has never failed to remain the public eye.

Speaking of reinventing and entrepreneurialism, I have also blogged about how a run-of-the-mill optician can be something a little spectacular here. Do check it out if you guys have the time.

Anonymous said...


I hope you don't mean that the rest of the people at the top who are not Christians (or Catholics) are sleeping on the job and not making any decisions hor.

Elia Diodati said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention that Madonna dropped out of college, joining the elite club of ultra-rich people without bachelors' degrees.

Which only goes to show, the value of a degree is entirely by fiat. :)

Elia Diodati said...

I'm also (pleasantly) surprised that the Michigan-bashing hasn't started already.

Sumgai said...

It's not just about risk taking, it's also about prudence and calculating the odds (by which I meant dropping out of college). We hear about people who experienced tremendous success after dropping out of college. But we don't hear about people who failed in their endeavours after they dropped out of college, simply because they never became successful in their fields. Who wants to read about some college dropout?

That said, yes, Madonna is a good example. We're putting rich and famous people (Bill Gates, Mr Sim,..) on pedestals here, though that's not really surprising, since success (by means of fame or wealth) are the main gauges of how well people are doing nowadays.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

there's also one thing we can learn from Madonna, from one of her songs especially...

'please don't say you're sorry...'

Little fish said...

I wish to add that Madonna is a a savvy trendsetter as well. While she may not be a pioneer in dance but she did bring to fore a large number of street-oriented dance styles by showcasing them on her music videos.

and she was not backing down when she pulled the plug on her own music video. it was precisely because she knew her priorities that she decided not to release it. she was against the war. but not against the soldiers going into war.

Anonymous said...

madonna is a product of american society. sg is not america and can never produce people like madonna. take our best export, sun yz. her personality, somewhat charming in asian context, lacks the benefits of american concoction of chaotic cultures and ideological diversities. if sun will to be as liberal as maddie, she will be branded an annabel chong of pop in sg - a social outcast.
for a maddie to rise, you need plenty of space, experimentations and even perversion.
even the quality of entrepreneur is so different. take mr gate and mr sim for instance. the former has the personality to be politically influential in the world. the latter, over hyped in a small city state.
it is the national genes and who your parents are that allows you to prance around silly singing " like a virgin" with your legs spread wide. we just can't afford to spread wide without risking our neighbors breathing down on us.

The Uncharted Waters said...

I think for the part of "Madonna as role model for Entrepreneurship", emphasis should be on how Madonna is willing to take risk and pursue her own dreams and passions, instead of how much her net worth is.

Many Singaporean enters entrepreneurship for the wrong reasons. If the only motivating factor Singapore entrepreneur has is to earn more money, we would probably still be talking about Sim Wong Hoo twenty years from now.

Anonymous said...

"we would probably still be talking about Sim Wong Hoo twenty years from now."

i have a feeling that this will happen too.

Anonymous said...

She is a fan of Michael Moore and wants her fans to watch his garbage ... and YOU want us to emulate her? Tell you what? Why don't you take a ride to Little India with $35 in your pocket and try and be the next Madonna. Good luck to you.

En Ming said...

anonymous, I dunno about you, but I like women who are confident, driven and all-rounded in their knowledge, who know how to have some fun. Men should have nothing to fear from sexually forward and confident women, regardless of their beliefs.

By the way, banning Madonna's DVD just because of a neon cross used as a prop for "religious reasons" is plain stupid. We live in an age where 8 year olds can sing Britney Spears songs, and DVDs of Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce Knowles are all available. All of them are just as risque, and some of them can be risquer than Madonna. (Since they learnt from Madonna after all.) But we can watch their DVDs just because they don't use crosses as props.

This makes no sense whatsoever to me, does it to you?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Tell you what? Why don't you take a ride to Little India with $35 in your pocket and try and be the next Madonna. Good luck to you."

You may not know this, but someone has already been there, done that. Mohamed Mustafa is a former mamak-shop owner in Little India. Still remember what a mamak-shop is? It's a little hole-in-the-wall kind of corner stall saying magazines, cigarettes, sweets etc. They used to be very common in S'pore in the 1970s and 80s, but they're gone now. but theThey're practically extinct in S'pore now.

