Monthly Archives: March 2016


At a European MBA school I once worked in, we once received a complaint from an employer because his Asian intern was caught sleeping at her desk. Clarification from a French colleague who had worked in Vietnam revealed that this student was indeed napping during a lunch break, a common practice in Taiwan, Vietnam and China.

What used to raise eyebrows in AngloSaxon countries where working all night = high productivity is now gaining popularity amongst the coolest of firms such as Zappos, Facebook, Google and PWC.

The latest in HR practice is to provide power nap cells or rooms for employees to catch forty winks.

In “How to have a good day”, former McKinsey consultant Caroline Webb starts her book with a chapter on the Science Essentials. She quotes Havard professor of sleep medicine Charles Czeisler that skimping on sleep – sleeping only four hours a night a week induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol of 0.1 percent. We would never say “This person is a great worker. He’s drunk all the time!” Yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep.

Czeisler counts CEOs, star athletes and rock stars such as Mick Jagger among his sleep clients especially when they are criss-crossing across time zones during their tours. Now it makes perfect sense why Madonna in her recent Asian tour started her concert at 1030pm while her show in Singapore on the last leg was at a more sane 830pm. (Of course fans were not informed in advance and had to wait for her. This was not prima donna behavior but a realistic human reaction to perform at her peak.)

Webb quotes upsetting research by neuroscientists of brain scan of volunteers who hadn’t slept. They showed much activation in their amygdala -60 percent more than people who were well rested. The tired brain survival circuitry was more jittery and likely to launch into a fight or flight/ freeze defence in the face of challenge or uncertainty.

Another research, cited by Webb points to the positive side of sleeping. Stanford researcher found that when she got male basketball platers to sleep ten hours a night – both their mood and daytime energy improved as well as their hoop shooting performance by an average of 9 percent.

What should we do?
1. Does alcohol help me sleep?
Contrary to popular belief, while alcohol makes you drowsy, it leads to poor quality sleep. Previously known as taking a nightcap, alcohol is known to interfere with breathing and you end up more tired than before you fell asleep. (Todd Arnedt, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the Sleep and Chronophysiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan.)
This is due to the biphasic effects of alcohol which makes you drowsy but stimulates the blood stream and interferes with REM sleep.

2. Does watching television and surfing the net help calm me down before sleep?
While research suggests that helping the body calm down before sleep is critical. Reading a book, engaging in crossword puzzles helps prepare the mind to slow down. On the other hand, bright lights from television and Internet do not, leading to a shallow sleep as the brain is confused thinking that it has to get up.

3. What else can I do?
a. Set a sleep routine so that the body’s circadian rythumn can get into the habit.
b. Avoid bright lights
c. Practice deep breathing.
Forget counting sheep but instead count your breath. Close your eyes and breathe in counts of 4 and breathe out counts of 7. Notice your breath flow from your stomach to your nose for 10 sets.
d. Engage in moderate exercise which helps reduce cortisol produced by the body during a stressful work day. At the same time the body produces endorphins or happy hormones which relaxes the body.
e. Do not engage in any stimulating activity just before bedtime. Jot down some points but leave the heavy weight thinking for the morning.

4. What if I can’t sleep?
Webb suggests taking power naps of 20-30 mins during the day.

Do you think introverts need more sleep than extroverts?


In today’s world of services, selling is one of the most important skills needed in the new flat structure whether you’re a consultant selling your ideas to a client or a boss persuading your employee. Usually we associate “selling” or the ability to influence with extroverts.

Can introverts sell?

In a report by Andy Grant, “Rethinking the Extroverted Sales Ideal : the Ambivert Advantage”, he found that extreme introverts and extreme extroverts brought in relatively equal amount of revenue. Those in the middle, the Ambiverts, turned out to be the best salespeople. Statistics showed that Ambiverts brought in 24% more revenue than introverts and some 32% more than extroverts.

Extreme extroverts could lose out on sales when they fail to listen attentively to customers needs. Instead they could dominate conversations, impose perspectives and ideas on clients.

What can put introverts on a good start ?

1. Invest in a CRM system to track sales, client information.
2. Be prepared to put in the hours
3. Have a systematic process of selling with facts. Attend sales training if you’ve never gone for one. Insurance and real estate agency provide training at a fee.

