Seasons & cycles II

Spring brings new energy and life from the harshness of winter, and transits towards the sunny summer time where we start thinking of going on breaks and to the beach. We return in late summer into autumn where we start prospecting for work again, and then working on them towards winter where we enter into a brief year-end break before looking forward to springtime again.

And there are proper working hours – sensible ones that works with our daylight: 8am to 6pm. Rest day on Sunday.

There are costs to these cycles. Days are shorter in winter, and maybe a bit too long in summer. There are times when you want to grab some food while feeling still awake late in the day in summer but then shops are going to be closed. At the same time, you can’t ski in summer; while being at the beach in winter would be really miserable. It means that different business activities in different parts of the economy would be in lull versus thriving at different times of the cycle.

Yet these costs doesn’t have to be mitigated; they can be leveraged into strength. In Singapore, what we pride upon – being almost on 24/7, having a strong nightlife while keeping streets really safe, yet continuing to be productive through the day, and keeping all of these on through the week, through the months and through the year. During festivals, even Chinese New Year when supermarkets now choose to close only for a few hours or half a day at the most. We leveraged on the fact we have people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds hence allowing staff of different ethnic group to keep activities on.

All of these were thought of as ways to mitigate the costs of cycles. But did we ever had to do that? Or it’s too much?

Just looking down

I finally watched ‘Don’t look up’ – which itself is a great piece of satirical artwork. The themes are much deeper than what the movie initially set out to do; it reflects troubles with the culture that we have in the way science, politics, media and citizen actions interact, especially to deal with somewhat distant-seeming troubles that do not have immediate next-moment implications on us.

The film turned out to be really more than just a critique of our response to climate change but how the abuses of attention by politics, social media and mainstream media including pop culture has done to us. The ineptitude extends beyond management of a crisis; it is also problematic in the manner one responds humanly towards the crisis.

The character Kate, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence was vilified for displaying her alarm towards the issue discovered. The appropriate response is being shamed and threatened out of existence. In the film, leaders were also seen as being highly opportunistic and acting almost purely and solely in self-interest. In all that sense, it may seem unreal but perhaps the fact is closer to this fiction than we think.

Physical retail

I loved visiting bookstores as a kid. But these days I just read ebooks; and the challenge is discovering new books. In the past, the visit to a bookstore always cause my reading list to lengthen; because you can pick up a book, browse any page, catch a whiff of the smell of its pages and for a single moment or more, feel as though the book actually belong to you. Though of course, it technically isn’t until you finalise the purchase.

But that is exactly the power of physical retailers. They give you the experience of the actual product and allow you to live concurrently in both realities of not owning and actually owning the particular product. It allows you to engage more deeply not just your sight and imagination but also other senses. And I think there’s something to that which allows physical retailers to be at an advantage to e-commerce players. It is an advantage perhaps more important in urban areas than non-urban; where the population density can support the business model.

Physical retail probably won’t be disappearing especially where there’s a measure of local monopoly. Yes you might have to experience some queuing, crowds, shoving around but you also get soak in the sights and sounds of life itself. And learn to engage the market as a real person rather than through a web-based account.

Failed experiments

When does an experiment fail? And I mean a true experiment. One that you have no clue what the results would be but you had hope for things to go one particular way (which probably formed your hypothesis for the experiment).

Popular entertainment and even our education system would have us believe that an experiment fails when it failed to produce results we had hoped for. But in reality, a failed experiment is one that did not produce any useful results to prove or disprove the hypothesis. This happens because perhaps you are testing too many things at the same time and did not really isolate the hypothesis.

I’ve myself experienced many different policy experiments through my public service career. And too often, the service thinks of failure based on outcomes. But if we are seeing our ideas as trials and testing them out, the critical piece in the outcome is what it informs us, rather than whether what we hope to achieve is reached.

We have lost sight of our pursuit for knowledge and truth which will serve our longer term interests, in exchange for short term results and perceptions which is worth nothing in the future. At the end of the day, we ought to be refining our approach to challenges and not specific outcomes. Because we simply have to live yet another day to test out something else, so that eventually we may land on ideas and approaches that helps us thrive.

That had been the power of centuries of scientific inquiry and to stop right now would be a waste.

