Tuesday, February 26, 2013

7 Management Lessons from Shackleton

Shackleton's ship Endurance (source of image)

Imagine being stranded on ice for 19 months in the world's harshest climate, often without light for months on end.

Imagine being cut off from the outside world without any forms of communication. No smartphones, tablets, laptops, telephones or faxes. Heck, not even a telegraph machine or carrier pigeon!

Imagine helming a crew of 27 tired and demoralised men, all of whom depend on you for survival.

What would you do in that life threatening situation?

If you were Ernest Shackleton, the world famous Antarctic explorer, you would know a thing or two about keeping your men - and yourself - alive amidst such turmoil.

Born on 15 February 1874 in Ireland, Ernest Shackleton made his third trip to the Antarctic on board the ship "Endurance". Together with a crew of 27 men, his aim was to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. Unfortunately, the ill-fated ship was trapped in ice and sank 10 months later in 1915.

Abandoning the ship, Shackleton and his crew set off in three small boats on April 1916 to reach Elephant Island. A few crew members trekked for months on end to seek help. Miraculously, all members of the ship were rescued in August 1916.

Sharing her views on Shackleton in a recent HBR Ideacast, Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn shared invaluable insights from the "Endurance" expedition. Journey with me as I distill these perspectives into seven management lessons.

1) Mission Focused

Shackleton's original mission was a grand one promising fame, glory and scientific achievement. When his ship was stuck in ice 150 miles offshore, he changed his mission to one focused on getting everybody home in one piece. This new focus drove Shackleton's actions throughout the freezing cold months in the Antarctic, keeping the man and his team alive.

2) Improvisation

Like an accomplished jazz musician, Shackleton knew the value of improvisation. Although he was devastated when the ship finally sank, he did not raise the white flag. Instead, he pursued a new course of action when he disembarked with three life boats and did what was needed to improve their chances of being rescued.

3) Emotional and Social Intelligence

Under conditions of extreme hardship, it is critical for one's emotional fortitude to be robust. Shackleton knew this fact. At times, he huddled close to his men as "one of the boys". At others, he kept a distance in order to maintain his command.

To maintain the energy levels of his men, he gathered them every night in the ship (and later on the ice) with one of the men's banjo. This helped ensure that there would be times of camaraderie and fun, relieving the stress, exhaustion and fear of their precarious situation.

4) Persistence and Perseverance

Emulating his ship's name "Endurance", Shackleton never gave up come hell, high water or freezing ice. In those days (we're talking about 1915 and 1916), it took almost five months to get all the men safe once he reached civilisation. Going back to pick up the remaining men was an arduous chore, but he never gave up.

This spirit of resilience is exemplified by Winston Churchill's quote during World War II:

"...we will fight on the beaches, we will fight with pitchforks, we will not surrender."

5) Managing Vital Details

While keeping his gaze firmly fixed on his mission of survival, Shackleton knew that the devil was in the nitty gritty details. Two examples of his were worth noting:

- Duty Roster  Shackleton worked every single day on the duty roster. He determined who did what, when, and where, shifting people around when needed. This went on despite the adverse weather circumstances or low morale which plagued the group.

- Food  Shackleton focused on the need to feed and water his men throughout the ordeal. This occurred even though supplies were diminishing. To raise spirits, celebrations were held during festive occasions, often with fresh penguin meat supplemented by dried foodstuffs from the ship.

6) Sharing Information

In an adverse situation, Shackleton understood that it was vital to keep information flowing to his crew. His regular sharing kept everybody apprised of the situation on a day to day basis. Such communication practices are probably more vital than ever in today's hyper-connected environment.

7) Learning from Mistakes

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Shackleton learned from his mistakes. Some of the grave errors he made resulted in rescue efforts taking a lot longer than they should.

However, he did not mope and groan over his mistakes. Instead, he changed course quickly and focused his energies on the new path needed. This continual learning and adapting process kept the man and his crew alive in the world's most hostile environment.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (courtesy of Shackleton Centenary)

It has been almost a century since the events in the "Endurance" took place. However, the lessons arising from that saga of human spirit and survival are probably as relevant in today's tumultuous business climate as they were 100 years ago.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Kings and Queens of the Social Age

Image courtesy of WFUV.org

By now, you've probably heard that content is king.

In the age of omnipresent 24/7 media served through ubiquitous smart devices, it is the currency which wins hearts, minds and wallets.

If you haven't got a decent website or blog, good luck. You're probably going to be missed by the gazillions on Google searching for product or services, people, entertainment, news, or jobs.

And yes, even your neighbourhood coffee shop has a Facebook page and a tweeting shop owner. Heck, he is even making short videos (posted on Youtube) of how they brew that irresistibly fragrant coffee from the grinding of the beans to the steaming of the milk.

With everybody sharing, retweeting, and linking to multiple sources of content, silence is not going to be bliss.

You have to muscle your way in, bit by bit. Weave a charming and enchanting narrative that will sweep your readers/viewers/listeners off their feet. Spice it up with some drama, humour and sexiness.

But what good is a great story if nobody listens to it. What good is a possibly "viral" video if nobody cares enough to spread it. And how can your teeny weeny little company compete against the giants of content?

Enter community, the enabler of conversations, word-of-mouth effects, and virality.

