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.

Tyranny of rush

I had accepted a project with the understanding the timeline would be four weeks but then because of the client’s management schedule they decided they need the deliverables in two weeks. That was impossibly rushed and so we tried to keep the scope leaner and push ourselves to deliver. It wasn’t a good experience and I found the quality control difficult through the process even when I wanted to give my best. The result was huge amount of stress, pressure on everyone and potentially bottled resentments.

Urgency is a weird thing, it grabs you by the neck and forces you to do this and that without much thought at the risk of being choked. It causes great discomfort and as much as it is a good motivator of action, it doesn’t always allow actions to be directed thoughtfully. It is very much a tyrant and one who forces everyone to bow down to its will.

Often I found it hard to get out of this tyranny once it grabs me. Mentally, it captures even my time of rest and attempts to go through natural recovery. Physically, it prevents me from engaging in other activities which takes me away from its will but would soothe my body. I wonder how we can respect urgency less especially in societies that are already fast-paced and relentless.

Because if we don’t break its hold, it will eventually break us.

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.

Vertical integration

Industrial organisation was a very important discipline of microeconomics for a period of time especially when it came to supporting or counteracting the trust-busters. And then even as economists were just beginning to peer a little more into industries and understand the workings of firms and the strategic thinking behind them, finance came into the picture and all sorts of crazy connections between business metrics and financial metrics became the science of understanding business, evaluating and valuing them.

Strategic value of firms remain relevant in terms of thinking about merger financial models but these perspectives of looking at incremental value and the ‘main case’ of business-as-usual sometimes misses the point of an acquisition or integration. Aside from financial assessment, the whole strategic decision to undertake a merger or acquisition requires not a business-as-usual view but one that involves a vision of the future. Not forecasting the future but taking active steps to create it.

During a time of massive decentralisation and increasing marketisation, with lots of competitors, we can expect that value can be created by spinning off individual business units but when there’s shortage of resources, intermediate goods and services, vertical integration is powerful. And across the sectors, there are bound to be some that is plagued with bottlenecks and resource problems that only vertical integration can solve – which is to say the strategic value cannot be ignored. In fact, that is very often the way to compete in these markets.

When thinking about firms and business dynamics, are we just focused on the financial metrics or do we want to develop a view on the evolution of competition?

Business of recruitment

What is the value created from getting a match? How much value does a lifetime of marriage create? Or just 2 years of employment with a company? Or finding a house you can live in and raise a family for 20 years? Can the value created be attributed to the ones making the match or the parties matched making it work? Should the value of the match be based on the transaction value of the match?

I’m talking about buying a property, finding a life partner, a commercial or business partner, or a client whom you seal a deal with. Why is it that property agents, brokers, match-makers can extract the value they do? Is the value they extract really justified? There is no doubt certain combinations creates a lot of value and it should be shared amongst the parties involved – so the one who bring the parties together have a share. But how do we work out that share?

What is the pie available to share and how do we decide that the broker or match-maker deserves that share? This is especially the case I’m wondering for recruitment companies or agencies. Why can headhunters or recruiters get such big fees? Why can’t ordinary company HR do the job and find the right candidates? Why is the value they created based on the salaries given to the candidate? Are recruiters really helping to create the future we want to be in? If all of our salaries have a portion going to someone else, it seems more of some kind of parasitism to me.