Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ethan Turns Three!

Ethan Birthday Cake at Suki Sushi
Ethan with Mummy, Papa and the castle cake (cake three) at Suki Sushi

Ethan turned three on 27 Nov this year. While most pre-schoolers' idea of a birthday party is one celebrated in their school, Ethan wanted his birthday party to be in a restaurant with a big cake.

Last week he started asking for a pink castle cake. His school mate Rachel had one, he said. That got us busy. We surfed the web and located Yiling Confectionery, the shop featured in the Straits Times recently for their innovative cake designs.

We emailed Yiling a picture of the sample castle cake with the following specifications: "It is for my 3 year old boy. He likes pink. We want to include some pink in the cake to please him but at the same time we want to make sure that it doesn't turn out to be a princess cake for girls. His other favourite colours are purple and red." The cake was a BIG surprise and the kids were thrilled to see it.

Ethan and Birthday Cake
Yummy, I can't wait to dig in!

Ethan loves to sing birthday songs. He is usually the most boisterous and loudest kid at birthday celebrations. However, he was quite a different boy when it came to his own birthday. We noticed that he just sat there rather serenely and enjoyed the attention when we sang him his birthday song. He knew that he was the star that day!

Ethan and Uncle Roger basking in their moments of glory

Thanks to his doting grandparents, aunties and uncles, Ethan turned three with three celebrations and three birthday cakes! The first cake was courtesy of William, Susan, Karen and Paul at the Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant.

Ethan Birthday Cake - Prima
Birthday cake number one with a sports car...VROOOM!

Ethan Birthday Cake - Prima 2
Cutting cake number one with Mummy and Papa at Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant

His second cake was from Amy, Clement and his best friend Dyann. We had a simple celebration at home.

Cake number two with his good friend Dyann at home

Happy Birthday Ethan! Mummy and Papa loves you very much.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men?

Planning versus execution. There is an age-old debate about which is more important in marketing. Should strategy take precedence over implementation? Similarly, which is of greater significance - the general's plans or the warriors tactics?

I believe that increasingly, ivory towers "strategic marketing" ain't gonna cut the ice. Poring over numerous analytical reports and market research alone will not do. AC Nielsen may have the best coverage of traditional marketing channels but have you read what people are talking about you on hardwarezone's forums? How about what the taxi drivers are saying behind your backs?

The best marketers will blend both strategy and tactics. You need to transcend from Heaven to Earth (and maybe even Purgatory occasionally). You need to be down and dirty to draw your crowd. Better yet if you can be seen to be like one of the boys (or girls).

As we move into the world of web 2.0 and the accompanying social media revolution, people will yearn for authenticity, relevance and 1-to-1 dialogue. Increasingly, relationships are going to count more than just clever creatives, "killer copy", and maximum reach.

People are not going to like being deceived by advertising and sales pitches disguised as entertainment, education, or even enlightenment (heard of TV evangelists?). They want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (so help us God).

Blogging guru and advocate Shel Israel has an elegant term - conversational marketing -which suggests that marketing may become more like talking to friends in candid, open and honest ways.

You need to listen more. You need to read what others are saying about you (if at all). You need to probe and ask around before you can find out the answers. You also need to be real and not a phoney. People can sniff that out quickly from a mile away.

Of course, building relationships take more personal time and effort than throwing out a FPFC ad in the main dailies. New social technologies can help to hasten the process - blogs, podcasts, forums, vlogs, and so on. However, at the end of the day, it is still about personal engagements.

The new world of marketing doesn't necessarily have to happen only on the web. In fact, many of these ideas have been around for ages - long before the PC was invented. Relationship marketing can take place in the real world wherever you are - coffee shops, homes, restaurants, offices, religious places etc.

What you need to do is to start a conversation and talk about what stirs up your passion about your product or service. Spread the word in a sincere manner and encourage your associates to pass it around. Lunch with key channel partners, drink with important stakeholders, or tete-a-tete with special interest groups.

You may be surprised at how much more effective this may be.

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going...."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Papyrus Pleasures @ Chinese Heritage Centre

Popped down with Ethan and Tina to Chinese Heritage Centre to check out Sunday Playday, a programme that is part of Explore Singapore! organised by the National Heritage Board, National Library Board and Media Development Authority. The event provided hands-on and light-hearted ways to learn about all things Chinese. Well, my son Ethan certainly enjoyed his time there and brought home a neat little souvenir to boot!

Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

Bus loads of visitors!
Busloads of seniors (sound familiar?) leaving CHC after a swell time discovering what makes one Chinese.

Stall holders peddling Chinese accessories, books and other products.

