Friday, June 29, 2012

Gardens by the Bay Blossoms

Gardens by the Bay Launch

A pristinely curated garden sprawled over 101 hectares in area, Gardens by the Bay is 36% larger than the Singapore Botanic Gardens and populated by more than 750,000 plants in total. Opened last night by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the project costed more than $1 billion and boasts of 7 key attractions including the Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes, World of Plants, Heritage Gardens and the Bay East Garden.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Costing more than $1 billion to build, our newest and largest attraction at Marina Bay boasts of 18 Supertrees towering 25 to 50 m in height. These are linked by the 128 m long OCBC Skyway offering a view of more than 162,900 plants including bromeliads, orchids, ferns and tropical climbers.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

The Bay South Garden features plants which are not commonly seen in this part of the world (unlike the older Botanic Gardens). Helmed by a hardworking team of 100 full-time staff aided by 800 contractors, the park is operated by the Gardens by the Bay company, a subsidiary of the National Parks Board.

The Garden's two crown jewels must be their climate controlled conservatory complexes featuring approximate 226,000 plants from every continent (except Antarctica) - the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Replicating the cool-moist air-conditioned climate of the Tropical Montane region (between 1,000 to 3,500 m above sea level), the Cloud Forest magically transports one to regions such as Mount Kinabalu, with a 35 m Cloud Mountain adorned by an awe-inspiring waterfall. Even PM Lee said "Wow!" when he first encountered this man-made wonder.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Gardens by the Bay Launch

I loved walking through the walkways and encountering pockets of insectivorous pitcher plants, bromeliads scaling its surfaces and resplendent orchids. With the scenic view of Marina Bay in the background, there are lots of photo opportunities everywhere.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Gardens by the Bay Launch

With temperatures of 23 to 25 degrees C, the Flower Dome mimics the cool-dry climes of the Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions, featuring unique plant specimens such as Baobabs and 1,000 year old Olive trees that have never been seen in this part of the world.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Baobabs? @ Flower Dome of Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Its highlight must be the flower garden in the middle of the conservatory which will feature changing floral displays to draw repeat visitors. Decked with splendid hues and tints of red, yellow, pink, blue, and green, the displays are a photographer's dream.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Gardens by the Bay Launch

Gardens by the Bay Launch

To celebrate its opening, a whole host of events will be organised from now until 8 July. They include concerts by artistes like Jason Mraz and Corinne May, theatre performances, a light and sound show amidst the Supertrees, and more. Go and visit this link for details.

Gardens by the Bay Launch

For more information on Gardens by the Bay including admission charges to the various attractions, opening hours and address, check out this link here. Before you do, let me whet your "green" appetite further with more floral eye-candy here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Science of Great Teams

Courtesy of Blaze Institute

Why do some teams produce outstanding results while others lag behind given similar resources?

The secret, according to "The New Science of Building Great Teams" in Harvard Business Review, is that successful teams have higher energy, are more engaged, and spend more time exploring outside the group. These patterns of communication and interaction are strongly correlated with performance metrics such as the average handling time in a bank's call centre.

In the study led by MIT professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland, Energy is defined as the number and nature of exchanges among team members. This can be depicted by a nod of the head for instance. The most valuable form of communication is face-to-face, folowed by phone/videoconference, email and texting. Yes, nothing beats physical presence in building team success!

The next element, Engagement, reflects the distribution of energy among team members. The most effective teams have equal and reasonably high energy distributed amongst all team members. Those that have cliques of members who engage actively while others are disengaged don't perform as well.

The final component, Exploration, involves communication that members engage in outside their team. This is especially valuable for creative teams in areas involving innovation, R&D or product development.

All three elements are visually represented below (click for larger image).

Courtesy of

To deploy these observations successfully, companies could adopt the following process:

1) Find a way to visualise the data such that the dynamics of each team can be mapped out in a way that can be clearly understood. These could convey the weaknesses of each team.

2) Help teams to improve their performance by providing visual feedback. This could be in the form of measuring their behaviours through videos or the motion detection badges as highlighted above and letting team members know.

3) Fine-tune performance by building team offices, instituting break times, or even change team members (for highly dysfunctional teams) to build their cohesiveness.

