Sunny day will come

I chanced upon this brilliant letter penned by Stephen Fry to a fan named Crystal who wrote to him for help in a bout of depression and with no one else to turn to. It was kind of Stephen to have thought through it and replied, kindly and lovingly.

You might enjoy the letter as well as Stephen’s public reading of it in audio form nicely captured in this website stewarding all sorts of letters.

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.

Flinging ideas

I write for many different reasons and with different objectives. One of the recent struggles I’ve been having with writing is to be able to convey depth of analysis and value of those ideas and insights to my target audience. I’ve traditionally always pondered deep and hard about various matters but did not necessarily structure my ideas properly.

While my role as a consultant helped significantly in terms of creating structures for my analysis, I need to get better at putting together the pieces of analyses not in the order by which they are done but in a manner than gives a compelling story and call to action for the audience. To put it simply, this is actually a life skill to develop that everyone and anyone can benefit from having. It is more about storytelling and bringing out the story with various mediums and different ways.

It is also a reminder that my training as an artist during my high school days were not wasted. Those were the times when I had to not just deliver a piece of art work as an end result but to document and share that process. Documenting the process may not be enough to really give a clear view of how one arrives at the outcome of a particular art work. It takes quite a fair bit of storytelling. That means filling in gaps, building bridges across different moments and different intermediate ideas, even seeing these intermediate moments that one can use to make the bridges connect.

Ideas are great but if they’re not put together with a good story, flinging those ideas around haphazardly is not useful. The poise and elegance of those ideas emerge through the stories that we tell.

Choice as talent

I took some time on Christmas eve listening to the latest podcast episode of People I Mostly Admire and it was a lovely conversation between Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. Over the past few years I’ve really enjoyed the podcast on Freakonomics radio and it’s impressive the amount of quality educational content that has come out of it.

One of the interesting ideas introduced in this episode was raised by Dubner on how one’s choice could be one’s talent. It turns out to be something incredibly important, especially in the Asian context where there’s a highly competitive environment and one could be surrounded by lots of highly talented people. I have in fact talked about how talents cannot possibly be born, but rather, the market recognises some kind of value for it which encourages and incentivise effort that enhances it. For most of us, we could perhaps fare really well by recognising that our choices can propel us in life. Thinking through our strengths and then making the choices to push ourselves into roles where we can leverage our talents works for more people than we realise.

The approach isn’t so much about sticking it through than to define some kind of exploration phase, development phase and pivoting phases where one identifies sets of strength and abilities, then consider the roles, value-creation, and gradually make them work within the context or community they operate within. Each step involves choices. And continually making choices, even if they might be wrong, is the way to move forward, to improve and to keep on pushing towards a point worth going.