Papyrus kraft samples
Some finished papyrus kraft artworks. Looks richly textured and colourful eh?

Payrus Kraft 2
Kids being engaged for hours at something non-IT or Internet related. Amazing!

Ethan and Jace
Ethan learning the finer touches of papyrus kraft from TOL ArtVenture boss Jace Ng

Ethan trying papyrus kraft
Tina giving little Ethan a hand to speed things up a little.

Ethan and snake and ladder
Ethan trying his luck at a huge snakes and ladders game. Preparing for the IR boy?

Gallery visitors
Visitors to the galleries of Chinese Heritage Centre

Gallery Tour 2
More gallery visitors enthralled by a guide's fascinating explanation.

Hong Bao Art
Hong bao making galore, attracting fans young or young at heart.

Finished Hong Bao Lanterns
Some of the lovely finished products being displayed. Definitely not your cheap and tacky Chinatown souvenirs!

Seniors Going the Blog Way

Yesterday afternoon, fellow Friends of Yesterday, Ivan Chew and Chun See did us all proud by showing seniors the basics of blogging at Queenstown Community Library.

The capacity crowd of about 100 seniors were rather engaged and sat on the edge of their seats, some copiously taking notes, while others asked questions. Many of them braved the heavy rain just to attend this session. I have not seen such a picture of earnestness in a long time.

Personally, I hope that they can contribute their stories, photographs and reflections on life at, the blog which was set up by NHB and the Museum Roundtable. We would love to hear from them!

More reports here on Ivan Chew's blog.

Chun See and Ivan shakin' and stirrin' the mostly 50 & 60 something crowd

Ivan showing them how to blog it like boing boing

Another view of the potential blog enthusiasts

Its Beginning to Look Alot Like Christmas

Took this photo recently using my Dopod at Stamford Road, just a stone's throw away from Armenian Street. Ahhh... I always love the Christmas season for its romance, magic, and lots of feasting and wining!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The 4 Cs of Marketing

Getting a bigger bang for the buck (or any bang for that matter) counts more than ever in an increasingly saturated marketplace. The advent of multiple new and traditional media channels - and the ever increasing weapons of mass distraction - makes it prudent for one to do so.

Just like the four Cs of selecting a diamond, the Four Cs of marketing are valuable tips that can help you choose wisely before investing in marketing. They are: Customer-focus, Creativity, Connections, and Calculation.


Knowing your customer is the first and most important tip. Marketing campaigns fail when companies do not pay insufficient attention to their customers.

For a start, find out where your customers hang out, what they like to do best, and what their spending patterns are like. For example, do they only purchase during a festive period (eg holidays) or throughout the year? Be rigorous in studying where your most important customers are. The 80/ 20 rule where 80% of your business comes from 20% of customers definitely apply.

Some important questions you need to ask:
· What do your customers do?
· Where do they frequent?
· What are their lifestyle/ working habits like?
· How do they respond to different media?
· Does your product or service need a lot of explanation or will a simple message suffice?
· Does it solve a problem or fulfill a need/want?


A spark of genius, clever twist, or imaginative approach can transform an otherwise run-of-the-mill campaign into a highly effective one. Look at non-traditional ways of selling your business, and focus on innovative approaches that can capture your customer’s attention.

For example, rather than distribute flyers, why not give away bookmarks, books, notepads, calendar cards and other items that people can keep and use? Organise contests where you reward people with the most ingenious ways of drawing people to your business. Dress up as a clown and distribute name cards downtown. Business service providers could give away a free book or seminar offering advice and tips on saving money, for example.


Building strong relationships with the right organisations and the right people is primary to marketing success. In this modern world, networking is important. This is even more so in the age of social media. The wider your business network, the better your chances of success. In fact, this is the foundation on which successful insurance, healthcare, and other direct selling companies are built upon.

Find out who the key movers and shakers in your field are, and learn from them. Always maintain an updated list of media contacts, reporters and editors who can help you publicise your business. Similarly, find opportunities and means to regularly contact your customers, suppliers and business partners, keeping them posted of new products and developments.

Your customers can also be a good source of useful leads. Take the time to talk to them, ask for their advice, and encourage them to refer their friends, family and associates to you.


You cannot manage what you cannot measure. It is indeed crucial for you calculate the effectiveness of your different marketing efforts, be they direct selling, advertising, roadshows, blogs (though the jury may be out on this one), web marketing or others. Have a reasonably accurate and reliable means of assessing the effectiveness of different approaches.

