Photo credit: Himself took photos of honey bees in my garden using his macro lenses.

A book review on “Asshole Survival Guide” caught my eye this morning. I sure could use this book having just survived two assholes this week. Alas, the book will only be out later this year. So, I searched out the author, Robert Sutton’s blog.

He is a Stanford University professor and has been writing on this topic as well as topics on creating better workplaces.

What caught my eye on his list of 12 things he believed in, that being “indifferent” was as important as being passionate.

His list is included here, but if you go to his blog post, he includes a link to explaining each of his beliefs.

12 THINGS I BELIEVE by Robert Sutton
1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!

2. Indifference is as important as passion.

3. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

4. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.

5. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

6. Anyone can learn to be creative, it just takes a lot of practice and little confidence

7. “Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”

8. Sutton’s Law: “If you think that you have a new idea, you are wrong. Someone else probably already had it. This idea isn’t original either; I stole it from someone else”

9. “Am I a success or a failure?” is not a very useful question

10. The world would be a better place if people slept more and took more naps

11. Strive for simplicity and competence, but embrace the confusion and messiness along the way.

12. Jimmy Maloney is right, work is an overrated activity.

What’s your belief system?

I believe that speaking up is important, especially against injustice or wrong thinking. The greatest pursuit in life is for truth.

Indifference is as important as passion?

Suddenly, I’m confronted with the view by Robert Sutton and David Maister, that I too can be a jerk or asshole.

David Maister reflected on the times he behaved as a jerk.

1. I was over enthusiastic about a view that I got out of proportion.
2. I was tired
3. I felt I didn’t get the respect I deserved.

Suddenly I realised that I too have been a jerk many times over, simply because I was over passionate. I’ve blogged about the importance of speaking up, against injustice. But..

The people whom I consider as jerks were likewise very passionate about the topics they believed in, hence the desire to criticise others.

One jerk begets another jerk.

My self reflection moment this week courtesy of Easter :

First, do no evil. Google’s mission statement.

I’m going to check out Robert Sutton’s books on “Weird ideas that work”. If you’ve not read David Maister, his books on creativity are excellent.

How to survive assholes at work? (if you cannot quit)
Reframe the situation and see if they’re really perfectionist who are trying to help.
Avoid them.
Treat it as a game on how long you can avoid saying something. (Seriously, will they even listen to you? )

Photo: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

In the transition from technical role to a management role, one of the key areas for young managers to watch for is the lack of power base.

Jean Louis Barsoux and Cyril Bouquet in MIT Sloan Review suggest 3 areas to plug this deficit:

Critical resources

Legitimacy with bosses can send a signal of credibility to others which leads to a cycle of high visibility and influence which boosts your standing. Connects you to influential people and information.

Research on (LMX) Leader Member exchange indicates that bosses mentally divide their members into “in group” vs “out group”.

What can you do?
What you do in the job:
Hard work while important is exaggerated to secure credibility. LMX research suggests that one’s attitude and perceived compatibility with the boss are more powerful determinants of good relationship.

1. Understand the boss’s style and objectives. Boss’s preferences. Can be as simple as the boss’s preferences such as for email vs face to face discussions. Brevity vs depth. Adjust your communication style accordingly. Goals and interests to provide the kind of support to help boss succeed. Deliver on those objectives. May include seeking feedback as appropriate. Find subtle ways to advertise your expertise by publicly volunteering to help colleagues tackle difficult problems.

2. Accumulate credits by helping superiors get things done. Powerful people may see them as valuable allies. Kick start the virtuous cycle of reciprocity by making good faith deposits upfront.

3. Turn yourself into a resource. Gain special expertise.

What sort of expertise ?
Identify problems that nobody else has noticed or that few people are capable of resolving and then work to address them.

Consolidate your strengths. You’ve heard the 80/20 rule. To be so good you can’t be ignored. Don’t just be a generalist.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co once said, “To be a future leader, one should have a skill that everyone looks at and says X is the go-to person for that skill. Unless you’re really knownfor something, you don’t stand out from the pack.

One of the risks involved is that you’ll be locked into the position.

