Monthly Archives: August 2014

Genius is 10 percent inspiration but 90 percent perspiration. – Thomas Edison

I cannot imagine life without work as really comfortable. – Sigmund Freud

My teachers at different grade levels repeated this mantra. Somehow I didn’t believe this. Hard work is for the less gifted. I worked hard in school, and scraped through upper honours. No matter how hard I worked, the results didn’t justify the effort.

Daily rituals – how great minds make time, find inspiration, and Get to Work” by Mason Currey caught my eye at the library last week. From the crisp smell of the pages, I’m probably the first person to read it which would also explain my receptiveness to the book.

From the over 160 creative authors and artists/architects cited in the book, whether an early bird or a night owl, most of them stick to a ritual.

The early birds like Ernest Hemingway rose early, at around 6am, even if he had been up all night drinking. In his younger days, he seemed immune to hangovers.  Work through the day, with a word count. Some of the authors keep a daily check of 2000 words, others 500 words. In Hemingway’s case, he “tracked his daily word output on a chart – so as not to kid myself”.   Margaret Mead, renowned cultural anthropologist was known to schedule breakfast meetings with young colleagues for 5am.

To break up long hours of writing/painting/creating, there would be some form of physical activity e.g. slow walk. Socialising with small circle of friend for dinner.  Hemingway wrote/typed standing up. [Note: I suspect because he’s a kinaesthetic and can’t sit still. Joan Miro would take a break by going for an hour of vigorous exercise such as boxing in Paris; jumping rope and Swedish gymnastics at a Barcelona gym  to avoid a relapse into depression etc. Freud would take a walk around Vienna’s Ringstrasse, “marching at terrific speed” after dinner. As Woody Allen described it, “the momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy.” Although he can no longer walk the streets, he would pace the terrace of his apartment. Woody Allen would take a shower. [My personal favourite too.]

Often the authors would write and read/ reflect/ edit what they’ve written or read to their loved ones.  Maya Angelou would read to her husband after dinner. He doesn’t comment but hearing it aloud helps her edit. Her editor is also another good source of feedback.  In the case of Simone de Beauvoir, she would sit with Sartre in the afternoon for 3 or 4 hours, and critique what he wrote that day – sort of intellectual partnership which lasted for years.

Simone de Beauvoir at work

Photo of Simone de Beauvoir – source: Susan Cushman. [I like her blog and entry on self-publishing.]

Even Jean Paul Sartre who famously said that “One can be very fertile without having to work too much” put in six hours of work, review his work with Simone de Beauvoir after dinner and had her to “do much of his writing for him—no doubt contributed to his view that you didn’t need to spend a lot of time with pen in hand”.  Altogether a misleading quote.

“Must-have” book to inspire  entrepreneurs and those who telecommute and work from home.  Work-life harmony may be exercising control over where you work, but the hours are still there minus the structure/ momentum that comes with being around colleagues.








Type: a kind, class, or category, the constituents of which share similar characteristics (The Free Dictionary)

By nature, we like to categorise people into groups. This how our brains deal with the complexity of the world. We chunk information, remember phone numbers, in groups of three or four. (Psychology experiments have shown us.)

Categorising people in groups help us remember, learn, and predict behaviours.  Question is not if we do, but on what basis, and if those categories are reliable?


Historically, we type people into Zodiac signs e.g. Virgos can’t make up their minds. According to astrology, you have the personality of whichever star sign you’re born under. Chinese we have the Zodiac signs according to the year of birth. Those born in the year of dragon are destined for greatness. Female babies born under the stars of tiger and dragon though, will climb over their husbands.  In the days before hospitals, the wise mid-wives and families will “cover up” the birth year and report an auspicious timing.

It is in the context of categorising people into types that I want to introduce the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. [For that matter, other psychometric tools in the market, such as Enneagram, DISC, 16PF etc are very useful too.] MBTI is based on the works of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who in 1921, published “Psychological Types“.

