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Crazy Horses! For Courses in Public Administration 101.

Posted by intellisg on March 15, 2007

A peachy derriere, long legs, flaxen mane and a winning smile definitely sets the hearts racing. Evidently this wasn’t enough for the crazy horse show to succeed in Singapore. By now you have probably heard, they have packed up like a traveling circus and galloped off to greener pastures. It’s left me quite speechless. I even feel a bit hoarse (no pun intended). What went wrong?

Well its quiet simple actually. They just couldn’t cut the circuit – that in showbiz talk simply means they didn’t manage to break a leg. In book sense, they didn’t manage to turn in a healthy balance sheet. So their local partners Eng Wah Group decided to rein the show and call off the race.

Was it a surprise? After all we know horses can’t dance for nuts. They have two left legs, not to mention those long faces they don’t even need to pull. So maybe it’s just a case of plain old miscalculation. The wrong fit so to speak. Or was it really? Besides what’s the big deal? Thousands of businesses open and close every year in Singapore. This is just one of many; a drop in the proverbial ocean. Hardly even a reflection on our ineptitude as a glorious efficient and corrupt free capitalist cosmopolitan city state. That’s only true if you believe we don’t need to consider the Crazy horse show in the larger context of the scheme of things, such as the planned integrated resorts project (IR) that in the pipeline. Can we really afford not to take a deeper look into the anatomy why the Crazy horses show failed?

If Singapore plans to successfully host the integrated resorts in the near future. Wouldn’t the Crazy horse show serve as litmus test to allow us to gain much needed experiential knowledge into managing a new genre of entertainment that we have virtually no experience in? The adult entertainment business (AEB) which includes not only gaming, but everything that comes with it, cabaret shows etc.

What actually went wrong? To begin with the adult entertainment business (AEB) is a business model that’s difficult to seek consensus on – like the proverbial five blind men trying to make sense of the elephant. Sex and everything that comes with it, just means too many different things to all of us. Walking through a Parisian street you may be excused in forming the mistaken impression and its quite usual for first time visitors to fall into such a trap. The French are drowning in a moral cesspit. Topless bill boards advertising everything from cars, hand phones to the latest cosmetics are strewn wantonly across the cityscape and even beneath in the metro. Nor does it even bother the average Parisians often, just provoking a few grunts and a yawn.

It’s a outlook towards sex that contrast starkly with corseted Singapore, where recently the Madonna concert was banned, because it featured a few montages which were deemed, “inappropriate.” Neither do we lack an erudite coterie who see themselves as our moral vanguards. Who regularly demonstrate their consternation at anything remotely smacking on the sexual by either reminding us, this or that is “inappropriate.” Judging from how speedily the 4 meter high nude of a girl in the Mica building was unceremoniously whisked away recently even art offers little in the way of sanctuary for anything remotely sexual.

Our general outlook to sex in the public domain can be described as intolerant bordering on the uninitiated to the frigid. It’s a big hole that raises the question; what do we really need to change to effectively support future AEB initiatives.

Firstly as long as “sex” the context of business remains an undefined abstraction, we are not going to make any progress beyond just setting traffic cones of do’s and don’ts for AEB operators. One reason why policymakers continue to veer towards the traditionalist approach may be because sex in all its connotations simply translates into the proverbial: one man’s meat is simply another’s poison dilemma; after all what’s acceptable to you sexually, may well be the height of moral turpitude for others and vice versa. It’s one that remains a hubris and restricts the scope of policymakers to experiment beyond sticking to the tried and tested ways of regulation. It raises the question, is there a better way out of the quagmire? What would the solution look like?

Whatever the approach, there needs to be a platform to generate hunches as to what will and can work in the framework of what is deemed, “acceptable.” These theoretical constructs will be tested and those found wanting will be rejected. Part and parcel of this process requires ironing out the contentious issue of what can and cannot be tested. Or even how far off the median scale, it’s allowed to deviate from the acceptable norm. Is it “acceptable,” for example, if a cabaret show featuring scantily dresses girls is plastered throughout the MRT? Or should this type of racy advertisements be limited to only limited channels by regulating where and how they can feature? Wouldn’t that amount to hobbling a business? How much regulation is required to successfully strike a happy balance between preserving moral sensibilities and supporting such the business model? At the nucleus of the exercise, its one that will continue to challenge the milieu of what constitutes “acceptability,” along with all the moral ramifications. This will of course prove derisive and controversial, but without cognizance of such a practical administrative cum business framework. Making progress will be a bit like trying to find the elusive Cheshire cat. It would be simply an exercise in futility making the charge of the light brigade look like a sensible military exercise.

Buying into a flexible framework allows goals to continually refocused and tuned. It’s the necessary widget that will permit operators to tweak their business process and bureaucrats to play a complimentary role. One that recognizes the limitation of the current compact which once managed very well to grow the manufacturing and service industry.

