The Peter Principle, Why things go wrong by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull

With foreword by Robert Sutton

Let me have men about me that are fat
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous
– Julius Ceasar, Shakespeare

We hire people after our own image. The authors cite Napolean who felt that people with big noses make better leaders. The Retrospective Decision making model predicts that we make decisions intuitively and retrospectively give a reason (possibly logically) for our decision.

We make judgments about people’s competence. Sometimes from brief interactions. The more powerful you are, the more impact. Interviewers sometimes take as fast as 30 sec to form impressions.

The Peter Principle predicts that many people are promoted to their level of competence.

Several examples of signs of people who posses this malady.

Papyrohobia
Cannot tolerate papers or books on his desk. Probably such piece of paper is reminder that he hates his job. He makes a virtue of his phobia by keeping a clean desk, creating the impression of incredible fast decision making.

Structurophilia
Obsessive concern with buildings, planning, construction, maintenance and reconstruction. But unconcerned about the work going on, inside the buildings.

Such as those with a compulsion to build memorial statues.

When i read this tiny book of 161 pages or halved if you put in A4 size, it was amusingly refreshing. Most bizarre types actually exist in organisations especially because the skill sets required for different levels of organisation from technical in front-line supervisors to political skills needed at higher levels of management.

What then is the solution?
As someone interested in productivity, I am curious about how to improve our decision making on promotion and hiring.

Unfortunately, beyond naming the crime as incompetence, this book sheds little light on how to solve the problem.

Perhaps its beyond my competence to read between the lines. Or frankly, no one knows. Management is as much an art as a science.

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I was introduced to a interesting company Isobar, which created  “an in-store activation device using neuroscience technology to create UMOOD. UNIQLO customers were fitted with a neuro-headset and shown a series of video stimuli. Their neurological responses to the stimuli were then analysed in real-time by a custom-built algorithm that identified their current mood and recommended the perfect T-shirt for them.”

Imagine, how difficult it is to choose a T-shirt that we now relegate decision making to a technology device. Kudos to the company for getting modern man out of his dilemma of too much choice.  Now I understand why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same colored T-shirt and why the Japanese used to insist on uniforms for every staff.

Are you in the same predicament? Afraid to make choices? Why?

Perhaps the best invention yet is to simplify. Or to make a choice, and stop blaming yourself. Take notes, observe your own reactions.

Perhaps we don’t take the time to understand ourselves.

https://www.isobar.com/sg/en/work/umood/

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Tales of the Malay World currently exhibiting at the NLB Bldg on 10th floor has provided me an insight into this world I am living but not submerged.

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Last night I was at the curator’s tour and some learnings caught me by surprise. Singapore was not a sleepy fishing village when Raffles arrived. While not sophisticated as major world cities like Nanjing, it boasted a history from 14th Century.

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Alexander the Great allegedly passed through. He was known as Zulkernain.

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Raffles was inspired to pick up Malay on his boat trip from UK.

Raffles chose Singapore as a port because of the Malay book “Genealogy of Kings” <em>Sukalat al-Salatin that the Forbidden Hill housed remains of the 16th century Melaka Kings or Malay Annals Sejarah Melayu.

Raffles was a collector of many things, among them Malay manuscripts which allowed the British and Dutch better idea of the locals so as to conquer them.

Singapore was not a sleepy fishing village when the British came. The Malay annals led Raffles to Singapore.

Singapore was not founded in 1819 when Raffles came with the East India Company. Its role as a port was as early as 14th century. A significant port and settlement, known as Temasek, later renamed Singapura, existed on the island of Singapore in the 14th century. Vietnamese records indicate possible diplomatic relationship between Temasek and Vietnam in the 13th century, and Chinese documents describe settlements there in the 14th century.

It lapsed into insignificance for 200 hundred years when abandoned until the British came to establish a port without antagonizing the Dutch.

Location, location, location
Point to note that despite Singapore’s strategic location, it fell out of action for 200 yrs. The Dutch did not choose Singapore for their spice trade. The late Mover, the British chose 2nd best, Singapore. Strategic advantage is highly dependent on economic relevance. 1st Mover advantage is not necessarily winner takes all. (Unfortunately for Raffles, he died in debt.)

Importance of learning lingua franca of the day, which may not be English.

Diversity and global trade have been around for a long time.

People were more open to learning from one another. Rev Keasbury obtained the help of Muslim cleric Munshi Abdullah to translate the first Malay bible. He introduced Abdullah to the printing press to produce bibles. Initially the missionaries were in Singapore enroute to China. But as that stop was closed, their attention turned to Singapore.

