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.


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

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


What then for someone who manages the state?

Jū shì bāng yě

Shì qí dàfū zhī xián zhě, yǒu qí shì zhī rénzhě


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.


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.

Career events and career fairs are coming around the corner, and the job search process especially networking can be a stressful experience. The universities which I’m associated with, have asked for a list of questions that students can ask, since Asians tend to be shy.

The ability to ask insightful questions reflects an intelligent mind. Do not ask questions where there is available open source material such as company website, Hoover, Bloomberg etc, but you may show the extent of your research by asking further questions.

Note that timing is important when asking questions. The questions below only serve as a guide. Use your judgment as to when you should ask the questions. Pay attention to the “flow” of the conversation to avoid the conversation sounding awkward and abrupt.

Questions about the company

  1. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
  2. How will you measure success?
  3. When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?
  4. How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
  5. What do you want to see accomplished in your team/ department/ company in the next 3 to 6 months? What would be ideal outcome or key performance indicator?
  6. Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 has made on your organization or you personally?
  7. What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today?

Questions to the speaker at a personal level

  1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
  2. What are some of your go-to resources for getting guidance in your field of work?
  3. How will this position impact the organisation overall?
  4. How can I be helpful to you right now?
  5. What advice would you give someone going into this industry for the first time?
  6. What do you like to do? (Instead of what do you do?)

At an informal networking event, I do not like to ask someone what they do because it ”signals that the asker is interested in assessing the other person’s power and status to gauge if they’ll be ‘useful’ to speak with.

Don’t crowd around the CEO of the company, often times you’ll find that the younger company representatives may have more to share since they were not too long ago in your shoes.

News-worthy events

  1. So what do you think about [XXXXXXXXXX]  and its impact to your industry?
  2. How do you read the impact of a [XXXX] on your industry
  3. Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 has made on your organization or you personally?

Questions to the speaker


Michael Hyatt is one of my favourite gurus. Do check out his website and podcasts.

  1. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
  2. As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
  3. How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”?
  4. How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values”?
  5. How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?
  6. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?
  7. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
  8. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
  9. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
  10. Could you share some of the resources you are using to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

What other questions would you add to the above list?  Pls comment below.

Happy Networking and career success.



We are all in sales now.

Says Daniel Pink.

“To sell is human – the surprising truth about moving others” by Daniel Pink

Analysing his work week, Pink realised that as a writer he spends a big portion of his time selling in a broader sense – persuading, influencing and convincing others.

Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. We deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients.

We’re in the business of “moving” people to part with resources – whether it’s tangible like cash or intangible like effort or attention or support.

In a survey of 9057 respondents, he commissioned, two findings emerged:

1. People are now spending 40% of their time doing non-sales selling -persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of profession, we are devoting roughly twenty four minutes of every hour to moving others.

2. People consider this aspect of their job crucial to their professional success – even in excess of the considerable amount of time they devote to it.

Dan Pink ask the following questions
1. Do you earn your living trying to convince others to purchase goods or services?
2. Do you work for yourself or run your own operation even on the side ?
3. Does your work require elastic skills – the ability to cross boundaries and functions, to work outside your speciality, and to do a variety of different things throughout the day?
4. Do you work in education or health care?
If you answered yes. Then you’re in sales. Because you’re in the business of moving others.

If selling is part of our work experience, what must we do?

Perspective-taking of the other person

  1. Attunement

Attune to the other person. Best way to start a conversation, he suggests: Ask – where are you from? Attune to culture differences.

Watch, wait and wane.  Mimic but don’t lose sight of your objective and do it with deftness, dont let the person think you’re imitating them. Mood map

2. Buoyancy

Before you attempt something, rehearse Interrogative Self Talk.  

Instead of positive self-talk such as “I’ll be the world’s best salesman”, take on a different tack – Ask questions.

According to researchers Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of University of Illinois and Kenji Noguchi of University of Southern Mississippi, when given task to solve anagrams, the self-questioning group solved nearly 50% more puzzles than the self-affirming group.

Why?  Asking questions – interrogative, brings out answers which are strategies for carrying out the task. Daniel Pink suggests asking yourself “can I do that?”.  (Note: I suggest to rephrase that question to “how can I do that?”.  Unlike Pink, I have found that people with low self-efficacy sometimes answer, “no, I can’t.”

Ambivert and be positive.

After the sale: what is your Explanatory Style?

Martin Seligman found out that people who give up easily, even when they can actually do something, have a negative explanatory style.  They explain bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. It can diminish performance, trigger depression and turn setbacks into disasters.

