In the spirit of a fresh new ‘Spring’ (Chun), the blawg introduces you to a few fresh perspectives from our writers, on reunions, prosperity, and even on being ‘dragon’. In this article, Lisa Ng reminisces about the fiery personalities who have contributed to the person she is today.
Are dragons really mythical creatures? Do they only live in the feverish minds of a few individuals with nothing better to do than conjure up destructive, ill-tempered serpents? I don’t know about you but I’ve seen a dragon or two in my life. No, wait – I’ve worked with them. In fact, I’ve also dined with them. Brainstormed with them. And I’ve certainly smoked a few with them. (Cigarettes, I mean.) You know the kind of dragon I’m talking about, right?
In my career as a copywriter attempting to climb up the ranks to creative godliness, I’ve learnt to write in different copy styles. But I’ve learnt these tricks only because the Bosses who taught me these skills were dragons. And Bosses in general can be classified as either dragons or not. (I don’t mind adding that serving under these people has also helped me develop a hide as thick as, well, a dragon’s.)
For one, these fiery types don’t only hover over you like vultures hover over dying prey. They can put the fear of stupidity in you too with their comments.
“Are you sure that’s the best word to describe pain? Do you really understand pain beyond the literal?”
“Please get rid of the adjectives. Your copy reads like an elephant with constipation right now.”
“You call this copy? I call this crap.”
“[Sound of paper with 50 headlines tearing.]”
You can’t dissolve into tears if you’re working for a dragon. (Well, technically you can, but don’t expect him or her to pass you a box of tissues.) Yes, dragons can be very immovable (some more than others). They dig their claws in when they have to. (And sometimes they dig so deep you can feel the tear in your resolve.)
Other traits I’ve noticed about dragons include their stubborn disposition, ambitiousness, tenacity, blunt nature and need to be right. But I could be wrong. So one day, in fairness to them, I decided to check if there were still others I might’ve skipped. So I Googled the different types of dragons in the Chinese horoscope at this website and discovered there were indeed many degrees of dragon.
Fire dragons flare up easily. They have exacting standards but react quickly and recklessly. As a result, they sometimes make wrong decisions. Fire dragons need to slow down and keep their tempers in check as that’s when they’re at their best.
Once upon a time, a fire dragon breathed down my nape while I banged out copy for an arty, grand hotel in Shah Alam. Fortunately, no fire accompanied the breathing. I remember I was on edge throughout the exercise (one that became physical when sweat began to ooze out of my pores) as a flare-up was possible any moment. Then the sheer presence of a creature quite capable of giving and taking away my job ensured I took longer than necessary to craft a 150-worded passage. Basically, I had to think so hard before putting down each word, the blood vessels surrounding my brains swelled up and bore me a headache.
This dragon was also known by another name – ‘The Dentist’ – due to the fear he created for his high standards. Creative members of the department would queue up outside his room for reviews of their work. And many who went in never came out the same. Oh they all had their teeth intact, of course. But the same could not be said about their spines or balls.
In fact, I think I also lost a bit of my identity inside that tiny, musty old room.
This type of dragon’s willing to entertain the opinions of others (at least before they come round to insist theirs is better than the rest I suppose). These dragons enjoy being creative and innovative as they possess a strong artistic streak. They get along with others but will always be a dominating force in the group.
The wood dragon depicts quite accurately the Boss with whom I once worked who had a tendency to brainstorm through meal times. He liked his senior team huddling with him inside his white-on-white sanitarium of an office but he didn’t like checking his clock. Bad combination, yes. And though more time was spent smoking (him) and wondering how to appease our rumbling stomachs (the rest of us) than conceptualising, this was a semi-ritual that had to take its course lest we be accused of ‘not giving a toss about brilliance’ and ‘being apathetic to the urgent stirrings of what could be the most award-winning idea of the century if only we’d sit still long enough to telepathically absorb the genius of Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty (BBH) or Crispin, Porter and Bogusky (CPB)’.
Many times, the severe hunger pangs we suffered drowned out whatever concepts that floated into our minds. But this dragon never seemed the least perturbed by his own plummeting glucose levels due to forced starvation. Of course, he was sometimes nice enough to ask, “Do you think we should eat?” to which all of us would immediately throw up venue suggestions. But after listening to our ‘opinions’, he’d decide that food might ‘dull our creative minds with obscene levels of serotonin’.