Introverts have certain strengths – they are empathetic listeners and are more methodical.

What introverts need to brush up on:

-Presentation skills
-Product knowledge
-Small talk
-Self efficacy and resilience

What Channels or How?

  • Social media: LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube
  • Referrals
  • Letters of reference
  • Articles
  • Repeated exposure
  • Talks – give presentation
  • Centre of influence – regular referral source
  • Networking events
  • Trade shows
  • Organise events
  • Direct
  • Testimonials from fans
  • Hobbies
  • Volunteer
  • Industry events
  • Write a book – be known as expert
  • Websites/ blog
  • Seminars – organise talks

For more reading:
1. Thomas Murphy, “Successful selling for introverts”
2. Sean Lim, “Even Introverts can sell”

“A Whack on the side of the Head” referred by my favourite authors as a book for creatives is in its 25th anniversary of printing.

Author Roger van Oech has a number of creative exercises to open our mental lock through use of ambiguity or paradox by Chinese idiom and Japanese koan and Greek oracles / riddles from Heraclitus.

Heraclitus was a philosopher born in Ephesus. You may be familiar with his oft-quoted wisdom “you never step into the same river twice”. Roger van Oech introduces some of them for us to exercise some brain gym to look for more than one meaning to understand our issues.

Wisdom of Heraclitus*

1. The cosmos speaks in patterns

2. Expect the unexpected, or you won’t find it.

3. Everything flows

4. You can’t step into the same river twice
– you are not the same person and it will not be the same experience.

5. That which opposes produces a benefit
– enemies serve a useful purpose : they tell us when to change direction.

6. A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected

7. If all things turned to smoke, the nose would become the discerning organ

8. The sun will not exceed its limits, because the avenging Furies, ministers of Justice, would find out

9. Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things

10. I searched into myself
– Know thyself? Your strengths and weaknesses? Sun Tzu’s Know yourself and know your enemies and you’ll not lose a hundred battles.

11. Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight

12. Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand
– Appreciate what’s before you. The solution may be right in front of you

13. When there is no sun, we can see the evening stars
– Every cloud has a silver lining ?

14. The most beautiful order is a heap of sweepings piled up at random
– ???

15. Things love to conceal their true nature

16. Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings

17. Sea water is both pure and polluted: for the fish it is drinkable and life-giving, for the humans undrinkable and destructive
– one man’s meat is another man’s poison

18. On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point

19. It is disease that makes health pleasant, hunger that makes fullness good, and weariness that makes rest sweet

20. The doctor inflicts pain to cure suffering

21. The way up and the way down are one and the same
-success can create situations that undermine our original intentions and end up creating bigger problems than the ones we started with. The author suggests that in the mid-1960s, the Japanese resort town of Atami lobbied hard to get high speed bullet train link to Tokyo, then 3 hrs away. After the railway was completed, tourism declined – in part because the romance of going away for the weekend was lost in a place that could be reached in only fifty minutes.

22. All things rest by changing

23. The barley-wine drink falls apart unless it is stirred
– People need to be inspired into action. If you see something not done. Stir others up to champion a cause

24. While we are awake, we share one universe, but in sleep we each turn away to a world of our own

25. Dogs bark at what they don’t understand
– Don’t throw pearls before swine

26. Donkeys prefer garbage to gold

27. Every walking animal is driven to its purpose with a whack
– Carrot and stick. Sometimes stick works or people won’t move to their goals.

28. There is a greater need to extinguish arrogance than a blazing fire

29. Your character is your destiny

30. The sun is new each day
– Don’t wallow in the mud. Pick yourself up and start again.

A whack on the Head, by Roger von Oech

I’m procrastinating. Why? Maybe work is boring, perhaps fear of the unknown.

According to Malcolm Goldsmith, although we are motivated by happiness and we have a pot of gold I mind at the end of the rainbow, our brain does not process the same way.

Seth Godin explains that we have 3 brains and the oldest part of our brain, the reptilian brain tends to maintain balance and is rigid and compulsive. This is necessary for our ancestors to avoid unfamiliar places and being eaten in the jungle but it explains why we tend to favour inertia.

Photo taken from Facebook of prime minister Lee at the #Ilightmarinabay# 2016.

Best way to overcome your fear of creativity, brainstorming … might be to sprint.