4. Build your own network.
A high quality relationship with a poorly connected boss may do more harm than good. Sometimes you’ve to protect yourself from bad bosses. After all you’ve to identify escape routes for yourself in the event of sudden changes and shake up.
Cultivate useful allies. Look beyond titles and formal roles to discover informal ties and actual dynamics that drive decision making in a group. Real movers and shakers.


Reach out to both internal and external stakeholders. External stakeholders can include government relations, customers and analysts and institutional investors and board members. Asking customers what do you really need ?

Match-making– create forums where ideas and information can be exchanged. Sometimes it could be the organisation’s dinner and dance where you help people connect. Gain a reputation as someone who knows how to connect people.

Many of these roles contain risks, acknowledge the authors. So walk a fine line as you may be seen as using the role for your own gain.

Assess the areas of influence which you lack.


Picture: trishaw train at the November car free Sunday morning in the civic district, Singapore. Pulling together.

The American and the Japanese corporate offices for a large multi-national corporation decided to engage in a competitive boat race. Both teams practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance.

On the big day the Japanese team won by a mile.

The American team was discouraged by the loss. Morale sagged. Corporate management decided to find the reason for the crushing defeat. A consulting firm was hired to investigate the problem and recommend a plan.

The finding: The Japanese team had eight people rowing and one person steering; the American team had one person rowing and eight people steering.

Too many people were steering and not enough rowers on the American team.

Next year, as race day neared, the American team reorganized the management structure completely. The new structure: four steering managers, three area steering managers and a new performance review system to incentivise the person rowing the boat.

At the race, the Japanese won by two miles. Humiliated, the American steering managers started an investigation to find out who was responsible for the poor performance. The managers completed the report. It was the rower. He was laid-off and the managers given a bonus for discovering the problem.

Remove the terms “American” and “Japanese”. Ask, which type of organisation culture do you work in? One, where people pull in to help one another or one where word play, report writing is a substitute for actual performance?


Picture: roosters near Telok Blsngah

Two roosters, both thirsty, arrived at their usual water hole at the same time. They immediately began to argue who should satisfy their thirst first. The argument became heated, and each decided he would rather die than give up the privilege of being first to quench his thirst.

As they stubbornly confronted each other, their emotions turned to rage. Their cruel attacks on each other were suddenly interrupted. They both looked up. Circling overhead were vultures waiting for the loser to fall. Quietly, the two beasts turned and walked away. The thought of being devoured was all they needed to end their quarrel.

Consider President-elect Donald Trump’s overtures to China on tariffs and trade. China is not the worst enemy of the US. If the two giants were to enter into a trade war, there are vultures flying around, waiting to pick the bones.

This is a joke recently told to me by a senior management leader, about the need to check our assumptions.

No harm or malice intended towards the professions mentioned below:

An engineer, a physicist, and an accountant were interviewed for position of Chief Executive officer of a large corporation.

The engineer was interviewed first. He was asked a long list of questions, finally: “How much is two plus two?” The engineer excused himself, made a series of calculations and returned to the boardroom, declaring, “Four.”

The physicist was interviewed next. He was asked the same questions for consistency. Before answering the last question, he excused himself, went to the library, and did a great deal of research. After comsulting the United States Bureau of Standards, he also announced, “Four.”

The accountant was interviewed last, and was asked the same questions. At the end of his interview, before answering the last question, he drew the blinds in the room. Closed the door, and asked the interviewer, “How much do you want it to be?”

Our world view is often shaped by the culture we are from, national culture, organisation culture and even our professional culture.

Do your old assumptions still work in dealing with a new world ?
How do you know that the person you’re dealing with; works on the same assumptions or similar standards ?

How would you navigate in the “white rapid” world of work? How do you prepare yourself?


Photo taken at the Tongarino rapids in North Island, New Zealand.

“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy” Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast.

If that statement is making you turn on your head, there is more to come ” The Gratitude Diaries, how a year looking on the bright side transformed my life” by Janice Kaplan.

While you take another bite of your thanksgiving turkey, chew on this:

Kaplan suggests that: People with every advantage could still be cranky and unhappy while those who faced huge obstacles sometimes radiated good feeling and bounced merrily along.