While the Bible was translated into Malay, the audience could have been wider, as the varied trading community spoke Malay, the lingua franca, including the Chinese. Today’s Muslim and Christian community, it appeared to me, are more sharply alienated. It didnt seem that Abdullah converted to Christianity. Yet there was a meaningful working relationship between Keasbury and Abdullah.

Musicians look at notes and hear the music in their heads. I look at happiness data and hear the comforting sounds of lives well lived. The joy, the feeling of connectedness and the sense of purpose.
– Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen

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I bought fairy lights to create cozy feel

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I like his second book much better “The Little Book of Lykke”– The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People. I was nearly turned off by a little quote that everything runs smoothly in Denmark. Four years ago, one train did arrive 5 min late. The passengers each got a letter of apology from the prime minister and a designer chair of their choice as compensation. I am not running down Danes when I question that everything runs smoothly. Coming from Singapore where things generally run smoothly, .. yet not everything. Certainly not our public transport which we made the mistake of privatising at the advice of consultants. Japan though, their public transport is indeed the most effecient in the world, has one of the highest suicide rates in OECD countries. Books on why the Japanese live long lives do not address this dark side of Japan.

There are many beautiful stories in the book looking at countries like Brazil which is overcrowded yet is relatively happy, #22. Most Brazilians consider themselves kind and happy people who know how to have fun. Its true that the Brazilians I know are more helpful and smiling than the Danes I know. (Not the most scientific approach). But perhaps if we are moving towards a more gracious society, we have more to learn from Brazil. On second thoughts, 12hrs to Copenhagen is better than 48hrs flight to Rio.

Pursuit of happiness
Why this fixation on Happiness you may ask? The author lost his mother when she was 49years old, to depression. I live in a country that witnessed the biggest progression in a lifetime yet people are very unhappy. I know people above 70yrs old who experienced starvation under British colonial days, yet are very unhappy today despite relatively high standards of living and peace and children who visit them weekly and support them financially.

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My own take of the reason why Denmark and most of the Nordic countries have happiness is

The law of Jante
Conspicuous consumption is criticised. They dont like boastful people who flaunt their success. Decouple wealth and well-being. Read Michelle McGagh’s “The No Spend Year: How I Spent Less and Lived More“. Go for walks and free art exhibitions.

Value of Free Time
I like this book very much. I think that the reason why Denmark is the happiest nation among the OECD countries is because they value happiness as a way of life. They value free time and not embarrassed that they are taking time off work to exercise and be outdoors.

They take care of mental health seeking treatment when needed and not be embarrassed.

Be with people
But mind your own business. Do not worry about what others think of you or what others are doing to accumulate wealth. I doubt Danish mothers compare results of their children or other people’s children.

They are cozy and value mental resilience, connecting with others and not complaining.

Do not complain
Complaining is not the national sport. Give others a break. They dont need to live up to your expectations.

Complaining doesnt make you look smart or look self sacrificial. Suffering doesnt make you a martyr.

Be authentic and Mind your own business
Meik Wiking admits that Danes do not go around wearing masks. You cant tell that they are happy judging from their stony stares. They do not pretend or have a need to keep up with the Joneses.

A friend once told me how Japanese mothers get calls from teachers if they send their kids to school with plain and non-creative lunchboxes. Even lunchboxes are sources of comparison and not just means of healthy eating.

Relieve yourself from others’ expectations.
As the song goes, “haters gonna hate”. Complainers are going to complain. Especially when you live in a society where people have no qualms giving advice to others which they don’t heed themselves. People who dont mind their own business.

The English have a saying for this ” People who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones”.

This second book Lykke is certainly a keeper. I cant wait to try out more suggestions from the book and watch the French film Amelie. I have started lighting candles especially at 6am when I wake up looking forward to my warm cup of Arabica coffee brewed in my 12yr old Philips machine.

A friend sent me a link about Norwegian, a budget airlines opening a new route from London Gatwick to Singapore for £150 on a Boring 787 12hrs non-stop.

It set me thinking about Norway listed as happiest country 2017 by the UN. Many on the list took me by surprise. Israel, Iceland and Ireland.

I have not been to Norway. The only thing I recall about Norway is a friend whose husband was in the shipping line told me about their reluctance to move to Oslo because everything is so much more expensive than Singapore!

But I have been to Copenhagen, Denmark to learn about their workplace practices. Denmark is top 5 in happiness 4 years in a row.

Japan, on the other hand, is #51. How can that be? I enjoy visiting Japan. I follow a blogger who brought her two toddler sons to Hokkaido twice a year. 10 times.