Anyway, this is Mohamed Mustafa today:

Mohamed Mustafa is a real-life legend in "Little India": In his younger days, he had only a little convenience shop in Serangoon Road. Having made a bit of money, he invested it in a new shop in Serangoon Plaza - and made it BIG. Customers, especially from the Indian Subcontinent, were attracted to the shop like bees to honey. Mohamed Mustafa became a household name and the tills kept ringing. In April 1995, he opened another, much bigger department store just around the corner in Syed Alwi Road, Mustafa Centre. You can buy virtually anything here, at the lowest prices in town - from electronics to clothes, from Indian herbal cosmetics to mango pickles.

Mohamed Mustafa is in his fifties now and has been dubbed "The Raja of Little India" by the local press. His assets are said to be worth over in the region of US$100 million. Despite this, he has remained a singularly modest and humble man.

Anonymous said...

If Madonna was a Singaporean, she would probably be a nobody today. Truth is, it's not all about the individual, it's about where you live...

That's why the closest we have are the Sim Wong Hoos, etc...

Anonymous said...

First of all, I think Singaporeans have to learn to be less kiasu and kiasi before they can even think of doing anything great.

tinrina said...

Though I never thought Madonna pretty, I do admire her for her courage...

It's funny to note how Singaporeans are split in opinions. On the one hand, some are asking the government to "butt out of people's affairs", 'cause a risk is a risk, and we should just let the individuals take self-responsibility. On the other hand, some are demanding for more control, more sanctions, as in the IR debate, on grounds such as "the casino will breed addiction to gambling aka social problems".

So what do we, as Singaporeans, really want?
Is consensus possible in Singapore? Or is this a just a human issue, regardless of "where"?
If consensus is not possible, what can we do?

Sometimes, I feel as if we, the population as a whole, are still at the adolescent stage-- yearning for freedom on the one hand yet craving for attention and control on the other...

the galoisian radical said...

I hate the "not ready" line. I know it's intentionally ironic, but it just peeves me off to see it.

We're 42 years old, when can we be ready?

Anonymous said...

Tinrina: It's funny to note how Singaporeans are split in opinions. On the one hand, some are asking the government to "butt out of people's affairs", 'cause a risk is a risk, and we should just let the individuals take self-responsibility. On the other hand, some are demanding for more control, more sanctions, as in the IR debate, on grounds such as "the casino will breed addiction to gambling aka social problems".

There is actually little contradiction once we understand the benefits and limitations of market forces. Some things are best left to market forces (theory of demand and supply), while others which market forces couldn't handle well will need regulation and government intervention.

In economic lingo it would the difference between a private and a public good. The problem is when people confuses (or perhaps they choose to?) confuse the two as one and the same.

tinrina said...

Hi Anonymous, your point in summary is probably: If market force cannot penetrate or *at least* not strong enough to moderate, then the government should interfere and assume regulatory roles. Complementary.

Sounds logical.

My question is then: How do you determine what can or cannot be influenced by market/economic forces? I guess, I won't presume the boundaries and issues to often be that clear-cut...

One more slightly out of point question: why do you choose to be anonymous?
You may remain unidentified but I'm really curious... :p

Jackie said...

"Madonna has a lot to teach Singapore - but perhaps we're just not ready." IMHO, we are ready, it's just someone else who decided otherwise. Once the movie Platoon was banned because of the drug scene, and I had to see it in Bangkok. The shifting of the "OB" makers can be so comic - recall Vivian Balakrishnan's lame argument about the evils of bar-top dancing, and then the big U-turn. And so it goes on.

Anonymous said...


So you are one of those who do not mind the government telling you when to have sex and how many children you will have? Don't you have a mind of your own?

And I suppose you don't mind cleaning up the mess they leave behind, like the social problems that'll come along with casinos?

Why don't you start donating at least 5% of your monthly income to a charitable fund and volunteer to counsel those in trouble every weekend?

I am sure the government will be thankful for puppets like you.

tinrina said...

It's funny to be replying to an anonymous on Mr. Wang's blog, but I guess making a new friend is always good.

Anonymous, you've got to get a hold of yourself. Getting worked up doesn't help in clarity of thinking, regardless of being a puppet or some form of crusader. :)

I urge Anonymous to try not to swing whatever I say to the extreme, neither pre-judge me in those manners. Whoever you may be, with whatever potential grudges you may have against me, I believe such moves and attacks against me don't contribute much to your cause. Also, for whatever grievances you may have against the government, I believe displacing them onto me may not be fair either.

