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Industry leaders on the toys that shaped them

Eric Khoo's GI Joe had a profound effect on his filmmaking career. For these head honchos, childhood playtime is more than just a fond and distant memory.

WWith all the enrichment classes, pre-preschool, music lessons and electronic gewgaws parents are heaping onto children, it doesn’t take a prodigy to see that people have imbibed this idea: Early childhood development has an impact later in life. But remember when all you needed to have fun growing up was a cardboard box and a metric tonne of imagination? These four leaders in their industries certainly do and, here, they share their most cherished plaything as a child, and how unhindered, unassisted play helped to shape them into the successes they are today.

 

01: NO ORDINARY JOE – ERIC KHOO

FILMMAKER, ZHAO WEI FILMS
PLAYTHING: G.I. JOE

EricKhoo

As a fan of toys herself, Eric Khoo’s mother was always generous when it came to buying toys for her children. Little did she know that one of them would take her son down the path of cinema stardom.“My G.I. Joe was really my first actor,” says Khoo. “I wound up creating lots of stories with him that involved beating up my sister’s Ken dolls and stealing Barbie away.”

By the time he was eight years old, he had learnt how to use his mother’s Super 8 film camera and started making stop-motion short clips starring Joe and gang. Khoo’s first leading man eventually moved out of his imagination and onto an actual screen. The short film he made titled Barbie Digs Joe (1990), which was essentially a longer, more professional version of his childhood projects, ended up taking him to his first international film festival in Hawaii. Joe has also appeared in the background of 12 Storeys (1997).

“Playing, back then, required imagination, but there are so many ways to entertain oneself today. My sons are so fast on their computers and so connected with the digital world. And, thanks to numerous apps and editing software, they’re shooting their own projects as well. Anyone can, these days, and I think it’s good for the industry. The only downside is that the film festival panel will have to sort through thousands of films to find really good ones.”

02: BUILDING BLOCKS – GETTY GOH

CEO, COASSETS
PLAYTHING: LEGO

GettyGoh

While almost all of us grew up with Lego blocks, not everyone had large, elaborate sets. “I came from a middle-class family so we didn’t spend much on toys. Many of the sets I owned were hand-me-downs with pieces missing, so I had to rely on my imagination to make hybrid ones,” Getty Goh says. “My most memorable build was the Enterprise from Star Trek but, because I had to create many of my own pieces, the finished build looked nothing like the real Enterprise.”

Not that it bothered him, because Goh is not someone who enjoys following pre-determined paths. “The fact that my business revolves around property investment is an obvious parallel, but playing with Legos nurtured my creativity, so my decision to be an entrepreneur was a manifestation of that,” he explains. “I wanted to choose my own path, rather than follow a fixed plan. That’s why I preferred Lego over figurines, as the latter doesn’t stimulate the mind.”

That is also why he prefers his three-year- old daughter to play with traditional toys, which he feels encourages creative thinking. “Kids these days are growing up differently. They simply have different opportunities and I can’t say if it’s for the better or worse. But I do believe children play less these days, which is why I would buy Duplo (a preschool version of Lego) for her.”

03: TREASURE HUNT – ELAINE YEW

PARTNER, EGON ZEHNDER
PLAYTHING: MAKESHIFT DOLL HOUSE

ElaineYew

Elaine Yew’s parents never believed in turning to material things for entertainment, so she grew up with books instead of toys, but that didn’t stop her from making her own. “My mother had a large jewellery box with doors that opened to reveal little drawers and cabinets. It was very lavish, made from rosewood, with bronze handles and red silk lining, so I went around the house looking for a ‘family’ to populate this ‘palace’,” she says.

What she managed to find was a tiny bronze bust of Napoleon to play the father and a small statuette of a Siamese dancing lady for the mother’s role, along with other knick-knacks to play two children. Having to make up their life together and the family dynamics actually helped Yew develop an interest in what people like, and this connection with the inner workings of an individual is the core of her work as a consultant. She also credits the development of her independence and creativity to the long periods she spent playing alone.

But today, smart devices have become the new toys, which leads Yew to wonder if “it might have an impact on resilience (since) so much of device-led play centres on instant gratification.” She adds: “My main worry is that the children of today will lose the beauty and pleasure of those great moments in life that only real human interaction can bring. But I do appreciate the power of technology, as it can bring boldness to ideas.”

04: PICTURING A FUTURE – PAT LAW

FOUNDER, GOODSTUPH
PLAYTHING: DRAWING PEN

PatLaw

Pat Law was drawing so naturally even before she could speak, that her parents believed they had an art prodigy in the family and promptly sent her for what became a decade of art education. As it turned out, there was “no Leonardo da Vinci there, just a Pat Law who now makes a living from social media”, she says. She didn’t know it then, but her love for drawing did influence her career choice.

“I’m at my happiest when I’m creating things, be it a Lego house with a random horse on the roof, a drawing with 20 floating heads, or a microsite or a Facebook post that gets people sharing,” she says, the latter referring to her work in her social influence marketing agency.“When I draw, I escape into a different world where my mind mutes the noise around me, and to stay that focused in today’s social media world is a luxury.”

She worries that the deteriorating attention span of today’s Instagram generation might be their downfall. “I think strategy games are great for kids (when they are of the appropriate age), but I do worry about their depleting attention spans. We are as easily distracted by social media notifications as dogs to bones. That single-minded focus I was lucky enough to have been trained in from young is quite the accidental asset.

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