Looking forward to 2009

I just learned a few days ago that I’ll be taking on significantly more of a leadership position at work.  That led me to think about some advice by Marshall Goldsmith that I read last year, about how to disagree with people one leads.  I thought that was very useful, especially the suggestion to execute components of ideas where possible, even if one does not agree with the ideas on the whole.

I subscribe to Marshall Goldsmith’s RSS feed, and I think he offers practical, considered advice from multiple perspectives.

P/S.  I was also reminded of another of his posts, on the best leadership advice he ever received.  He was doing his PhD – “deeply impressed by [his] own intelligence”, he put it – and one day his advisor Fred Case pulled him up for some negative feedback Case had been receiving about Goldsmith, who had been “angry, negative and judgmental”.  Case advised Goldsmith: You have two options – Option one, continue your behaviour and be fired and never contribute the way you could or option two, “[k]eep trying to make a constructive difference, but do it in a way that is positive for you and the people around you”.  What Goldsmith got out of that was not just that he should be positive, but that the important thing was not to point out what is going wrong and what should be done, but to get the right thing done, to effect the positive change.

PP/S.  And that little anecdote reminded me of Randy Pausch’s last lecture, and how, about 58:50 into the video, he related how his “Dutch uncle”/mentor told him: “Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you are going to be able to accomplish in life.”  (Pausch then continued: “What a hell of a good way to word ‘You’re being a jerk’.”)

Work In Progress terminated

Came across this lyrical symptom of cost cutting, employee trimming and general corporate blood-letting: The writer of Work In Progress, a blog at TIME.com, has voluntarily left the organisation “after [her] managing editor… announced an open invitation for buyout volunteers”.  Maybe because of my work, I found that I could very much identify with her buyout-related tribulations – finding out from HR what the package would be, then realising her union had that information and she therefore did not need to tip her hand off to HR, negotiating with her boss about said package.  Two streams of questions struck me, almost simultaneously: Stream 1 – So many do not have the fortune of being in a position to volunteer for a buyout (both in terms of the company and her financial situation allowing her to).  Stream 2 – Why did TIME invite its people to volunteer for buyouts?  How would TIME judge the success of this exercise, whatever the reason?  Was everyone invited to do this, or just a section of its staff?  If the latter, how were they chosen?  Did TIME also invite them to volunteer to go on unpaid leave or some ‘reduced hours, reduced pay’ scheme?  Stream 2.1 – Are many other hard-copy magazines doing this?  (I would expect that maybe online-only magazines would not be able to save as much doing this and so aren’t.)  And are many other newspapers doing this?  And press agencies?

Thoughts would be very welcome :)

Learnt a couple of things today

So what happened was this: I went to my boss to pitch an idea.  The idea was basically to work with a job portal to publicise something.  This was something my colleague – who is now the proud mother of a baby girl widely acclaimed as the ultimate in cute – was taking care of and had spoken about in front of my boss.

Surprise 1: My boss was hearing about the details of the idea for the first time. Lesson: I think checking with my colleague about how deeply my boss knew about the idea would have helped me prepare to pitch it better.  As it was, I just assumed she knew at least a bit about it and did not prepare as complete a brief as I could have.

Surprise 2: My boss thought it was weird to publicise something on a job portal, though she was open to the idea.  As this was something that we wanted job-seekers to see, my colleague and I had thought that advertising on a job portal would be a great way to reach our target audience.  Lesson: The decision-maker’s experiences matter.  My boss is not a user of job portals or similar web sites, and so was understandably not immediately enamoured with the idea of publicising something on one.

Maybe the final lesson is just that the bear needs to prepare more thoroughly…

On a fun few days of hard work

Naturally, I want to gloss over it with some well-chosen words and suitable platitudes, but I think journaling – as this blog is meant for – should be more honest than that.  So yes, in the last week, during which work involved the organising and management of an event, I found that I am still far from being someone reliable and good to work with.

Two items stick in my mind.  One was when I approached a colleague for some car-park coupons.  She mentioned that, the procedure was that, someone else should have gotten them.  And for some reason, that riled me: I raised my voice and asked, so you don’t trust me?  And she said in a much more reasonable tone, no, it’s not about that, it’s just that the procedure was for someone else to have gotten the coupons, and she handed over the coupons to me.

I was worse in item two.  This was when one of the people I looked after asked me to help her with a problem.  To cut a long story short, I said that I couldn’t help, and so in the end she had to resolve it herself.  The fact that she had to was a symptom of my laziness, and the fact that she could was a symptom of my incompetence.  (And I could go on and on – I could have communicated more, made sure meals were provided…)

Looking back, I don’t think I was quite ready for the amount of sheer effort and stamina managing this event required.  My nerves were frayed by the third day or so, and I think that contributed to the two items I mentioned.

