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磨刀不误砍柴工 
mó dāo bú wù kǎn chái gōng

Grinding an axe will not hold up [delay] the work of cutting firewood. Spending time preparing your axe may quicken the speed of your work.

Story goes that two men were chopping wood. One started ahead. The second man just continued grinding his axe. The first man, very conceited, was anxious to find out who fell more trees ? It was the second man.

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Photo of Ainu carving by master wood carver Takeki Fujito in Tsuruga Wings Lake Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

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Desk of Japanese Carver Kengo at Lake Akan Ainu village

Half way through chopping, the first man’s axe had become dull and blunt and it took him more effort and time to fall one tree.

工 欲 善 其 事,必 先 利其器
gōng yù shàn qí shì,bì xiān lì qí qì

“工欲善其事,必先利其器”
孔子告诉子贡,工艺的人,要想把工作完成,应该先把工具准备好。

What then for someone who manages the state?

居是邦也
Jū shì bāng yě

事其大夫之贤者,友其士之仁者
Shì qí dàfū zhī xián zhě, yǒu qí shì zhī rénzhě

孔子说:“工匠要做好工作,必须先磨快工具。住在一个国家,要侍奉大夫中的贤人,与士人中的仁人交朋友。” 

那么为仁是用什么工具呢?住在这个国家,想对国家有所贡献,必须结交上流社会有道德的人才,乃至政坛上的大员,政府的中坚;和这个国家社会上各种贤达的人,都要交成朋友。有了良好的关系,然后才能得到有所贡献的机会,完成仁的目的。
Source: Baidu with words in italics added by me

(The Baidu translation gives the impression that Confucius advised one should network with the rich, influential and powerful. But Confuscius emphasised seeking out the benevolent ones because his disciple Zigong’s question was on benevolence (仁).

When asked by his disciple how one should prepare to manage his country benevolently, Confucius noted in the “Analects” that just as a workman has to prepare his tools, an official preparing to govern a country benevolently must prepare his tools too.

Confucius advised that (humans being social creatures), one should seek out and befriend good and respectable talent in all levels of society.

How does a knowledge worker polish his tools?

Today, Confucius would have advised us, knowledge worker, what is the tool of your trade? Have you been spending time polishing it before cutting your tree.

Translation and reinterpretation by me.

http://wap.5156edu.com/xhy/

Chinese is a very rich language filled with idiomatic sayings.

歇后语xiehouyu are two part sayings. The first part is a riddle, puzzle or reference to story or history and the second part, sometimes not expressed, is the meaning.

I shall list a few all associated with kitchen utensils.

热锅里的蚂蚁
rè guō shàng de mǎ yǐ     –
形容心里焦急,坐立不安

anxious, like ants on a hot wok

打翻的五味瓶
Dǎ fān de wǔwèi píng –
心里有 酸 甜 苦 辣 咸 的滋味 

很难受 不舒服的感觉
Knock over the 5 flavours bottle – mixed feelings, mostly unpleasant
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大理石压咸菜缸
Dàlǐshí yā xiáncài gāng –
大才小用
Use marble vessel to ferment preserved vegetable – waste of talent or wrong use of talent

炒菜的勺子
Chǎocài de sháozi –
尝尽了酸甜苦辣
The spoon used for cooking has tasted all flavours – and all life’s experiences, the happy, sad, bitter and painful.

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?

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

Presence, bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges” by Amy Cuddy

Do you feel happy because you smile or do you smile because you’re happy?

According to Havard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, who had a very successful 2012 TED Talk and now a book to further explore some game changing research insights, the body shapes the mind.

I highly recommend both reading the book as well as watching the TED Talk. In the TED talk she showed visuals emphasising some of the power moves realistically.

In one of her first experiments, she recruited 200 subjects online and prompted them to imagine themselves holding either a high-power or low-power pose for 2 minutes. Then she instructed them to picture strangers walking in and out of the room as they were holding the pose and form impressions of these strangers.