There are a several fun websites where you can read more about types and what hobbies you like.

People display patterns of behaviour. Jung developed the idea of introverts and extroverts, popularly used today. Watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk  and read her book “Quiet- the power of introverts“.  My personal favourite book for introverts is The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, by Marti Laney, Psy.D with CT scans showing that introverts and extroverts have different neural pathways leading to brain stimulation, and how we can cope with these differences and work together, both introverts and extroverts. There’s value in reading both books.

According to Jung, introverts and extroverts differ as to where you direct your attention and energy. Extroverts to the external world (big groups of people) and introverts in the Inner world (reading, reflecting, one-to-one)

No one is 100% introverted or extroverted.  We have both qualities on a continuum although a dominant inclination towards one side or swing to the other side (when we’re highly stressed).

In addition, there’re four other modes of orientation:

Thinking – people who value debate

Feeling – value relationships and aware of others’ emotion

Sensing – people who look at the parts and details

Intuitive – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. See the forest but miss the trees.

Catherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers took Jung’s theory and combined the attributes, adding the last category: Judging and Perceiving into 16 personality types.

Judging – (not judgmental, but people who like to plan and make “to-do-list” and stick to their plan.)

Perceiving – (spontaneous, go with the flow, make changes last minute, be “present” in the moment)

The MBTI is not to be used as a tool for prediction, i.e. recruitment selection test. Otherwise, it will skew people’s results. Errors could be due to the fact that it is a self-reporting instrument. We are subject to bias due to our level of self-awareness (see Johari window), and tendency to either under-report or exaggerate the results. Given a motive/ reward to be biased, this instrument will lack objectivity.  [Our perception is not always the most objective.]

Do “Opposites attract?” or “Birds of a feather flock together?”

Think of this scenario.  A fun-loving talkative extraverted lady meets a well-read, interesting guy who listens to her every word and gazes into her eyes.  They get married.  One year later, they explode, she accuses him of never wanting to out and do stuff, meet her friends.  After a day’s work at the office, he has nothing to say to her, and wants to just read.  Familiar? MBTI will explain that both have not changed. The lady is an extrovert and the man in the story an introvert. Successful couples learn to communicate about each other’s differences and work around the differences and respect their space. No two introverts are alike. My favourite tool is to combine it with “VATK” and Honey/Mumford “Learning Styles.

The MBTI is a “mirror”. Perception of beauty is skewed by self-image and others’ perception. For instance, traditional Chinese beauty is the “olive-shaped face and thin, willowy figure”. During Tang dynasty, beauty defined by the standards of Royal Consort Yang Guifei was “moon-faced and full figured”. There is no good type nor bad type. Use the tool as a reflection of your state of communication health rather than a predictor of career success.

If you work in an environment daily that doesn’t use your preferred strength, you are exposing yourself to higher levels of stress. Peers operating in their comfort zone, and with their own tribal environment will take to their work like fish to water.

Knowing I’m an introvert, shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not making new friends or trying out new space.  Very few people work alone. Being alone can subject us to higher levels of depression. But it helps to know that I’m normal when I feel drained after a networking session whereas my extroverted friend is re-charged in a high energy session. I feel less guilt going home to recuperate and have some “alone time” before going out again.


1. Don’t conform your behavior to fit your reported type.

2. Use the results as a tool for reflection and development.

3. Understand the people in your eco-system, whom you interact with (work, family or social), i.e. your tribe. Do they have certain patterns different/ similar to you?

4. How can you improve your communication style?

5. Understand that the opposite party’s communication style is not meant to irritate you, how can you work around your differences and accommodate both parties?

6. How can knowing your type help you manage your stress?



My personal preference for using MBTI is simply because many of the Jungian concepts introduced have crept into our everyday language such as introversion and extroversion, and that the tool has been tested by the US Army. All tools that rely on self-reporting or human interpretation, are subject to biases.