Perhaps the most interesting observation made was that the ideal team player in both productivity-focused and creativity-focused teams is a natural leader whom the author calls a "charismatic connector". These individuals circulate actively, engaging people in short, high-energy conversations. They are democratic with their time and communicate with each other equally, often listening as much or more than they talk.

As managers and leaders, we know intuitively that strong team camaraderie and esprit de corps is paramount towards corporate success. By considering their energy, engagement, and exploration, we can now find ways to strengthen their patterns of communication in a balanced fashion, improve employee relationships, and strengthen their performance. 

For more details, check out HBR's article here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hacking Work: Book Review

Beleagured employees can now leverage on a "cheat code" to streamline work and increase their productivity - without getting into trouble.

With the subtitle "Breaking Stupid Rules For Smart Results", Hacking Work by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein encourages workers of all stripes to utilise "benevolent" hacking to get their jobs done more effectively and efficiently. Unlike "Black Hat" hackers that attack company systems for profit and fun, benevolent hackers are ethical hackers that work around their own company policies, systems and processes to improve them.

Filled with a mixture of the "whys", "whats", "hows" and "whens" of corporate work arounds (with lots more useful stuff their well-appointed website here), Hacking Work encourages readers to devise short-cuts that cuts the corporate crap present in most organisations. 

According to the book, the tools and processes instituted in companies are often done in a top-down, corporate-centred fashion (as opposed to being user-centred). Unwittingly, they often inflict much grief on employees.

The solution is that we need to "break stupid rules for smart results". To do so, we can consider both hard hacks (changes made to non-living systems) and soft hacks (changes made to working relationships or agreements with another person or group). Collectively, these workarounds  circumvent bloated bureaucracies, archaic systems, and dumb processes that "make our life hell".

According to the book, the top five hacks that we should do are:

1) Hacking Our New Hire Process - a soft hack that is a Negotiating the Deal hack which ensures that we get sufficient leverage before signing on the dotted line.

2) Hacking One Small Thing That Saps Our Energy - small quick wins that cut steps out of a procedure through work-arounds that improve efficiency.

3) Hacking the Start of Every New Project - the start of a project is always a good way to build a successful career.

4) Hacking One Big Thing That Destroys Our Efficiency - this is the grander and perhaps riskier move to kill that stupid procedure or tool that saps your efficiency.

5) Hacking to Make the World a Better Place - the nirvana of hacking, where you change a form, process and tool, and share the hack with the world through public forums like

Throughout the book, one reads of examples of individuals who have saved themselves (and their organisations) by bypassing the usual traditional approaches. An example is Matt, a midmanager working in a science museum who used unauthorised tools like Google calendar for scheduling, Flickr for sending photos, wikis for collaboration and a self-made YouTube video for fundraising. These worked far better than what corporate could dish out.

The most insightful chapter of the book titled "Dear Boss..." provides five big ideas for bosses to "save you from yourself", namely:

1) User-centred design moves from marketplace to workplace: Make it as easy for your people to do great work as you do for your customers to buy your products.

2) ROI gets personal: Your work contract must finally get real and deliver value to your employees in return for the investment of effort and time in your organisation, often sacrificing family or leisure time in return.

3) Training and development finally become learner centred: Develop each person in ways that work best for him or her to create amazing returns.

4) The org chart marries social network maps: Your leadership pipeline is democratised, ie the next guy you promote may be that part-timer with all the hacking and street smarts.

5) The art and science of clarity move from marketplace to workplace: Understand that not everybody knows how to communicate to everybody, and you should learn how YouTube, Facebook, Google, blogs and Twitter succeeds in human communication.

Towards the end, the book turns philosophical and explains that it is really about "Power, Control and Risk". In a hacker's world, these rules need to be overhauled such that they are more balanced in favour of the employee (as opposed to the executive or company). Taboos need to be broken so that any individual in the corporate food chain can find it easy to do great work.

At times forceful and at times humourous, Hacking Work sounds a loud clarion call for one to be bold in embracing workarounds to overcome processes which are broken in the corporate workplace. While many of the examples are IT-related, its principles apply equally to geeks and non-geeks alike. 

