Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creating a Better Future for Our Cities

Courtesy of Alex Steffen

Is there hope for our planet as the world population continues to explode?  What measures can cities do to reduce their resource and energy use, narrow their carbon footprints, and give our planet a fighting chance for survival? 

In a recent TED video, Journalist and sustainable activist Alex Steffen unveiled some surprisingly effective solutions to the climate change problem.  Founder of the online magazine, Steffen proposed a couple of "cool" solutions and ideas that urban planners can consider:

1) Denser cities are actually better for the environment due to the lower need for cars and their accompanying carbon emissions.  So don't complain too much if you're living in an apartment rather than a sprawling suburban home.

2) To increase the densities of our neighbourhoods, cities can build eco districts, consider infill developments to maximise land use, invest in urban retrofitting to improve uses for buildings that are already there, and to raise the density in specific spots through tentpole density.

3) Once the above is done, distance between amenities in a city is reduced and this encourages people to walk, ride bicycles or commute on public transport. This is termed a "walkshed" life, moving away from a dream home to a dream neighbourhood.  In fact, giving up one's car can reduce transportation emission as much as 90%.

4) The advent of ubiquitous communications helps to facilitate the process, with walkshed technology and access suffused into spaces.  Navigation can be crowdsourced (Google Maps etc), and technologies on smartphones can allow for "augmented urbanism" whereby pedestrians can view the different layers of information using their smartphone cameras.

5) Another radical idea is the sharing of surplus capacities, whereby products can be turned to services shared by many.  This greatly reduces the inventory of goods that we all hold which  eventually becomes trash. Even vacant spaces can be shared in the form of "popup spaces" with multiple uses day and night.

6) Buildings can also capitalise on this in their design.  For example, we can light our buildings with daylight, cool them with breezes, or heat them with Sunshine.  In fact, energy use can drop by as much as 90% here.

7) Of course, cities can also cover themselves in greenery (like Singapore).  Other than just planting lots of trees and bushes, one should also consider the following:
- if rainwater can be captured and used for various purposes
- if green infrastructure can help water to be channelled to plants and trees
- if there are natural connections to rivers for restoration
- if pollinator pathways are considered to allow bees and butterflies to come back to the cities
- and finally, if waste material can be remade into soil and compost.

Rather than mope about Earth's dying future, why not spend the next 10 minutes watching his talk below?  It will encourage you to think about what we can do as city dwellers to save this beautiful home of ours while living in a more sustainable fashion.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How to be Extremely Productive

Unfortunately, most of us do not have 8 arms (Source of image)

From organisational speed, let's move on next to individual productivity.  Once again, Harvard Business Review's Ideacast features good ideas worth considering.

In "Productivity Secrets of a Very Busy Man", Bob Posen, a senior lecturer at Harvard and executive chairman of a major investment firm, offers some great tips. Other than holding down two jobs, Posen sits on a few boards and manages to write a couple of articles a year.

How does one juggle multiple responsibilities given only 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Posen offers the following:

1) Focus on results and not time spent. Representing a radical shift from inputs (hours spent) to outcomes, focusing on results forces one to prioritise and become efficient at what one does. One way in which agencies, law firms, and consultancy firms can do this, for instance, is to bill their clients based on performance rather than hours spent on a project.

2) Know your comparative advantage in an organisation. Fighting tooth and nail internally in a competitive manner is counter productive and damaging to a company's culture. Instead, one should consider what the firm most needs from you and how you can add the greatest value while delegating the rest. The same principle applies lower down the chain in divisions, departments and teams, with each contributing a different skill to the mix.

3) Think first before reading or writing. If you're truly time strapped, you can ill afford to fritter away hours reading or writing stuff that doesn't add to your ultimate goal. An example on reading newspapers was given by Pozen, where one could pick up different types of news (eg Finance from one, Sports from another) from different titles.

In writing, conjuring an outline and a skeletal framework before putting down the flesh also helps one to be clearer in producing a piece of work.

4) Plan ahead on a daily and weekly basis, but change it if necessary. Pozen looks at his schedule the night before and decide how he should prioritise the tasks at hand before the day starts. When something else comes along, he will reprioritise quickly and defer the less important stuff.  Stephen Covey spoke about this concept many years ago in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The principle is embodied in the quadrant below, and one should focus on the important and urgent matters before moving towards the important but not so urgent matters.