The same dragon also liked to stretch Section 60(a) of the Malaysian Employment Act which states that employees aren’t obligated to work more than 48 hours a week. He had good reason to keep us in the office though; he knew advertising contracts carried a clause denoting the ‘unique’ nature of our industry. One that sometimes required us to operate 24/7. In fact, he probably invented the clause.
These are the mildest of all dragons as the water element probably calms down their fiery nature. They can see things from another point of view and they don’t always have to be right. They make better decisions because they allow others to be involved.
The water dragon reminds me of a Boss I worked with prior to my quitting the advertising industry. He was a very calm man. He was also an excessive smoker who spent much time outside the office building in zen-like meditation, even as his cigarette rained a circle of ash around his feet. Only his closest peers knew he was brainstorming in solitude and silence. Whenever he did brainstorm with a group of people, he’d quietly allow raucous chatter, debate and discussion take place until time ran out and the client service manager came banging on his door for a thrice-postponed internal review. Then all eyes would turn to him, prompting him to let his pen fall on the scribbled ideas he felt ‘passed the mark’.
Earth Dragons are firmly rooted in the ground and they tend to make better decisions because they act more rationally. These dragons are usually levelheaded and able to control their behaviors. They’re supportive of others but prefer being admired by others.
I remember a Zen-like earth dragon Boss who sported a long ponytail despite being past 40. Maybe I’m a generation gap or two away from understanding that male ponytails were de rigeur for creative types back in the early 80s and early 90s. But he had a copy-based partner who sported sunglasses inside an office wrapped in blinds, a trend that seems to have lasted till today and one I still can’t explain. But I digress.
What really struck me about this Boss was his rational approach to problem-solving. For instance, he liked to look at the big picture when dealing with discord between team member and client. And in the big picture usually playing in his mind, the satisfaction of a client was infinitely more useful to business than a ‘kick-ass’ idea the same client couldn’t understand. A lover of beautiful things, he appreciated visuals more than copy. And spent a lot of time doodling during meetings with the CEO, much to her chagrin.
For a man his age, many female colleagues and employees found him alluring, an observation not lost on him for he enjoyed after-hours chatter with them in the late evenings. Moreover, it wasn’t unusual to catch him surrounded by women in his room on the days he stayed back to supervise important business pitches. One wonders what else he supervised, of course. Perhaps the artistic positioning of the ladies in the room so that the perfect spatial balance can be achieved.
The metal element strengthens this already strong sign. Metal dragons are determined and will fight for what they believe in. They enjoy the company of those able to challenge their beliefs. They’re true leaders and usually find plenty of willing followers.
I must say that I haven’t, in the real sense, worked with a metal dragon. I did work with the husband of one; he was my art director. Since the pair always came to the office together and the room I shared with the dragon’s husband was just next door to hers, I had many opportunities to bersembang with her or listen in on the debates they had as they came in. Now this was one awe-inspiring, halo-bearing dragon you could sense a mile a way as she simply exuded class, confidence, conviction and kindness.
She strongly believed in humanity and possessed an almost- ethereal, utopian perception about human beings. Because she was also a film-director (even as she held the post of Chairman in this agency), she projected her many dreams of Malaysian unity through her work – both her personal films and the commercials she was asked to shoot for an oil corporation. She’d not only stand up to pseudo-politicians on the client side who questioned the sensitivity of her TV commercial scripts but also the real ones (along with Jabatan Filem Negara) who did the same with her films. She could also see the debilitating nature of the NEP and would have heated discussions on the topic with pro-policy colleagues.
You could be her friend. But at the same time, you’d keep a slight distance out of sheer respect. I did anyway. And yes, she had a lot of fans and followers. Unfortunately she passed away in 2009 and remains sorely missed.
All the dragons I’ve mentioned commanded authority in their own unique ways. And all of them were ‘scary’ in their own ways, too. But you’d be wrong to assume I regret having been in their company or service. All the collaborations I’ve had with these Bosses have been nothing but inspiring and educational. The fire dragon taught me the importance of discipline; the wood dragon, of being discerning and resilient; the water dragon, of solving problems as a team; the earth dragon, of business pragmatism; and the metal dragon, of standing up for what’s right as well as kindness. I respect them and miss them all for these reasons. But most of all, for the fiery passion that drives them to be great at what they do.
(Featured image accompanying article on the main page courtesy of therealbrute, source: http://bit.ly/z7mmaj)