Among the people who’d imagined themselves holding high power poses, 70 percent used words such as:

Open and strong
Grounded and confident

Those who imagined themselves in low power poses had a much less pleasant experience: 72% used words as

Awkward and tense
Scared and lonely
Very very uncomfortable

Here, Professor Cuddy makes a case for feeling powerful.

Feeling powerless impairs thoughts
Powerlessness makes us self-absorbed

Power can protect us
Power can connect us
Power can incite action

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These are my fingers.

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I find these low power poses very familiar. Guilty as charged. Will stop myself from doing this.

As for the high power poses, while I can accept how they may improve a person’s confidence, how do you think it’ll be accepted by others in the room?

I showed this page to a few Asian working adults and the high power poses didn’t go down too well in our social context.

If you come to Asia, and put your feet on the table, never mind that we no longer believe in table gods, but it’s very threatening and disrespectful. Very rarely do you find bosses putting their feet on the table.

I once saw a photo of President Obama putting his elegant long legs on the table ofthe Oval Office in the presence of some aides and realised that in the US, this must be totally acceptable.

This is a great book with many interesting insights especially in contexts where bullying, gender differences and even during interviews where non-spoken gestures affect what is communicated.

Next time you feel powerless or anxious before an interview or an exam, do a power pose in your room or at least in your mind. Imagine yourself in a power pose.

Starfish up! Mind your posture throughout the day!

What you observe creates your reality.

Those of us who drive know the danger of blind spots and the need for side mirrors.

According to Shawn Achor of “Before Happiness“, a reality at work based on only one vantage point is limited and full of blind spots and that prevents forward movement.

Achor suggests that the perspective is in the details. He cites Dr Irwin Braverman, a professor at Yale School of Medicine and Linda Friedlaender, the curator at the Yale Centre for British Art who came up with an exercise that helped doctors improve a skill that actually could save lives.

In the midst of training, students were taken to an art museum to see the world in multiple dimensions.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the students who took this class exhibited a 10% improvement in their ability to detect important medical details.

“Once they are able to see this wider rave of details, they were better able to leverage their IQ and EQ and all their other cognitive abilities to knit these details together and see previously missed connections.

Those details were the vantage points that broadened their perspective and made them more successful in their work. ”

Achor notes that in medicine , as in all professions, it is easy to get stuck seeing things from only one vantage point and approach problems with a broader and deeper perspective.

He gave the example of a doctor who observes the lips of a patient and noticed something all other doctors missed and saved the patient’s life.

Seeing reality from different angles can allow us to open our eyes to a broader range of opportunities and connect more deeply with our team and family.

Please also catch Shawn Achor’s very humorous TED talk.

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Broken pot becomes a work of art. At the 2016 Singapore Garden Festival.

Seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world.

Marxist art critic John Berger’s “Ways of seeing” peels through the layers of meaning in these oil paintings arguing that paintings project the painter’s (or patron’s) assumptions of beauty, truth, civilisation, taste, class and gender.

Take this painting of the”Ambassadors” I saw at the National Gallery, London last year.

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Who are these people being painted ? How do they look at the painter or at us (spectator/owner)?
What were the relations of such men with the rest of the world?

“Centuries later, we can interpret the objects on the shelves according to our perspectives. The scientific instruments on the top shelf were for navigation. This was the time when the ocean trade routes were being opened up for the slave trade and to siphon riches from other continents into Europe and later supply the capital for the take-off of the Industrial Revolution. “. A class of people, convinced that the world was there to furnish it’s comfort.

Man and nature. And Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews as proud landowners. Why did Mr and Mrs Andrews commission a portrait of themselves with recognizable landscape of their own land as background.

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Source: https://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/mr-and-mrs-andrews-by-thomas-gainsborough/

Consider the category of nudes in paintings. In them all remains the implication that the subject (a woman) is aware of being seen by a spectator. Is it merely a celebration of the human form? Or a depiction of the painter’s experience, turning desire into fantasy.

Women are depicted in quite a different way from men – not because the feminine is different from the masculine – but because the “ideal” spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.