Cut-out coupons, contests, lucky draws, telephone hotlines, email responses, surveys, and feedback forms are examples of measurement tools. When your customer visits you, ask them how they heard about you and write that down. Compile a report to summarise the outcome of all your various advertising and selling avenues. This will help you gauge where your money is best spent.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Fs of Citizen Marketing

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba has created the 4 Fs of citizen marketers. This is an elegant idea which distills some of the types of bloggers and new media activists you find in the blogosphere.

The 4 Fs are:

1) Filters

These are the aggregators of news, posts, podcasts, youtubes and what-have-yous about various companies, brands, or topics and package it into a digestible format. They are usually objective, but may sometimes diverge into opinion shaping.

2) Fanatics

The true believers and evangelists. They love to analyze the daily or weekly progress of a brand, product, organization, or person and prescribe courses of action. They are, essentially, volunteer coaches. May be critical if they spot obvious failures.

3) Facilitators

These creators of communities and fan clubs provide a means for people to share, interact and socialise online. Their primary citizen marketer tool is a Web-based bulletin board or community software. Facilitators are like the mayors of online towns, and some online communities exceed the populations of small cities.

4) Firecrackers

Firecrackers are the one-hit wonders of citizen marketers. They can attract considerable attention because they have created a song, animation, video, or novelty that generates a lot of interest but tends to die out quickly as the creators go on with their other work. You probably can find many of them on youtube, like the Mentos and Coke explosion videos, Lonely Girl and other phenomenon.

To add to the 4 Fs above, I would like to add a 5th F which is Fellowship. I believe that all bloggers and advocates of Citizen Marketing would have a strong affinity to friendship and relationship forming. Often, the success of any citizen marketing venture falls on the ability to connect on a human and emotional level.

Much more here

Value through Videos and Virals

I came across this fascinating post from Marketing Sherpa about how one can use both blogging and video logs (or vlogs) to generate word-of-mouth interest. While the subject matter is about golfing equipment and apparel, the same principles can be applied across other "experience-rich" businesses. They include sports retail, travel agencies, leisure attractions (especially zoos and theme parks), restaurants, and maybe even museums.

Everyone’s talking about all of the things you can do with online video -- and why not? Once production completes and the clips are on your site, it’s essentially a 24/7 downloadable TV commercial.

But the space is becoming more competitive, and marketers will have to find ways to cut through the video clutter sooner rather than later as the medium matures.

See how one golf-club manufacturer used original programming in a blog and in merchandising to build their email database from scratch.

It would be great if Singapore businesses can explore leveraging on the power of youtube, Yahoo! video and other such channels.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Social Media Relations

Came across this excellent piece from the net savvy executive on how one should manage and deal with bloggers, podcasters, you-tubers and other digital denizens. They have coined a new term for it called Social Media Relations. This could be an interesting offshoot from traditional public relations which is usually more concerned with Main Stream Media (MSM).

The key roles of Social Media Relations?

1) Coordinate the development and implementation of social media engagement strategy and policies, including blogging policy, formal blogger relations programs and social media monitoring programs.

2) Train functional groups (such as marketing, communications, and HR) on the technology and culture of social media as it relates to their roles.

3) Coordinate company's tactical response to social media issues.

4) Serve as the primary contact for external service providers and vendors who support the monitoring of, and engagement with social media.

What they are advocating is that organisations should no longer treat the blogosphere and other social media channels as merely a fringe activity, but rather an integral part of one's communications and even business strategy. So that it becomes not just a part-time ECA but a full-time occupation.

Certainly sounds like it is time to re-draw the organisation chart!


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You don't have to be rich to be clever

In my years of experience in the leisure attractions business, I have learnt - often through the hard way - that drawing people can be a challenge. There is just an incredible amount of competition from other leisure and recreational options, plus lots of advertising clutter. You just can't out advertise the FMCGs, fast food chains, or big shopping malls.

How does one hope to compete against well-heeled shopping centres, restaurants, cinemas, and other places of urban air-conditioned splendour? Especially if one only has a miniscule budget.

Well, here are some tips that you can consider. I wouldn't say they are foolproof but at least they improve your odds.

1) You only have one shot at it. Typical Singaporeans are hard-pressed for time. If your advertising does not catch their attention with the first salvo, it will be difficult to entice them the second time around.

2) Don't mislead or deceive. You may fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. While eyeballs may be important, don't replace it for credibility. Don't go for cheap shots.

3) Keep It Simple & Stupid (KISS). For your marketing collateral, use what some call the LCD or Lowest Common Denominator test. If your neighbour or relatives do not understand it, you can be sure most of your target audiences won't.