I am bemused by your example relating to sex and number of children. I think you have probably misunderstood me, or perhaps, I had lacked the clarity. In line with what I had written previously, then, so did you mean the market force will determine how and when you have sex and the number of children you will bear too?
Or is it something more personal? Such as values, comfort level with your partner etc?

Regarding the "mess", firstly, even without Casino, we have been facing addiction problems whether in Singapore or otherwise. It spans across gambling, drugs and even gaming. Taking the latter as an example, will you blame the manufacturers & importers of X-Box because they have indirectly caused many young Singaporeans to get addicted to gaming?
Should you come across such young SIngaporeans, will you reach out to help them? I.e. clean up the "mess" X-Box had left. It's not what you had caused potentially, but will that mean that fellow Singaporeans and the relevant problems should not be of your concerns too?

Anonymous said...


Oh, dearie, don't worry, I am more amused than worked up, especially when reading your about turns :P

But sorry ah, I don't make friends anyhow one, only with genuine people.

moomooman said...

Mr Wang,

Mama Shops are still available in some old estates. Ang Mo Kio, Bedok etc.

In fact, even Holland Village has one. Block 2.

Anonymous 6.20,

I would be interested to hear about Ana Nicole Smith that you know. It's interesting for someone to think that Ana can be compared with Madonna.

In fact, I like to do a blog on Anna Nicole Smith soon.

tinrina said...

Well Anonymous, it's ironical that you say that...

I suppose "Anonymous" is your real identity then :)
Btw, I'd appreciate it better if you had meant "dearie" sincerely as a friend. An honest opinion: if the term's not used sincerely, then it is just sarcastic.

My about-turns? Haha.. If you insist then, so be it.

I cannot dictate what you can say or think, but whether you had distorted what I had said, I believe you know better.

le radical galoisien said...

Don't really wish to sound as bitter, but I think your anonymous "friend" is simply frustrated that you seemed to sidestep the question. So he flew comments back at you. Then you did the same.

Which doesn't help things.

Madeline said...

Anonymous (February 12, 2007 9:58 PM) wrote "..some are demanding for more control, more sanctions, as in the IR debate". Hello, the people did not ask for control or sanctions for the casinos, what they demanded was to scrap the bloody idea. It's the MIW who mooted the controls and sanctions in their pathetic attempt to appease the population. Ditto, the people of Singapore never asked for "Workfare Bonus". The same set of clowns use this to get around the odious proposal to jack up the GST. You know that bit about fooling some of the people some of the time..... once

tinrina said...

So I see... Takes a 3rd person to view things objectively..
Thanks for the tip, le radical galosien.

Btw, regardless of the heated arguments in this virtual world..
Happy V day to all!

tinrina said...

le radical galosien,

On a separate note, I do not think I had "sidestepped" the question(s), but I admit that I had diffused myself with (1) analogies and (2) questions asking why he/she wants to remain unidentified.
Nonetheless, I truly appreciate your (le radical galosien) clarifications and politeness.

Having re-read the thread of comments, I suspect the anonymous, who talked about the government controlling sex & children, may be different from the one who wrote rationally (and cool-ly) about market's benefits and limitations.

Quoting myself,"My question is then: How do you determine what can or cannot be influenced by market/economic forces? I guess, I won't presume the boundaries and issues to often be that clear-cut..."
Was more a question out of curiosity than an antagonistic/mocking inquisition.

As to whether I do have a mind of my own and whether I will allow the government to determine what I choose in my life, I believe I have already made the response to le radical galosien in an email. :)

Having written a few blogs yourself, including the Singapore Election Watch, I trust that you are a mature and discerning enough person.

Enough said, think the focus is now on the other blog entry about theonlinecitizen controversy.. :p

Anonymous said...

I am bemused by the number of anonymous posts slamming Madonna and defending the regime instead of addressing the issues Mr Wang brought up.

Singapore already has some accomplished creative minds stifled by the anal government - remember Royston Tan the director? His movies received accolades worldwide, but in Singapore, his works were ALWAYS banned or censored till beyond recognition.

In this kind of fucked up environment, don't expect Madonnas or mavericks to come out, not even in a thousand years.

And yes, shoo! All you filthy pro-establishment PAP running dogs spreading your deceit and propaganda online. May woes and sorrow befall your kind in real life. And i wish you balls carriers a terrible new year ahead.

Anonymous said...