Go on and try

We push out bikes to the top of the hill and let it free wheel down so we can learn to balance without having to worry about pedalling. One step by a step we learn to cycle. Just balancing is not enough, and just pedalling isn’t enough either. And none of the small step does the job, only when they are done collectively, sequentially, in the proper order.

Yet it is not the assurance of being able to ride the bike downhill that we push it up. It is the promise that we will learn something, we will get better, and something in us is being changed, each time we adhere to the practice.

So we go on and try not because it will succeed or that we won’t fail. But that it will change things just a bit, and that will be good enough. Till the day we succeed, till the day we gain mastery.

Trying to affliate

On Linkedin, I see people starting to use their former affliations to brand themselves. Ex-Google, ex-McKinsey, ex-Tesla, what have you. The people who find it hard to stand on their own ground, to initiate ideas, to test and run with them are usually the ones who try to leverage on affliations to move.

I learnt from a conversation with a small fund manager recently about how the Indonesian startup scene has a dearth of good manpower. Frequently, young people are using their 3-6 month stints at ToGo’s platforms or startups to level up their resume even as their real skills are lacking behind.

The problem with using metrics, KPIs is that they can be gamed even if they don’t lie. What we should care about are probably much harder to measure and assess. But one principle to bear in mind perhaps is that the more one is leveraging on their past affliations, perhaps the more skeptical one should be. It should be what exactly they did on the project they claim they were part of. Just attending meetings, or delivering the goods?

Brainstorming for pain

As a consultant, we often need to understand the painpoints, challenges and problems of various parties in the conversation. That is how we can add value to work on the problems, identify the solutions, offer the right recommendations.

The challenge to sharing painpoints or problems is there will always be some kind of resistance. It is difficult for parties involved to openly confess they need help; and the problems they identify at first may not necessarily be the fundamental problem. They might also be afraid that the problems identified traces back to themselves or some mistakes they had made before.

So what can we do? Reminder of the objectives of the brainstorm and objectives of the team. Walk through with the team what is the process they have at present to get from their starting point to their objectives. And ask them about the difficulties or bottlenecks at each step along that process.

Hope this general framework for a start contributes to your brainstorming!

Mouldy places and spaces

Are there dark and moist corners of your life? Unvisited and rarely given light? What grows in there?

Could it be certain friendships and relationships? Or the job you had for 10 years where you and the organisation is stagnating? Or the hobby you had considered pursuing before other life’s concern caught up?

When are you clearing out the fungus and lighting up the place?

Wrong direction at speed

Does it make sense to compete on whose car goes faster if you have a different destination in mind? What do you say to the 12 year old math whiz in you class who just got 105/100 because he even got to the bonus 5-mark question while you got 5/100 because you only finished the first 3 pages of the exam and got plenty of wrongs? What would you have said if 20 years down the road you realised you were going to be a successful artist?

So what if you are fast and furious if you’re headed off a cliff? As compared to being on the racetrack? We all think and behave as if everyone is heading in the same direction that we get caught up on very narrow, specific metrics to measure ourselves in ways that may not matter. In fact, if you’re trying to compete on speed in the wrong direction, you’re just going to get farther from your goals.

More important to take time to get the direction right. So many of the guys in Singapore think of their two years of national service a waste. And they find themselves believing that they are falling behind. The question is whether they took a pause to consider which direction they are trying to move in. Perhaps the two years serve to discover oneself better? Perhaps you’d realise at that point life is not about just doing what others are doing, except better?

In being constrained, you find yourself freed.

Opportunities favour the prepared

Say you failed to land on your dream job. You “settle” for something different. And then what? You prepare yourself bit by bit on the things you might have to hone if you had been in that dream job. You continue reading about the industry, you strive to be better in the areas which are important to that dream job but also coincides well with whatever you have settled for.

And you take ownership of developing yourself, and earn supporters who would root for you in whatever you do. Articulate your passion better and craft a clear mission for yourself that relates to that dream job. This is a kind of moving on, just different from the giving up that you had imagined.

Then one day when the opportunity comes again to land your dream job comes, you are ready. It could be a new opening, it could be a higher role, or just the introduction of someone influential inspired by your sense of mission. But when it comes, you are ready.

Thinking about how you can be ready for the opportunities you want to catch when it comes? Consider getting a coach.