If content is king, community must be queen.

With a strong community of passionate believers of your brand or cause (or branded cause), you're able to do a lot more. Every message, campaign, promotion, or product launch becomes a lot stronger.

The great thing about having a community is that you're able to sound off product or campaign ideas with your circle before rolling it out into the big bad world. Maybe some of your alpha community members can even help you to shape your product to suit their tastes.

Storytelling works better amongst a group of friends. Perhaps you can even co-opt co-authors amongst your followers and "likers" to help pen down the chapters of your corporate tale.

Naturally, the greatest advantage of having a community is that your efforts can be multiplied manifold.

If 10% of your membership of 1,000 spreads the word to 100 of their friends each, you can reach a potential crowd of 10,000 without spending a cent on advertising. What's more, studies have shown that content shared by friends or family members are far more likely to be trusted than the messages which one receives from the mass media.

What this really means is that you need to divide your time, effort and resources between creating great content and building great communities.

Go ahead to invest in nifty story writing, clever copywriting, evocative photography, and emotion-rich video production. However, do not neglect those meet-ups, face-to-face functions, and other activities aimed at building community and strengthening relationships.

At the end of the day, the best players in the new world of social know that compelling content and committed communities must work hand in hand to propel a company and its brands towards enduring success.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Explore Singapore on Two Wheels with Druthers

Courtesy of Druthers Bicycle Rental

Cycling is fast becoming a popular way to tour a city.

I remembered how enjoyable it was cycling around Whistler back when my family visited Canada. There is something magical about the sensation of wind rushing through your body and blood coursing through your muscles as you soak in the sights, sounds and scents of your surroundings. Moreover, you can choose to stop anytime to take photo if you so fancy.

Thanks to Druthers Bike Rental Singapore, you can now enjoy cycling tours in sunny Singapore. For just S$10 an hour (S$70 for a whole day or 24 hours), you can pick up a foldable bicycle (also called a foldie) from Druthers in Boat Quay, or request for it to be delivered to your hotel at the Civic District/Marina Bay area. 

Located along the Singapore River at Boat Quay, Druthers offers more than a dozen foldies for rental. According to owner-operator Andrew Goh, they are unique in that they offer the following:

1) Foldable bicycles for rental with a unique fold and roll feature. One can bring these bicycles on board MRT trains (during offpeak periods ie Mon-Fri: 9.30am - 4.00pm & 8.00pm to end of service; all day on weekends/public holidays).

2) Druthers is the only rental bike operator in the city, close to the major hotels. Most of their customers are tourists.

3) All Druthers bicycles come fitted with branded parts like Shimano gears, and are custom designed.

4) A map and brochure showing possible sightseeing routes is also provided to renters. 

Sharing his experience with Siva, Ivan Chew and myself, Andrew started the business 7 months ago after identifying a possible niche for bicycle tours in the city. A former bank employee who ORD-ed last year, he knocked on doors at hotels and worked with concierges to build the business at a tender young age of 23.

To differentiate his business from other competitors, Andrew chose to focus on foldies as opposed to full sized bicycles. These are easier to transport and offer greater flexibility and mobility. Interestingly, the American originated word "Druthers" means "my choice or preference", and was chosen as the brand name of his own bikes.

Assembled and designed in Taiwan with the main frame made in China (like most bicycles), Druthers bicycles are also available for sale at S$450 each. Considerably cheaper than a Brompton or Dahon at S$2,000 or more, Druther bikes are light, flexible and easy to bring around. For buyers, Andrew provides a comprehensive maintenance programme like most retailers. However, he focuses more on rentals than sales. 

What's most surprising was how Druthers clinched the top spot on Trip Advisor for Shopping. The popular travel portal provides an important source of referrals for the fledgling business. Reading the rave reviews, one can tell that Andrew must've been pretty customer oriented to garner such accolades.

Like most lifestyle businesses, Andrew's peak periods tend to be over the weekends. Mornings also tend to be better than afternoons. As the shop was located at the 2nd floor of a shophouse in Boat Quay (where Forum Seafood is), it was also challenging to attract walk-in customers or move the bikes up and down.

To improve visibility, Andrew will be shifting his bikes to a prime ground floor location. He also intends to offer Internet access, drinks and snacks as well as to play some hip music to generate greater attention. 

While business has been fairly fine thus far (Andrew recouped initial investments and achieved breakeven) growth has been limited as it is a one-man show. To expand, Druthers is currently looking for a customer service staff (details on Druthers' Facebook page).  

To maximise his capacity, I proposed that he offer cheaper rates for targeted groups like students or seniors during weekdays. That could reduce the cost barriers for these potential customers.

Ending on a personal note, Andrew revealed how fortunate he was that both his working parents - dad works in the factory while mum is in customer service - supported his business venture. Graduating from a polytechnic before his National Service, Andrew is currently also studying part time at SIM for a degree in Economics and Finance. It must've been pretty tough to balance a full-time business with part-time studies.