The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one. – Oscar Wilde

Globalisation, off-shoring, outsourcing, right-sizing, machines replacing me. Sorry, Mr Wilde, thinking about this doesn’t make me love my job, but more fearful.  Fear makes people do weird stuff.

What if my boss starts listing my job on eBay and get workers to bid salaries online, like a reverse auction and have jobs going to the lowest bidders.

20 ideas of the future

A excellent book that deserves a place on the shelf is “50 ideas you really need to know about the future” by Richard Watson. He is a scenario planner and has a blog on top future trends.

I’ve digested the 50 ideas into 20 career areas with potential. Jobs are disappearing and new ones being created.  Read his book to see the ones that don’t yet exist (e.g. robot relationship counsellor?).

For those of us who want work-life harmony, we will see more part-time, flexible working, and tele-commuting. More job specialisation – yes I see that coming from my clients in headhunting. Watson predicts that work that cannot be outsourced to highly intelligent machines or outsourced to highly intelligent people in lower-cost countries – I call them localised jobs that need the emotional, personal touch: nursing care, teachers, architects, writers, poets, painters, musicians, philosophers and plumbers, together with certain scientists, designers, engineers, lawyers (funny he should say that, the Law Ministry just said we’ve over-supply of lawyers), stress counsellors, masseurs, religious ministers, policy makers, strategists, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Many of these jobs are context-specific. Although we have a glut of lawyers, we are lacking in those practicing family law, criminal law for instance, according to the Ministry of Law. And young people, if you choose the area of study because of the trend reports, read the fine-print carefully.

Commencement addresses are another excellent way of seeking advice from the successful.

Mr Khenghuai recently sent me the following link of Vivek Wadhwa’ commencement address the Hult International Business School on 22 Aug 2014. URL Source:

The present stage of man’s history is unique, as entrepreneurs can do what only governments and big corporations could do before.

Computers, and the information technology that they enable, are going into other fields –  artificial intelligence, robotics, medicine, 3D printing, etc. This has allowed the creation of new industries and the replacement of the old. This can come in the form of 3D printing household goods, entire buildings, electronic circuits, and even food; delivering of goods by drones; developing new organisms to improve agriculture and clean up the environment.

With the good, there is also the bad that these technologies bring – large-scale destruction, spying, and many unimaginable horrors. Technologies which are available in Silicon Valley, and the same knowledge and ideas, are available everywhere – entrepreneurs, governments and criminals, are also developing them.

The jobs and careers that exist now may not exist a decade later.

The most important skills of the future?  

“Ability to learn and adapt”, “to collaborate with others and build relationships… share ideas, inspire and motivate.”

What Dr Wadhwa said, reminds me of an account of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement address at Havard, where she shared an advice then Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave her when she was considering joining Google. Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Read more:

Do you want a seat on the rocket?

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”
― Alvin Toffler

Last week we attended the official opening of the Singapore International Festival of the Arts 2014, for the opera performance “Facing Goya”. About a woman’s passionate search for the 18th Century Spanish artist Francisco Goya’s missing skull [taken from the bulletin].

Facing Goya at SIFA 2014

Facing Goya at SIFA 2014

Photo taken from SIFA 2014 website:

Please visit the website and check out the other performances.

For the first time, I could understand an opera because it was in English.

It was a treat to be in the presence of great talent, from the talented architect who modernised the grand dame Victoria theatre yet incorporating pieces of the old furniture into the panels of the hall. The artistes, director. I’m especially impressed by the set, projection, lighting, costume design transforming the experience of the audience.  The theme was ambitious. If Goya’s skull was found, and his creativity cloned, what next?  “Can we clone the human soul?” reads the bulletin.

The performance started with a historical account on human interest in predicting talent: Greek phrenology. Can the size of your skull and facial features predict your performance and psychological attributes? [Apparently Queen Victoria would have her children’s skulls read by phrenologists.] Craniometry – can your facial angle measure intelligence among species of men?

