Monthly Archives: September 2014


Absorbed in his drawing

Absorbed in his drawing

Photo credit: Mr Khenghuai

July 2014 was an eventful month for me. I visited Furano flower fields of Hokkaido, contracted dengue and met Steven Wiltshire. All within the same week.

Despite my extremely low platelet count, I made my way to the Paragon, where Mr Wiltshire was finishing his last strokes of the 4m Singapore skyline.

The drawing, commissioned by SPH as a gift to Singapore on the company’s 30th birthday and Singapore’s 50th birthday, will be displayed at the URA Singapore City Gallery for public viewing as of today. Admission is free.

Even as a youth, Mr Wiltshire could sketch architectural scenes from memory after seeing it on a helicopter ride. He performed the same feat in Singapore, although he could not register circular objects such as the upcoming Sports Hub.  Nonetheless, an amazing feat.

As the late Chinese painter Qi Baishi would say, “paintings must be something between likeness and unlikeness”.

Mr Wiltshire’s story is very inspiring. Diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 yrs old, he was also mute. Source: Wiki.  Given his interest in art, his teacher in the Special School would take away his art supplies – to get him to utter words like “paper”.  It was only at 7 yrs old during a class outing that his human camera talent was triggered. [Hurray for the teachers and their dedication.]

Diagnosing your talent from your interest

The ancient wealthy Chinese families too have an interesting custom of helping one year olds choose their careers.  Items such as “stamp seal”, calligraphy brush, bow,  abacus, monastery beads are laid out, and baby put in the centre.

If he chooses a calligraphy brush or book, he has an inclination towards being a scholar. Abacus – business. Bow- warrior and general. Stamp seal – government official.

It appears that Tibetan Buddhism follows a similar custom of finding their reincarnated Dalai Lama by presenting these items to a young child (after divine narrowing to the village) to select items belonging to the late Dalai Lama. [As told to me by our Tibetan guide who also lectures at a university in Lhasa.]

Do you do what you love or love what you do?

Sometimes, too much choice may not be a good thing. Steve Jobs famously said, “Follow your passion”, do what you love.  He followed that statement with an unsexy “Love what you do” – although he’ll always be remembered for “Do what you love”.  But Mr Jobs’s real love seemed to be in Eastern mysticism. After he dropped out of college, he joined Atari because he needed money to survive and fund his trip to India. Born in San Francisco, being involved in electronics, having friends who toyed with electronics in their garage and in school clubs seemed like fish to water, something in his environment. Read:

After he was asked to leave Apple, he continued in this field. I believe that his famous quote “Do what you love” applied to this second cross-road of his life.  Should he do something else, or continue in the field he had earlier chosen.

Those of us still struggling with our career choices:

(a) Expose yourself to different fields
(b) Find a home-base to focus your enthusiasm [Sometimes its the only door opened for you.]
(c) Deepen skills
(d) Persist and don’t regret closed doors
(d) Experiment, cross fertilise and update with trends.

We all start off as amateurs. Even the talented Mr Wiltshire.

Eventually, do what you love. The reason we love something is because we become good at it. For some of us who’ve not found our passion, it may be the world is not ready. Timing is everything. In “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell observed that many titans in Silicon Valley were born around the same age e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. No coincidence because technology had to be available for the mini computer in mass production.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.  – Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird”
Eat, sleep, play - Panda style

Eat, sleep, play – Panda style

Sometime last year, one of my students dropped by to thank me. He had gotten a job in a finance advisory position. I had given him some good advice which led to be a turning point in his career search.  What rocket science advice you might wonder?  Go for jog.
My mind raced to that evening in December. He had a high GPA, likeable pleasant personality. It was a stressful time, handling a day job in pharmaceutical sales, studying for his Masters in Finance at night, looking for a job in finance post 2008.  After 3 sessions, I told him, go take care of yourself.  Enjoy. Give yourself a break. What do you like to do? Jog? When was the last time you did it? Doctor’s prescription: jog 20 mins 3 times a week.
I wasn’t even sure if it was exasperation that I was at my wit’s end and don’t know what else to say or some genius insight. He did just that.  His mind became calmer and he had extra mental stamina to check the university’s career portal in December. Only 5 students applied (possibly because it was December). He was one of four students who got the internship.
Why does the caged bird sing? Because it loves to. If it didn’t, it would lose its spirit.
What do you love to do? When was the last time you did it?
Recently I stayed over at a friend’s place to recuperate from my illness. She was very helpful and kind. She had told me in the past that she loved to read. But throughout my stay, I’d never seen her reading. I noticed her spending 3 hours daily watching Korean soap opera and cooking shows on TV in between a very busy schedule of doing household chores.

