Volatility of incentives

I believe that incentives drives behaviours. That is why big bureacracies are bound to retain mediocre individuals and repel talents. It is why high-paying jobs attract more people even if they are soul-sucking. It is also why high-impact but mediocre-paying jobs like teaching and nursing have people leaving in droves.

But incentives can also be volatile because market signals in the short term may not be a good reflection of fundamentals. That’s why people end up behaving in sub-optimal ways in pursuit of short-term gains. This could involve forging qualifications, attempting to get an increment from attending some third rate data analytics course, etc.

Can we trust incentives alone to govern our societies? Probably not. Because our purpose is greater than just responding to sticks and carrots. So more important to identify what purpose we want to fulfill and allow that to drive us forward. Blind pursuit of incentives bring us nowhere.

New year gift

For a while now, I’ve had a career newsletter which allowed you to download the Dream, Think & Act! ebook I’ve written. And that’s all about creating the marketing funnel etc. Now I think perhaps it works better as well if more people could access it without having to surrender email addresses to me. Though you could still subscribe if you decided my ideas are useful – I don’t write very often and it’s usually just 4-6 times a year.

Thank you for giving me the attention and time to read through my random musings and nuggets of thought this year. Please do share my materials more broadly and tell more people about my materials.

For the new year of 2023, I’m putting up my ebook free. And it gets better, the original version that was being circulated around was a pdf. Now you can get it as ebooks which you can read on kindle or your favourite ebook readers. Download Dream, Think & Act! ebook (mobi and epub versions) here.

Last day of 2022

We’ve reached the last day of the year! And while we are counting, this is the 728th consecutive post I’ve written daily. Two more days and officially, I’ve been writing daily for two years. It’s amazing how this habit has kept up and ideas never quite run out once you keep going at it. I probably repeat myself but never quite as much as I’d expect myself to. The act of creating a practice that aligns with one’s interest and passion provides the fuel to keep things going.

2023 is going to be exciting from the perspective of my blogging because it is the year I’ll reach my 1000th consecutive post. There are also further interesting ongoing that may materialise in 2023. My coaching practice slowed in terms of taking on clients and growing my work because I’ve been busy working with my team at Enea Consulting to build on our bolder vision of Blunomy. The website isn’t fully fleshed out it – it looks more like the beginnings of a manifesto.

Through the year, I’ve been trying to work on a second self-published book but in the process, I’ve become way more critical of my writing and story-telling. I realised that the ideas I’ve been working on are not well fleshed out yet to be ready in a coherent collection of writings in a book. So that project is going to be on hold for a while until I develop more clarity. Maybe it’ll spring up in 2023, so stay tuned.

What is the right scale?

Some impacts are hard to scale spatially, or geographically, or culturally. But they can be persistent, and in time, they scale well. For example, if you’re a teacher of a classroom of 40, you might impact at the most 40 lives. And that is not easy to scale, because enlarging the class does not necessarily mean more lives are impacted though the education system might want to think that way.

I once asked talked about scaling Laksa (a Singaporean dish) in an article about the narratives of millennials. I wondered if it matters that we created products which didn’t scale at least during the moment they were created. If we create products only to ride waves of growth, than majority of the products and service offerings in the world would not exists. It is often seeking to serve a particular audience that an offering comes into play and then gradually finds either more audience or more application in order to scale.

So what is the right scale for the impact that we make, or the offering we’re trying to put out in the world? It is exactly the scale that keeps things going, that keeps you doing what you want to do. If you’re happy to keep doing supporting under-privileged kids one by one, go for it; make sure it pays you enough to keep you going as well. And it is the same for a business, you just need the smallest viable audience (a concept that is popularised by Seth Godin).

Sustainability is the right benchmark, not just for the environment, but also the scale of what we do.

Do we really want to work all our life?

A friend who has a workaholic boss became really offended when my friend waxed lyrical about not wanting to work all the time and preferring to have more time with family should his life end abruptly. The boss countered “do you think I really want to work all the time?” This is probably a good question for most workaholics to ask themselves, myself included.