Haha. The PAPanons are confused. Who's who?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous February 14, 2007 4:48 PM

I am not surprised you are bemused. Those people do not know the difference between the main point/argument, examples and sarcastic remarks. Not to mentioned ask irrelevant questions. No wonder they digress.

Not only that, when they are cornered, they resort to labelling others emotional, irrational, etc. Unlike you, I do not know whether to laugh or cry because our government is yet again wasting taxpayers' money on these running dogs.

AnEngineer said...

Very enlightening post.

If people are aversive to taking personal risks, they are less inclined to take risks with others as well. In the US, I have worked with engineers who used to be construction workers, US marines, interior decorators, etc. Some of them do not even hold engineering degrees, but they are brilliant software developers. They dared to pursue a career out of their comfort zones, and their employers dared to take calculated risks by hiring them.

We cannot change how our PAP ministers think, but we can change our own mindsets by first giving others a chance to prove themselves.

Anonymous said...

I am a Catholic and I take offense to Madonna mocking Jesus Christ the way she did. Let us not follow countries in the west who allowed her act to be displayed publicly. What the government wants to do, I think, is to limit access, as far as it can, to the general public. And if you still want to view it, you can very well buy it from overseas or view it over the Internet. But, the message sent across is still the same: This Madonna act is an offense to Christianity, and an offense to Christians. In a spirit of love and concern for one another, let us show some respect for Christians by limiting availability of this video to the community. The world has enough of war, hatred and disrespect, let us not make it worse.

MLVC said...

Greetings! Someone forwarded this blog entry to me because I am a Madonna fan. I read a similar write up in a foreign newspaper which suggests what Madonna can teach the business community. I would like my students to refer to this blog entry, if you do not mind. The key point is that you are able to surface the critical learning points of such a commonly misunderstood icon (or iconoclast) for us to reflect on. I have been to a couple of Madonna's live concert in the US of A, and I must share that all the trouble to get there being in person is worth and every dollar I parted with was deserving. The precision and professional delivery of just one show can easily top any of the productions here - perhaps, even our NDP. You have to experience it to understand it. We still have a long way to go to be that good in all that we do.

私が告白した:私は利用された said...

Why managers should be like Madonna
By James Adonis
THE AGE – Business Page
March 16, 2007

THE Vatican has condemned Madonna, MTV has banned her and the media has vilified her. But we can learn a lot from this superstar on how to be an engaging manager.

Having sold more than 200 million albums, Madonna is the highest-earning female recording artist. Her 2006 Confessions Tour was the most successful concert tour by a female artist.

More than two decades since she began, Madonna is still topping the charts, with her most recent album, Confessions on a Dancefloor, making it to the top in 41 countries.

Granted, it is difficult for an individual manager to achieve such inspirational success.

But what about your organisation?
Broadcast your achievements, promote your history, and communicate your goals. Employees are more engaged when they work for a company of which they are proud. If they are talking to their friends and family about their inspiring workplace, it will make it easier to attract quality candidates.

A study by consultancy RightCoutts revealed the unsurprising news that highly engaged workplaces are better at attracting job seekers. Why? Because success breeds success.

Madonna's mother died of cancer when Madonna was just five. She later was in an at times abusive marriage with Sean Penn, and the criticism she has received for her work has not deterred her. She has survived each setback and emerged victorious.

So, how do you respond to setbacks? In the workplace, these can include a restructure, a retrenchment, a demotion, or a project failure.

If your reaction is to get negative, not only does this affect your staff, but also your own energy. Negativity breeds negativity. Before you know it, you are a walking time bomb.

Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, once said: "Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."

In 1978, Madonna left her home town of Detroit and moved to New York City — with US$S35. It was the first time she had left Detroit, the first time she had been on a plane and the first time she had ridden in a taxi. To this day, she says it was the biggest risk of her life.

How many risks are you taking in your business? Are you playing it safe?

One of the world's most respected sales gurus, Brian Tracy, says: "The biggest risk you can take in life is to not take risks." Take gambles such as hiring someone because of their attitude rather than their skills and experience. Allow employees to make decisions and to have ownership over their work. Implement ideas for their own sake just in case one pays off.

A Chartered Management Institute study found that 20 per cent of managers feel they could have progressed more quickly if they had taken more risks.

When Madonna wanted people to be sexually liberated, she released Erotica. When she wanted people to question their spirituality, she released Like a Prayer. Madonna has created the trends that others follow. The 1980s were characterised by teenage girls who wanted to look like her.