Courtesy of The Socionist

(A useful tip here is to start your day earlier if possible.  Mornings are the best time to get things going.)

5) Don't be afraid of taking naps.  Yes, sleeping on the job isn't that bad actually, especially if it refreshes and re-energises you.  I'm not sure how practical this is for those of us working in frontline jobs, but closing one's eyes for even a few minutes can sometimes do miracles. 

6) Eat a boring and routine breakfast and lunch.  I suppose this is a quick and easy way to get around the task of having meals, without spending undue time and mental energy to choose a different place every day. 

Other than the above suggestions from Bob, I have a few more to add.

7) Maximise your "waiting" time.  At work, it is common for us to balance a few projects and tasks and to rely on other colleagues for inputs.  Rather than wait for one to complete before commencing another - a luxury that few of us have - use the in-between time waiting for a response from others to do something.

8) Anticipate what's needed ahead of time.  Waiting for instructions and commands is probably a fairly unproductive practice as it often means that you're only at the starting blocks when asked to do so.  A more efficient way to work - up to a certain point - is to look ahead to see what's needed and begin work on them.  Of course, this also means understanding what is needed at that point and prioritising accordingly.

What other productivity tips can you suggest?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Executing with Strategic Speed

Achieving speed doesn't just mean being fast (image source)

You've heard of the saying "more haste less speed". Apparently, this is true not just in life but in management.

Ed Boswell, former CEO of the Forum Corporation, shares in this clip from Harvard Business Review (HBR) that the most efficient firms pay attention to speed, pace themselves well, and take care of the people factor. By doing so, they can achieve up to 52% higher profit and 40% higher sales than the rest.

Paying attention to speed doesn't mean going plunging ahead recklessly. Rather, it entails focusing on the following things:

- Pace: ensuring that all factors in an organisation are aligned;

- Taking care of the People Factor such that there is Clarity (everyone knows the "why"), Unity (everybody has bought into the process), and Agility (the ability to maneuvre quickly and nimbly).

- Establishing clear lines of accountability and high standards of success.

- Empowering and trusting employees, yet giving them the backing that they need, ie the "I got your back" style of management

- Ensuring that an organisation's climate is conducive for success and measurable.

Here's the video of Ed speaking to HBR's Sarah Green:

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Virtues of Writing Good Notes

Courtesy of Cheltenham Partnership

One of the most important yet neglected skills in today's workplace is note taking. In an age of instant communication, smart phones and ever smarter social technologies, the discipline of writing good minutes still has its place.

Wait, hang on a minute, you say. Isn't it just the secretary's job to pen down the proceedings of a meeting/forum/brainstorming session? Couldn't we rely on our memory to remember what the follow ups to a discussion are?

Well, consider this:

1) Things that doesn't get written down often doesn't get done.

2) Our human minds are limited in capacity (especially as we age).

3) Writing helps to clarify one's thoughts and to improve the logical sequencing of disparate ideas, suggestions and inputs.

4) The pen/keyboard is often mightier than the sword, and whoever influences what's written often determines the outcomes of key decisions.

5) Secretaries of meeting wield a lot more power on how things are shaped and run than they are often given credit for.

6) Writing something down and communicating it to all parties in a meeting can sometimes protect you. It is harder to dispute what's written down than what's said aka the power of black and white.

Of course, writing good notes doesn't necessarily mean taking everything down verbatim. Rather, it should follow these steps:

1) Write down as much as possible during the meeting, but prune them mercilessly thereafter.

2) Do it as soon as possible, preferably within a day or two after the meeting. The longer one takes to write the minutes, the more one forgets (and the harder it becomes).

3) Be concise but clear, focusing heavily on the outcomes and follow ups rather than the nuances of the debates between the various protagonists.

4) Organise your notes into topics and issues rather than adhere to a purely chronological format.

5) Adopt a consistent writing style depending on the nature of the minutes/notes. For Board meetings, a more formal language may be necessary, while email notes could be done in a shorter bullet-point format.

