Everybody and nobody, everywhere and nowhere

When you try to please everyone, very often, you end up doing and producing things that would make nobody happy. When you try to be everywhere, as I’ve seen some of my college coursemates who tried to attend multiple parties and networking sessions on the same evening, they end up nowhere.

Fearing that you miss out inevitably means you miss out on everything because you’re not even at where you’re physically present, which is just about the only joy you really can have.

We are not capable of pleasing everyone, nor designed to be everyone, or to be everywhere. Let us enjoy these things that constrain us rather than putting our emotional selves intensely at odds with them.

Time is an ingredient

We envision an end point and we want to be there already. We think of time as a barrier. The fact that parts of the steps take time annoys us. We rather it takes less time as though it is better when it is faster.

And then on the other hand, we acknowledge that timing is everything, when to strike a ball, jump to defend one, meet your potential spouse, ask for a promotion and all. Time is an input, not just the passage of time but point along time.

So let us reconcile our views on time. Where things are taking time, let us recognise it is an ingredient that enriches and enables the outcome we are trying to move towards.

Beyond the edge of your circle

There are areas of our ignorance we are aware of, but there are also vast spaces of our ignorance we are unaware of. This area is perhaps where we would exhibit the Dunning–Kruger effect. It is really important for us to know and understand our circle of competence, and to create boundaries and rules for ourselves to navigate within, and beyond this circle.

Think of it as comparing a person who lives in a town for many years and know his way around it by his senses and strong local knowledge, against an out-of-towner who had got hold of a map and managed to navigate successfully to a few places of interest. The guy who is new in town tend to overestimate his understanding of the place and might make overly risky decisions or commitments as a result (eg. showing friends around, or bragging loudly about his knowledge of the best local foods).

One of the critical skills that we need to acquire especially as we are new to a space, and trying to grow ourselves, is to be able to develop not only the self-awareness but the toolkit to navigate a new space when one runs the risk of getting into the Dunning-Kruger effect. In fact, even as kids, we should already be conscious about what is happening and how we can deal with such struggles.

Physical networking

Been at a few business functions lately; far more than I’ve been the past two years. It’s becoming a less surreal experience as the world eases into the state where covid-19 is endemic. Restrictions have eased and culturally, people are less wary about mask-wearing. The common flu and other cold bugs are back, ordinary immunity is probably improving.

I welcome the return of physical interactions as much as I discovered how many of them are actually easily substituted with online means. It is true that most of the online interactions lose out so much rich details and non-verbal dimensions of communication. In fact, especially for new connections and interactions, having that physical connection might be useful.

From just those physical functions, I discovered so many more companies I’ve never heard of. There are activities in the industry I wasn’t aware of from just reading materials online. A lot of chance encounters in the physical world are simply not possible online. In fact, I thought the online networking tools where you scroll through a list of conference attendees as poorly designed. Imagine in a real world when you try to go towards someone you want to speak to while the person is unaware and they are trying to talk to someone else. And all the responses are not exactly synchronous. Physical distances and actual visual observations in space performs a coordination function that technology has not been able to replace.

When you know something

When do you choose action when you’ve the knowledge? For example, when you know that your boss is saying something that is wrong to the client, when do you choose to correct him (or her)? What would you say?

What about when you know that you’re generating more trash by using the disposable takeaway container, or the cutlery? How about when you actually have a reusable container to use but wonder if it’s worth the effort to wash it? How do you balance your knowledge with your actions?

For far too long, we recognise that awareness and knowledge is the first step. But then getting from this first step to the point of action where it really makes an impact seem like a mystery. Psychologist probably had less luck figuring this out than marketers and social media platforms. The world’s most intractable problems are not to be solved through knowledge but action – how much would knowledge spur action, and how the mechanism works remains much of a mystery. But whatever we discover that we can do, why don’t we direct it towards helping to drive positive action towards the most challenging problems that mankind faces?

When you don’t know something

When you don’t know something, what is your response? It depends very much on whether you expected yourself to know it. As it turns out, when you don’t expect yourself to know it, you’d happily confess not knowing. But when you expect yourself to know it, then you’d often times get angry. It is usually at yourself, but then you’ll soon direct that at the questioner. How dare he or she question you on that?

Or, even if you confess you don’t know, you’d question the intention of the question. Or express surprise, thinking that should be something the questioner don’t ask, or would have to figure out themselves.

So when you’re new at work and you don’t know a tonne of stuff, do you lash at people when you’re embarrassed about things you don’t know and feel so vulnerable? Do you confess you don’t know and encourage others to help you?

How you respond when you don’t know something critically affects your ability to grow. The more you cover up what you don’t know and try to learn on the side, the more you have to be defensive, impatient, angry and resentful. And the more you’re able to cover up and pick things up on your own, the more isolated, alienated and resentful. So you have to choose how you want to grow when you don’t know – to be alone and proud of yourself; or to be surrounded by helpful souls and lifelong friends?

What do you do with slack?

I recently spoke to a financial advisor. Not an independent one, just from a firm who was not tied to a single insurer. The idea is getting the best deal, the most competitive deal. This is a marketing business, about serving clients, reaching people. That’s a shame because financial planning should be about brains and not how much you like someone.

But maybe I’m ahead of myself because if brains mean to be able to optimise very well, lowering premiums as a share of overall risk cover, or increasing cover while keeping to the same levels of premium, then it’s not always that good. We need slack in the system. People who might be idling at any one time you sample the workspace. You need to ensure there is breathing space, chattering space, ideation space.

We pay for slack all the time; do you use up all your mobile data and telephone call minutes every month? Do you boil only enough water for a single pot of tea each time? Slack is not a bad thing and over-optimisation creates risks. Perhaps the risk is small but there is always a trade off to be made.