4) Don't spread yourself too thinly. It is better to have a bigger presence in a few media channels than just a tiny space in multiple platforms. That way, you can capture people's attention more easily.

5) Think frequency. In advertising, if you don't have enough budget to buy deep and wide, go for depth and frequency first. Studies have shown that repetition helps to engender greater top of mind recall.

6) Differentiate yourself. Think about how you can be different from the competition in terms of messaging and creatives. Having said that, don't go too far as to try to create a "Da Vinci's Code" for your customers to solve. They won't appreciate it.

7) Incentivise your customer. Now this does not mean endless promotions, discounts and price cuts (which are the surest way to kill your business). Instead, think of either solving a customer problem or offering something of value. This is the classical WIIFM (What's In It For Me) syndrome.

This post is partly a result of my conversation with Ivan Chew over coffee at Killiney Kopitiam recently. Thanks bro.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Are We Still Clean and Green?

It is sad but true. Singapore's claim to fame as a clean and green city may be under threat if we do not buck up.

In a recent news report on Channelnewsasia, it was cited that littering is on the rise in Singapore. In the first 10 months of this year, a staggering 4,800 were caught littering compared to only 3,800 for the whole of last year! One only has to look into the grisly photos submitted on STOMP to verify that we are indeed degenerating in hygiene and civic mindedness.

What is alarming is that education apparently has little impact on "filthy" attitudes. A recent Straits Times poll show that more than 50% of youths are nonchalant about littering and feel that it is either the government or somebody else's job to clean up after them.

Certainly, they cannot plead ignorance. A recent study conducted by the National Environment Agency cited that most students were aware of environmental issues, scoring 90 out of 100. Yet, it seems that dirty habits still persist.

Is there something that we can do to address this? Yes!

We need to start from our own immediate spheres of influence. Let us all be environmental crusaders and do what we say. Some suggestions include the following:

1) Lead by individual example. Instead of pointing fingers at others to throw away their rubbish, why don't we show a good example and throw it away instead. Let's do this openly in the view of others and explain to them why we are doing so.

2) Form neighbourhood "anti-litter watch groups". Let's band a few people in our immediate circles - at home, at work, at school, and wherever else. We can look out for offenders and gently explain to them that we all love a clean environment to live, work and play.

3) Start from the home. Let us inculcate the values of cleanliness, picking up after themselves, and social mindedness to our kids and children regardless of their ages. Good habits start from an early age. Instead of getting our maids to keep their toys or throw away their litter, we should insist in getting them to do it themselves.

4) Showcase best and worst practices. An idea I have is to consistently profile our environmental heroes. Maybe we can work with both new and traditional media channels to showcase our unsung heroes - cleaners who braved the odds to keep estates, food courts and toilets clean. Similarly, we should also shame worst practices and be more transparent in naming the housing blocks, residential areas, restaurants and so on in a hall of shame.

5) Spread an ideavirus or create a word-of-mouth campaign. Perhaps we can initiate a crusade for cleanliness and civic consciousness using online blogging channels. If individually we share our ideas and spread it far and wide, it may take off.

I believe that keeping our environment clean, just like other desirable end states like service excellence, is something that should come from individual responsibility. There is no use in pointing fingers or pontificating over what went wrong.
The buck should stop and start here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Weapons of Mass Distraction

Was emailing to both Ivan Chew and Siva, when the idea for this blog post struck me. After all, in the age of digital democratization, time is probably the most scarce resource. We only have 24 hours a day, and there is only this much you can do.

Here are some modern day Weapons of Mass Distraction:

Reality TV

Few television trends have gobbled up so much airtime and headspace as the latest surge of every which way it goes reality TV programmes.


There is a reason why we are the SMS capital of the world, breaking the Guinness Record on this repeatedly years in a row. Of course, nothing is more irritating than talking to somebody who is furiously using their thumbs while listening (yeah right) to you.

Internet Surfing

How many times have we surfed aimlessly from site to site, wandering around looking for interesting things to tickle our fancy?


Boom or bane, blogging does take up time. Of course, some may have made it into a real professsion, but let's face it, for most of us it is probably just a self-indulgent, ego-boosting exercise in armchair commentary. Right?


The best things in life are free, 24 by 7, and any time you like it. Sometimes, they are also weird, unconventional and amateurish productions which makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurt!


So you may not necessarily be a fan of the mrbrown show but with so many podcasts to choose from, there is guaranteed to be one to suit your customised iPOD. Go ahead and let those maniacal mantras penetrate your eardrums.

Ringing Mobiles

Ok, let's face it. Nothing in this world is more distracting than a ringing mobile phone. It has been said that houses have burnt to ashes by unattended cooking fires left by somebody answering their Nokias, Sony-Ericssons and Motorolas.

