Delays and promises

Ordered something and there was something wrong in the order? Delivery delayed? Put in a complaint and got a voucher code? What was the promise from the company when you first made an order? Was that promise broken?

Service promises have been escalating under the competitive pressure in the consumer markets. But these promises are increasingly costly to deliver consistently and cheaper to break.

Think about these platforms – they probably make about 10-20% margins so giving you a $5 voucher might cost them only $4 but you will end up spending $10 more potentially which allows them to cover another $2 and end up costing only $2 for the broken promise rather than having to invest in better systems or pay their service staff more to serve you better.

In long run, it does mean you pay higher prices, continue to get poor services and allow these business to remain in that bad cycle.

If we start taking promises by businesses more seriously, be less tolerant of poor delivery of service promises, we might just be able to create a better culture for business and for our future generations.

Migration of site

After having domain and plan on for 3 years, I’ve finally decided to uproot my site and migrate it to a self-hosted system. Existing subscribers might realise you are not getting email notifications. You can go back to your WordPress Reader settings to enable it.

With self-hosting, I’m going to be able to run a lot more things on my website itself including some of my digital product e-commerce as well as my mailing list. I might start managing it out of my own system very soon. So stay tuned while I try to figure all that out.

The backlog of entries should be coming back soon – apologies for all the hiccups during the migration process.

Good professional versus good employee

Sometimes I wonder if being a good professional can be different from being a good employee. After all, what is being a good employee when you’re over-delivering or serving your customers better than your employer expects? Is that “stealing” from your company? How about when you are over-worked by trying to be a good employee – does that set a bad example as a professional?

There seem to be some tension between doing good work and being a good employee. And it has to do perhaps with the actual business culture and character of the firm that you’re in. Or it comes through from the self-interested capitalist identity of what a firm stands for. It is strange though, that the firms that would persist tend to be the ones who have been able to uphold their values and commit to them.

So all the short run success factors and metrics turn out to be pretty poor indicator of long-run success. Yet people feel like they have no choice but to stick to these short term metrics because people can’t patiently wait for results or their fruits.

Story of methane

I thought of writing about methane. It is a curious molecule consisting of a single carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms around it which pretty strong bonds with the carbon atom. The entire molecule is relatively small and exists in gaseous form at room temperatures. It is naturally occurring and comes out of natural processes that involves anaerobic bacteria actions. It is a fuel that can be combusted to produce carbon dioxide and water vapour.

It also happens to be a greenhouse gas. Each methane molecule is thought to have 25 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Natural gas is largely made up of it; hence it is a greenhouse gas by itself though combusting it will also produce carbon dioxide which itself is a greenhouse gas though with lower potential.

The focus on carbon emissions is a result of the recognition that we have spewed so much of this particular greenhouse into the atmosphere that it is having extreme effects on the global climate due to the warming potential. The world needs to move towards low-carbon and that means having activities that are emitting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In general, fossil fuel based carbon holds the largest responsibility in anthropogenic carbon emissions.

Interestingly, you could produce methane through anaerobic biological process. And cows are known to release methane into the air because of the bacteria actions in their stomach. The dairy industry therefore becomes a rather larger emitter of greenhouse gas for this reason. That is where stuff gets a bit fuzzy when you’re counting global warming potential, anthropogenic emissions and so on.

So biomethane is the methane produced through anaerobic digestion of organic matter can be captured and used as a fuel. When combusted it likewise produces carbon dioxide and water. But this carbon dioxide belongs to the short carbon cycle due to its organic/plant heritage and hence is excused from what typical constitutes carbon emissions. Yet when biomethane leaks or is released into the air, the methane’s global warming potential is counted and the carbon-equivalent emissions actually forms part of the emissions from processes whenever biomethane is used. This ‘short cycle’ argument doesn’t seem to apply.

This may not seem very consistent and can potentially create a lot of confusion around the truly ‘green’ identity of biomethane. One could see how biomethane, or renewable natural gas as it is known in the US, is going to suffer from being conflated with fossil fuel natural gas.

New site for Mondo Gondo

For those who know, I started a podcast late last year named Mondo Gondo and finished a single season with six episodes and have not revived the podcast since. This was largely because I got busy with my work that involved a bit of relocation early this year. I still intend to keep Mondo Gondo going and have recently invested into centralising all my web content into my self-hosted platform.

Therefore, Mondo Gondo’s website had a facelift. It is much simpler now with less heavy graphics. It continues to hold only the show notes for the podcast and the intention is to eventually get back to creating another season, featuring rants, thoughts and ideas around sustainability, incentives and how we could make the world a better place.

I have some ideas around more in-depth topics on energy, discussing whether hydrogen should be used in residential applications, considering if AirBnB can potentially make tourism and hospitality more eco-friendly, thinking about how we need new models of thinking about infrastructure in order to drive more sustainable development, reconsidering the role of urban centers and more.

It might still be a while more but watch the new site for season 2.

Cheap renewables and surging bills

Even as we see the levellised cost of solar coming down, and increasing penetration of renewable energy, the electricity coming to us in our grids are increasing in prices. At least it seems to be so in Australia. There’s a lot of cost associated with the transmission and distribution infrastructure that needs to be recovered – partly because the growth of intermittent renewables mean that the grid infrastructure will have to be expanded.