For more information, do check out the Hacking Work website and as well as their blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Project Intan - Helping Ill Kids through Culture

Project Intan is an initiative by The Intan (a boutique Peranakan home museum) which won the Museum Roundtable awards in 2011) with the goal of helping raise funds for charitable causes. Brainchild of Alvin Mark Yapp, owner of The Intan, Project Intan seeks to help worthwhile charities through direct donations and pledges.

This year, The Intan is working with the ARC Children's Centre to help create a flu-free environment and increase its educational and development programmes for the kids. Started in 2011, Arc is a daycare charity for young patients with serious illnesses such as cancer. These kids receive intensive medical treatment and are unable to return to school or socialize in a normal setting as they are still
prone to infection.

If you've not visited The Intan before, you ought to do so soon. Decked in exquisite Peranakan styled decor and artefacts, the boutique home museum is a jewel in the heritage-rich Joo Chiat area. A lifetime labour of love for Alvin, The Intan is also his home when he isn't busy welcoming visitors. You can find out more about the Intan here or even go on a virtual tour.  To visit The Intan, do call +65 6440 1148 to make an appointment first.

Happening next Sunday on 1 Jul at 6.30 pm, Project Intan this year will include a Peranakan Musical Concert at The Intan. Local violinists will usher in a culture-filled evening with familiar local songs while light Peranakan refreshments are served.

To contribute, you may wish to pledge for specific items together with your family and friends. Should there be more than one pledge for the same item, ARC will channel the funds to an unpledged item or to their running costs.

For more information on how you can play a part in this worthy cause, do contact Alvin at

Courtesy of Untapped Cities

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grooming Tomorrow's Leaders

Participants and facilitators of the inaugural YLT in Singapore

As Facebook's IPO continue to garner interest (both good and bad), the question on many people's lips is this: Can Singapore produce business leaders who started young such as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates?

Well, perhaps the Young Leaders of Tomorrow (YLT) programme can help to usher the way.

First started in Hong Kong by two Harvard Business School graduates - Kong Huijin and Agnes Kong - the programme provides a highly challenging yet supportive environment to help 15 to 18 year old students navigate real world trials and opportunities.

For its Singapore leg, former investment banker Samantha Yee and PR consultant Geraldine Kan (former journalist and Northwestern Postgrad) joined hands with their Hong Kong counterparts to pull together a 10-day programme from 4 to 15 June.  Piloted here as an almost pro bono programme (the founders foot most of the costs themselves), YLT is a labour of love born out of a desire to make an impact in the lives of young Singaporeans.

YLT participants dressed in traditional Indian garb to role play their "stints" as "micro-financiers"

With their Ivy League and business world credentials, the four founders pooled their collective knowledge and experience to impart essential skills to these students at the cross-roads of their lives.  As none of the founders themselves are educators, the YLT programme adopted a more MBA-style approach, providing real world scenarios, case studies, groupwork and mentoring.

Collaborating with local schools - its inaugural Singapore run include students from Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore Chinese Girls' School, St Andrew's Secondary and Victoria Junior College - YLT was designed to equip the students with work and life skills in preparation for university and beyond.  Along with building their leadership, communications and analytical skills, the programme also instilled a service mindset for these "leaders of tomorrow".

To prepare them so, the seven participating students were tasked to tackle a business issue for Singapore non-profit WINGS (Women's Initiative for Aging Successfully), in collaboration with the Singapore Memory Project (SMP). Participants also discussed and role played a microfinance case study, heard from an eclectic mix of successful professionals, and received adult mentorship and one-to-one coaching.

Speakers for the first run include T'ang Quartet cellist Leslie Tan, NUS Business School assistant professor Andreas Birnik, and social work executive Cheryl Lek, while sessions were assisted by junior facilitators (university students with a strong leadership bent themselves).

Experience sharing by working professional

So how did the first run do? According to the founders, it was so well received that students, schools and parents are raving for more.  Schools and parents alike found the programme useful in complementing the formal educational curricula in educational institutions.

What about the students themselves?  Well, the feedback seemed rather positive, with glowing testimonials penned by participants citing how the programme helped them to overcome their shyness, boosted their confidence, and drew up qualities they never knew they had.

Surprising even the founders themselves, the teens grasped business issues quickly and developed a compelling creative proposal at the end of the programme for WINGS. Their campaign idea "Grandma Had a Life Too!" to strengthen inter-generational bonding was creative and fun, complete with target audiences, objectives, proposed solutions, incentives and budgets. I was impressed by what I saw and the founders promised me that they had minimal influence on what was produced.