As a manager, do you walk your talk? In your office, is it "do as I say" instead of "do as I do"? By being a role model and practising what you preach, you make it easier for your employees to buy in to your vision — and to follow you.

An expert in building and retaining a committed team, Madonna hired Donna DeLory and Niki Haris as backing vocalists and dancers for her Who's That Girl Tour in 1987, and continued to use them, and other supporting dancers and musicians, for later tours.

Have you built your team with such cohesiveness that it is now more of a family? And do you develop your team so that it grows, even if people eventually leave?

As a result of her mentoring, Madonna's dancers, Donna and Niki, now have successful recording careers of their own.

In the knowledge that you can achieve your goals faster when part of a team, Madonna has built a career that has really just been one big collaboration — producers, choreographers, musicians, publicists, designers, and so on. Even creatively, she has recorded songs with Prince, Massive Attack, and Britney Spears.

With whom do you need to work to become more successful? Which relationships do you need to build and foster to help you achieve your objectives?

In much the same way that a president has internal collaborators such as speech writers, and external collaborators — such as prime ministers of allied countries— you, too, need to form a network of internal and external relationships to help you get to where you want to go — faster.

Madonna was one of the first major celebrities to support publicly the fight against AIDS. In 2005 she performed at the Tsunami Aid Concert, and she has built an orphanage in Malawi, in addition to many other philanthropic ventures.

Generation Y employees especially prefer to work for organisations with a high degree of social responsibility. By being environmentally friendly, by supporting charities and communities, by embracing diversity, and looking after your employees, you will have a head start.

According to a US study by the National Consumers League, only 20 per cent of consumers give companies top marks for social responsibility, with 47 per cent of respondents saying they use the internet to find out whether a company is socially responsible.

Bill Gates, one of the most philanthropic people of our time, recently said: "Is the rich world aware of how 4 billion of the 6 billion live? If we were aware, we would want to help out, we'd want to get involved."

A string of movie flops left Madonna undeterred for two decades. She continued relentlessly to try her hand at acting until she succeeded in the leading role in Evita, for which she won a Golden Globe Award for best actress.

How quickly do you give up? Not just on a project, but on people in your team, organisations you work for, and so on? Take Colonel Sanders. More than 1000 restaurants rejected his secret chicken recipe before one accepted him. Winston Churchill famously said one of the most profound expressions of our time: "Never, never, never give up."

The case for a dedicated and committed mentality is strong. Leading researchers Watson Wyatt discovered that organisations with high levels of commitment outperformed companies with low commitment by 47 per cent.

Madonna is the master of reinvention — probably a major contributor to her success. Looking back at her career, every year there is at least one change in style, music, or message. By doing so, she has kept her image fresh and relevant, unlike most of her 1980s competitors, who are all but forgotten.

Are you hanging on to old management practices just because "that's the way things have always been done around here"? Reinvigorate your processes, review your procedures, and redesign your office. A stale work environment drains your company of positive energy, fuels boredom, and foments complacency.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says: "The lifeblood of our business is our R&D spend. We have to … let people do something they didn't think they could do the day before."

It all comes down to this. People actually want to work for Madonna. And that's what employee engagement is all about. When you have a team that wants to come to work, that wants to do more than required, and wants to keep working for your organisation, you will experience the pinnacle of management success.

Cherish the thought
Of always having you here by my side
Cherish the joy
You keep bringing it into my life
Cherish your strength
You got the power to make me feel good
Perish the thought
Of ever leaving, I never would

Copyright © 2007. The Age Company Ltd.

Anonymous said...

I have the same impression as you about Madonna!

To me, she is the true artist who expresses her feelings, thoughts and spirit at any point in time daringly, with no fear of criticism.

I respect this woman for what she does and who she is

Lin Ripplevox said...

Hi, I'm just curious to know if you're a huge Madonna fan, specially after stating all the merits of Madonna and how her actions prove to be a good example for us Singaporeans to follow.

I'm Lin from ripplevox and we're holding a contest where winners get to attend the album launch at Zouk on April 29. There's a pre-launch party (filled with drinks and food), winners are driven to Zouk in limousine and be all Hollywood-star-like on the red carpet as they strike poses for the camera. And of course, celeb schmoozing. :)

If this interests you, do take a look. Or if you know of any hardcore Madonna fans, doubly sure they're gonna be interested!

Madonna 'Hard Candy' album launch at Zouk on April 29!

Lin Ripplevox