“Let’s take 30 minutes to come up with ten business ideas.”.   

[For me, take 30 mins to come up with the first draft. Mark 6 assignments today. Then stop. ]

When we sprint, all the internal negative dialogue falls away and we focus on going as fast as we possibly can. When you’re sprinting, you don’t feel the sore knee. You just run.

But you can’t sprint forever. The brevity of the event is a key part of why it works to keep the resistance at bay.

From Seth Godin’s “Linchpin – Are you Indispensable”

All art is a series of recoveries from the first line. The hardest thing to do is to put down the first line. But you must. – Artist Nathan Olivera quoted by Roger von Oech in “A Whack on the side of the Head“.



Its like a karate chop that breaks through the wooden boards, it takes speed, focus and practice.

First, what’s MOJO.

Its that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside.

I don’t like acronyms and if you hang around GEN Ys, you get that alot.


So when I saw a title like MOJO, especially after a colleague used that work, I had to pick up this book.

MOJO by my favourite coach Marshall Goldsmith, whose “What got you here won’t get you there”. Like his previous book, Goldsmith is an executive coach for senior executives and his examples reveal many of such insights with Scorecards and questionnaires and frameworks.

Mind the GAP
There’s a gap between how you see yourself and how others see you.
We sometimes underestimate our great moments and overestimate the impact of our bad moments.

Does anyone ever really change from leadership sessions?
In true Peter Drucker style, Goldsmith answers through a survey of 250,000 respondents.
Very few people achieve positive, lasting change without on-going follow-up.

Unless they know at the end of the day that someone is going to measure if they’re doing what they promised to do, most people fall prey to inertia. (Known as “Hawthorne effect”).

Hence, try the reputation questionnaire

  1. Name six “great” personal moments in the last 12 months at work. (You can consult your calendar and family, but Goldsmith says you can’t ask colleagues. In my opinion, if you can’t even name it, then what’s happened to your personal appraisal.. uh oh.)
  2. What made these moments “great”?
  3. In what way, if any, did these moments resemble one another?
  4. Can you identify the personal quality embodied in that resemblance? Can you give it a name?  For example, if you cite two “great” moments when you went out of your way to help a colleague with advice, you would label that personal quality as “generosity” – which feeds into a reputation for being “generous”
  5. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most well known, how well known are these “great” moments to people you work with?
  6. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most agreement, how much would the people you work with, agree with the personal qualities described in your answer to question#4.
  7. Name six “bad” personal moments in the last twelve months
  8. What made these moments “bad”?
  9. What did they have in common?
  10. Can you identify the personal quality they had in common? Can you give it a name? For example, if two “bad” moments involve episodes where you lost your temper, the personal quality could be labeled as “hot-headed”
  11. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most well known, how well known are these “bad” moments to other people you work with?
  12. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most agreement, how much would the people you work with, agree with the personal qualities described in your answer to question #10.
  13. Which answer, to question #4 or #10, is most likely your current reputation, or is it both?

If you work for a corporation, this is a useful guide to prepare for the yearly performance appraisal or performance management. Then compare it with the company values. Are you being effective or just busy.   How much do others appreciate what you’re doing?

Useful too, for interviews to get your next job

For those of us, working for ourselves, i.e. entrepreneurs or creatives. Very effective to think about the Brand or the Reputation you’re creating for #Brand You.

I’ve a rude wake-up call.

Consistency and Discipline though, is necessary.
If you’re known as a sarcastic boss, you have to bite your tongue for a long time.
Ask yourself: “Is it worth it?”

  • How much long-term benefit or meaning did I experience form this activity?
  • How much short-term satisfaction or happiness did I experience form this activity?

Change how you approach the same activity. It does not have to be with inertia.

For instance, if you’re about to attend a one-hour, mandatory meeting, your mindset is that the meeting will be a boring waste of time.

You have two options:

Option A: Attend the meeting and be miserable.
Option B: Make the meeting more meaningful and enjoyable. Observe your colleagues more closely or create a new idea to inspire others.

(Download the MOJO Meter)

People don’t care what you know, but they know when you care. – John Maxwell


Photo taken of wall mural in Tiong Bahru depicting a traditional Chinese past-time where men would bring their caged birds to socialise and bird singing contest.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
Not that, amassing flowers,
Youth sighed “Which rose make ours,
Which lily leave and then as best recall?”
Not that, admiring stars,
It yearned “Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!”

