Mandate to learn

We mostly grow up in the national education system; and through even our work life when people talk about life long learning, they talk about certifications and all. But the bulk of learning took place first before school, when we were babies observing the world, and actually at work. It would be such a huge waste to forget all that.

So why is it that we feel we learn only when in structured environments? Why have we not recognised the radical amount of learning and growth that takes place at personal and private level? I’d argue that we have over-relied on testing and certification, gradually lost our ability to properly assess people.

This provides an opportunity in the talent market to companies who can leverage strongly on underappreciated talents and partner them to generate value. It starts from losing all our requirements in terms of experience, qualifications and focusing on skills brought to the table, both tangible and intangible. And sharpening our abilities to sharpen those intangible ones.

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?

Recruitment emails

I’ve been receiving emails from recruiters. The sustainability and energy industry is in need of talents. Those who are keen to enter the industry and need some directions on how might like to search some of my past blog posts, as well as my coaching hub materials.

Meanwhile, one of the recruiters who reached out to me with a really poor linkedin mail to solicit interest in a job role which inspired this post. For recruiters to be do a good job as they reach out to targeted prospects, they should be including the following details into their initial messages rather than to just connect broadly:

  • Prospective employer background (industry, products/services, target clientele served)
  • Exact name of role or at least describe the role to indicate if this is a leadership or individual contributor role
  • Ballpark range of remuneration (even a broad range like 80-150k gives a clear sense whether a prospect should invest time in the conversation)
  • How a targeted prospect’s profile may potentially work for the prospective client

I thought the 4 points above were pretty basic and part of the work that has to be done by a recruiter. For junior entry roles, perhaps it is not really necessary to do all that because the prospect who is probably an entrant into the industry may not have much history to align with the job role. If the expectation for the job role is to identify mid-career candidates however, then the recruiter must be expected to take on all that work to initiate conversations.

Going purpose

Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia has just announced that he is giving the full stakes in the company to trust entities that are committed to addressing climate change challenges. The company is valued at about $3 billion according to New York Times but I imagine the value that it is going to have in terms of making a difference for the world will be way more than that.

Instead of “going public,” you could say we’re “going purpose.” Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.

Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia has always been leading the way in terms of its focus on sustainability and profit for a purpose. To a large extent we need to recognise that Earth and our existence on it is not just the source of all wealth but also all the income stream and values we can generate. It thus serve also as the greatest possible investment we can make in our lifetimes for both our own and our descendants’ future.

The continued fragmentation of the world, driven both by political interests, the self-interest driven nature of capitalism, and the sheer inability to coordinate climate action beyond lip service is frustrating. But Patagonia gives us a clear example of how meaningful drastic actions can be taken that flips the switch on our incentives.

And aligns us to the better angels of our nature.

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.

Cashless society

In the recent visit to London I was quite surprised by the extent the city has gone cashless. Many restaurants and outlets were no longer accepting cash and donation boxes in public charities have been replaced by just a single gadget that says tap to donate (usually a fixed sum for each tap).

Even buskers along some tube are putting up similar gadgets for cashless giving which I thought was interesting. But it is also clear that the buskers who have no access to the technology, the homeless people would soon be facing even less giving from the public.

There are some avenues to deal with this. For the homeless, quite often they should not be getting cash but more direct help such as hot food and shelter. Street begging for cash as a waning solution should be kept up with efforts both by organisations and the public to help in kind. Cash was a shortcut that may or may not help (they may buy cigarettes or alcohol instead of food); so might as well leverage on the trend for good.

For buskers, the payment gadgets becomes a startup cost together with the operating cost of the financial tech players collecting a cut on stream of payments. My suggestion is for fintech firms to use this opportunity to first propagate their gadgets and services – offer free device upfront for the small fees on payments collected. They might want to target buskers in more crowded, central location of course.

Seasons & cycles

Something I observed quite a while ago but never quite written about. Nature operates in cycles; not just in terms of weather patterns and seasons but lifecycles, cycles of day and night and so on. For us as humans, we tend to try and hack these cycles and hence we have shops that open 24h, try to have plants that can bear fruits every season and so on. Some of these work out with success, others not so much.

In particular the cost we afflict on humans emotionally and mentally is huge. As we are made to work with the same intensity through the year, when we don’t have seasons to help us modulate that intensity in Singapore, the strain accumulate each year.