Participant Denise Yong sharing the proposal for the campaign

For the road ahead, the founders will be refining the programme to better suit the school calendar and time-frames with shorter, more customised programmes.  They would also be seeking ways to make the programme more commercially viable while ensuring that its core principles of equipping students are not compromised.

If you're keen to find out more about the programme, check out their website, drop your contact particulars here, or email for more information.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Shrink, Shorten and Simplify

Courtesy of Putting People First

Shrink that proposal. Shorten that memo. Simplify that presentation.

Do it in four pages (or less). Better yet if you can tell me what decision you need in 30 seconds flat. Starting from now...

Ever been in a situation where your boss tells you to cut, cut, cut? You're not alone. In an age of multi-tasking, triple hatting, short attention spans and overflowing inboxes, the management mantra of choice is one of reduction.

Now before you go ahead thinking that a creating a short report is easier than a long one, consider the following:

1) You need to assemble disparate sources of information from emails, websites, papers, corridor conversations, books, and other sources of information into a single, condensed piece.

2) You need to provide the right context for your paper so that your boss or your board, who are usually less in touch with what's happening on the ground, can be brought up to speed.

3) You need to develop a compelling and coherent argument to support your case, often with the right facts, figures and competitive information.

4) You need to unpack, deconstruct and reconstruct the case in a digestible format, even when the subject matter is complicated and obtuse.

5) You need to prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that what you're proposing as the solution is the best way forward.

6) You need to justify the resources needed for this exercise, and why it beats the crap out of all other alternatives.

And all this under 10 minutes (or less), with a 4 page paper and a 10 slide presentation. If you're lucky.

Courtesy of Presentation Zen

Is there a way to cook this dish such that it can be served quickly and successfully?

Here's what I'd do:

1) Visualise yourself as your boss/customer/investor and imagine what he or she would be looking out for. Put on his/her working shoes for a day (or 10).

2) Read and go through the diverse sources of information quickly as a backgrounder. As you do so, think about what your core argument is going to be.

3) Put together a skeletal framework. Think about what facts and figures are useful to present, which should be discarded, and what point you would like to make.

4) As you do so, remember to be merciless and slash all the nice-to-haves that are not critical to your central argument. Don't be emotional about your beautiful database of competitive indicators, customer profiles or 20 year trend analyses.

5) Consider using tables, graphs and charts to present your point. A picture paints a thousand words. When doing so, however, don't go overboard with unloading tonnes of data that have little real bearing on your final outcomes.

6) Simplify your sentences and keep them short. Stick to one major point per paragraph. Use action-oriented phrases and words rather than academese (unless of course, you're presenting to a panel of professors).

7) Keep closely to your narrative and your script. The best corporate presentations are like short stories where one can keep an audience of bigwigs spellbound for a few minutes before unleashing the (hopefully) climactic conclusion.

Of course, the devil is in the details as they say. It often takes years of experience and some hard knocks to understand what kernels of wisdom should go into that nutshell.

Courtesy of Dream to Stay Awake

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our Holiday in Colourful Korea

Korea Everland
Fantasy Parade at Everland Theme Park

"안녕하세요 (Annyeong Haseyo)!" greeted our tour guide Colin every morning, rowsing the weary coach-load of travellers during our recent holiday in Korea. With an action-packed itinerary packed into 7 days, one could hardly consider Korea as the "Land of the Morning Calm".

Squeezing a population of 50 million packed into 100,000 square kilometres of mostly mountainous space, South Korea is both an economic and cultural miracle. With a GDP of US$1.164 trillion (2011), the "Miracle on the Han River" is fast overtaking Japan in global prominence. Korea's tremendous influence on popular culture in terms of K-Pop and soap dramas is also unprecedented.

So what did we do there? Plenty! After mercilessly culling some 2,700 photos and videos, here are the highlights of our holiday. Enjoy!

Best of South Korea Holiday
Dressing up in the traditional Korean Hanbok was a must...

Best of South Korea Holiday is getting our hands "dirty" (with hygienic gloves) making spicy kimchi.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Korean strawberries are sweet and delicious! Unfortunately, we could only pick 6 precious fruits each.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Yee Ha! We sure had fun riding horses on Jeju Island - a first time for Tina and I.