Blackberries (and other related push-email devices)

Think you are safe after office hours away from your terminal? Think again. With push-email, your respite from the words that haunt have ended. 24 by 7.

World of Warcraft (or Maple Story, Second Life, Half Life etc...)

Go ahead and choose your MMOG poison. Plug into an alternate universe, don a heroic outfit, and watch the hours (and your youth) disappear faster than a speeding bullet. Oh yes, while you are at it, you can also make new friends and chat with them. Now, isn't it cool to accumulate gazillion credits as you rise to become the new god emperor (or whatever)?

Blogging USPs

Ever wondered why people blog and visit blogs so often? Well, here is an elegant way to depict the virtues of blogging courtesy of the Church of the Customer blog by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. It talks about what the single most important factor in blogging is all about, and consolidates views into a nifty PDF file.

Nice and useful stuff when lobbying your internal stakeholders!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Lion Dancing - in Full Costume (Almost)

Finally, Ethan the lion dancer performing in costume!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

From Main Course to Bite-sized to Crumbs

With the democratization and increasing portability of information, people's attention span and capacity for reading has dimished at an astonishing rate. I must admit that I am one of those who suffer from this affliction.

In the past, we used to be able to plough through thick tomes of knowledge, fantasy, religion and whatever else captures our fancy. I could dawdle for hours and hours in libraries, picking up one book after another and devouring it with relish. I especially loved reading encyclopedias, and occasionally, I could read from cover to cover.

Not any more it seems. With the lure of easy information on the web, and the quick availability of bite-sized information on blogs, book summaries, wikipedia, and the like, I have become a scanner rather than a delver. Information now gets delivered to my cranium in small, often miniscule bite-sized pieces, instead of elaborate and complex frameworks.

I believe that I am not alone in this. Many have remarked that youths and teens nowadays tend to multi-task and acquire information from varied sources rather than a singular one. They do not have the stamina or patience to sit in one spot and read line after line. Short cuts, acronyms and abbreviated words seem to be the order of the day.

Stop Disturbing Me!

As a marcoms professional, I often fall into the stereotype of thinking of customers as "targets", "demographic groups" and "segments". Ad men and women are especially prone to this, and an entire discipline - media planning - was hatched with the sole purpose of cornering prospects every which way they go. We want to make sure that our entire arsenal of Weapons of Mass Distraction (also WMD) are trained to hit as many vict....sorry customers as possible.

We spend hours poring over media research data from AC Nielsen, examining media consumption habits and patterns. After buying the most effective placements ("bao chiak" or "sure hit" type), we then develop the most ingenious, eye-catching and out-of-this-world creative concepts and hard hitting copy to ensure that it hits you right smack in the face. If it doesn't grab you by the bal.. umm.. eyeballs, the battle for market share is lost. Or so it seems.

This is what Seth Godin would call Interruption Marketing.

We interrupt you when you are reading your newspapers, listening to your favourite music on radio, watching a nail-biting movie on television, checking your mailbox (whether snail mail or email) or even gazing emptily at buses, taxis and MRT trains. We interrupt you where you least expect it - in restaurants, shopping centres, coffee shops, even toilets!

After disturbing your peace, we have the cheek to ask you to part with your precious cash for something that you probably won't want or need!

Is there a better way around this?

I believe there is, and this is what many call Word-Of-Mouth (WOM) or Permission Marketing. It has certainly been around longer than Interruption Marketing, and studies have shown that most people prefer to buy something based on their friend's or relative's recommendation. In the States, there is now a new wave of interest in permission marketing, where products and services get carried through by largely personal referrals. Much of these are propagated through blogs, forums, chats, and other social media channels.

Can we do this in Singapore? Certainly, our local context is right for tipping.

With one of the world's most highly connected citizenry -wireless or wired - there are huge possibilities to leverage on WOM effects that carry through different communities. The challenge is to create a message that is innovative enough to strike a chord (the "Aha!" effect) yet able to connect and resonate with potential customers. The product and service must also lend itself to buzz effects and not be something that is yesterday's news. Most importantly, you need advocates who willingly put themselves on the line for your product, service or idea.

Sounds like a tall challenge? It is. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any other way out in an overcrowded and saturated market like ours.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Now That's What I Call Service!

I came across this post from marketing guru Seth Godin about service on an airline. Thought it was interesting enough to share.