AEB’s unfortunately don’t fall neatly into this understandable quadrant. Nor is it one that will benefit from traditional regulation. Ultimately such an exercise requires policymakers to even consider a paradigm shift, by redefining not only their goals and roles. But also consider re-engineering much of their traditional relationship between regulator and operators. The central focus being to move away from the transactional to the relational.

Moving away from the transactional to the relational mean jettisoning notions of central command, where the whole idea is planning is predicated on intercepting a series of targets somewhere in the future. Instead relational management requires “real time” data inputs which allows multi streams of corrections to continually manage the trajectory. Here the regulator isn’t so much a policeman as he is an agent in the experiment of finding a better way to grow the business. Such an initiative requires a cadre of creative civil administrators who simply need to appreciate traditional performance measures are not as important as creating the value added through innovation and continuous experimentation.

In addition to the changes proposed a large measure of the success factor requires not learning, but rather unlearning much of what we already have in the current civil administrative narrative. Such as the traditional belief the system is more important than the individual, that standard operational procedures or even accountability is more important than intelligence or creativity. This may have once worked to our benefit. But past successes do not necessarily translate into future successes, not when it comes to effectively supporting AEB’s.

This can only be accomplished by allowing civil servants a high degree of autonomy to test the boundaries of acceptability. More importantly it must also allow scope for untraditional failure. Failure after all in the civil service isn’t really so much frowned upon as much as unconventional failure, thus reinforcing the mentality, stick to the tried and tested and never stray from the path.

Creating a relational platform between regulators and operators may not necessarily guarantee the next round of hypotheses will fare better or even guarantee the success of the next round of AEB’s. But it will allow for a systematic means to build up core competence through an incremental process of trial and error. Rather than sticking to a rigid master plan which attempts to intercept the future in one long shot.

Such a model will undoubtedly prove useful not only just to inaugurate new pathways towards supporting AEB initiatives but also allow much of the administrative benchmark to be harmonized and reconciled to profile a holistic vision. It’s one that will prove decisive and key to supporting the IR and its derivative industries.

Introducing a new paradigm to manage the relationship between regulators and operators of AEB’s creates the basis to learn by searching to understand the attributes to support the nascent of these new industry. Sticking to the old and well worn path, only guarantees more of the same, a commitment to stasis. Its one that simply doesn’t cut the grade as it offers little in the way of collectively learning between regulator and operator through cooperation (sharing ideas) competition (challenging ideas) and synergy (leveraging on commonality.)

In that sense, an epistemology that implicitly recognizes how firms and bureaucrats need to dovetail their systems and process deserves to be serious mooted as matter of strategic priority – if policymakers aspire to play a meaningful role in developing the integrated resorts along with all its derivative industries.

To assume for one moment this can be accomplished by bracing firmly to our traditional death grip notion of command and control, is to entertain the fantasy its still possible to cut and eat the cake at the same time. Its one that may just see us ridding a three legged donkey in a race with other countries and other AEB operators, only to find ourselves relegated to the rough. As we watch those crazy horses galloping past us once again.

Only this time amid a mocking chorus of horse talk that may still sound crazed, but rings out so true.

“heeeheeeheeeheeeheeeeeee!”

(By Scholarboy / Socio / Public Policy / Strategic Studies EP 9983793 – 2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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3 Responses to “Crazy Horses! For Courses in Public Administration 101.”

  1. I’m not convinced that civil servants were entirely to blame for Crazy Horse closing down.

    Businesses fail all the time — why is it so implausible that Crazy Horse closed down simply because no-one wanted to go?

    It’s not like Singaporeans were clamouring to get in in the first place — not at the exorbitant prices they charged. About $80 for an evening show and 2 drinks. Think about what else you can do in one evening for $80. Sure, curious Singaporeans might go once, but I seriously doubt many would go again.

  2. I’ve got to agree with Strangeknight here. During the weeks before it closed we heard a bunch of theories about why: from price point and falling tourist numbers to advertising restrictions. No-one really mentioned that it could just be that the demand isn’t here.

    I’ve spoken to one person who went (response: “It was nice, I liked it, but I wouldn’t go again”) and a few people who haven’t. They, like me, just thought it was a tired old concept and not one they’d be at all interested in seeing. A friend at STB said he thought it wasn’t really the kind of thing tourists coming to Singapore were interested in here… they come with an idea of what they want to do (night markets, Orchard Rd etc etc)… although they might be in a different frame of mind if they went to Paris.

    Basic first year Marketing tells you that your “product” is the key. Price, promotion, location etc all play a part of course, but if you’ve got a product that has no demand then tweaking every other element under the sun isn’t going to help you much.

  3. obby said

    They never even got to tweak bc gahmen say cannot tweak. So I guess we will never ever know la.

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