Best of South Korea Holiday
On the other hand, the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) ride on Jeju was somewhat subdued as we had to follow a group. It was still fun nonetheless.

Best of South Korea Holiday
The Jet Boat ride in Jeju Island must be the highlight of our trip. Ethan certainly had lots of fun on this one!

Best of South Korea Holiday
Going under the sea proved slightly more serene, allowing us to explore the marine sea-bed tinged in a blue-green hue.

Best of South Korea Holiday
We also had a game (or two) of bowling at Phoenix Park, a ski resort in winter.

Best of South Korea Holiday
At Jeju Island, we also "feasted" with Teddy Bears at the Teddy Bear Museum while rubbing shoulders with "Bear-lebrities" like "Mona Lisa", "Gandhi" and the "Bear-tles".

Best of South Korea Holiday
Cinderella wasn't the only one who found her Prince Charming at the Glass Castle. Special thanks to our boy for helping us to take this shot!

Best of South Korea Holiday
At the sprawling Everland - the world's 7th most visited theme park - we battled huge crowds to get onto the T-Express, braving a 77 degree drop that literally put one's heart in one's mouth.

Best of South Korea Holiday
More importantly (at least for Ethan), we also saw a natural born Liger - one of only 4 in the world.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Lotte World was the other theme park we visited, with a huge and cavernous indoor theme park complete with ice-skating rink and lots of rides.

Best of South Korea Holiday
As poor Tina was unwell, she became photographer for our ride on the Bungee Drop, a thrilling experience of zero-G forces for Ethan and I.

Best of South Korea Holiday
After all that action, what else but food, glorious food! In Korea, almost everything was either a steam boat with meat and lots of vegetables...

Korea - Food Glorious Food!
...or barbequed meats over a hot griddle. Ethan sure had fun trying his hand at cooking!

Best of South Korea Holiday
Of course, one mustn't forget their famous Samgyetang or ginseng chicken.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Naturally, we had to catch the famous Korean broadway hit Nanta to see how the "professional" chefs do it, complete with throwing knives and flaming stoves.

Best of South Korea Holiday
On certain nights, we had supper in bed with delectable Korean style buns, cakes and pastries.

Best of South Korea Holiday

Our love for nature was satisfied with hikes up the Seongsan Sunrise Peak - a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Jeju Island.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Along the way, we saw a dragon head-shaped rock called Yongduam...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...Trekked through serene vegetation to encounter the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall which purportedly resembles the white celestial robes of 7 nymphs...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...Encountered the breathtaking Jusangjeolli Cliffs (also known as God's sculpture) made of laval flows...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...And trekked in the cool 14 to 15 deg darkness of the 7.4 km long laval Manjanggul Cave - another UNESCO Heritage Site.

Mount Sorak
Taking a cable car ride up Mount Sorak was also a highlight for us, in an environment splashed with lush vegetation, granite peaks and sub-alpine forests.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Our eyes couldn't believe what we saw at the Mysterious Road as the coach "rolled uphill" here.

Best of South Korea Holiday
As we journeyed, we also took in man-made splendours such as the Seonimgyo Bridge (Heavenly Angel's Bride)...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...marvelled at the fierce gate guardians of the Shingheungsa Temple constructed during the Shilla era...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...and were awed by the resplendent residence of the former Korean kings at the Gyeongbok Palace which was rebuilt after they were torn down during the Japanese war.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Being Singaporeans, we shopped till we drop (almost) at the Chelsea Premium Factory Outlets (no prizes for guessing what Ethan bought)...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...Bought ourselves some spiffy Korean fashion at the hip and happening Dongdaemun Market...

Best of South Korea Holiday
...And even indulged in some amethyst jewellery - albeit the cheapest we could find in the tourist shops!

Tourism Ambassadors at Shincon Shopping Street
On our last day, we were greeted by these tourism hosts at the Shincon Shopping Street, a trendy place for the latest youth fashion with numerous shops offering Korean branded cosmetics and fashion.

Best of South Korea Holiday
Finally, and most importantly I guess, the trip to Korea was a great opportunity for us to spend time with each other and bond as a family.

감사합니다 (kamsahamnida)!