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.


“Bean counter” is an expression in English language referring to “a person, typically an accountant or bureaucrat, perceived as placing excessive emphasis on controlling expenditure and budgets”. There are people who are mission oriented by focusing on the vision of a future but there are also bean-counters who are obsessed with measuring along certain identified metrics without recognising whether the metrics make sense or not. And that is the problem with our relationships with KPIs.

Let’s start from school. Today, we have more students than ever who are going through education system just to get a grade – not out of curiosity or a zeal to learn, but full of anxiety about a devastated future due to missing the grade. Why is the grade even an indicator and what is it indicating? Have we taught our students what the grade really mean? What an award or a prize really do to them? Thinking meta is important – and I’m definitely not referring to the metaverse.

Then businesses. There’s more than financial disclosure and accounting these days; there’s a lot around climate and impact related disclosures. At Enea, we help some of our clients navigate the requirements but more importantly, we advise our clients from first principles how to think about their business’ impact and interaction with the environment so as to report meaningfully to their stakeholders. Yet there are always consultants or companies who are focused on just taking a KPI which is popular out there and then using it – even cherry-picking the ones that look more favourable without a clear sense of what those measures are actually for.

Finally, there is the government, focused on giving a good report card to their political masters to show constituencies. There is still the traditional obsession with GDP and the growth figures, targeting job creation and so on. In fact, the term ‘statistics’, have more to do with the state than to do with the concept of numbers. Policies will really need to better articulate why metrics adopted are a good representation of the policy objectives and that results are not just reported when they look good, or for metrics to be chosen only after results are in. Being mission-focused is also more important than just sticking to a set of metrics. Because Goodhart’s law still applies.

Are you recognising the bean-counters amongst you? Those who are overly obsessed with the numbers without really appreciating what they mean? It’s probably worth focusing first on the parents who are obsessed with their kids getting an A.

Honest Tea

I was listening to the first part of Barry Nalebuff’s interview on ‘People I mostly admire’ and it turned out to be pretty cool and insightful, particularly that very rapid sharing of his thinking that developed Honest Tea. It reflect how important simple ideas were when taken seriously and scaled up. And it also helped to demonstrate how an economics (and strategy) professor use his intellect to take calculated risks in entrepreneurship.

He was probably oversimplifying but considering Honest Tea as a product that basically makes use of three simple economic principles:

  • Diminishing marginal returns/benefits (on sugar or the taste of sweetness)
  • Principle of maximising the value of the content of a fixed cost container in order to maximise the overall value of the bottled drink
  • Navigating trade-offs on the marginal utility curve: Convincing people to trade off the lower sugar for the fact that the drink had lower calories

That is pretty brilliant as a way of thinking about a market and a product; those ideas are simple and yet profound precisely because the world had not evolved solutions around a combination of these ideas prior to Honest Tea.

I highly recommend you give the podcast a listen.

What a coach does

For new readers, you might not have realised that I have a coaching practice. I call it career coaching but it could well have been performance coaching, or work coaching, or whatever you might call it. I’m now working with an coach to help me with English for business but I’m essentially being coached to align my messages more with my communication objectives. At the heart of coaching, is the ability to help our clients identify and crystalize their objectives, and then focus their attention and resources on meeting them.

Meeting our objectives often require us to take a series of actions or adopt certain behaviours to maximize the chances of the outcomes we desire. We may not be too sure ourselves and so we hedge our bets; we prefer not trying than to try and fail. Coaches help to reduce incidence of that thought by helping us reframe and focus our attention on the work that needs to be done rather than fretting over the outcome that we cannot control directly.

So it is on my career coaching practice; I work with you to identify and crystallise your career objectives and then work out what actions or behaviours are necessary to get there. We then try to focus on developing those behaviours and undertake the actions that maximises the chances of you getting there. Even when you might think it could be a waste of time, or if you’re afraid the investment of effort would not pay off. It’s not about the immediate returns on your investment, but recognising that investment in yourself is a case where the returns come through from yourself rather than from the job you find. In fact the job or role you eventually take on, is merely a means by which you contribute your value to this world.

Incomes, and savings

When I was studying in London and the States, I always thought that working and earning an income in those countries beat being in Singapore and earning the low salaries that starting graduates were given. In fact, I was paid so much in my gross salary during my internship at a bank in London that on market exchange rate basis, I only got back to that same level of monthly salary in the 5th year of my scholarship bond. Even if my salary was stagnant for 6 years at the bank and I was paid like an intern, I would have earned more.

But would I have been able to earn more in terms of disposable income? How about disposable income minus the critical expenditures like rent and the premium for food that I didn’t have to pay in Singapore? How about the high level of taxes in those countries? Now, people may say that after doing the Math, they realised that as a percentage of the total income, the cost works out to be roughly the same, and so you save the same percentage of your income.

Yet that is not exactly the same. The same percentage of a higher income at market exchange rates implies that you do have a higher amount of absolute savings. And this is where it starts to matter because capital markets are largely global and the pricing is consistent across the world. This means that if you’re able to amass a higher absolute amount of savings at market exchange, you have greater purchasing power for public securities and other financial products. The advantage of being able to enjoy lower costs of living does not outstrip the disadvantage of a lower absolute savings.