Optimists instead attribute bad events as temporary and something external.

3. Clarity

Good salespeople are skilled problem-solvers. They assess prospects needs, analyze their problems and deliver the optimal solution. Or so we used to think.

Today’s world, information is abundant, so its less on problem solving than on problem finding. The Conference Board, a few years ago, asked public school administrators and private employers, what are the most important competencies required in today’s workforce.  Administrators ranked “problem solving” as number one.  Employers instead, ranked it number eight.  

Their top ranked ability was “problem identification”. [Interestingly World Economic Forum also ranked problem solving as Number One.  But Critical thinking as number two.  Nothing on problem Identification. ]

According to Haas School of Business in University of California, Berkeley, “being able to see what the problem is before you jump in to solve it” or “framing a problem in interesting ways” is very important. It triggers the ability to sort through data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces.

Skill valued in the Past: Answering questions

Skill valued Now: Asking questions, uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues and finding unexpected problems.

How to be a better salesperson?
Identify frames of reference for the other person.

  1. Clarity depends on contrast. Frame your offerings in ways that contrast with its alternatives and thereby clarify its virtues.
  2. Everyone loves choices.  But too much choice is bad. [See Jam experiment by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University. While more customers stopped by the jam booths with 24 choices, only 3% bought jam. At the booth with more limited selection (6 choices), 30% customers made a purchase.]
  3.  Use the experience frame.  Experiential purchases make people happier than material purchases.  Framing a sale in experiential terms is more likely to lead to satisfied customers and repeat business. If you’re selling a car, “go easy on emphasizing the rich Corinthian leather on the seats. Instead point out what the car will allow the buyer to do – see new places, visit old friends, and add to a book of memories.
  4. The label frame – in 2004, social scientists from the Interdisciplinary Centre in Israel, the US Air Force Academy and Stanford University recruited participants to play a Prisoners Dilemma game.  For one group, they called it “Wall Street Game”, and the other “Community Game”. In the Wall Street Game, 33% of participants cooperated.  In the Community Game, 66% reached the mutually beneficial results.  The label helped people put the exercise in context and hinted at what was expected. In an experiment of 5th grade students, a similar thing happened. Students who were labelled “neat” were more likely to keep their classroom clean.
  5. Clarify other’s motives
  6. Try a jolt of the unfamiliar
  7. Curate information
  8. Learn to ask better questions
  9. Find the 1%
  10. Ask 5 “Whys”

To improve your influencing skills:
Books suggested by Dan Pink

  1. Influence by Robert Cialdini
  2. Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  3. Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  4. Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
  5. Nudge: Improving decisions About health, wealth and happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

“The art of the Compliment, using Kind Words with Grace and Style” by Christie Matheson

Peonies at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Fun fact by Matheson:
2008 study published in the journal Neuron found that giving someone a compliment activated the same reward centre in the brain as paying him cash.

I can live on two months on a good compliment – Mark Twain

I’ve been on the receiving end of “not compliments”. When I was younger, I’ve received congratulations, “how many months are you pregnant” from quite a number of well meaning ladies. I got the hint, I needed to head for the gym.

Personally I’ve indulged in a few faux pas, when I asked someone who skipped a dish “are you on a diet”.

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it. ” Groucho Marx.

Christie Matheson advises next time you give a compliment, no back hand compliment.

When someone gives you a compliment, don’t dismiss or wave off a compliment.

There is no obligation to return a compliment. Eg. ” I love your dress.” Do not be quick to say “No. I love your dress.” It doesn’t come across as sincere and it doesn’t give you the chance to appreciate the person who gave you the compliment.

When you do it too soon, you give the impression that you couldn’t handle the compliment – and all you wanted to do was get rid of it.

Next time someone compliment you on a nice pair of earrings, there’s no need to say “they’re not real.” Just thank you will do. They aren’t looking for that information. (Okay, Christie.)

What about giving compliments ? Especially to strangers ?
Keep it simple and brief.
Don’t expect anything in return.
Don’t make it too personal eg “I love the smell of your perfume.” Or “nice legs – do you do athletics”. It makes the listener feel flattered at first but then get totally repulsed. (Some of the dating gurus need to check their notes and do some updates! )
Avoid complimenting by comparison

Not compliments
1. Your boyfriend is unbelievably hot. I’m really into him.
2. You’re much cooler than your husband.
3. It’s really cool that you just don’t care what you look like.
4. That sound like a fun little project. at least it will keep you busy.