But pick up a newspaper or book to read? Not once.


All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Somehow engaging in a activity that we enjoy and makes us happy seems to trigger a guilt trip.  We end up doing passive activities that are convenient. Such as watching TV, and picking up the phone to complain to a friend, under the guise of keeping them informed.

I find myself trying to be agreeable, going along with what others want to do, restaurants they like to eat. I was afraid that if I insisted, that no one wanted to come along with me, and I would be alone. As time went by, I got lazy and end up not having a voice, not having an opinion.  Anything will do.

1) What do you love to do?
2) When was the last time you did it?
3) When are you going to start doing it?
4) How often? (Once a week?) For how long? (15 mins?)
5) Write it down, schedule it.

Ernest Hemingway set up a goal chart to monitor the number of words he wrote every day.  No kidding.

Do you have difficulty trying to find a life goal, and finding your path?  Try taking care of yourself first.

Julia Cameron, in “The Artist’s Way” suggests

1. Writing 3 pages of A4 size every morning.

2. Go for a walk

3. Have a Play date with yourself. Do something creative once a week to feed your creative soul. e.g. you can fly a kite, walk in a Botanic Gardens, visit the museum, go to the library. Many local community gardens have free guided tours by volunteers.

Playing is necessary because you need to refill your well.  As an artist, [I would add, as a knowledge worker], Cameron says, we are drawing from our inner well. Unless you fill this well, its empty, there’s nothing left to create. More often than not, we feel guilty playing because of a work ethic.

In the name of playing, I’ve leaned Chinese calligraphy, learn to bake macaroons, mooncakes, bread, cakes. Whereas my analytical self would have said, that it was a waste of time, since the cost of the lesson would buy me more macaroons that I could ever eat. [Plus I don’t like to eat macaroons.]

What do you love to do? When was the last time you did it?

1. I love to dance and flag my banners

2. Read

3. Play with my nephews and nieces [not babysitting]

4. Nap

5. Walk on the treadmill in an air-conditioned room and watch TV

6. Take a long leisurely walk after dinner

7. Go to the library

8. Drink tea

9. Visit different restaurants (maybe once every few months)

10. Watch a play




Photo credit: CSX (Thank you!!)

Today I taught a class on Performance Management at the university. The ever-dreaded quarterly, half yearly, annual performance dialogue with your boss. For most of us, it ends up as a negative emotional process.

But the purpose of performance measurement is itself motivational, done the correct way. You get a pat on the back on the areas you’ve performed well, and advice on areas needing improvement.

Clayton Christensen suggests in his book “How will you measure your life?” that instead of just measuring performance of companies and your life and work, the business frameworks can be applied to your life. Society can be more prosperous if there’re clear rules and there’s a process to hold people accountable. Once you commit to follow the rules, Christensen opines that life becomes simpler rather than make everyday decision on nuances and debating whether to follow the rules. What about asking if you can you leave something that will help other people? How do conduct our lives every day?

Today I asked my two classes of 19-23 yr old university students, how they defined career success. Those who were volunteered, said that in addition to financial security, they want a job where they are happy in.  Most agreed with that statement.  But what makes them happy in those jobs? Its as if happiness or motivation was something someone gave to them, or a place they wandered into and not something they pursued or have a part to play. So what is happiness? Is it a skill they get to develop, recognition for an ability or learn new stuff, live in new places, try out new experiences? What is it? Possibly, in this generation, where fulfilment can be obtained in so many other areas, e.g. many have travelled to distant places before graduation. Unlike in the past, where the only way to see the world is to travel for your job.

Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard: financial, customer, internal processes, learning, innovation and growth on yourself linked to goals is a useful one.

So, how will you measure your life? What is career success for you? What makes you happy?

Clayton Christensen will be in Singapore to deliver a lecture on disruptive innovation. Catch him on 11 Sep 2014. Lecture is organised by the Singapore Institute of Management.

Excellent article on “Singapore and innovation and what’s lacking” by Scott Anthony, who will join him at the lecture.