Copy with understanding

My mind often gravitate back to my school days. I did spend almost 20.5 years in school or something kind of education institute so my schooling life still constituted more than half of my lifetime so far. I wonder if the memories get more faint as you progress along. While I think the greatest lessons I learnt were outside the classroom, it was still largely the school days that were so formative, it helped produce ideas and principles that underpin how I thought about things.

It could also be some kind of survivor bias because the values or ideas that I subsequently discarded after going through the test of time. One of the values that I acquired over time in school was to ‘copy with understanding’. Basically, when you copy something – especially homework for school – you want to do so to save effort but you should at least spend some effort understanding why an answer is the right answer. At least for the particular question. Think about how the answer connects with things you’ve been taught or learnt. Consider how the question was asked and what the answer might be if the question changed, just by a little.

I learnt this value both ways, when I was copying the homework of others and when I dished out my homework for others to copy. I am glad I was in one of the more ordinary classes in school, where I had classmates who didn’t do homework and needed copying; and most were happy to collaborate and “distribute the work”. There were better classes where students mostly kept to themselves and classmates were individualistic and competitive.

Sometimes you look back and by the sheer force of time, things you thought were bad, turned out to be great after all.

Things We Forget

Today
My Favourite

I’m not sure how many people have chanced upon Post-It Notes with inspirational illustrations anywhere in Singapore and picked them up; the author/illustrator/documenter of Things We Forget is certainly doing something amazing for his/her own life and that of the others. The Post-It illustrations and notes are indeed inspirational if not a reminder of how much wisdom we lose in the course of conducting our lives. The address of the blog is apt in that sense.

It is amazing how the project have been sustained for more than a year, and done by just a single person.

And since I’m at introducing and recommending other websites, there’s an interesting free online textbook project at BookBooN. It’s not exactly free so to speak, since the textbook is interspersed advertising much like a magazine is. But well, you don’t pay a cent to download.

The Scholarship Interview

I think interviews are rather artificial settings; they surround a poor candidate and then bombard him/her with questions. Yet one should remember that an interview is not interrogation and the whole point is for the entire thing to become a natural interaction rather than an artificial, forced conversation that tells no truths. This is a rather short piece on the contents of a scholarship interview, not an article that tells you what to wear, how you should shake your hand or smile at your interviewers.

Questions to Ask
Although you usually start out being asked questions, you should be preparing stuff you want to ask the interviewer beforehand so that you are not caught off guard when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for him/her. These questions should be genuine questions so don’t bother to ask if you already know the answer because your face would tell that while you’re listening to the reply.

There’s a couple of areas you might like to ask about; in particular Scholarship selection procedures, life of a scholar, and the work of the scholar in the organization. For selection process you might like to ask “How many rounds of interviews will you be put through?” or whether there is “any other sort of assessments (like test/essay to do)?” Some organizations would have a psychometric tests, others have workshops that are sessions to assess their candidates.

On life of a scholar, ask if there’s any internship or attachment for scholars? And how will they be related to the work scholars eventually do at the organization? Related to that, is the work a scholar is going to do upon graduation; ask “What sort of work do scholars do after graduation in the organization?”, check if there is job rotation, and “How long is each cycle?” as well as “What functions will scholars be exposed to throughout the career/bond period?”

Depending on how you’ve set the tone of the interview, you should preferably be able to ask some casual stuff like how long your interviewers have been with the organization. Ask about their work if you don’t know their positions yet and see how they like the organization or if they face any particular difficulty/challenge in their work in recent times. This would help make the interview a more natural conversation rather than one that is zero-ed in on ‘work’.

Questions they might ask
Now for the more important questions, the ones they will be asking you. There are very general ones like your aspirations, reasons for choice of your course, how they tie up with your interests, how you’re coping in school right now (or how have you coped with school in the past).You should also be expected to share your experiences in school with leadership activities, or team activities.

Some organizations like to pose scenario questions like ‘talk about a time when you had disagreements with a teammate’, ‘tell us a situation where you had to overcome a huge challenge’, ‘tell us your most difficult time in life so far’. Otherwise, the open-ended tough questions like “What have you done in life so far that tells you that you’ll be suitable for our organization?”, “Can you tell us why you deserve this scholarship?”

Prepare to explain your present commitments as well: “What are you doing now?”, “How do you spend your vacations?”, “What interest do you have besides your studies (and work)?” Knowing some current affairs would help especially when they are related to the organization that is offering the scholarship: “What do you think is a challenge facing our industry/organization?” “Do you think there’s anything about our organization that we should change or need to change?”, “What potential markets have we overlooked in the course of our expansion?”

Other Tips & Advice
Try to remember your responses to their questions and also their answers to your questions because it’ll serve you well to remain consistent throughout your rounds of interviews; you’ll realise that some questions comes to you over and over again posed by different interviewers because they never heard your reply to these questions, so it’s also important to maintain that consistency.

Remembering their responses to your questions shows that you’re paying attention and not contemplating what to ask next or how to respond while they are answering your question or explaining stuff to you. If possible, jot down their responses to your question somewhere right after your interview (perhaps type a note in your handphone or something)

Remember there is no right or wrong answers in an interview so never look as if you regretted something you just mentioned (if you really do, please correct yourself immediately on the spot) and in many sense, as long as you are sure what you’re saying, you’re giving the right answer.

Don’t appear self-important but show the interviewers what you are willing to do to serve them and what you’re not willing. When you’re given the tough questions, ask for time to think about it. You could say, “Wow, that’s a big question, give me a moment to organize my answer” or something like that. Try to think about the tough ones beforehand so that you’re more prepared to handle them. Don’t bet on them not coming out.

Don’t hesitate to clarify their questions; if you don’t know what they’re asking, ask them questions to clarify; sometimes the question they’re trying to pose is more close-ended than it seems.