Joel Spolsky shares this great story from a flight attendant:

Alright, I am gonna dote on my company for a few minutes. As most everyone on here is probably familiar with, last night was a nightmare for people travelling to and from the Northeast. We currently have 5 flights a day from CMH, 4 to/from JFK and 1 to/from BOS. Last night, out of CMH alone, Delta cancelled 3 flights, American cancelled 2, and Continental cancelled 1 and those are just flights that I know of. After we found out that our flight was delayed until 2223, the captain and the rest of us station employees decided to pool our money and we purchased pizza for all passengers on board our aircraft. Since the pizza place wouldn't deliver to the airport, one of our crewmembers volunteered to go pick it up. Once the pizza was brought back, the passengers were boarded, our live tv and xm were turned on and the pizza was served by ALL the crew, not just the flight attendants. The Captain, FO and other airport crewmembers went above and beyond. Granted I may be a little biased, but I was glad to be here last night. The feeling of seeing that plane take off and those people get to where they are going, even if they were late was pretty darn good. Not too many other airlines that I know of will do that for their customers.

It's not just "not too many other airlines...", it's, "not too many employees." Wanna bet she had more fun than most flight attendants that day?

I wonder if we will ever encounter this in Singapore? It would be great to have char kway teow or chicken rice delivered to us on a delayed flight!


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Art & Science of Giving

I attended a talk this morning by Mr Colburn S. Wilbur, former President and Trustee of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Yes, David Packard's the guy who founded HP together with Bill Hewlett. The Packard Foundation has in excess of US$6 billion of funds, and employs about 120 staff.

You may think that giving away money is probably the easiest thing in the world. Not so, according to Colburn. In fact, a key challenge is how one can use the resources of foundations to make a positive difference.

Some of the main takeaways are as follows:

Handling of Family Issues. Dynastic foundations may face challenges when there are conflicts between family members. Different generations may also have different views on philanthropy.

Establishing Mission, Vision and Strategy. This is important as foundations, just like any other organisation, need to be clear on their goals and direction. What are the key causes that are being supported? What is the due process of accomplishing those goals? If these are not established, foundations will simply be flooded with myriad requests.

Strategic Approaches. These cover areas like services, capital, research, communications, education, policy changes, KPIs, and general support.

Implementation of strategy also figures largely. How you do it is sometimes more important than what to do. Key issues include the size and duration of grants, evaluation, "thinking big", and exit strategy.

Communicating Mission, Vision and Strategy. No point to give money if the impact is minimal and participation is limited. Key channels include websites (and blogs?), emails, press publicity and internal communications.

Continuous Improvement. Finding out if your grant giving has made a difference though surveys, meetings with grantees, and keeping your boards informed.

Finances and Staff. Who should handle investment decisions at the foundations. Also, who are the staff members that should be involved?

Values and Ethics. Giving right versus giving smart. Managing media and public attention, as well as government interest. A study around the world has shown that there are 5 main values, namely Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness and Compassion.

Sometimes foundations encounter what Colburn calls a Dilemma Paradigm. In other words, handling issues like truth versus loyalty, individual versus community needs, short versus long term, and justice versus mercy. The key to resolving these?

1) Do what's best for the greatest number of people (ENDS-BASED)

2) Follow your highest sense of principle (RULE-BASED)

3) Do what you would want others to do to you (RECIPROCITY-BASED)

Finally, of course, is the act of making the decision. To do so, one needs to look at the 3 perspectives above and also have the moral courage to do so.

Winston Churchill himself has said

"Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning."

What struck me the most were the innovative ways of giving. For example, Packard Foundation had temporarily bidded for a piece of prime land with the intention of turning it into a public park, guaranteed a building to lower interest rates for a non-profit, and started an insurance company together with other foundations for childcare centres after premium rates went up the roof after the recent spate of childcare molest cases in the States.

Oh yes, US foundations need to distribute at least 5% of their assets every year. Their tax on foundations are only 2% currently which is a lot more attractive than the up to 52% tax rate which may otherwise apply for estate and other duties there. They also get a tax deduction for philanthropic gifts.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Leaning Tower of LEGO

Budding architect creates the next skyscraper to beat Taipei's 101

Childcare Leave

Took half day childcare MC this pm to help take care of my son Ethan, who is ill with high fever in the 38 to 39 deg C range. My maid is also ill with vomiting and shivering spells, which is why both my wife and I have to knuckle down to help out. This is the 3rd time in as many weeks where Ethan came down with fever. Hopefully, it wouldn't stay for too long.

I noticed that Ethan has become a lot more eloquent recently, and am not sure if its a consequence of his illness. In fact, he is now able to articulate fairly complex sentences and thoughts. He is also able to maneuver the mouse on the PC and to double-click and open his favourite applications. I have noticed then whenever he was unwell, he tend to be more erudite in his speech.