The good thing is, the event went well and was well-received.  On one level, that’s all that matters.  On another, the process – the minutae of those few days – mattered as much, if not more.  I know I enjoyed the camaraderie of working toward the same cause; the civility and overall niceness of my colleagues; the clear appreciation of our bosses, which was a wonderful morale boost, corny as that might sound; the sense of responsibility, which I enjoyed and shall channel better next time; learning from how others did things, which was revelatory and which gave me a better sense of who they are.

That was a fun few days of hard work.

Learning from an Irishman

The week of 11 August contained an epic couple of work days, and one of the main tasks that I took up was that of liaison officer for an Irishman who was the keynote speaker at our event.*  The chap, young at under 30 years of age, leads a consulting firm in Ireland.  I was with him for two of the three-plus days he was in Singapore, and I learned a few things. A couple of memorable lessons came from something he said at the end of the first day’s event.  To put it in a bit of context, this was after his arrival on a 19-hour, 11,000km flight in the evening, and then, after a night of jet-lag-trouble non-sleep, making his keynote speech and then running a breakout session and then doing a coherent phone interview with TODAY.  This was what he said: “I didn’t want to tell you this before, but today was the first time I spoke in front of more than 25 or so people.”

This was after he made his keynote speech in front of a 600-strong audience.

Lesson One: Okay, so he was brave, but to my mind the speaking in front of a crowd nearly 50 times the size of the largest he’d faced was not the thing most worth learning from.  No, the lesson here is purpose: Our Irish friend set this challenge for himself partly because his aim, he told me, was to be a motivational speaker.  He also asked for a video of the event so that he could see himself in action, and spot things he could improve on.  Ambition in itself is nothing; one needs the drive to pursue it, to put the time aside to plan how to achieve it.  The Irishman has that drive; I don’t think I have that at all.**

Lesson Two: Next time, I need to do a more thorough job of vetting my speakers.  I mean, I’m happy to have helped further his ambition, but what if our dear Irish friend had not been up to it? :P

*The task of liaison officer basically involves minding your principal i.e. getting him to be where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be and making sure he knows what he’s supposed to do, and taking care of your principal i.e. being his concierge, more or less.

**That was brought home to me last Friday, when we had someone from Gallup speak to us about our strengths.  Before this talk, we had all had our strengths assessed and been told our top five strengths.  According to Gallup, the 34 mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive strengths identified through its research can be grouped into four categories:

  • relating (covering communication, empathy, harmony, inclusiveness, individualisation, relator and responsibility),
  • thinking (covering analytical, arranger, connectedness, context, deliberative, fairness, futuristic, ideation, input, intellection, learner and strategic),
  • impacting (covering command, competition, developer, positivity, maximiser and woo) and
  • striving (covering achiever, activator, adaptability, belief, discipline, focus, restorative, self-assurance and significance).

My top five strengths – learner, responsibility, maximiser, empathy and relator – are in the first three categories only (in fact, three of them are in the relating category).  Apparently – and this fits in pretty well with what I’ve come to realise is me – I’m not a striver.  You need more drive, Bear, more drive…

Of tests and a short quest for lychee

Last week, I made a couple of testing presentations and took the GMAT.  I’m happy to report that, all in all, the results were satisfactory.

Last week, I had two great meals.  One was with a pal on Wednesday evening, at Coffee Club.  I had tried the tiger prawn aglio olio a month or so before, and had enjoyed it, and it turned out that she had tried the same thing on a separate occasion and liked it too.  So we both ordered that, and it was disappointing – the pasta was not warm enough, so the bite of the chilli and the tartness of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onion slices were all muted; someone was over-enthusiastic with the oil; even the prawns themselves were mere crunch, with barely a hint of the taste of sea.

We also ordered the same drink – my pal had enjoyed the rambutan drink when she tried it here the other time, she said, so I joined her in ordering it.  When the pink, smoothie-like drink came, she was a bit puzzled – she remembered that it was white.  Then she tasted it, tentatively, and said she thought it was the drink she had liked.  It was only later, when she reviewed the menu, that she realised that she had previously tried the lychee drink.

We finished the night with dessert at the Canele outlet at the basement of the Paragon.  I was quite amazed that we could get seats.  We had a slice of Le Royale and a strawberry tart.  The latter was frankly rubbish – stale pastry, over-glazed strawberries – but I was told that the Robertson Quay outlet has higher standards.  The company that evening, as always, made up for the food.

Strangely enough, I had a lychee drink – something with soda and lychee syrup and mint leaves and a single lychee, likely from a can – at TCC a couple of evenings later, after a stomach-busting Japanese a la carte buffet at Minori, during which I had sushi (ordinary), sashimi (generously sliced and above average for a buffet), maki (ordinary), temaki (ordinary), soba (yuk), yakitori (varied; one pork belly skewer was excellent – succulent and layered in texture – but another had been left  to grill for too long and was nearly petrified) and tempura (unremarkable), and smelled the most amazing pork belly soup I’ve smelled, an appetite-stirring combination of miso and rich pork juices.  I found the combination of lychee and mint weird and nearly overly sweet.