For more information on Druthers, check out their website, Facebook page, email info@druthers.sg or call 9846 7504.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Ah Boys to Men 2

Following the box office success of Ah Boys to Men, local filmmaker Jack Neo's Ah Boys to Men 2 has scaled new heights as the top grossing local film of all time. Based on the exploits of Recruit Ken Chow (Joshua Tan) and his platoon mates Wayang King (Maxi Lim), Lobang (Wang Weiliang) and I P Man (Noah Yap), the movie is filled with laugh-a-minute moments infused with patriotic messages about what it means to defend our country.

As a rite-of-passage comedy, Ah Boys to Men 2 resonated with most of its audiences. Male Singaporean who have tasted National Service (or are currently full-time NSFs) would appreciate the hair raising scenarios faced by the madcap recruits. The liberal use of Hokkien - the lingua franca of the army - strikes a chord with locals. There is also good chemistry between the leads.

The focus of this post, however, is on its breakout character Lobang. He is probably the talked about character (thanks to getai singer Weiliang's natural talent). What triggered my attention was how Lobang managed to be selected for OCS (Officer Cadet School for the most promising recruits) despite being the "hokkien peng" and "pai kia" (bad hat) in the platoon.

How could a lowly recruit who broke army regulations repeatedly end up becoming selected as a possible leader amongst men? Let me attempt to dissect this role.

For a start, Lobang displayed empathy for his colleagues. Unlike the "siao-on" Wayang King who insisted on following rules to a T, Lobang knew that it was important to address the concerns of his fellow platoon mates. He did this despite knowing that the consequences could be severe.

This brings us to the next quality - risk taking. Leadership of any form involves breaking new ground. Lobang risked being severely punished by bringing an iPad (with a camera) into camp, but he did it so that he could help I P Man get back at his girlfriend who deserted him.

Lobang also showcased leadership by example. He did not just direct others to do something which he wouldn't do himself. In fact, he placed himself in equal danger to the others and confessed to his crime when he couldn't hide them anymore. 

Paying attention to operational details is also vital in good leaders. When planning to "ambush" I P Man's nemesis, Lobang plotted how the motley crew should disguise themselves, limit the movement of their quarry, and escape in an urban environment. While their efforts came to a painful end, you couldn't help admiring how the deed was done.

Charisma is another important virtue amongst leaders. As I watched both parts 1 and 2 of the movie, it was clear to me that Lobang was going to be the breakout role. Somehow or other, one couldn't help liking this character despite his warts and all.

Being entrepreneurial is also key amongst leaders. Throughout both movies, Lobang was always the solution provider to the problems faced by his colleagues. He had an incredible ability to smuggle in items to the camp (like bak kwa), and also knew that fully-charged handphone batteries had a good market within the camp.

A leader must also be brave and Lobang exhibited this in spade-loads. Other than the ambush attempt, he repeatedly though to ways to outwit and outsmart the system despite knowing the grave consequences if he was caught.

Finally, a leader needs to care for his/her men. While his habit of smuggling in "bak kwa" (pork jerky) and cigarettes isn't approved by the commanders, Lobang knew that these little perks could help raise the morale of his fellow platoon mates.

Whether by accident or design, the portrayal of Lobang in Ah Boys to Men 2 shows that one can lead without a title nor position. Leadership is embodied in how one behaves and what one does more than in following a set of strict rules and regulations. It is also about working well with people from diverse backgrounds and motivating people to achieve a common goal.

Having said that, do note that I'm not advocating that we should break rules flagrantly like Lobang - especially in the army! You could get into a lot of serious trouble, and real life may not be as forgiving as reel life. However, there are leadership lessons that we can learn from this local blockbuster.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Transforming the Movies in Your Life

Are you a superhero in the movie of your life? (courtesy of Man of Steel movie)

Do you know that you play between 12,000 to 60,000 movies in your head in a single day?

Or that your subconscious occupies 90% of your mind?

I learned this and more at a recent workshop on the power of personal movies, thanks to an invitation from my friend Kevin Shepherdson. Using a broad range of materials from Hollywood movie clips, neurological research, to behavioural economics and psychology, Kevin and his team shared how movies could shape our minds and influence the way we live.

Movies are metaphors for our lives. While a good proportion of our existence is probably less dramatic than the average Hollywood fare, we do have our fair share of drama, fear, excitement, sorrow, anger, and jubilation. This is played out in the movies of our life - from childhood to adolescence, adulthood and our golden years.

From advanced medical technologies such as Functional MRI (fMRI), scientists discovered that our Limbic system manifests memories in 4D, ie visual (sight), auditory (sound), and kinesthetic (touch). These memories form an integral part of our subconscious. They comprise sensory, short-term and long-term memories.

Unfortunately, your mind can be fooled by your senses. It cannot deal with strange and alien contexts. To cope, it creates its own versions of reality, aided by prejudices and stereotypes buried deep in the subconscious.

Because of this, our deep seated perceptions becomes our reality. We become beholden to gut responses and automatic behaviours that sabotage our chances of making the right choices.

To "reprogramme" our minds, we need to walk back in time. We need to revisit and rewrite the old scripts which haunt our childhood. We need to eradicate the ill effects of emotional wounds sustained during our younger selves. We also need to stop those negative movies centred on anger, fear, sadness, failure, helplessness, and pain from replaying in our minds.