When I spilled some sweet syrup in his room on Sunday, he retorted rather indignantly (despite the daze induced by the high temperature),"Why did you spill the syrup on my chair and floor? The ants will come and eat the chair you know." After a pause, he added emphatically, "This is my room you know. Later very dirty and difficult to clean."

Ethan has also been a lot more attentive recently when listening to his favourite story books. I have just read him about 8 books at one go - courtesy of the National Library Board's excellent double loan holiday service! He has also learnt to self medicate and could "inject" the syringe full of paracetamol into his mouth to bring down the fever.

OK, I need to go already.... His fever has crept past 39.1 and his hands are freezing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Drumming lion

Following our lion dancing shopping expedition, Ethan has started to play with the Chinese drums, with often hilarious effects.

Coming up next....Dancing in Costume...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mystical and Magical Biennale

Went on a recent tour of 3 Singapore Biennale sites with a couple of board members - Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Sri Krishnan Temple and City Hall. It was quite inspirational and magical. Here are some highlights.

Our intrepid guide Yishan explaining Tsai Charwei's work Lotus Mantra, which is inscribed on the lotus leaves.

Devotees thronging the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple.

N. S. Harsha's work Cosmic Orphans, a breathtaking piece on the roof of the Sri Krishnan Temple.

Yayoi Kusama's Ladder to Heaven, an intriguing piece which seems to extend to eternity.

At CityHall, Nuha Asad from the U.A.E. shows that we are all more similar than different in Multi Culturalism.

See I told you so!

Drik Picture Library Ltd., an activistic outfit from Bangladesh, documents social injustice in Belief, and practices: Justice for Noorjahan.

An interesting twist on what goes on behind the minds of judges at their seats. Whisky anyone?

In secret, interiors: chrysalis (19-22) installation artist Donna Ong shows dolls, deformed fetuses and herbal concoctions in glass jars filled with tubes. A statement on Singapore's low fertility rate perhaps?

YKON's work M8-Summit of Micronations, Singapore depicts how small, tiny red dots can have a ball of a time.

Innovation born of desperation? Julio Cesar Morales' work Undocumented Interventions captures the sordid reality of Mexican illegal immigrants to US.

Lights, cameras, evangelism! Jonathan Allen's Tommy Angel shows a gospel magician in action.

Next two pieces by Sheba Chhachhi from Ethiopia creates a cinematic labyrinth effect with light boxes and moving film. Truly light fantastique!

Birds flying in a red apocalyptic landscape. Mesmerising! Incidentally her works are called Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia

Jane Alexander of South Africa's Verity, Faith and Justice juxtaposes animal and human features in a courtroom drama. Truth or dare anyone?

The Radiance of Faith trio being handcuffed and blindfolded for their trespasses.

Finally, Amanda Heng telling everybody why we should go on a holiday to see lost Singaporean artefacts overseas.

Another shot of Amanda's work Worthy Tour Co (S) Pte Ltd. I hear that response to this special holiday package hasn't exactly been overwhelming.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Singapore Service - a Slippery Slope?

HK Street
Are we losing out to Hong Kong?

The recent news about Singapore's service standards further slipping to 26th position according to the World Economic Forum proved particularly sobering for me. What is especially ironic is that it comes just after we have practically pulled out all the stops to improve our customer service. Everybody would have heard of the national GEMS movement, as well as the ubiquitous four million smiles campaign, timed to coincide with the recent IMF-World Bank meetings.

Certainly, I don't think that we have failed for lack of trying. We have an entire smorgasbord of service enhancing main courses on our national platter - Singapore Service Class, Excellent Service Award, Tourism Host Award, Model Workers of the Year etc. In fact, we now have a stunning 13,000 Excellent Service Award winners from nine industries, compared to a measley 377 from three sectors 11 years ago.

We also have an entire slew of training programmes covering practically anything and everything about service. Telephone etiquette, complaint resolution, handling of feedback, scripts, SOPs. You name it, we got it. We have also sent so many people overseas for study missions on service quality (including yours truly) that we can no longer plead ignorance.

Our government is probably one of the most proactive in the world in identifying that customer orientation is a key competitive tool in the global battle for tourists, talents, trade and transactions. And the government is not alone in this push. Trade associations, retailers, hoteliers, attraction operators, travel agents, airlines, transport operators, and everybody else seems to be up in arms against bad service. Yet poor service still lingers on.