The claim of the theme is made empty by the way the subject is painted, writes Berger. He compares 3 different paintings of Mary Magdalene of the Bible in different levels of undress. Mary Magdalene was depicted in the bible for her love of Jesus and transformation of her life by her repentance. The way her pictures are painted contradicts the essence of her story. (A naked Mary Magdalene certainly does not evoke images of religious piety in the spectator regardless of how the painter chooses to name it.)

Next time you look at a painting or a advertisement, look at the devises (Berger):
The gesture of models and mythological figures
The poses taken up to denote stereotypes of women: serene mother (madonna), sex-object (Venus, nymph surprised)
Materials particularly used to indicate luxury: furs etc
Equation of drinking and success
Gestures and embraces of lovers, arranged frontally for the benefit of the spectator.

I love to hear stories.

Before the arrival of Marvel comics, as children we read stories of “1001 nights” or Stories from Ancient China or Japan.

Hero with a thousand faces

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Source of photo: Facebook of another George K.

This Year of the Monkey, the TV is replaying movies of our beloved Chinese mythology Journey to the West, starring the most famous Chinese monkey – Sunwukong. It is about a Chinese monk’s quest for wisdom to collect some sacred texts from India. To protect him on this perilous journey, are three protectors who agree to help him as an atonement for their sins. These disciples are Sun Wukong, Zhu Wuneng and Sha Wujing, together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuanzang’s steed, a white horse.

Along the way they met many trials but eventually obtained the texts and these disciples rewarded for their actions.

Consider another beloved Japanese tale. Momotarō who came to Earth inside a giant peach, was found floating down a river by an old, childless woman. The couple named him Momotarō, from momo (peach) and tarō(eldest son in the family).

Years later, Momotarō left his parents to fight a band of demons on a distant island. En route, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey and pheasant, who agreed to help him in his quest. At the island, Momotarō and his friends penetrated the demons’ fort and defeated the demons. Momotarō and his new friends returned home with the demons’ plundered treasure and lived comfortably thereafter. (Wiki)

http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm
Joseph Campbell, in his influential work, Hero with a thousand faces, noted that all myths seem to have a common structure. In his book, he describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or”boon”), which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge. The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (thereturn to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon). Source: Wikipedia.

A fundamental difference then is who is responsible for the success? The hero individually or the group?

In collectivist cultures or group-focused cultures, people define themselves by affiliation with group, values and achievements. People look for consensus and group buy-in. The boy Momotarō succeeds, according to Solomon and Schell in their book “Managing across Cultures” , only with the help of the group. Not just his initiative or his ingenuity but his ability to enlist the community to cooperate in his success and the community’s well-being.

In collectivist cultures, seniority and years of experience are valued. Praising a young person in front of the rest will be the kiss of death as his/her in-group will surely put the person in place later.

I was told by a Japanese classmate from a top tier American management consulting firm, that Analysts, Associates and Partners carry different types of briefcases suitable for one’s rank even if the company policy is not to have the rank stated on the name card. Everyone knows their place and trained to detect the subtle nuances and signals.

Consider the Indian story of story of a group of blind men (or men in the dark) who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. (Wikipedia)

In his retelling of “The Elephant in the Dark”, Rumi uses this story as an example of the limits of individual perception. We need the wisdom of the collective.

In contrast, the stories from an individualist culture, where children are raised on stories of Superman and Spiderman where the hero acts independently, disregards the accepted way of doing things and saves people with his superhuman strength. What does he do when he’s low on energy or super stressed? Solomon and Schell pointedly noted that Superman goes off to his icy retreat where he’s isolated and gets strength by hiding away.

In individualistic culture, individual freedom and achievements are very important and rewarded. Does it influence hiring and reward practices? An individual is expected to state his or her own role and contributions.

Not surprisingly, then some cultures pay their CEO – superstar salary. The wisdom of one man can change the group’s performance. In the US for example, salary differences between the CEO and the lowest rank can be as high as 160 times. European cultures such as Nordic cultures surprisingly have less inequality and the difference in pay scale is about 50 to 10 times.

So you think that Hofstede’s Cultural dimensions shed some light on the different ways we make decisions and our hiring/ human resources practices?