Work has become more than just pure toil and pains of labour. It has become fun, more aligned with passion, with a veil of impact and meaning attached to it, and a lot friendlier (ie. Restful) to the human physique. Perhaps more importantly, our expectations on what we can consume through our wages from labour has risen spectacularly. So work becomes even more central in our lives. And in most cases, we come to see it as so central it is such an integral part of our identities.

So it is strange that we still get offended when it is made explicit that we have allowed work to become so much of us. Maybe because something inside us realise that is true. That in the short term, while we may be enjoying the dopamine hits of problem-solving in work and earning a great income; in the long run, that is not what we are made for. We are made to be more than our worker selves.

And perhaps for some of us, it’s time to discover ‘what else’.

Direction of effort

In which direction should one direct his or her efforts? Would it be in the direction of goals? Or the direction of one’s preference and interests? I’ve come to discover more and more than following one’s interests and one’s goals are different and we can set ourselves and our outcomes on very different paths when we pursue one or the other.

Being aware of what journey we are on becomes important when we look at what we are trying to get from it. Often, when pursuing a journey towards goals like career, money and recognition, we forget that we signed up to something that sacrifices our interest and passion, then we get upset about not getting those. Meanwhile people who might find themselves trying to follow their interest complaining about lack of income or opportunities.

We can’t have the best of both worlds no matter how many examples we find in the world to hold up. And we don’t always fully understand the sacrifices and pains involved until we eventually reach that level. When we direct our efforts we must be reminded which path we’re moving along; that determines what the path yields.

Great works

Do you create great art by thinking, designing and conceptualising until you eventually have a great piece of work to execute? Or do you execute along the way and figure out how it will look then it becomes great randomly without your control or preparation?

Or does making something great involve continuously trying to make something that serves your interest, purpose and the audience you are developing? Is it the trying that makes works great? Rather than the work itself?

I think as we accumulate experiences, life and mistakes in our lives, they inevitably make their way into our works. If we don’t keep trying and working through struggles and mistakes, the chance of a great work emerging will certainly remain close to nil.

Valuing time

As one grows older, one comes to value time more. It’s maybe the busier lifestyle from the commitments accumulated over a longer life, or perhaps becoming more cognisant that time is running out somehow. Time is an interesting object interwined with ones’ life and ability so much that when we consider how we can value it, the whole concept of valuation falls apart pretty quickly.

One person’s time is different from the other depending on how the time is used and what sort of talent underlies the time of that person in question. The opportunity cost of time is also really subjective and hard to determine; because the actual point in time and the place or context determine the alternatives possible.

Is productivity and trying to not “waste” time by trying to produce more output really about valuing time more? Or is it a greater mark of respect for the time we have when we actually use it for much-needed leisure? Is time only well spent when it generates economic fruits?

These questions are important because our society and the pressure of our culture around us constantly presses a particular view on these things upon us. We can be more conscious about how we can better value and approach our time and the way we spend it.

Imagining futures

Do you imagine a future you want to be in? Then what do you do? Do you take steps towards it?

Or do you imagine a future you don’t want to be in; and then try to take steps to prevent it?

The second approach means you have to be driven by fear. It’s more tiring than being motivated by possibilities. So it’s important to take your pick how you want to envision futures and move towards it.

Demand response to the future

The market system likes to pretend the consumer is king and producers are just responding to market demand. It is usually an excuse to avoid the responsibility of building a better future. The market system constantly tries to get ahead by shaping demand, through advertising and influencers. The whole system of exchange of influence and money takes place within the market context and that’s enough to refute the claim that consumers reign sovereign.

And that means consumers needs to be more conscious of what stories they are taking in. And more than being passive receivers of goods and services, consumers have more chance than ever to shape them. Demand is usually decentralised but it can respond to so many things beyond price signals. The problem with our economic view of the market is that we only try to capture market power in the form of price-setting and ability to substitute (even this is not so well considered despite the crazy mathematical gymnastics required).

Sustainability cannot depend on corporates championing causes and trying to come up with new products and services. Consumers need to and can respond by requesting to reuse their bottles, avoiding products with too much packaging, reducing gifting of everyday items with expensive packaging.

The easiest criteria to default towards is convenience and costs but we can also think in terms of alignment of values and cost to the future. If we are able to adapt our demand to these dimensions, we can co-create a future we want to be part of.