Of course, we should occasionally take such ratings with a pinch of salt. An over obsession with the numbers game may make us miss the forest for the trees, and lead to analysis paralysis. Still, it is quite a wake up call to note that Hong Kong, the age-old nemesis of Singapore in the service stakes, has now catapulted to a spectacular number four!

Are there solutions to our downward spiral? I have some initial thoughts and suggestions on this.

Perhaps we need a crisis to catapult us from third world to first world service? This was what happened in Hong Kong, which found itself in the economic doldrums in the late 1990s after the Asian financial crisis. There was a concerted national effort then. It was do or die. Singapore was also hit in October 1997, although certainly not quite as bad as our neighbours. Sometimes, our high comfort levels may be the exact thing which leads to complacence.

Education is another key. Not training of adults, who are already ingrained with bad habits. But maybe something for pre and primary schoolers. Make it part of the curriculum, a fundamental discipline which is part of living in Singapore. This should not only apply to students, but also to parents. Make them attend a compulsory service quality programme.

This leads to the next point, which is culture. We need a serious shift in social mores which should start from the home. The strong reliance on maids have made us adopt a condescending attitude towards service personnel. From young, our parents have taught that if you don't study hard, you may end up as a rubbish collector/ cleaner/ waiter etc - all of whom are respectable service professions. Something must happen in the home. This is where charity - and customer orientation - begins.

Finally, and this is a bold step, maybe we should just do less. Let us concentrate on the few critical factors that will make a difference, and do it one at a time. Let us dispense with the numerous awards, accolades, and accreditations. Let us study deeply the human psyche - maybe even in a scientific manner - and weed out the root causes. Sometimes, a blunderbuss approach may dilute the efficacy of any measure. You can be a jack of all trades but master of none.

Can we the citizens of Singapore make a distinct difference without yet another campaign to remind us to do so? What would be the tipping point for service quality in Singapore?

I think it is time for us to take this upon ourselves rather than point the fingers everywhere. Like charity, service quality should start from home.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Analogies and Metaphors

One of the great secrets of eminent speakers and leading management gurus is the ability to use vivid examples to illustrate a particular theory or idea. These anecdotes help to make difficult concepts come alive and to be more contextually relevant and interesting to readers, listeners and viewers alike. What I would call the wonderful and whimsical art of story telling.

A simple way to employ story-telling techniques is to use analogies and metaphors. These draw on people's familiarity with day-to-day experiences and contexts. Common examples are food, nature, marriage, art, and music. By painting these mental pictures, you are better able to connect with your audiences and to allow them to better understand more abstract concepts.

Business journalists, consultants and politicians are especially adept at this. In fact, many key management ideas and theories draw from other disciplines. They include military strategy (Sun Tzu's Art of War, Guerrilla Marketing), ecology (Value Chain, Business Eco-system), sports (leadership coaching, mentoring, teamwork), and performing arts (experiential marketing, experience economy) amongst others.

The language of love is especially steeped in metaphors and analogies. Many of us would have heard of the famous Songs of Solomon in the Bible, which uses plant and animal parts to describe two lovers in hot pursuit of each other. There is of course tonnes of soppy sweet nothings and teenage love poems which use metaphors and similes - eg "You are like the sweet dew of the morning" or "Your hair smells like a thousand roses blooming in the garden". Shudder.

My personal favourites are - you probably would have guessed - nature metaphors. I believe that there is no new idea under the Sun that cannot be related to the seasons, ecology, wildlife and even microbial activity. Even the new media can be related to a tropical forest, as seen in my earlier post!

A word of warning though. When using metaphors, be careful that you do not descent into yawn-inducing cliches. A cliche or stereotype is an example which has been so overused - to the point of ad nauseum - that it no longer has any effect on anybody. Hmmm... maybe I should start telling myself that more often!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Equipping the Lion Dancer

Took half day this afternoon to spend some time resting plus bonding with the family. Brought Ethan down to Hong Lim Complex (near one of my favourite turtle soup hawkers) and bought him a set of his favourite lion dance gear, namely a set of authentic Chinese drums made with pigskin and a real (well almost) lion dance costume, complete with eyes that blink.
Ethan was stunned at first, or perhaps awestruck would be the more appropriate word. He gazed with mouth open and eyes wide at the interesting array of toys initially, and simply nodded his head vigorously when we asked him to select his favourite dancing animal. Later, he warmed up to the act and strutted down the toy shop, selecting party hats, bags and other merchandise for his upcoming birthday celebrations on 27 November. That's when Ethan will be 3 years in age.
He has certainly started working on his drumming skills - and this included inflicting his first "lion dance" induced injury on his little thumb. I just hope that he doesn't tear the lion head apart before his birthday, which is about 3 weeks away!