Once we're aware of these limiting scenarios, we should challenge our mindsets and adopt affirmative beliefs through the power of words and thoughts. This works through a "reverse engineering" approach in this order:

Change environment --> change behaviour --> grow strength and capability --> build positive beliefs/values (while dispelling negative ones) --> affirm identity (sense of self) --> refresh purpose/mission

Surrounding ourselves with positive people, books and movies is a necessary step. Uplifting statements which can liberate our full potential should also be recited as mantras to motivate us. We should also change our actions and embrace positive behaviours that reinforces our strengths and capabilities.

Thereafter, we should focus on positive memories. By doing so, we dispel negative thoughts (which form an alarming 80% of an average person's thoughts), and use these positive episodes of our life to affirm our beliefs, identities and missions.

Finally, we need to create our ideal life movie by dreaming. Here, we can seek inspiration from trailblazers like Walt Disney, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Disney himself has shared that "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

With perhaps an inspiring soundtrack running in the background (maybe "Superman" or "Lord of the Rings"?), you can script and produce a positive movie. One that is full of achievement, excitement, confidence, love, pride and joy.

Once you've vividly built that positive movie, mentally replace that old movie with this new one. Visualise this new "dream movie" of yours often, and anchor your sense of self worth and mission on it.  

As the saying goes, life is a stage. We're all actors and actresses in an ongoing movie called "The Story of (insert your name)".

By embracing the tools of movie making and building positive and empowering scripts, we can live lives that are fulfilling, enriching and victorious. Ones that can hopefully lead us to a more happy ending.

For more information on Kevin Shepherdson and his company Straits Consultancy, check out the link here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Eat Play Shop at Johor Bahru

What are Johor Bahru's (JB) malls like? Do they really offer great value for shoppers?

Recently, my wife and I decided to revisit JB's shopping malls after hearing positive things (mainly how cheap it was to buy books from Popular) about our closest neighbouring city from friends. As we're pretty time-starved, we chose to focus on two malls - City Square and KSL City.

Rather than drive in, we decided to take the Singapore-Johor Express buses from Queen Street to JB. We also chose to visit on a weekday (I took leave) to beat the Causeway jam.

The bus tickets cost about S$2.40 per person from Singapore to JB and RM 2.40 per person from JB to Singapore. The journey lasted between 50 minutes to an hour (offpeak period) from Queen Street to the JB checkpoint.

Upon reaching JB, we first proceeded to City Square which is adjoining the JB Customs Immigration Quarantine (CIQ) complex.

With a majority stake by Singapore's GIC, City Square is heavily populated by many Singaporean brands like Sakae Sushi. The mall was dolled up for the upcoming Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations and evergreen CNY songs were being played throughout the day. As its a Friday, the place was pretty quiet during the day, with moderate crowds (mainly Singaporeans) streaming in towards the evening.

We shopped for new clothes for CNY (yes, we're quite last minute!) at local outlets like Padini and Xenus Men Fashion. Generally, sales assistants were helpful, attentive, and obliging to our requests. I noticed that they weren't chatting incessantly with each other even though there weren't many people, nor were they peering at their mobiles all the time.

For lunch, my wife suggested that we patronise the Dragon-i restaurant at City Square. The crowd was pretty decent, and one could tell that many were Singaporeans from their accents.

Like Chinese restaurants in Singapore, the highly popular Treasure Pot or Pen Cai was being offered to usher in the festive season. I noticed that the restaurant chain tied up with an Iron Chef from Hong Kong to bolster their reputation as a premier purveyor of Chinese cuisine.

We enjoyed our lunch of la mian, xiao long bao, and beancurd cooked with vegetables at Dragon-i and spent about RM 80.95 (S$33.75) in total. The waiters and waitresses were alert and attentive to our needs, and the food came quickly. At this point, we noticed that they were all locals and mostly young.

We next took a cab (costing about RM 8) to nearby KSL City mall. This newer establishment was recently opened, and boasted of anchor tenant Tesco - a popular haunt for Singaporeans stocking up on cheap groceries and sundry goods. Unlike malls in Singapore, its decor for CNY was far simpler as you can see above.

We shopped for bags, shoes and clothes at the mall. Generally speaking, most of the fashion outlets seemed stuck in the past relative to our Orchard Road outlets. While there are a few outlets offering hip and trendy apparels influenced by K-Pop, these are few and far between. It took us quite a fair amount of digging to uncover "gems".

At Tesco, most food and sundry items were considerably cheaper than equivalent ones in Singapore. Some were about half price (or even less), largely due to our strong currency exchange rate. This is one of the main reason why so many Singaporeans drive to JB to load up. Again, most of the cashiers were young.

I couldn't help noticing these cute cupcakes shaped like Sesame Street characters. They were going for about RM 3 each (S$1.25).

To replenish our energies, we had two cold drinks during tea - a special fragrant ying yong (tea-coffee mixed) and almond with grass jelly at the Causeway Bay Hong Kong Cafe. The bill was about RM 12.75 (S$5.30) in total.

Tina had a very positive experience at E-Zone - a smallish boutique at KSL.

After putting on various sizes of a nice oriental dress, she fretted between two different sizes. The retail assistant, a very young Malay boy, offered to take down the display piece on a store mannequin so that she could try it on for size.  He was very patient and never once showed any signs of irritation (in fact, this was a common observation at all the boutiques we visited).