In a survey with Templeton Foundation, she found that:

More than 90 precent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.

Yet only half express gratitude on a daily basis to immediate family (spouses, children, parents—though elsewhere in the survey 63 percent indicated daily gratitude expression to spouses) and even fewer – less than 15 percent, express daily gratitude to friends or colleagues.

Why don’t we do it even though we know it’s helpful?

Maybe you don’t believe it. If so, try it on for size.

Kaplan suggests the following steps:

1. Just do it.
Most of us know we should be grateful but something holds us back. If that’s you, don’t think anymore. Just do it. Although studies have mentioned that gratitude led to higher level of happiness and lower levels of depression and stress.

2. Start now
Keep a gratitude diary with three things you’re grateful for. Start small.

3. Reframe whatever happens
Dr Robert Emmoms of University of California found that you don’t need good events to happen to you to see gratitude. Grateful people reframe what happens to them. They see the good in what they have.

4. Resist the impulse to ruminate.
Kaplan quotes Daniel Kahneman who found that if ten great things and one bad one happened in a day, most of us will spend dinner telling about the bad one. This makes evolutionary sense because our ancestors remember the poisonous berry they encounter and tell their friends.

5. What’s reality
Perhaps you feel that being positive all the time is very Pollyanish. Is writing about gloominess more realistic than writing about gratitude? Neither is more true than the other. The famous line from Hamlet “nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”.

6. Give yourself time
It takes more than 2 months or even 6 months to change a habit.

Make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature.

If you can change anything that makes you unhappy, go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone or inevitable, fretting about it doesn’t change anything.

Can being positive change your neural pathway?

Apparently so. According to Brian Atkinson, the relentless pursuit of positivity could change your neural pathways and rewire automatic response.

Taking the time to have loving, giving and grateful feelings could change how your brain functioned in emotion related areas. Kaplan has affirmed that a year of living gratefully has changed her in so many ways and given her the simple ability to experience joy for almost any reason.

She has shared her own experiences of being retrenched. Stories from survivors of accidents have affirmed her experiences.

Does Gratitude and compassion benefit society or is it the law of the fittest?

Kaplan cites two academics: Charles Darwin who believed that societies with the most compassion are best able to flourish.

Adam Smith who started as a moral philosopher and his first book “The theory of moral sentiments“, focused on social relationships and our drive to lead moral lives. He put forward the point that humans have natural inclinations towards sympathy and kindness and care about the happiness of others. Gratitude is the emotion that prompts our most admirable natures.

Understanding the preceding thought process of Adam Smith then allows us a different appreciation of “The Wealth of Nations” – that people are motivated by their own self interest. “Talk to others in terms of their advantages and not our own necessities, if we want something” becomes less materialistic if seen from that perspective. Pursuing our own personal gain must ultimately serve the good of society.

On our part, we feel grateful affect when someone helps us and so we want to return the favour and do good for another person.

Kaplan reflects that to the great Adam Smith, gratitude and giving on one hand and self interest on the other is the same thing. Giving made you feel good, which made it ultimate in self interest.

Anxiety comes from wanting what you cannot control, Epicetus.

Kaplan recounts the story told of a lute player who plays happily by himself until he goes on stage.

Suddenly he becomes anxious. He realises it’s because he wants to obtain applause which is not within his control.


Why the extra “t” in Gratitude ? Gratitude is an attitude.

Wise men and philosophers throughout the ages have disagreed on many things, but many are in unanimous agreement on one point: “We become what we think about.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius put it this way: “A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” In the Bible we find: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

One Sunday afternoon, a cranky grandfather was visiting his family. As he lay down to take a nap, his grandson decided to have a little fun by putting Limburger cheese on Grandfather’s mustache. Soon, grandpa awoke with a snort and charged out of the bedroom saying, “This room stinks.” Through the house he went, finding every room smelling the same. Desperately he made his way outside only to find that “the whole world stinks!”

So it is when we fill our minds with negativism. Everything we experience and everybody we encounter will carry the scent we hold in our mind.

Flowers at Hamilton Garden, NZ.

May your day be carried with scented blooms.