But it is not just that; there’s also more padding required in the margins of electricity retailers because the intermittency results in even more volatile electricity prices in the wholesale market. That means that if the retailers are still providing fixed price tariffs and long contracts to customers, they will have to manage their risks by putting higher profit margins into the retail packages.

There is a huge price to pay by the society to eventually enjoy more renewable energy. If we don’t adapt to the intermittency through more adding more flexible generation leveraging on demand response and integrating EV recharging networks into the network operation optimisation (ie. Vehicle-to-Grid systems), we can only expect higher bills. We had better accelerate the transition or we’re soon losing the patience of energy consumers.

Specific thinking

I wrote about the holistic thinking that was characterised by western researchers of Asian’s approach towards persuasion as contextualised by Erin Meyer. I had the chance to reflect a bit more on specific thinking as I begin to observe it more and more at work in western workplaces and cultures. There are no right or wrong and the good and bads can only be appreciated from particular perspectives or lenses.

Specific thinking parcels out bits of work and various tasks, having more of a tendency to operate in silos even when coordination is excellent. This can make things difficult to change and also individuals becomes less sensitive to the overall workings of the system they are part of. It can be good in that it reduces the anxiety around being unable to bring about the intended collective outcome because one can just focus on delivering one’s part and leaving the rest to others. Being specific in thinking also encourages focus on the smaller specific outcome that is within one’s control.

However, specific thinking may mean that there’s less ability to navigate situations that are far more complex where clarity does not come instantly. For example, during a business development meeting, one may not yet figure out if there’s chance of collaborating or working with the prospect when we are still in discovery phase. Specific thinking can lead one to try and force a result and be counterproductive, or to give up too early.

Specific thinking may also render us unable to genuinely celebrate collective wins as one becomes overly focused on the parts they are ascribing to themselves to the extent they ignore other parts of the system they are part of.

Just some observations and muses on my part.

Training programmes

During my time in public service, I’ve attended lots of different training programmes. There were a lot of training on writing minutes, professional reports and trip reports, as well as some on professional etiquette in a wide range of situations including during presentations, business meetings, business meals, cross-cultural interactions and so on. I won’t say all of them stuck with me and in fact, the elements that stuck were the ones I found useful on the spot and decided to make it a point to adopt. If they didn’t stand out when I first received them, the chance of them being useful to me was really low.

So the notes I took during those courses were at best museum artifacts of professional training I had received. The greater learning was done actually observing how my seniors, my managers and bosses behaved in those various settings, what they deemed important and asked questions about in reports and minutes. Those standards and disciplines were cultivated in that manner rather than through a couple of hours of training. In fact even days of training won’t cut it.

So is training a good way to enforce standards and uplift them across the people in an organisation? I think it can be if it aligns well with what is being practised and expected in an organisation to such a level that the senior management is practising them already. As David Maister rightly pointed out, training doesn’t work if it’s designed to change the juniors or frontline staff while the senior management or middle management is allowed to be set in their old ways.

Facts or opinions

I saw a pretty brilliant video of a mother trying to teach her child about facts, opinions and mindsets in response to social environments. It’s in Chinese so I paraphrase in English the approach she has taken.

She held up an apple as her daughter eats a cob of corn and asked, “This is an apple. Is that statement a fact or an opinion?”

“A fact” said the daughter.

“Yes. That is a fact. Now Mummy says that the apple in my hand is tastier than the cob of corn you’re eating. Is that statement a fact or an opinion?”

“An opinion” said the daughter, still happily chewing on her corn.

“So when the kids at the playground says that they don’t like you and don’t want to play with you. What do you think that is? It is an opinion.” the mother continues.

The mother than took out a mug with black coffee in it. She said, “Look, daddy loves to drink this black, bitter drink but mummy doesn’t like it. Whether someone loves it or don’t like it, the coffee is the same, it has the same color, smell and look. People liking or not liking it says more about themselves than the coffee.”

She went on to say, “So when those kids at the playground say they don’t like you, it has nothing to do with you being you. You are still the same.”

The wisdom extended from the simple analogies were really brilliant and the manner she brought it forth and contextualised it for the daughter really made for a great model in teaching these ideas.

What is value?

One of the key fundamental steps to take in order to move towards a low-carbon future is to re-assess our notion of value, economic value. Over the past decades, economic value had been increasingly important as more and more things in the world could be bought with money. This is what Michael Sandel calls the making of a market society.

This is worrying because the value of anything and everything used to be so much more. There’s richness in being able to evaluate and appraise value of various things in different ways. And this is why dollar values can never encapsulate all of that. In fact, there is no such thing as a market for single goods and services. The notion of a market price is just about as real as the notion of an average. The same good can be simultaneously sold at low and high prices depending on where, when, and to whom it was sold.

By defining this abstract concept of market values, we are trying to make a subjective valuation something objective. We are trying to abstract from specific context and circumstances and forcefully say that surely there is something about the good or service itself that has nothing to do with all that. And if we can gather the averages or have a large number of observations, we can use that statistic as something objective. In reality, the statistic is just a statistic – is it a market value? That’s up to whoever is reading the statement.

Beyond the market, the real way to appraise value continues to be subjective and that is okay because we all should be selecting the dimensions we all care about and build our decisions based on that.