Tina later told me that back home in Singapore, the sales assistant at a fashion store remarked that it was not convenient for her to try out a display piece when she requested so. It was quite such a stark contrast from her experience here.

Here's a poster of a menu and a promotion at another Cha Chan Teng at KSL. We saw many students in their uniforms sharing a huge jug of iced milk tea and enjoying themselves here, taking advantage of a student discount. It was clear who their primary target audiences were.

We next indulged in a foot massage at a reflexology centre downstairs. The masseurs were professional and skilled at their craft, and we felt totally relaxed and refreshed. It costs us about RM 40 (S$16.60) per person for an hour's worth of pampering.

Dinner was at Arashi Shabu Shabu, a beautifully designed steamboat and barbecue restaurant with plush velvet chairs, hanging chandeliers, and a comfortable ambience. Like the earlier restaurant we visited, service was brisk and efficient, handled by a very young team of waiters and waitresses.

It was quite a pleasant surprise to see that the restaurant offered many vegetarian options. I decided to try this vegetarian belly shabu shabu (RM 24.90 or S$10.40) which came in a herbal broth with pumpkin noodles. The meal was quite substantial and the broth flavourful even though it didn't have any meat in it.

Tina had this Salmon Teppanyaki set which costs RM 25.90 (S$10.80) which was pretty yummy. While we were eating, waiters came by to top up our broth or extinguish the flame automatically at the appropriate juncture. Requests for additional bowls were also catered for promptly. 

At the end of the meal, we were asked to provide our feedback via this form. Considering the price of the meal, the ambience of the restaurant, and the quality of the food, our experience was "excellent" across most categories.

After dinner, we returned to City Square via a more luxurious blue taxi which cost RM 13 (S$5.40). Our final destination was the Popular Book Shop where certain books and stationery items could be bought at lower prices. We also bought some Hokkaido swiss rolls (milk and strawberry flavours) home to fill our bellies over the next two weeks or so.

At Popular, our main objective was to buy these "Adventures in Science" comic books from Korea. Ethan is a huge fan of the series and we thought that it was a fun way for him to pick up scientific concepts.

Our final haul for the night was this stack of 18 educational comics which costs RM 170.10 (S$70.90) after 10% discount for Popular card holders (yes it works here too!). That's about S$3.95 for each comic which is less than half its price in Singapore.

As you can see, we did enjoy ourselves at the two malls in JB. While they weren't as hip or trendy as those here, prices were attractive and service attentive. The sparser crowds in JB malls made shopping and dining more pleasant - even on a Friday night.

On the issue of safety, I feel that common sense needs to prevail here. Stay in well lit places, dress casually and conservatively (as opposed to dripping with diamonds), and avoid sleazy places at night. Throughout our visit, we didn't feel threatened at any time. Moreover, most malls have armed security guards watching over them.

What are your experiences shopping in JB like? 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Which Comes First - the Product or the Market?

Too many toys to choose from! (Ethan in a shop in Shibuya, Tokyo)

You're all fired up and rarin' to go.

After slaving away for goodness knows how long, you've perfected your recipe for world domination. You've got it all worked out - product range, features, price point, packaging, advertising campaign, suppliers, distributors, retail outlet, the works.

Nobody knows this product as well as you do. After all, you ate, breathed and lived this idea for the past few years.

You've participated in all the courses, received all the certificates, and heck, was even rewarded with a generous prize for being the best _____ in a recent contest.

All this while, you've kept your dream alive while enduring the demands and rigours of a nine to five job.
The stars are aligned. Your product is a work of art. Nothing can possibly go wrong.

It is time for you to break free and be an entrepreneur!

But wait! Chotto matte!

There is one missing piece that you haven't quite figured out. It is the most important reason for anybody to go into a business of his or her own.

One which determines the survival (or death) of a million small businesses.

Is there a market for what you're offering?

In other words, is there a critical gap, common frustration, unfulfilled dream, or hidden opportunity that you're resolving? Is there a niche that you (and hopefully only you) can meet - one that is ignored by the current marketplace?

After all, the world doesn't really need yet another boutique, bakery, buffet line, or brass band. Well, at least one that tastes, looks and sounds just like the rest.

Unfortunately, the challenge is in discerning these latent needs, wants and desires.

Just look at Apple. Nobody could articulate that they wanted a mobile phone with a screen that functioned like an iPod. Yet, when the iPhone was launched, its sales broke all previous records.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

However, not all of us can be like Steve Jobs. Few can discern the hidden potential of new products as accurately as that giant of a man (may he rest in peace).

What should one do then?

For a start, make it a point to talk to people, particularly those whom you see as your potential customers.

Prompt them to share what their problems, challenges, and issues are. Is there something that they wished they could do but couldn't find the wherewithal to accomplish? What are their most common pain points or their greatest complaints?

Alternatively, you can build your business around the wishes and desires of others. Encourage your potential customers to imagine what they would dearly love to have. How would their ideal world look like? What services or products would such an utopian society have?

Once you've collected enough data, develop a value proposition for your business that can accomplish two things:

1) Solve/fulfill the greatest nagging ills/unmet dreams of your target customers;

2) Match your interests, resources, competencies and aptitudes. While a cure for AIDS is probably one of the world's most pressing need, few have the means or know how to launch a business in that area.