Increasingly in some firms we see collaborative behavior being celebrated. In describing the platform put under his charge, New Google CEO Pichai said

“I have to think about building a platform and bringing as many people along on this journey and getting it right. I believe that ultimately, it’s a more powerful approach, but it’s a lot more stressful as well.”

Note that here I’m not trying to evaluate the benefit of group decision making over individual but to acknowledge the cultural difference. At times, collective decision making gives way to the danger of compromise and group think. Individual decision making can be divisive.

Before starting work in a new organisation or a new country, it’s interesting to note the national and organisational cultural differences in the way we tell the story of a hero’s journey.

Deal and Kennedy categorise 4 corporate cultures according to appetite for risk and speed of feedback:

  1. Tough Guy, Macho Culture

Individualists who frequently take high risks and receive quick feedback on the right or wrong of their actions. Financial stakes are high and focus on speed. The intense pressure and frenetic pace often results in early ‘burnout’. Internal competition and conflict are normal, stars are temperamental but tolerated. A high staff turnover can create difficulties in building a strong cohesive culture. Examples include trading floor, management consulting and the entertainment industry.

2. Work-hard/Play-hard Culture

Internal organisational environment characterised by fun and action, where employees take few risks, all with quick feedback. There is a high level of relatively low-risk activity.  Organisations tend to be highly dynamic and centers on customers needs. It is the team who produce the volume, and the culture encourages games, meetings, promotions and conventions to help maintain motivation. However, although a lot gets done, volume can be at the expense of quality. Examples include mass consumer companies such as McDonald’s and retail industry.

 3. Bet-your-company Culture

This type of culture sees large stake decisions with a high risk but slow feedback so that it may be years before employees know if decisions were successful. The focus is on the future and the importance of investing in it. There is a sense of deliberateness throughout the organisation typified by the ritual of the business meeting. There is a hierarchical system of authority with decision making from the top down. The culture leads to high-quality inventions and scientific breakthroughs, but moves only very slowly and is vulnerable to short-term fluctuations. Examples include oil companies, investment banks, architectural firms, and the military.

4. Process Culture

This is a low-risk, slow-feedback culture where employees find difficult in measuring what they do. The individual financial stakes are low and employees get very little feedback on their effectiveness. Their memos and reports seem to disappear into a void. Lack of feedback force employees to focus on how they do something, not what they do. People tend to develop a ‘cover-your-back’ mentality. Bureaucracy results with attention to trivial events, minor detail, formality and technical perfection. Process cultures can be effective when there is a need for order and predictability. Typical examples include banks, insurance companies, financial services, and the civil service.

Charles Handy uses another typology to describe culture.

  • Power Culture

Handy uses the analogy of a spider’s web to depict a power culture. It is typified by an absence of bureaucracy and few rules and procedures. Control is exercised from a central power base (the spider), radiating influence through key individuals. They are political organisations with decisions taken largely on the basis of influence.

  • Role Culture

Strong organisational “pillars” such as functions, specialisation, rules and procedures. The work of, and interaction between, the pillars is controlled by procedures and rules, and coordinated by a small band of managers. Role or job description is often more important than the individual and position is the main source of power.

  • Person Culture

Such cultures, viewed by Handy as clusters, focus on individuals. The organisation exists to serve the purposes of the individuals within it; the organisation itself is secondary to individual self-fulfilment. When a group of people decide that it is in their own interests to band together to do their own thing and share office space, equipment or support staff, then the resulting organisation would be a person culture.

Examples of person culture are groups of barristers, architects, doctors or consultants. Such a culture is attractive to many people who would like to operate as ‘free agents’ within the security of an organisation.

This is not always possible and conflict often arises when individuals attempt to operate according to a person culture within an organisation that is essentially a role culture. Such as an academic focusing on goaIs of personal research within a university, increasingly operating as a classic role culture.

Different people enjoy working in different types of organisation culture and they are more likely to be satisfied and happy at work if their attributes and personalities are consistent with the culture of that part of the organisation in which they are employed.