6) Use the right subject headings and sub headings, and adopt bullet-points if your readers find these easier to comprehend.

7) If time permits, check with all parties involved on whether you have captured what they have expressed accurately. If time doesn't permit, the views of the chairman of the meeting (and your boss of course) would probably matter more.

Oh yes, before I end, let me say that it is PERFECTLY OK for the boss/chair of the meeting to take down notes himself or herself. In fact, he or she would have a lot more influence on what should be done when, where and by whom if he or she practices it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has an uncanny talent. Like a detective, he weaves compelling yarns, spinning together sources of information from psychologists, food testers, doctors, animal trainers, criminologists, and other experts to challenge common notions.

With journalistic brilliance honed by his years in the New Yorker, Gladwell proffered radical answers to challenge age-old notions in his latest bestselling volume What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. A compilation of 19 essays on a wide range of topics - espionage, war, hair colour, kitchen appliances, homelessness and more - the volume blended pop psychology, sociology, management and current affairs in a highly readable prose.

In Part One - Obsessives, Pioneers and Other Varieties of Minor Genius - Gladwell introduced you to a eclectic and eccentric cast of characters. Meet Ron Popeil, a master pitchman of the kitchen appliances variety, and Nassim Taleb, a financial trader with a philosophical bent who later wrote bestselling Black Swan.

In True Colors, Gladwell explained how advertising hair dye represented the prevailing socio-cultural conditions of women during the post war years, educated you on the nuances of good and bad dog behaviours in cover story What the Dog Saw, and proposed in John Rock's Error that the birth control pill can possibly improve the health of the fairer gender.

Part Two - Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses - suggested various hypotheses dealing with matters such as military intelligence, industrial accidents, corporate failures and more. Humanity's failure to see the right things are repeatedly highlighted in stories which explore the failure of Enron, the problem of homelessness, and the difference between panicking and choking. The fallibility of the Israeli military intelligence, as do the devastating September 11 attacks, are similarly tackled.

On a personal note, Gladwell raised in Something Borrowed the tricky problem of plagiarism. Here he displayed magnanimity by forgiving the creator of the hit broadway play Frozen in the name of creativity. The producer Bryony Lavery quoted liberally from his own work - an article on psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis in the New Yorker - without acknowledgement.

The Final Part on Personality, Character and Intelligence looked at the evaluations one makes about others, citing educators, job interviews, talents and criminals. Here, the author tried to debunk age-old techniques in assessing people and offered to shine a new light in this field.

In the chapter on The New Boy Network, for instance, Gladwell expounded on why human chemistry oriented HR interviews are flawed, preferring instead questions which probed how a job candidate would manage real life situations. The final story Troublemakers taught us that we shouldn't merely adopt simple easy to implement solutions when the truth might be far more complex.

Overall, What the Dog Saw combined Gladwell's intellectual wit with a compelling narrative par none. I found myself turning the pages rapidly, devouring every morsel aimed at making me feel cleverer about myself.

While some of his suppositions do seem to bear merit, one should adopt the author's own cynicism and scepticism while reading his work. Embrace the volume as an entertaining mind tickling tour de force rather than the gospel truth, and you'll be fine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Ultimate Start Up Entrepreneur

Martell Ultimate Start Up Space

After months of hard canvassing and pitching in a two stage competition, the winner of the Martell V.S.O.P. The Ultimate Start-up Space competition was announced last night. Mr Jeremy Nguee of the business idea "Preparazzi", was selected by a panel of judges out of 10 finalists.

Martell Ultimate Start Up Space

Preparazzi is a food preparation service that helps one to cook delicious, healthy meals at home with no fuss. They help to plan, prepare and cook the dishes and deliver them to your doorstep like a personal sous chef who does your bidding in the kitchen. This applies for cosy groups of four up to a party of 10. Here's a video of Jeremy for those keen to find out more about his business idea.

By winning the competition, Jeremy will gain a 1400 sq. ft. of shop space at 29 Boon Tat Street (near Lau Pa Sat in the Central Business District of Singapore), rent-free for a year. He will also receive $20,000 of start-up capital plus an Executive Education programme courtesy of INSEAD. With an advantage like that, I am hopeful that he will succeed in his venture.