Of course, starting a business also requires multiple other factors to be considered. These include funding, manpower, distribution networks, shop locations, and so on and so forth.

There are also government regulations to consider, suppliers to negotiate with, distributors to please, and technical specifications to meet.

However, the first and perhaps most important step in entrepreneurship is to meet a latent customer demand with a product, service or experience that provides exceptional utility. Carve out a niche that is unique and valued by your customers, fits your interests and passions to a T, and is poorly met/ unmet by competitors in the marketplace.

Do you agree that the market should be established before the product?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Three Gs of the Social Web

These male chimpanzees practise social grooming (courtesy of Mad Science @ QHST)

Noticed why your birthday photos are more well "liked" than a business update?

Or that people whom you "liked" and "commented" on tend to return the favour?

Why are some friends a lot more popular than others on social networks?

For ease of remembrance, let us label these the 3 Gs of social intercourse.


The first thing you need to do is to let your guard down and share. Let others know your thoughts, your encounters, and your experiences in life. Instagram a photo (or 10), share an insight, or upload a video. Spread the joy and seek the views of others.

While I am an advocate of transparency and openness, there are occasions where you need to hold your tongue (or your fingers, rather). Try to avoid over sharing and clogging up your friends' Facebook or Twitter feeds with too much minutiae chronicling every hour of your life.

This varies of course, depending on your own "celebrity" status. However, I would advocate some form of content curation rather than spilling every damn thing in your gut all of the time.

So what happens after you've shared and posted?


The second phenomena to consider is social grooming (or allogrooming).

With its background in primatology (the study of apes), social grooming in the real world comprises the little touches we do to help each other look better. They include picking up a stray strand of hair, straightening a person's crumpled shirt, or dusting off powder from his shoulder.

On the social web, these little strokes are translated into actions such as Facebook's infamous "pokes", shares, likes, and comments, as well as retweets and @ replies on Twitter. These micro interactions help to keep relationships alive in an age of hyper-connectivity and "always on" digital consciousness.

You've probably noticed that principle of reciprocity works here. People whom you've interacted with more tend to return the favour (unless they are digeratis or celebrities). This brings us to our final point.


Some have labelled the social web as the onset of the "gift economy". Through the click of a button, tapping of a few lines, and sharing of a post or two, one can engender goodwill and cultivate positive friendships.

On the social web, gifting means a lot more than just retweeting and liking. It can also result in new content such as blog posts being created (making positive reference to the original source), or even result in real life transactions such as a meet-up, purchase or event attendance.

Gifting also means being generous in what you share online or offline. It means being ready to provide useful leads or information that can help others at work or in life. It means being connecting people to like-minded others who are able to add value.

In general, the more invested you are in helping others, the more others would pay it back. The universal principle of kindness begetting kindness definitely applies here. This applies equally to the online and offline world. 

Of course, one shouldn't just "give" with the expectation of receiving something in return. That reeks of being calculative and mercenary. Its probably more of paying it forward than anything else.

Naturally, there are some who do not follow the above precepts as much as others. There are also others who are so exact in measuring out their quotas of gabbing, grooming and gifting that they frighten me.

Whatever the case may be, you have the power to decide how "social" you want to be. Hopefully, the 3 Gs give you an idea of what you should and should not do as the world goes digital.

All mammals (us included) enjoy social interactions

Friday, February 08, 2013

Embracing the Elderly Worker

Colonel Sanders opened his first KFC at the age of 65 (courtesy of the Bluegrass Historian)

Like it or not, we're becoming a greying population.

With low fertility rates of 1.2, the ratio of young to elderly Singaporeans would decline in the decades to come. This has been highlighted as a critical problem in the much talked about White Paper on the Population, and a reason why we need to augment our population through immigration and to bolster our businesses through skilled foreign workers.

While we grapple with this thorny issue, I reflected upon my own situation. I'm going to be 43 this year. By 2030, I'll be 60 years old and categorised as an "active ager" (yes, I'm no spring chicken). I also looked around at people of my cohort (Generation X-ers) who are now 35 to 48 years of age.
As I thought about this, the following occurred to me:

1) The elderly in the future will probably be healthier than those today. Bolstered by improved healthcare, diet, and exercise, they are likely to be more upwardly mobile and physically fit than those of the present generation. Most would also have greater knowledge of their health conditions.

2) Automation and mechanisation would have progressed at a rapid pace, with many previously manual jobs being taken by machines. As we've seen in Japan, robotics can be developed to take over household chores, food assembly and other tasks (see below).

3) Seniors of the future are likely to be more highly educated. A greater proportion will have either an "A" Level, diploma or degree, with quite a few postgraduates. Almost everybody would be English educated, even if their preferred spoken and written language is their mother tongue.

4) More of them will also have worked (or are working) in a PMET job unlike their forebears. While some would have worked on the shopfloor, a greater proportion would probably be in service industries.

5) Information Technology (IT) and the Internet would be familiar to most. Many would be familiar with the mobile web, minimally as a consumer of Youtube videos, photos and news.

6) Many seniors then (ie folks like me now) would probably want to be engaged in some form of work beyond 60. While this may not be possible in physically taxing jobs, the bulk of service-based vocations shouldn't be a problem for the fit and able.