A week on national service

National service

This past week, I was in an army camp, on national service. (Where I live, male citizens form a conscript army, and we are called back to revise our training every year or two.)

These couple of weeks are a bad time to be away from work – just so many things to be done, by not so many people – but my time back in the army has been fairly productive. In the sometimes lengthy interstitials between lessons, I finished Ram Charan’s Know-how, and half of the Chinese translation of Norwegian Wood, a Japanese novel by Haruki Murakami i.e. 挪威的森林 by 村上春树. Know-how lists a set of leadership know-how (e.g. how to position one’s business, how to judge people for leadership potential, how to make people work as a team), which the author posits can be learnt and honed. I came away from the book urged to try my hand at other kinds of work, different from my current milieu. Couldn’t identify with the characters in Norwegian Wood, but (on the evidence of the translation) I found Haruki Murakami’s writing very evocative, especially in his detailing of the textures of emotions. Still wondering whether to continue with the second half…

I made several acquaintances among my fellow NSmen. One is a pilot; one wants to be a pilot; one is an airline/aeroplane buff. (I have to say, I feel a little old and more than a little inadequate in this whole group – I feel most are more successful, more comfortable with themselves, more what I want to be, than I myself am.) That last person recommended a web site – SeatGuru – that identifies good seats and inflight amenities for different aeroplanes and airlines. Those who fly a lot or are particular about their flight experiences may want to check it out.


My big boss spoke to me recently about my promotion prospects. To cut a long story short, I missed a great chance to ask for feedback on how I could improve. That was dumb. Sigh.


Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. was the CEO of IBM from 1993 to 2002. His book – “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” – is a really good read. But this entry is less about the book than my reaction to reading one part of it.

So in the book, in 1993, Gerstner wanted to streamline IBM’s marketing. At the time, IBM’s business units all did their own marketing, and resistance to this centralisation was quite naturally expected. In an important senior management meeting to get buy-in for this plan, Gerstner’s newly hired head of Corporate Marketing did a very smart thing: she plastered the room’s walls with the disparate marketing material from the different IBM business units. Faced with the mess (which Gerstner described memorably as a “train wreck of brand and product positioning”), no one objected.

My initial reaction to that was: That’s so well done. Really brilliant!

Then I thought of my boss, who likes to present information and plans visually at meetings, often in unconventional ways. And I made a resolution to see the usefulness in that and to support that in future.

Then I realised that a book written by a stranger (one with credentials and credibility, of course, but still…) had so easily convinced me of something – the usefulness of my boss’s visual presentations – that had been in my face all this time.

The average bear should reflect on this a bit, I think.


Two items of note to report.

One: One of my current colleagues, a beautiful mum-to-be, has a phone, and its ring tone is a familiar one – a baby singing a sweet sweet song (with lyrics such as “gumdrop”, “sweetie pie” and “apple of my eye”). The colleague whom I used to sit next to had a phone with the same ring tone.

Two: Bought a Le Couple CD. Le Couple is a Japanese duo, with a guy plucking guitar heartstrings and Emi Fujita singing like a Celtic goddess (not that I’d know what a Celtic goddess sounds like). For a couple of samples of what she does sound like, have a listen to

  • Le Couple performing perhaps the song they’re best known for, “Hidamari no Uta” (ひだまりの詩 ), from the popular Japanese dorama “Under the Same Roof” (ひとつ屋根の下)

Here are the lyrics to “Once in a Very Blue Moon”:

I found your letter in my mailbox today
You were just checking if I was okay
And if I miss you, well you know what they say
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
And I feel one coming on soon

No need to ask me if we can be friends
And help me right back on my feet again
And if I miss you, well just now and then
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
And I feel one coming on soon

There’s a blue moon shining
When I am reminded of all we’ve been through
Such a blue moon shining
Does it ever shine down on you?

You act as if it doesn’t hurt you at all
Like I’m the only one who’s getting up from a fall
Don’t you remember now don’t you recall
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
And I feel one coming on soon
Just once in a very blue moon

After some time…

So it’s been a while, eh?

Work’s been a lot more engaging this past week – I have been assigned more things to do, my colleagues and I have been speaking more. All in all, there is more of a sense that I’m working here.

Notable: My mug disappeared. Let me be more specific: The mug that was a birthday present and ensconced in its own tin and removed from the environs of said tin and brought to my new workplace to be a receptacle of excellent coffee as well as that everyday necessity known as water has disappeared. When I found it missing, I traced my activities and whereabouts the previous day, and looked around those places, but there was no sight of my mug. Strange. (Having said that, it’ll probably pop up somewhere one of these days and I’ll say, ah, so I left it there!)

Some comedians do impressions of famous people so well, they are more like those famous people than the famous people themselves. Check out this clip, where Frank Caliendo performs on the Late Show with David Letterman. (Caliendo does Robin Williams, George W Bush and Letterman himself.) Well worth watching, if you like impressions.