Need for speed

Speed can be deceiving. The quick-witted guy, responsive customer service officer, next-day delivery all are servicing our psychology rather than our actual needs.

When crisis strikes, we want to be in action, do something rather than nothing so the one who makes decision fast stands out as a “leader” regardless of the quality of decision. Because it’s the best the person may be able to do at that time – and it was seen as better than doing nothing.

The responsive customer service officer gives the impression your needs are being attended to, and gives assurance of attention to you though what you need is their attention on the problem.

Next day delivery gives you the sense you’ll be getting it soon and the item you need is making its way towards you upon your check out. It gives you a sense it’s not so different from buying it at the store, even if you actually really only need it much later.

Speed is a proxy to a sense of having a solution but it is not the solution itself. So be really careful when you celebrate speed or hunger for it. Because by itself, it means nothing.

Knowledge & Denials

“Ignorance is bliss” manifest itself in different ways in life. And very often ignorance is thought of as bliss when new knowledge does not conform with one’s world view. When for example, we have something on our bodies we do not want to get examined for fear we are suffering from some severe condition or the costs of addressing it. Or when companies resist more thorough internal audits for fear of what it might uncover.

Change often gets blocked because the changes will throw up new knowledge that challenges the prevailing paradigm. You might only discover you’ve been calculating a parameter wrongly when you use a different way to do it (which theoretically is supposed to produce the same result).

Are you learning new things everyday? Do you only learn things that fits your current paradigm? Are you allowing new knowledge to update your paradigm? How do you respond to information or knowledge challenging your world view? Is ignorance bliss?

Purpose at work

We might think if we are an accountant, then we need to be the best and our purpose at work is to deliver accurate numbers. If we make mistakes and all, that would be to fail our purpose. Or that all the organisation KPIs would be our purpose and if we get a poor performance grade, we fail our purpose.

Yet your purpose might be to support your colleagues who are in need of help or guidance. Your purpose can be to be an important friend of the janitor who feels outcast. Or to improve the culture of the workplace by the grace and manner you deal with people. Work does not just involve results and KPI; you may never get to work for an organisation or department whose business/purpose aligns with your values. And surely, you will need to look beyond for what is meaningful to you.

During this period of the pandemic, when everyone is working from home, you might see your true purpose at work taken away from you. Maybe you used to refill the snacks in the pantry or bring that box of doughnuts; maybe you used to have coffee with the janitor each day before you start work. And now all these are gone. We can feel empty and not know why – but if you cultivate that awareness of this purpose you are serving, you can take steps in the current context to continue fulfilling it.

And may you find that sense of purpose filling you again.

What kind of impact?

At Enea Consulting, we sometimes look at impact reporting, and also frameworks that help to govern business decisions to consider the impact it is making (positive and negative). And we have done this since more than 14 years ago when we were founded.

Our relationship with measuring impact goes beyond regulatory compliance. It goes beyond ticking checkboxes and telling people you’ve fulfilled your part for the world. We enjoy working with companies who care about what they are doing to the world and how their business is seeking to create the future.

In fact, we devote part of our consulting resources annually to the Energy Access Booster programme in collaboration with parties like Total Energies and SEforALL, in order that we are making impact ourselves. We’ve been doing that to expand Energy Access in Africa and increasingly in Asia as well.

But we do need more talents to support our work. We are hiring across many of our office locations. Even if where you’re hoping to work doesn’t have a vacancy, you can always check back some time or just submit an application in the portal anyways!

Industry of Sustainability

When I was in government, there was a growing momentum in the recognition of the importance of sustainability as an economic sector. Partly because we see that the world is trying to rise up to the challenge of climate change, partly because we do care about the environment and our decarbonisation commitments; but more significantly, we also think about the good jobs that the sector would create for people.

When we take the lens of the economy, we may not be too strict about greenwashing versus a genuine push towards sustainability. We want to create more jobs, we want to replace those accountant, audit, IT roles that might have been lost to other markets. At a high level, we think perhaps that the skillsets will match – at maybe just with minimal training it will do. And of course there are lots of young people passionate about sustainability and the environment.

But I think we should care that we are creating good jobs that supports the global agenda to mitigate climate change. And we probably need to get into the thick of what all these jobs means and what are the outcomes we are moving towards. If we continue to go by the metrics of GDP growth and economic opportunity it’s hard for us to get out of the traditional sectors. Of course you can take a view that eventually sustainability will take an important share of GDP; of course you can think of growth potential but these are in the dangerous territory of crystal-ball gazing.