Science using evidence-based research to promote scientific racism and the superiority of one race over another. Flashes of Hitler and reminders of his Utopia with the Aryan race as the Master race.

The operatic performance set out to tackle a very big topic- “cloning vs the human creative soul”. Yet, the opening scenes, 1st and 2nd Act were pushing towards a difference direction.

Does scientific racism still exist today? In what forms? Does globalisation truly celebrate diversity? Or are we being McDonalised?

1. What is performance (or creativity)? Can we measure it? Can we predict it?  These age-old questions have been asked for centuries. Still relevant today in companies when managers recruit talent into the organisation.

2. What is talent? How do we measure it?

A study by Greg Mankiw, Economics Professor at Havard University, found a positive correlation between height and income. The typical 6-foot American earned $5,525 more than a 5-foot-5-inch worker, after correcting for sex, age and weight. Height builds self-esteem.

3. Does height build self-esteem in young people or do we project those qualities onto tall children giving them opportunities along the way?

4. Should we “select” talent for fit or “mould” talent?

I stumbled upon an article by Marina Krakovsky, “The effort effect” on Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success“. (

Dweck’s work attempts to answer the question: Why some people reach their potential while others don’t. We know from Malcolm Gladwell that its hard work, 10,000 hours. (In fact Gladwell noted that some of his research were based on Dweck’s work.)

While it is true that some people have innate talent than others,“the fallacy comes when people generalize it to the belief that effort on any task, even very hard ones, implies low ability,” Dweck says. Dweck highlights the difference between “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset“. Quoting Krakovsky:

“Dweck’s study showed that praising children for intelligence, rather than for effort, sapped their motivation. But more disturbingly, 40 percent of those whose intelligence was praised overstated their scores to peers. “We took ordinary children and made them into liars,” Dweck says. Dweck explains. Students may know how to study, but won’t want to if they believe their efforts are futile.

Similarly, Enron executives who’d been celebrated for their innate talent would sooner lie than fess up to problems and work to fix them.” (Many companies have a high potential list where the talent is groomed with a career path.)

Some of us may think, “Well this is common sense”.  Not so. A friend recounts the   story of her maternal uncle, born in the year of the Tiger (Chinese Zodiac sign – Tiger is good, scares away bad fortune), told by his father that he didn’t need to study because opportunities would come. The uncle today is uneducated, and has no discipline to pick up any skills. History repeats itself. Her brother tells his children “Work smart and not work hard”.  Fortune telling, face reading is still a roaring business among educated Chinese.

People must of course, want to change.

What then, is talent? A person with some innate ability, values, and the ability to persevere and learn from their mistakes. I find this view very liberating for me. A fixed mindset implies that “nature” goes on its pre-programmed course, once the button is pushed. A growth mindset helps me forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made, and look on my failures as a learning process. How do I measure success? Not pegged against another person, but whether I’ve learned and grown a little more today compared to yesterday.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” is a literal translation of the Chinese idiom “臥虎藏龍” which describes a place that is full of talented or extraordinary people who remain hidden and undiscovered, or simply means “talented or extraordinary people hidden from view. (Wikipedia). In 2000, the term received international prominence as the title of Lee Ang’s martial arts epic. The cinematography and martial arts moves are choreographed in ballet-like manner, which to a Chinese audience familiar with martial arts movie, too  unrealistic. An analogy would be to think about  the speed of the bullet from a cowboy shoot-out in a wild wild west movie. Beauty in the eye of the beholder.



Lavender Fields in Furano

Lavender Fields in Furano

Display at the 2014 Singapore Gardens Festival

Display at the 2014 Singapore Gardens Festival

In my earlier blogpost, I reflected on the importance of silence.

Words are often necessary as a language of trust.