But Israel takes the cake. When we read about Arab-Israeli conflicts, how can Israel rank themselves #11 for several years running. The Times of Israel seem to have the same surprise revealing that a survey by Musa Israeli in collaboration with the Education Ministry “found that 27 percent of Israeli Jews would leave the country if given the opportunity.

Among secular Israelis it was 36%. The religious Jews least likely to depart the country at just 7%.”

Singapore is #26. Not surprising. Complaining is our national sport. But we are highest in happiness in Asia. So who is complaining? Despite being the most expensive country in the world.

“Despite the banking collapse in the two countries Iceland and Ireland, the happiness of these nations was less affected than expected. 99 percent report having someone to count on in times of trouble is the highest in Iceland. http://icelandreview.com/news/2017/03/20/icelanders-are-worlds-third-happiest

Of course the usual suspects, what is in the basket of survey, how were the questions phrased?

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On Friday I was invited to the Singapore Management Festival “Small is the New Big”. There were several speakers whom I had great respect. Others, because I had classes in between, I was not able to attend.

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I walked out of the conference feeling happy but not sure why. Several people I spoke to also were impressed with Red Hongyi. I think she is a very creative person. She showed us plates of food she created for 31 days which were picked up by Instagram CEO.

Hardest part was to show up. When she first decided to set up her own creative company, she had no clients.

So she started creating plates of food. The photos show the difference between Day 1 and Day 31. Hard part is showing up. Power is needed.

Jamil Qureshi, echoed this view, when he talked about coaching athletes. Performance is achieved on a daily basis. Cynical people do not achieve new territories.

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My favourite was the one with a squid. You can find her inspirations on her website.

Another lucky stroke – asked by Jacky Chan to do his 60th birthday portrait which she constructed out of chopsticks.

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Whats amazing is that she filmed herself during the entire installation process and created a inspiring talk along the way and recreated herself as a motivational speaker on the creative process.

She reminded me of renowned choreograoher Twylar Tharp who filmed her dancers practicing to fine tune her performances.

Looking at someone create something, not just talk about it makes me happy. I may not become a great artist, but I can participate in the process of creation.

Relieve yourself from being perfect. As Jamil Quereshi, the sports psychologist said. Either you become discouraged and give up or you do attain perfectionism and become so afraid of losing that status.

I see the speaker try so many mediums, using socks, chopsticks, coffee stains, teabags.

Life is not about discovering who you are. It is about the joy of creating yourself. What do you think of the creative process?

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Photo: 999 glass fishes at the Oceans Financial Centre Singapore.The work holds a message about strength from community and collaboration.
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Technology alone likely won’t deliver the uplift in performance that organizations seek.

There are three reasons to value human capital:

– People are the creators of technology – it does not create itself.

– People are the stewards of technology – they cannot control it but they can shape it and are less effective without it.

– People are the champions of technology.

Companies such as Airbnb and Uber, optimise technology but also have huge teams of people to service their customers. Humans know best how to partner with technology.

“What gets in the way is that there is an insufficient understanding of disruption, there is pressure from stakeholders and the strategy for human capital is not aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation.

Smartphones, data-collecting industrial parts and other innovations of the Digital Age are amazing, but none of them pack the productivity-boosting power of the lightbulb or the telephone. Indeed, apart from a short burst between 1996 and 2004, the digital technology revolution actually hasn’t boosted overall productivity.

Airbnb offers a strong example of what can happen when people are enabled rather than replaced by technology. The firm might have fewer than 3,000 people on the payroll, but it depends on tens of thousands of creative, ambitious and talented human hosts to supply those 2 million rooms worldwide. Technology may connect hosts to potential guests, but Airbnb has no business without the hosts.

The “Talent Trumps Tech” idea applies to the executive suites, too. Yes, the boss likely will be able to use technology to instantly get real-time data about the firm’s pipeline of sales, cash flows, threats from competitors, even the value of individual customers …. At the same time, it will be easier for CEOs to get concrete business options from intel- ligent software. These AI-infused programs can use current data and past experiences to identify trouble spots or opportunities and make recommendations to improve the business.

Making the call
However, no app or robot is going to make the final decision on what business strategy to pursue, or whether to open a new office in Austin or Amsterdam, or whether to merge with a rival firm. “I’ll never say never, but I can’t imagine CEOs giving up those decisions,” says Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader of Korn Ferry’s Board & CEO Services practice. “Artificial intelligence will be there to provide input.”

Excerpts from 2030: The Very Human Future Of Work by Hazel Euan-Smith & Russell Pearlman & Karen Kane in the series on “The Future of Work is Human”
– KornFerry Institute