For thence,—a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks,—
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i’ the scale.

Let us not always say,
“Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!”
As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry “All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!”

Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
Ten, who in ears and eyes
Match me: we all surmise,
They this thing, and I that: whom shall my soul believe?

I first heard of this poem thirty years ago as it was part of the school motto of my father’s school. Then my brothers and now my nephew. The best is yet to be was then an aspiration for the younger me. Life can be better.

Revisiting the poem, I realise that the poem is about the paradox of life. The failures of our life breeds success. The limitations of our flesh gives appreciation of the gifts of life. Let us not be too anxious about disagreements and unrealized goals as the ultimate truth is out of our reach anyway. But let’s keep our focus upwards as we draw near the curtain of our lives.

It is disease that makes health pleasant, hunger that makes fullness good, and weariness that makes rest sweet. – Heraclitus


Measure how much time you talk about:
(a) how smart, special or wonderful you are – or listening while someone does this, plus
(b) how stupid, inept, or bad someone else is – or listening while someone does this

From Marshall Goldsmith, “MOJO – How to get it, How to Keep it, How to Get it Back if you lose it”.

Actually, its Tool#11 in his book. But I like it so much, I put it as #1.

Goldsmith asked his research subjects to guess. Some people estimate 100%, because they believe that all workplace communication serve only these two purposes.

In his view, whether we’re boasting about ourselves or criticizing someone else, such chatter is pointless. We learn nothing and its not good for your MOJO.

Measure yourself and Reduce this number.


Photo Source: Mr Kheng Huay

When the going gets tough, the tough write poetry

Before Steve Jobs, there was Thomas Edison. Of the “success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. How quickly we’ve forgotten him.

One of Edison’s most surprising tools for creativity was poetry.

Apparently, he once said “Inventors must be poets so that they may have imagination.” Aristotle noted “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. ”

Metaphors connect two different universe through similarity.

Life is like a box of chocolates.

Life is like a hand of cards. You play what you’ve been dealt with.

Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings. – Heraclitus

William Harvey looked at the heart not as an organ but as a pump. This led to his discovery of the circulation of blood.

Poetry fosters creativity because it makes connections that might not be made through theory driven process of scientific discovery.

Poetry also helps establish relationship between two previously unrelated objects – making connections. 

Poetry helps us make sense of an increasingly fragmented world by allowing us to make connections between seemingly unrelated events.

Another tool Edison adopted, was writing your own biography.  Process of reflecting on your life and writing it down will cause you to make connections between people and events that you might not have noticed before.

Edison started one although he left it to his official biographers. He even had an abandoned science fiction novel and detailed journals about his work activities. So did Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford and Mary Kay Ash. Jack Ma of Alibaba even kept video documentaries of the beginnings of his company and its various mutations.

Have you had a new experience in the last 30 days? Look for new connections that you’ve not noticed before. Write a poem describing what happened.

At work with Thomas Edison, 10 Business Lessons from America’s Greatest Innovator by Blaine McCormick


Photo taken in Georgetown, Penang by Mr Kheng Huay


The Verger by Somerset Maugham

At the death of the old vicar, a middle aged man, Albert Foreman, his assistant, or a verger, was fired. The new vicar discovered that he could not read or write although it didn’t interfere with his work.

Confused as to what to do next, Foreman felt he needed a cigarette. Walking up and down the street, he couldn’t find a shop to buy a pack.
(PS. What would you do in this scenario? )

Foreman found this odd, and decided to open a tobacconist and news agent shop on that street.

It was a success and he opened a shop on another street. Within 10 years, Foreman owned 10 shops and became very wealthy.

One day his banker asked him to sign some papers for opening an investment account. Shocked that Foreman couldn’t read or write, the banker asked “Did you amass a fortune without being able to read or write ? What would you be now if you had been able to? ”

I’d still be a verger, quipped Foreman.

My boss once told me the same story of her looking for a cigarette in the middle of the night. Unable to find one, she drove one hour to find a store. The next day she decided to kick smoking. Next time I see her, I’ll remind her she could have been rich.

Joke aside,
What do you make of this story ?

Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight

On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point – Heraclitus