While air-conditioning may have allowed us to control our environment a bit more, the lack of seasonality needs to be properly dealt with emotionally and psychologically.

Education should be the village’s job

It’s been almost two years since I wrote about my dream for Singapore’s education system. Over the past two years, with Covid-19 and all, the system has move towards a worse state for many teachers, with students not any much better-off. With the pandemic as a crisis or shock to the system, I had hope that more changes would come forth – but it seemed to me the most major one was just bringing forward the plans to deploy more education through technologies by getting every student to have a ‘personal learning device’ from Secondary 1.

There is a sense that families by themselves are finding it hard to cope with kids studying or learning at home. The parents are definitely unable to work from home under those conditions. At the same time, I think they have for far too long, outsourced the responsibility of coaching their kids, occupying them and thinking about their development to teachers, tuition and enrichment classes, or various different computer devices. They are out of touch as parents to take on holistic responsibility of the development of their children the way parents of the past did.

Sure, we got more efficiency and productivity out of it; probably most parents are able to make a better living and raise the standard of living for their children; but at what cost? If there’s one thing to learn about education and raising a child through the pandemic, it is that the society must jointly undertake the effort together. Education in the mainstream system, tuition, enrichment and all, must not be transactional or seen as such.

We need more support and aspiration towards an education system where everyone feels more vested: teachers, parents, students and young people who needs to work with the future leaders. Together, we can build a different system that will be able to serve our future and our people better.

Atmospheric cancer

Seth Godin is a fan of finding the right words to make people think and feel certain way. It is inevitable, he is a marketer and brand manager at heart. But he teaches, that it is important to do that in a way to serve the people. This is an important lesson for corporates, or political campaigning machinery of the world today because they have powerful marketing tools, and the dollars to sway public opinions one way or another. Well perhaps more powerful within the US than elsewhere in the world but still, money does talk. What message it needs to send, is decided by each one of us.

In 1912, we are not only aware of the greenhouse effect already; but recognising the impact of human activities on it. We tend to call it global warming because greenhouse effect is generally warming by nature. And we described it in simple but non-alarmist ways:

The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.

14 August 1912 edition of the Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette

The writers in 1912 would not have realised that we would later develop cleaner ways of burning coal, and also cleaner fuels; but he probably wouldn’t be able to imagine the scale of this burning in 1912 would be multiplied so many times that the simple statement he made in 1912 would have seemed alarmist by today’s standards.

Today, it’s not just having the blanket covering us and making us warmer. Climate scientist have discovered that there are feedback loops that worsen the situation because the blanket is causing ice caps to melt, reducing the reflection of radiation and increasing the heat. We are fostering a tumour, as it were – a malignant, cancerous. Getting people to accept it can be difficult, just as a cancer patient in denial, or the family that is trying to refuse treatment for the patient because they cannot accept the diagnosis.

And so we get second opinions, third opinions; and people keep looking for opinions until there is one that agrees with them. One that has a less severe diagnosis, or recommends milder treatment methods. Many government have given up on trying to arrive at a consensus; and others have decided to take on leadership roles in this. The IPCC report this year have continue the same theme of us making things worse and putting ourselves on a bad scenario. Things will be worse if we continue. This sort of salami warning approach does not reflect the manner climate catastrophes descend on us. And it really does not work.

When it comes, it’ll be fast and furious, and that is why we need to take more leadership and ownership to move forward.

Making up lost time

How do you lose time? Time passes at the same rate regardless. Lost time is a myth; and what you have lost is not time but progress that you had expected to make but didn’t. Everything happened at the level of your expectation. So rushing doesn’t help; there is no such thing as making up for lost time, only trying to shift reality to match up to your expectations, or changing your expectations altogether.

That tension of trying to catch up, and heart-wrenching feeling as you approach a deadline is created because we are unwilling to update our expectation. We’ve been conditioned so much that the only way we alter that expectation is to have none of it anymore – to give up. Before any bad things happen to require us to change our expectations, that may be true. But once something had happened, it is just an adjustment, not giving up.

When we get retained in school, when we had to go on a detour through education path because our results didn’t make the mark. Or we had to serve the nation in the military, instead of going straight to college. These are not lost time. They are times when one learns to adjust our expectations. These are times when we become aware of what the society is trying to impose on us and we let that go. And you learn to live a life that is truly your own.