How to give compliments?
The most seductive flattery flatters the You you wish to be. – Willis Goth Regier
Do not interrupt
Look someone in the eye (but don’t stare)
Ask questions
Remember what you’ve talked about

What areas to compliment someone?

More people are flattered into virtue than bullied out of vice – Robert Smith Surtees

Do you agree? Start complimenting your love ones, your parents and your co-workers?

The intelligent altruists, though less altruistic than the unintelligent altruists, will be fitter than both unintelligent altruists and selfish individuals. – Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize winner in economics

If its indeed better to give than to receive, why are some givers exploited and burnout while others receive extra-ordinary success? Harvard Professor Adam Grant examines the world of career success on why some people rise to the top of their career success while others sink to the bottom?

Grant observed that most people operate as either takers, matchers or givers.

It takes out that there are two types of givers:

(i) selfless givers are people with high other interest and low self interest. they give their time and energy without regard for their own needs and they pay a price for it. Grant calls it pathological altruism. It is unhealthy because they end up being overwhelmed and risk harming themselves.

(ii) Otherish givers care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.  Grant quotes Bill Gates at the WEF, “there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for others”and people are most successful when they are driven by a hybrid engine of the two.  Being otherish is about giving more than you receive, but keeping your own self-interest in sight as a guide to whom you will give.

Some suggestions by Grant on how to give:

(i) Chunking, Sprinkling and the 100 hour rule of volunteering

Otherish givers tend of chunk their volunteering, specific times of the day, instead of sprinkling – helping whenever people needed them. This allows givers more control of their time and energy to complete their own work. Grant found that chunkers achieved gains in happiness while sprinklers did not.

(ii) Myth of giver burnout

Acts 20: 35 It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Grant quotes work by Northwestern University psychologists Seeley and Gardner who found that people who consistently override their selfish impulses in order to help others, they had strengthened their psychological muscles to the point where using willpower for painful tasks was no longer exhausting.

Grant went on to tell the story of Utah businessman Jon Huntsman who believes that being a giver actually made him rich.  Economist Arthur Brooks tested the relationship between income and charitable giving. For every $1 in extra charitable giving, income was $3.75 higher.  Neuroscience research also shows that giving also activates the reward centres in the brain, signalling pleasure.

(iii) Sincerity screening

Do you know what the other person’s intention is?  Its wise to start out as a giver, advise Grant. But once a counterpart is clearly acting like a taker, it makes sense for givers to flex their reciprocity styles and shift to a matching strategy.  Game theorists call it “tit for tat”, and Harvard mathematical biologist Martin Nowak found it can be advantageous to alternate between giving and matching.

(iv) How to negotiate?

Givers, particularly agreeable ones, often overestimate the degree to which assertiveness might be off-putting to others.

Asking on account of others. When you’re willing to advocate for others,  this sends a positive signal about how hard you would work.  When a client makes an unreasonable request, explain how it was going to stretch my team or kill them working crazy hours.


Read the book for his compelling research.

Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker?


Too cool to sell: at the Tsukiji market

In today’s world of services, selling is one of the most important skills needed in the new flat structure whether you’re a consultant selling your ideas to a client or a boss persuading your employee. Usually we associate “selling” or the ability to influence with extroverts.

Can introverts sell?

In a report by Andy Grant, “Rethinking the Extroverted Sales Ideal : the Ambivert Advantage”, he found that extreme introverts and extreme extroverts brought in relatively equal amount of revenue. Those in the middle, the Ambiverts, turned out to be the best salespeople. Statistics showed that Ambiverts brought in 24% more revenue than introverts and some 32% more than extroverts.

Extreme extroverts could lose out on sales when they fail to listen attentively to customers needs. Instead they could dominate conversations, impose perspectives and ideas on clients.

What can start introverts on a good start ?
1. Invest in a CRM system to track sales, client information.
2. Be prepared to put in the hours
3. Have a systematic process of selling with facts. Attend sales training if you’ve never gone for one. Insurance and real estate agency provide training at a fee.

Introverts have certain strengths – they are empathetic listeners and are more methodical.

What they need to brush up on:
-Presentation skills
-Product knowledge
-Small talk
-Self efficacy and resilience

Social media: LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube
Mere exposure – familiarity through repeated exposure
Talks – give presentation
Centre of influence – regular referral source
Networking events
Trade shows
Organise events
Industry events
Write a book – be known as expert
Websites/ blog
Seminars – organise talks

For more reading:
Thomas Murphy, “Successful selling for introverts”
Sean Lim, “Even Introverts can sell”