Martell Ultimate Start Up Space

Held at the swanky Zirca at Clarke Quay, the announcement party sponsored by Martell was done in a rather glamorous fashion. Contestants/wannabe entrepreneurs walked down a catwalk aisle, accompanied by goth dancers who used props inspired by their business ideas. In other words, anything from Lego to leather!

Martell Ultimate Start Up Space

All is not lost for the other nine finalists however. They would have already benefited from the sagely advice of two experienced entrepreneurs, Mr Jimmy Fong (Chief Executive Officer, EpiCentre) and Mr CK Low (Managing Director, Home-Fix). You can find out some words of wisdom from them here.

Martell Ultimate Start Up Space
Tina Tan and Ng Shi Hui of Cereasley not looking very serious

Let's hope that the nine finalists will continue to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, even without the start-up funds and free shop space. True entrepreneurship should be driven by passion, energy and a never-say-die attitude that perseveres even in the absence of incentives.

Martell Ultimate Start Up Space
Future billionaire entrepreneur in the making...:)

Here are more photos of the event:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Anticipatory versus Predatory Marketing

Predators are better in the movies than on the streets (source)

There are two forms of marketing out there.

The first is what I call Predatory Marketing. Almost every company and business selling to a consumer does this to some extent.

Like a pack of wolves hunting for fresh meat, predatory marketers venture to where their targeted customers are. And then they strike where they least expect it - on the streets, in your homes, in your email inboxes, and on your car's windshield wiper.

Often, such tactics are accompanied by a hardsell message using all the right words from the copywriter's bible. For example:

"Good morning sir/madam, here's a discount voucher for our new shop down the road!"

"Extra! Extra! Special Exam Sale! Everything 50% off!", with a flyer thrust right under your nose.

"FREE party for everybody at ____."

"Special seminar on Understanding the ABC Investment Markets"

Occasionally, predatory marketing may work. After all, the deer - especially the weak-willed - cannot run away forever.

Source of image

The flip side is what I call Anticipatory Marketing. Operating like a mother bird feeding her chicks with much needed morsels, the anticipatory marketer identifies and knows intimately what his/her customer needs, wants or desires. And then meets them.

Unlike the first, anticipatory marketing is about drawing your customers in with something that resonates with them as opposed to jarring them out of their senses. Its about listening, seeing, feeling and studying their behaviours, aspirations and goals. Its about catching the pulse of their heartbeat and their emotional states.

An anticipatory marketer acts like a trusted partner. He/she develops a snapshot of the customer's profile and tests it against the market before launching any new initiative. He/she also understands the value of long term marketing to a pool of regular customers, strengthening that relationship by offering benefits for loyalty while always listening, interviewing and asking.

The next time you feel the urge to splurge on a huge campaign targeting nameless and faceless "victims", ask yourself if you've also devoted some time and energy to nurturing those who are already in your brood.

Source of image

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Are You Sure It Was That Obvious?

Source of image

You've probably heard the saying that with hindsight, one has 20/20 vision.

"Why didn't you do this then?"

"How could you have ignored those signs?"

"Weren't you considering those factors then?"

Everybody becomes a Sherlock Holmes only when the nefarious deed is done, and the plot becomes crystal clear. Or so it seemed.

The truth, however, is that we all suffer from what psychologists call creeping determinism. Also known as the hindsight bias, the term was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in a 2003 article from the New Yorker.

Hospitals, courts (especially the court of public opinion), battlefields and boardrooms all suffer from this. It seems that any work involving diagnosis, research, investigation or experimentation will inevitably fall prey to creeping determinism - if the sh*t hits the fence.

The danger of this is evident. Hindsight bias makes us ultra cautious and "kiasu" in our work, taking a multitude of extra steps to swing the odds in our favour.

Raincoat? Check.

Bulletproof vest? Check.

Insurance policy over my insurance policy? Check.

By the time we're ready to execute, the show is over. We would have lost that opportunity - no matter how slim it was - to make a significant difference.

I believe that some balance is in order. For sure, read through the case files and chronologies, and understand as much of the past as you can. Talk to those who have done something similar and learn from them.

