productive Wed

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


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Two stories about animals


Story in “Analect” records that one day, Confucius’ horse stable caught fire. Instead of asking about the horses, he asked if everyone was alright, anyone hurt. Although horses were precious asset, more valuable than the lives of his stable hands and servants, he demonstrated that he considered, human lives more important. (I am sure that Confucius was attached to his horses too.)

bǐng jí wèn niú

Another parallel story in Analects is about a cow. Premier BingJi asking about the cow.


One day while travelling through the villages to survey how his citizens were living, Bingji saw a few men fighting. Yet he did not intervene.

Later in his journeys he saw a sick cow and send his attendants to enquire about the condition of the cow.

Surprised, his attendants asked why he was more concerned about a cow than humans. Bingji explained that he did not interfere in the matter of the men fighting because that was the jurisdiction of the local authorities.

However, the sick cow may signal an unexpected weather change or epidemic that could affect the harvest and the livelihood of the peoples under his charge (China was predominantly an agriculture country in those days.)

When we lead and manage corporations and nations, do we value our employees more than the balance sheet?

Money is important and all nations and companies need to stay afloat and excel. Shareholder returns are important. Digitalisation of the economy is for the ease of lives. Not the enslavement of another human being.

Disruptive technology has worked in a large part to capture shareholder value but at the same time remove certainty of employment and other benefits to the owner of labor.

Will disruptive technology also disrupt the dignity of labor? And instead reduce the price of labor to the constant haggling we see in markets of third world nations? (We call that demand and supply to sound more posh.) Will it lead to the enslavement of one group of people with another group.

But in the deepest of hearts, do we sometimes forget that people are not tools for our purpose.

When we look at the balance sheet of a successful company, do we ask how they treat the workers of production ?

Upgrading of skills, salary. Do they disrupt without creating value for families and homes? Do we measure success from only the view point of shareholder returns?

As labour gets increasingly expensive, in the service industry in Japan, there are ways to involve the customer.


Self service ordering of food via vending machine.

Take your own water, cutlery and tray.

Some of the hotels have big bottles of toiletries but no disposable lotion. For that, you go to the communal baths, albeit designed beautifully and using good quality stuff.

Here in Pan de Pan bakery at Lake Akan, toast your bread, sort out your rubbish and return tray.


Plus eco friendly decor like this tree with wood shavings as leaves.



There is a free hot spring for your feet just outside the Bakery.

For work-life balance, the cafe is closed on Monday and Wednesday. Opened from 830am to 630pm.



I love the bitter caramel puff which cost 220 Yen and the pumkin danish 80 Yen. The delicious cakes are 380 Yen each. You can eat in or take out.



Self check in and out at the Richmond Hotel in Obihiro. (The male reception was very helpful and did it for me. But I later realised when I saw a Japanese guest work the machine. )

Japan is still a highly service oriented culture. The Cashier at the supermarket does not give out free plastic bags. Cost about 3 Yen each. But she will pack your items neatly into the basket as she scans their price code.


At a European MBA school I once worked in, we once received a complaint from an employer because his Asian intern was caught sleeping at her desk. Clarification from a French colleague who had worked in Vietnam revealed that this student was indeed napping during a lunch break, a common practice in Taiwan, Vietnam and China.

What used to raise eyebrows in AngloSaxon countries where working all night = high productivity is now gaining popularity amongst the coolest of firms such as Zappos, Facebook, Google and PWC.

The latest in HR practice is to provide power nap cells or rooms for employees to catch forty winks.

In “How to have a good day”, former McKinsey consultant Caroline Webb starts her book with a chapter on the Science Essentials. She quotes Havard professor of sleep medicine Charles Czeisler that skimping on sleep – sleeping only four hours a night a week induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol of 0.1 percent. We would never say “This person is a great worker. He’s drunk all the time!” Yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep.

Czeisler counts CEOs, star athletes and rock stars such as Mick Jagger among his sleep clients especially when they are criss-crossing across time zones during their tours. Now it makes perfect sense why Madonna in her recent Asian tour started her concert at 1030pm while her show in Singapore on the last leg was at a more sane 830pm. (Of course fans were not informed in advance and had to wait for her. This was not prima donna behavior but a realistic human reaction to perform at her peak.)

Webb quotes upsetting research by neuroscientists of brain scan of volunteers who hadn’t slept. They showed much activation in their amygdala -60 percent more than people who were well rested. The tired brain survival circuitry was more jittery and likely to launch into a fight or flight/ freeze defence in the face of challenge or uncertainty.

Another research, cited by Webb points to the positive side of sleeping. Stanford researcher found that when she got male basketball platers to sleep ten hours a night – both their mood and daytime energy improved as well as their hoop shooting performance by an average of 9 percent.

What should we do?
1. Does alcohol help me sleep?
Contrary to popular belief, while alcohol makes you drowsy, it leads to poor quality sleep. Previously known as taking a nightcap, alcohol is known to interfere with breathing and you end up more tired than before you fell asleep. (Todd Arnedt, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the Sleep and Chronophysiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan.)
This is due to the biphasic effects of alcohol which makes you drowsy but stimulates the blood stream and interferes with REM sleep.

2. Does watching television and surfing the net help calm me down before sleep?
While research suggests that helping the body calm down before sleep is critical. Reading a book, engaging in crossword puzzles helps prepare the mind to slow down. On the other hand, bright lights from television and Internet do not, leading to a shallow sleep as the brain is confused thinking that it has to get up.

3. What else can I do?
a. Set a sleep routine so that the body’s circadian rythumn can get into the habit.
b. Avoid bright lights
c. Practice deep breathing.
Forget counting sheep but instead count your breath. Close your eyes and breathe in counts of 4 and breathe out counts of 7. Notice your breath flow from your stomach to your nose for 10 sets.
d. Engage in moderate exercise which helps reduce cortisol produced by the body during a stressful work day. At the same time the body produces endorphins or happy hormones which relaxes the body.
e. Do not engage in any stimulating activity just before bedtime. Jot down some points but leave the heavy weight thinking for the morning.

4. What if I can’t sleep?
Webb suggests taking power naps of 20-30 mins during the day.

Do you think introverts need more sleep than extroverts?

I’m procrastinating. Why? Maybe work is boring, perhaps fear of the unknown.

According to Malcolm Goldsmith, although we are motivated by happiness and we have a pot of gold I mind at the end of the rainbow, our brain does not process the same way.

Seth Godin explains that we have 3 brains and the oldest part of our brain, the reptilian brain tends to maintain balance and is rigid and compulsive. This is necessary for our ancestors to avoid unfamiliar places and being eaten in the jungle but it explains why we tend to favour inertia.

Photo taken from Facebook of prime minister Lee at the #Ilightmarinabay# 2016.

Best way to overcome your fear of creativity, brainstorming … might be to sprint.

“Let’s take 30 minutes to come up with ten business ideas.”.   

[For me, take 30 mins to come up with the first draft. Mark 6 assignments today. Then stop. ]

When we sprint, all the internal negative dialogue falls away and we focus on going as fast as we possibly can. When you’re sprinting, you don’t feel the sore knee. You just run.

But you can’t sprint forever. The brevity of the event is a key part of why it works to keep the resistance at bay.

From Seth Godin’s “Linchpin – Are you Indispensable”

All art is a series of recoveries from the first line. The hardest thing to do is to put down the first line. But you must. – Artist Nathan Olivera quoted by Roger von Oech in “A Whack on the side of the Head“.



Its like a karate chop that breaks through the wooden boards, it takes speed, focus and practice.