Recently, a friend introduced me to a book “Five Love Languages” and shared that her love language was “Quality Time”. Sundays are reserved as special time for her husband as both spent the rest of the week on the road. His love language was “Words of Affirmation”.  Every day, he messages her that he loves her, lamenting that she does not do the same. Reminds me of the story of a man when asked by his wife why he longer tells her “I love you” remarked, “I’ve told you on our wedding day, if anything has changed, I’ll let you know.”

Some of us need constant reminders.

At last week’s Prime Minister’s National Day rally, he recounted the story of a very observant resident who noticed that a fish-ball stick thrown on the ground was not swept after two days. Obviously the cleaner was not doing his work. The resident helpfully reported this to his MP who investigated and discovered that it was because the stick fell on “no man’s land”. She gamely intervened and got the various agencies to work together.

When I heard the story, I wondered why the man in question did not pick up the fish-ball stick in the first place.

Foreigners used to joke that Singapore was a “fine” city. If you were caught littering, you pay a fine of $500. Today, we are a “cleaned” city. Not clean, but cleaned, with an army of cleaners.  Its our right to throw fish-ball sticks around, and its the cleaners’ fault for not cleaning after us. We wonder why its becoming so expensive to live in Singapore. [Now the joke is on us.]

Norms have changed. We worry more about what the western media projects of Singapore. The slogans have gone because it sounds too communist. We are a modern global city.

When we visited the flower fields of Furano in Hokkaido, I was amazed that no one picked the lavender flowers, leaving it for everyone to enjoy. Only in Japan. The Tourism Board in Singapore tried to display orchids along our tourist shopping belt one year, and by Day 2, the displays were bare from people helping themselves. Tragedy of the Commons where everyone acts in their own self interest. So no chance of the beautiful displays at the Singapore Gardens Festival finding their way for permanent display at Orchard Road.

What is so different about the Japanese spirit of discipline? Education and constant reminders. In my recent visit to Japan, I was surprised to find that in public trains are clear signs in multiple languages (Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean), not to use handphones. Japan is a society where clear rules and etiquette are communicated. Before you become too enamoured with the Japanese lifestyle, I’ve seen young moms carrying babies plying the crowded sub-way trains and no one would give up their seats. [The young moms were probably walking to the “charity” seats reserved for pregnant, old people.] No illusions of a polite society.

I first visited China in the 1980s. In 1999 I was back in Shanghai for a company retreat. My colleague lost his wallet. In most countries, you can forget about seeing your wallet again. He informed the hotel receptionist, suspecting it was dropped in the taxi we boarded from the hotel. We didn’t recall which taxi but gave a rough estimation of the time we left hotel. Wallet returned the same afternoon with everything intact.

A different China from the one reported by the media these days with stories of melamine in milk powder and meat scandal.  []

I’m not asking for a return of communist China. But as society “evolves”, the unspoken norms or rules that have guided civic or ethic behaviour needs to be articulated differently. Dr Newberg and Dr Waldman in their book “Words can change your brain” wrote that inner values used to be a popular topic in the1950s and 1960s when books by Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning appeared. During the past 20 years, values based research mostly disappeared..

Dr Newberg and Dr Waldman in their book “Words can change your brain” recalls having a church auditorium filled with religious believers and disbelievers and people of various political, economic beliefs. They guided the participants through a inner values exercise and asked them to share their values aloud, everyone ended up feeling a deep sense of mutual respect for each other. The authors cited Havard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter who found that when people discuss business values openly, the need to impose impersonal and coercive rules disappears.

Some organisations go through lip service. The stated values on the vision and mission statement contradicts with that of the unspoken organisation decision-making centre and behaviour.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Commonly attributed to Aristotle who said that nature requires everything to be filled with something.  A utopia demolished of social constructs and clear norms, be it family, religion or big brother indoctrination, and left to free forces leads to anarchy.



Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Last night, I posted photos of the Divine Trees at the Night Festival. An illusion of faces created by play of light and shadows projected on the trees by Clement Briend. Knowing that the museum had no power over pruning of the trees along the museum grounds, I kept thinking about this illusion.