However, do not let the fear of taking action paralyse you. Hedge your risks, but only to a limited extent. Beyond that, you should still move ahead, keep your fingers crossed and leave it in God's hands.

In a similar fashion, do not lay excessive blame on yourself or others when things go awry. That post mortem report should be kept as a learning platform and not a "you should have known better" exercise.

The next time you feel like crying over spilt milk - or point the finger at somebody who did - remember that nobody is totally prescient (except God). Instead, try to learn what you can from the situation, sharpen your craft, and move on.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Technology in Museums - Some Surprising Findings

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this 2009 article in Museum Audience Insight on how technology is actually preferred by older museum visitors to younger ones. Have a look at the chart below:

Courtesy of Museum Audience Insight

According to their findings of visitors to Outdoor History Museums,

"... people under thirty were the least likely to want the sites interpreted utilizing technology. People over seventy were the most likely to seek out technology. In fact, people over seventy were 4.5 times more likely to prefer audio tours over young adults under thirty."

This interesting finding seem to defy logic. Wouldn't the digital natives belonging to Gen Y or the Millenial Generation be much more attracted to technology than grandpa and grandma?

Perhaps, as suggested by the authors, the younger generation may be so sick and tired of technology that having yet another screen staring at them in a museum is the last thing they want.  Also, members of the older generation may find it easier to listen to an audio device than to a sometimes soft spoken museum guide.

Wait, that's not all.

In a more recent comprehensive survey of interpretation preferences of 40,000 museum visitors across 5 countries, the same guys discovered that...

1) Many visitors prefer a self-curated experience (ie exploring the museum on their own). This is true across art, science, history and children museums.

2) Hands on activities are the most strongly valued experience factors in science and children museums, but not so in art or history museums.

3) Viewing objects are more important in art and history museums and less important in science or children's museums.

4) Attending programmes and events rank at either number 3 or 4, across all the four museum types.

5) Nobody rated interacting with a computer as a key experience/ interpretive factor in visiting a museum.

(Interestingly, guided tours were also not rated highly in general)
Although the above results may be skewed towards an American visitor base (who may be less gadget geeky as us Asians), I believe that there are grains of truth in its findings.  People visit museums because they yearn for an authentic experience in a physical world, exploring objects and artworks that hail from a different place and time.  There is a certain mystique and magic in discovering and learning in a real, 3D environment where you can see, hear, touch, smell and perhaps even taste art, science or history. 

Against this light, shiny bright technology needn't necessarily be the "cure all" for a museum's attendance woes.  While they can certainly help to augment a visitor's museum experience, we shouldn't be so fixated with incorporating the latest and greatest interactive screens, smart phone apps, or other devices such that we forget the real reason people visit museums. 

Tate Britain
Museum visitors admiring original artworks at the Tate Britain

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Marketing (& Celebrating) Singapore's 46th Birthday

Courtesy of NDPeeps

As our nation celebrate the Lion City's 46th National Day on 9th August, I thought it'd be interesting to review some of the ways in which this festive occasion is "marketed".

Like celebrations in previous years, there are lots of flags and banners being flown throughout the island - in public housing estates, private homes, and basketball courts.

This year's most notable innovation is probably in the invention of patriotic vehicle side mirror covers that look like this:

Courtesy of Dee Kay Dot As Gee

Those perpetually tethered to their computer or smart phone screens can also access the action.  Be connected through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Nuffnang blogs, public blogs and a special running coverage by our "blogfather" mrbrown. There will also be a live webcast for those without access to a television screen to catch the action live from the Marina Floating Platform.

Catch the action "live" on NDP's website

Naturally, the consumer sector is quick to leap in, with a multitude of promotions, offers and specials capitalising on the "46" to the occasion. Here are two examples below:

Source of Image

Source of Image

Public displays, online showcases, and joint promotions centred around Singapore's solidarity aside, this year's National Day, like any major campaign, has a strong theme too. The theme this year "Majulah! The Singapore Spirit" (majulah means onward in Malay), which is embodied by the logo below:

Quoting from last year's National Day Rally Speech, PM Lee shared:

"The Singapore spirit is not based on a common race, language or religion. It is based on deeper things that we share: Shared values like multiracialism, meritocracy, or respect for every talent; shared loyalty and commitment to Singapore; shared responsibility for each other and pride in what we have done together; shared memories as well as dreams and aspirations...