Rather than view seniors as decrepit, dependent, or dowdy, why don't we change our perspective?

Old can be gold. A mature worker may have networks, and skills that are honed through years of experience and practice. He or she is also likely to be more mellow and less impetuous, helping to provide some stability in an increasingly volatile workforce.

Working beyond our retirement years shouldn't be perceived as "punishment" or a social stigma if it is done willingly. Engaging and meaningful work keeps us going. I've seen relatives and friends who rapidly went downhill after their retirement. Of course, this can also be through other engaging activities like volunteering at NGOs or writing a book.

(Of course, this isn't the same as an elderly person being forced to work due to lack of savings or filial piety from their kids)

The greatest battle may perhaps be more psychological than physical. Our image Entire industries like fashion, hospitality, F&B, and retail are shaped with the youth in mind. Often, the elderly are assigned to back office jobs, unseen and unheard by the rest of the world.
Here we should try to take a leaf from McDonald's and NTUC Fairprice. Both companies are great stalwarts of senior employment. I often enjoy the service provided by older workers at these establishments, as they often more patient than younger ones. 

From what I see, hear and observe, many of my peers do not have the expectations of investing in the future generation so that they can take care of us. Our dreams and goals for our kids is for them to live happy, successful and fulfilled lives of their own. As it is, the world is becoming increasingly competitive and uncertain. The last thing I want to do is to be a burden to the next generation.

What are your views on this issue? 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Enchantment: A Book Review

Keen to change the world? Want to transform your "caterpillars" into "butterflies"?

Well, former Apple chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions may show you a trick or two.

Authored by the bestselling author of "The Art of the Start", Enchantment is a multi-layered book. It begins with a core of likability and trustworthiness before covering other topics. These include preparing and launching one's business/product, overcoming resistance, using push/pull technology, and managing stakeholders (employees and bosses).

Each chapter is written like an assembly of different blog posts on management and entrepreneurial topics. They include numerous "To Do" lists compiled from Kawasaki himself as well as various management thinkers.

Examples include Kawasaki's rules on presentations such as the 10-20-30 rule (make a 10 slide presentation in 20 minutes with no font smaller than 30 points), qualities of a great product (deep, intelligent, complete, empowering and elegant), and providing a MAP (Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose) rather than money to motivate employees.

Spanning a wide range of disciplines - personal effectiveness, behavioural economics, psychology, product development, marketing, HR and social technology - the book's central thesis is that enchantment is a new form of competitive advantage. Due to the breadth of its range (it is ambitious!), one probably needs to reread the book several times to internalise its teachings.

So how can we be truly enchanting? Here are some tips:

1)  Be extremely ethical, honest, open and sincere in one's dealings with others, giving them the benefit of the doubt as much as possible;

2) Plant many seeds when launching one's product (instead of focusing on a few major influencers), immersing one's customers through stories and realistic sensorial experiences;

3) Build a robust ecosystem and community of believers through push (emails, twitter, presentations) and pull (websites, Facebook, blogs) technologies;

4) Be an enchanting manager who empowers employees, celebrate successes, address one's own shortcomings first, and doesn't tell others to do what one wouldn't do;

5) Resist the enchantment efforts of others by avoiding tempting situations, looking far ahead into the future. Be wary of pseudo salience (facts masked as truths), data, and experts.

My favourite parts of the book were the personal stories of enchantment. They include Presentation Zen's Garr Reynolds, who moved to Japan to immerse himself in Japanese aesthetics, design and the art of Zen, as well as a sweet story by Kathy Parsanko on the love story between two geriatrics who has been married for 65 years in an assisted living home.

Written from the perspective of a venture capitalist, evangelist and marketer, Enchantment is probably more suitable for start-ups and small businesses rather than large corporations. Some of its ideas appear contradictory (eg should one's product be ubiquitous or scarce since both are cited as possible strategies) and may require some thoughtful reflection before they can be applied.

Having said that, the book is a good read to anybody in the business of marketing, managing and leading a business. Its precepts are richly illustrated with stirring stories written in a direct and engaging narrative. As a "first read", Enchantment may be useful to anybody keen to be exposed to the latest ideas in the world of social businesses.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Power of Diplomacy

Jesus was the ultimate example of diplomacy (courtesy of Jesus Good Father)

Difficult people are the bane of our professional and personal lives. You meet them everywhere.

On the buses. At the neighbourhood coffee shops. In the office. At a family gathering. Heck, even in the peaceful surrounds of a park.

What should you do with somebody who chooses to heckle, criticise or scold you?

There are two ways to neutralise an opponent.

The first is to use force. Like George W Bush, you can order the military to bomb your enemy until he or she surrenders.

Pummel them to a pulp with the sheer logic of your arguments. Present the most convincing facts and figures. Provide 101 reasons why they are wrong (and you are right). Leave them no room to wriggle out of that situation.

With guns a-blazing, show your opponent why your way is right. Do it publicly so that he/she has no place to hide.

Post a negative comment on my Facebook status? Let me quell that with a robust respond. Gave me a thumbs down on my Youtube video? Let me seek your Youtube channel and destroy you. 

In other words, "Don't *censored* around with me, understand?"