Better to consider new metrics. Maybe we can look at the decarbonising potential of each job or role. Perhaps we can look at how specific work deals with the set of problems we are experiencing globally across climate, environment, culture and biodiversity.

Just as the best companies may be focused on profits for the sake of driving excellence in service, product innovation and thought-leadership, as an economy we need to put the driver in the right place. Money or economic prowess is the cart that carries us; but our ideals, purpose and principles is the horse that pulls our cart.

Proactive and initiative

We love to help the teachers carry books to the staff room. We ask our Mum whether they need help with something. We learn to hold the door for the one behind, raise our hands to ask questions, talk to someone who seems to be alone, etc. The ability to do all that and make someone’s day is benefit enough for us to get started.

But at some point in our lives we think others’ are taking too much from us, or that we don’t get repaid for what we do, or we are even abused for what we did. Maybe because we did it badly, maybe we weren’t chosen to do it, or people laughed at us. We lost the joy that came from within when we took initiative, we found that emotional labour bothersome.

We rather be doing things for ourselves and staying out of the entanglement with others. Yet there is tension, because we are social creatures. Because we actually thrive when we are proactive and when we take initiative. So to thrive we really have to find back that joy and seek the initiative.

Answerable Questions

I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.

Often attributed to Richard P. Feynman

I’m not too sure if Richard Feynman ever said that. It is probably in his character but I can’t be sure he said those exact words. Yet it rings true that I think that’s something of a start to work with.

In school teachers must set questions that can be answered and in order to be fair, they must have already had the answer in mind. And not everything can be the answer- you have to predefine what constitutes and answer and then accept what is right according to that. In other words, test and exam questions are optimised for predictability and order, not creativity and chaos.

What kind of world are we hoping to prepare our next generation for?

Human Nature

Economist gets a lot of envy from psychologist from being able to publish papers about mundane psychological topics. Like creating a mathematical model of the failure to delay gratification and accounting for the costs of that. Behavioural economics seem a bit more like trying to create mathematical descriptions for common sense.

Of course this is possible because economics have made assumptions about humans that were wholly our of touch with reality for models that worked. At least for many decades, they kind of worked without too much fuss.

But we’ve built worlds that we are not really psychologically evolved to deal with and as a result, the deviation from the assumptions of the rational man became more and more significant. For one, the complexity of the computations needed in the modern world to make the best decision have really made it harder to assume rationality. Making decision across 3 choices is different from making it across “n” choices.

There are dimensions of scarcity in the real world economics failed to capture: computation/calculation, environmental limits and parameters, human’s limits on our mental wellness. Let’s look at economics with more humanity, shall we?

The Sine wave

I learnt that trigonometry wasn’t just about angles and they involved graphs whilst in High school (which is probably called Middle School in US and most other places). And that was when I came in touch with the sine wave.

It’s beautiful; lined up on the rightly scaled axis, it resembles a series of semi-circles alternating directions. It runs up a peak and then down the trough. In-between, the gradient is changing at a different rate continuously and forms inflexion points where the function strikes zero, which is when it changes concavity. Interestingly then, the gradient of the Sine function is given by the Cosine function.

There are cycles all around us; small ones and big ones. Cycles are representation of learning and unlearning, or learning and forgeting. They are also a stark reminder of the falseness of “This time it’s different”. Yet they also present opportunities. If you missed the peak or trough, get on the next one. Train yourself to watch the cycle and catch the indicators.

Thanks to cycles, we can bounce back, we can be sure anything and everything probably won’t last, but also that “only once” is probably not going to be true.

What are you protecting?

One of the most useful questions I discovered from my past work in public service is, “What is this for?”. It is important to be clear with out intentions and objectives before setting out to do something. If it’s for something we all can agree on achieving, it’s easier to get buy-in. It also helps remind us when we are trying to achieve too many competing objectives at the same time – how we might be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Now I’d like to introduce a slightly different question and more for ourselves than for others. What are you protecting? Yes, when you determine to do one thing or another, what does it protect? Maybe it’s to clock some quick wins to cover your mistakes last week. Protecting your reputation. Perhaps it’s to keep your job by “justifying” your paycheck. Protecting your job.

You realise this is the “selfish” version of “What is it for?” And it is important for us to be aware of the selfish motives we have in proposing or doing something. That helps to recognise internal tensions and prepare us to resolve disappointments. Being honest begins with yourself.