It is the spirit in each of us which makes Singapore work the way it does and which makes Singaporeans special."

Of course, marketing these days is all about the experience, and nothing beats the National Day Parade itself as an event showcasing Singapore's birthday in all its ceremonial pomp and splendour.  It is the ultimate experiential showcase of a brand, in every sense of the word. There are also lots of "roadshows" happening at Community Centres, schools, shopping malls, and workplaces around the island.

Marching proud for Singapore (Courtesy of NDPeeps)

A preview of this evening's action (Courtesy of NDPeeps)

As we gaze in awe at the fireworks displays at Marina Bay, or stand fist over heart as we recite the pledge together, let us spend some time thinking about what the Singapore Spirit truly means for us as Singaporeans.

Does this truly epitomise the Singapore Spirit? (Courtesy of NDPeeps)

Perhaps, for just one day (and hopefully longer), we could put aside all our grievances, complaints, and grumbles.  Let us focus on what's great and wonderful about this tiny tropical island we call home with all its imperfections, quirks, and wrinkles.  Let us think about the possibilities rather than the impossibilities, and marvel about all the little things which make us who we are, as a nation, as a country, and as a people.

Happy Birthday Singapore!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Why Bugis Junction is Still Booming

Completed in 1995, and first owned by BCH Investments Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Keppel Land, Bugis Junction is located in the junction of Middle Street, Victoria Street and North Bridge Road right in the middle of the downtown core area of Singapore. Occupying a Gross Floor Area of 578,000 sq ft, the mall has some 207 shops over 5 levels, and 648 carparks spaces catering to those who drive.

Bugis Junction is one of the holdings of CapitaMalls Trust, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), and is currently managed by CapitaMalls, a leading mall management company in Singapore which is public listed.

I've always wondered why Bugis Junction managed to succeed and thrive fabulously, remaining on the cutting edge of consumerism while many newer malls have fallen by the wayside. How does it manage to keep itself going on in the hypercompetitive retail market in Singapore? Here are some of my observations:

1) Location, Location, Location. While Bugis Junction isn't situated in the popular Orchard Road or Marina/Suntec shopping belts, it sits right smack atop the Bugis MRT station and is well served by many buses. The mall is also easily accessible by the highways (either East Coast Parkway or Ayer Rajah Expressway).

2) Integration and linkages with surroundings. Other than being connected via an underpass to the Bugis MRT station, Bugis Junction is also located fairly close to other adjoining areas like the new Bugis Street, Bugis Village, the Albert Complex/Fu Lu Shou/Sim Lim Square malls, and the heavily visited temples at Waterloo Street. This helps to form a natural human traffic belt in the area, with positive spillover effects.

3) Focusing on One's Core Audience. As a weekend hangout for young adults and youths, Bugis Junction has stuck fairly close to its guns in managing its tenant mix to cater to this crowd. I love the array of snacks and takeaway food options in its basement, offering the latest and trendiest grub for the Gen Ys and Millenials. The selection of boutiques, shops and salons are also pitched at this segment.

4) Access to Weekday Office Crowds and Hotel Guests. With multiple offices in its office complex, the shopping mall benefits from a weekday lunch crowd unlike malls located in exclusive shopping belts. The adjoining Inter Continental hotel also helps to provide much needed foot traffic to its tenants.

5) A great design and layout. Featuring Singapore's first glass-covered, air-conditioned shopping streets (quirkily named after the old streets themselves like Hylam Street), Bugis Junction's architectural design preserves the romance of the old shophouses without the heat and humidity. Illuminated by natural light, the atrium area gives one the illusion of being on a sidewalk cafe where one can observe the action on the street.

6) Choosing the right anchor tenants. This is probably one of the oldest trick in the shopping centre management book. Some of the more established tenants in Bugis include BHG Bugis, Shaw Cineplex, VirtuaLand, Cold Storage, Food Junction, and of course Books Kinokuniya. These branded outlets help to add to the allure of the complex and draw customers of their own without subtracting from its brand equity.