The second and better way is to embrace diplomacy. Instead of trying to kill your enemy, find ways to understand him or her first.

Religious and political leaders like Jesus, Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi has shown the way. Quoting from Gandhi, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". Renowned management guru Stephen Covey has also taught us to "seek ye first to understand, and then to be understood".

Contrary to popular belief, humans are 95% similar to each other. Most of us love a good meal, an entertaining movie, and great service.

We respond to hospitality and kindness with gratitude and appreciation. We laugh at a good joke, cry when loved ones pass on, and fume when an irresponsible driver cuts into our lane.

How should we then react to a shouting or screaming person - whether offline or online?

First, control your anger. Anything done in a fit of rage isn't going to be constructive.

Next, find ways to engage the person one-on-one. Wherever possible, try to take it offline in a private setting as soon as possible.

Once that is done, listen first and talk later. Where time permits, allow the person to vent as much as he/she desires before responding.

Be polite but firm in explaining why certain decisions or actions were made. However, be open to the other person's point of view. Choose to find a solution that is amicable to both where possible.

In the event that you cannot reach a suitable compromise, agree to disagree. Aim to respect each other's differences.

The most important thing is to seek some form of closure. While there will be some folks whom you just can't see eye to eye with, find a way to either avoid getting into conflicts with them or seek the help of a third party to mediate the differences.

Admittedly, adopting a diplomatic solution isn't easy. You need to transcend that ugly situation and to adopt a "zen" attitude in the midst of the fracas.

However, it probably pays dividends in the long term and is less costly to your sanity and reputation in time to come. 

Let me end with a quote from Matthew 5:43-45, from the words of Jesus himself:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Courtesy of A Moment Please

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Enjoy Exquisite Meals at Crystal Jade Pristine

Fancy a delicious mouth-watering meal without the guilt? Wish to indulge in savoury Cantonese fare with a healthy contemporary edge?

With Crystal Jade Pristine, you can now enjoy premium Chinese cuisine - without the customary bloated tummy.

Launched recently by the Crystal Jade Group in Singapore, this new concept in fine dining at Scotts Square marries authentic Cantonese cuisine with a creative contemporary twist. To cater to the health concerns of business diners, dishes are mostly steamed, simmered or sauteed with a light touch.

Following the trend in contemporary Chinese gastronomy, Crystal Jade Pristine provides single-serve portions, business set lunches, and organic sets targeted at the discerning palates of fastidious foodies. While healthy modern dishes are a key focus here, the restaurant hasn't forgotten its Chinese culinary roots. 

To tantalise the tastebuds, fresh premium ingredients like sea whelk, cordyceps, wagyu beef and kurobuta pork are used together with traditional favourites like Chinese black mushrooms, organic vegetables and eggs. In the fine tradition of healthy Cantonese cooking, nourishing double-boiled soups are also served.

Thanks to an invitation from Geri Kan and Crystal Jade, I had the chance to sample the wholesome yet flavourful delights from Crystal Jade Pristine.

Time to feast your eyes!

I started my lunch with this herbal Prunella tea. Its juice is reputed to have self healing properties. I like its tangy mild taste enhanced with a slight sweetness.

This combination of cold and hot appetisers provided interesting textures and tastes. The Cordyceps Flowers & Shredded Cucumber with Black Garlic on the left was crunchy, juicy and tangy, while the Pan-fried Scallop & Vegetable Paste Coated with Almond Flakes on the right was scrumptious and savoury.

Believe it or not, the Chawan Mushi like soup above is actually minced chicken breast. With low-fat Malaysian Kampong chicken, American ginseng, and Zheqiang Longquan cordyceps mushrooms, the Steamed Chicken Beancurd with Ginseng & Cordyceps Mushroom was a healthy and nourishing brew. The silky paste of lean chicken infused with the aromas of ginseng filled one with the sensation of wellness.

Although I don't usually dig red meats, I caved in to this Braised Beef with Chinese Yam & Red Dates. The meat melted in my mouth and bursts with the sweet and savoury flavours of red dates and Chinese herbs. I also liked the Wai San (Chinese Yam) which is purportedly good for building a person's "qi".

This next dish of Braised Minced Pork with Hong Kong Kai Lan & Preserved Olive Leaf in Casserole reminded me of my old home. We used to grow Kai Lan back in my old home (for a short period of time), and tasting this somehow reminded me of my old place.

Our next dish was a rich tasting Poached Prawn & Baby Chinese Spinach in Superior Broth. The prawns were fresh and succulent while the herbal soup was nourishing and tasty.

As we're waiting for our dessert, we couldn't help noticing this grand brass tea pot used to serve us herbal tea. It kind of reminded me of Aladdin. Can you guess who my other dining guest was?

Bringing the lunch to a pleasant finish was the Boiled Fresh Lily Bulb & Organic Pumpkin with Osmanthus Honey. While this was a tad sweet for my liking, I enjoyed the uniquely nutty taste of the lily bulb and the texture of the pumpkin balls. The floating osmanthus flower petals added a nice poetic touch to the dessert.

As you can see, we weren't the only diners at Crystal Jade Pristine! The restaurant was buzzing with a crowd of businessmen, working ladies, expats (yes it was rare to see them) and families.

Don't just take my word for it. Go check out the restaurant today!