Clearly my eyes cannot be trusted. Gestalt psychologists have told us that. Our mind tricks us to see two faces and a vase by the play of black and “space”.

A very good book I’ve pushed off reading, is “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman talks about the “experiencing self” vs the “remembering self”.

Most people make a mistake in the focusing illusion to give attention to selected moments. We neglect what happens at other times.  The mind is good at telling stories. When we look at a sparkling diamond ring, we think it would make us a very happy married couple.  Neglecting that working off the debt to pay for this ring, may cost us our very happiness.  Several young couples here in this country have found themselves heavily in debt, after splurging more than they could afford on their wedding celebrations.

Experiments have shown that our experience and our memories of an experience may differ. There’s a brilliant and funny TED talk by Daniel Gilbert, “The Surprising Science of Happiness“. I have his book, Stumbling on Happiness.  (

“Our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.”

Shakespeare once said, “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. 1 Thess 5:18 “In every circumstances, give thanks…” advised Apostle Paul.

Too much choice actually cripples you.

Prof Gilbert cites an experiment at Harvard.  A black-and-white photography course was conducted where students could learn how to use a darkroom. Students took 12 pictures with the University’s cameras; selected their best 2 pictures, blew them into 8-by-10 in the darkroom. [Here’s the catch.] They had to choose one picture to keep and give up the other one to the school as evidence of the course.

Students were randomly divided into two groups. First group was allowed to change their mind on which photo to keep and return. You ever want to change your mind, it’s totally returnable.”

Second group was told they can’t change their mind: “Make your choice. You will never see the picture that is returned to Headquarters.”

Which group of students do you think will come to like the picture they kept?

When asked, students think “they’re going to come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind”. It doesn’t much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition.

The Havard team found that five days later, students “stuck with the picture, who have no choice, have come to like it a lot!  Those who were deliberating — “Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn’t the good one? Maybe I left the good one?” — have killed themselves. They don’t like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don’t like their picture.”

This experiment was conducted on Havard courses, with two groups of students, first group given the opportunity to switch their course even after it had started. Second group given no choice to drop their course. Which group do you think would be happier. Ironically, same results were found. Those given the liberty to drop and choose new courses during the first two weeks of term were the least happy.  

The secret to happiness? “Be content in all circumstances”. Thinking what might have been, and that you have made a bad choice, can actually kill your happiness. What you experience is different from your memory of it.







There is another fascinating TED talk citing experiments on what motivates us at work by Dan Ariely.





The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Highly recommend Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good”, when the day is done and you feel down.

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when the day is done, thats what I mean
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world

Its a new dawn, its a new day and I’m feeling good.

Read more: Michael Buble – Feeling Good Lyrics | MetroLyrics



Nick Drake’s “Day is Done”

Tim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with


How do you approach the night? Exhausted or exhilarated that tomorrow’s a brand new day? Plan your nights or let it slip away?

“We are what we repeatedly do, excellence than is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

  • Do you have a ritual after work? Or plonk yourself in front of the television? Watching a movie is not a bad idea, but try not to just flip through the channels.
  • Carve out some time to learn and grow, feed your creative soul?
  • 15 mins to doodle and draw?
  • Ask reflective questions and journal?

1. In what ways did I learn and grow today?

2. How have I made a difference in another person’s life?

3. What will I do differently tomorrow?

  • Take a Walk?  The Singapore Night Festival 2014 is here and over the next 2 weekends, visits to the 3 Museums are free from 9pm to 2am. There’s live music, performances and lots of people-watching.

Catch the Divine Trees by Clement Briend. The illusions are created by using a light projector. What a way to enjoy the cool night in safe Singapore and forget the cares of the day.


Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Singapore Night Festival 2014

Singapore Night Festival 2014

Singapore Night Festival 2013

Singapore Night Festival 2013