7) A Colourful Legacy. Older Singaporeans will recall that the Bugis Street area where Bugis Junction now sits on used to be a popular venue for transvestite shows and night life activities. While the shopping mall is nothing like its past, having that colourful past helps to create that mystique behind the brand.

Naturally, the above isn't exhaustive, but I believe that they constitute some of the key reasons why Bugis Junction remains a crowd puller, year after year.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Book Review: The Pirate's Dilemma

Pirate DJ, music buff, and magazine publisher Matt Mason's book The Pirate's Dilemma - How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism is a fascinating tour-de-force of the world of youth culture, content piracy and the future of commerce.  Written from an insider's perspective - Mason himself was once voted pirate of the year by Business Week - the book traces the development of various music genres over the decades and how they impacted societies. 

Defying the class action suits launched by record companies and copyright owners around the world, Mason declared that piracy isn't a sin but instead, a necessary ingredient for innovation and invention. By allowing others to adapt and modify original content and spread it freely around, piracy helps to foster change in popular culture in all its forms - fashion, food, hairstyles, movies, games, software and even enterpreneurship.

From punk acts, pirate DJs on a sea fort, graffiti, remixes, disco, open-source software, to the growing hip-hop movement, The Pirate's Dilemma painstakingly traces the origins of the different movements and the key players in those scenes.  Skillfully interlacing music and fashion with youth culture and the digital world, Mason masterfully wove little nuggets of quirky facts into his narrative.

For example, do you know that 70s disco can be traced to a nun (Sister Alicia Donohoe) trying to engage hyperactive orphans?  That Apple founder Steve Jobs supported free open-source software while Microsoft magnate Bill Gates was one of the first to oppose that?  Or that technology has advanced so much that a 3D printer capable of assembling objects may be possible in future?  DIY sneakers anybody? 

The book also introduced a colourful and motley cast of characters.  They include the 1906 creator of pirate radio DJ Fezzy (also known as Canadian professor Reginald Fessenden), graffiti artist TAKI 183, Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), the Sex Pistols (godfathers of punk), to hip hop acts like P Diddy, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter (CEO of Def Jam Records), as well as Dylan Mills - better known as Dizzee Rascal - the founder of UK's grime scene.

How does one navigate the treacherous waters of this "brave new world"?  Mason offered some solutions in the last chapter, taking a leaf from Game Theory's famous Prisoner's Dilemma and transposing it to piracy.  In his version called the Pirate's Dilemma, Mason proposes that companies should create new market spaces by competing like pirates instead of fighting them.  This creates a win-win situation for consumers, original content producers themselves and the companies involved (see below).

The Pirate's Dilemma (courtesy of Information Value Chain)

Overall, what I found particularly interesting in the book was its blending of diverse worlds - from the "dirt" to the "digital". Underground movements like punk, garage, and hip-hop (before it became mainstream) have much in common with geeky techies and hackers operating behind computers. The invention of the remix culture, Creative Commons licenses, mashups and open-source software showed a convergence between the physical and the virtual, where music (and information) wants to be free.

To catch a glimpse of Matt Mason in action, check out the video below where he speaks about they key ideas behind the book.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Cheap Advertising

Singapore is not just a "fried rice paradise". It is also a "hard sell paradise".

If you flip through the papers on any single day, approximately 80% of the advertisements scream "DISCOUNTS", "SALE", "FREE", "PROMOTION" and other words aimed at tugging at your wallets. Because we're such avid bargain hunters, anything priced at the normal rack rates or list price will fail to trigger any immediate (or impulsive) purchase decision.

As I was about to enter my car a few days ago, I spotted this bright colourful flyer on my window.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. A new word "SUPER CHEAP" has now entered the hardsell marketer's lexicon. As if that's not enough, I turned over the flyer and VOILA!

An even harder sell word "ULTRA CHEAP" has crept into our consciousness!

In our desperate bid to earn that ever illusive consumer dollar, have we thrown out all notions of brand value, quality, reliability, service and experience out of the window? Would I trust an "ULTRA CHEAP" car servicing package when my life depends on the mechanic keeping my vehicle in running order? What do you think?