Monthly Archives: April 2017

Last night at my Chinese class presentation, I introduced a Chinese poem by 陆游《游山西村》


Photo taken at the 2017 Singapore Gardens by the Bay Cherry Blossoms exhibition.

Shānqióngshuǐjìn yǐ wú lù, Liǔ àn huā míng yòu yī cūn

Only to be told by the instructor that this poem had been commonly misquoted over the years. The first part of the phrase should read:

Shān chóng shuǐ fù yí wú lù


The poem means that sometimes, you may see only layers of mountains and rivers (ie face confusion and dangers, uncertainty). If you persist, soon you will see the beautiful shade of willow trees and cherry blossoms of the next village in sight.

An encouraging word to the disheartened and confused especially given the constant reminders that robots are taking away our jobs.

He went on to recite other poems we think we know, but got it half right. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. One of them which I will write about is

人不为己 天诛地灭
Rén bù wéi jǐ tiānzhūdìmiè

In this Chinese proverb, the third word “为” or wéi is pronounced in the second tone and means “self cultivation” or “self reflection” “自修”. Pronounced in the fourth tone, the same word “为”changes meaning of the phrase to “everyone for himself “.

For me and nearly everyone in the room, indeed, we have always read or heard this word read in the fourth tone. Meaning every man for himself. But the real phrase meant if everyone does not practice self reflection, you will be destroyed.

A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing. I have since checked on what he said and realised that he is right.

When I read Adam Smith in university as an Economics major, we were taught the invisible hand of free market forces, the evils of government intervention and the pursuit of self interest above all.

I’ve since realised that the context Smith had written about was very different from the one he had been credited with. Adam Smith was a Christian pastor and also wrote about the importance of moral justice. (I thought I first read about the misinterpretation of Adam Smith in Adam Grant’s book, “Give and Take” but cannot find my notes now.) I shall re-read what I know about Adam Smith.

Recall that was how the serpent tricked Eve. Did God really say that you cannot eat from the tree and that you will surely die?

With the threat of robots replacing me, I shall start with unlearning what I know which ain’t so. Practice the humility of Sun Tzu Art of War, which by the way is not about war. Sun Tzu recommended avoiding war at all cost.

Know yourself and your enemy

Knowing what you dont know is more useful than being brilliant. “The Tao of Charlie Munger” with commentary by David Clark

But do you really know?


Photo credit: Himself took photos of honey bees in my garden using his macro lenses.

A book review on “Asshole Survival Guide” caught my eye this morning. I sure could use this book having just survived two assholes this week. Alas, the book will only be out later this year. So, I searched out the author, Robert Sutton’s blog.

He is a Stanford University professor and has been writing on this topic as well as topics on creating better workplaces.

What caught my eye on his list of 12 things he believed in, that being “indifferent” was as important as being passionate.

His list is included here, but if you go to his blog post, he includes a link to explaining each of his beliefs.

12 THINGS I BELIEVE by Robert Sutton
1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!

2. Indifference is as important as passion.

3. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

4. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.

5. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

6. Anyone can learn to be creative, it just takes a lot of practice and little confidence

7. “Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”

8. Sutton’s Law: “If you think that you have a new idea, you are wrong. Someone else probably already had it. This idea isn’t original either; I stole it from someone else”

9. “Am I a success or a failure?” is not a very useful question

10. The world would be a better place if people slept more and took more naps

11. Strive for simplicity and competence, but embrace the confusion and messiness along the way.

12. Jimmy Maloney is right, work is an overrated activity.

What’s your belief system?

I believe that speaking up is important, especially against injustice or wrong thinking. The greatest pursuit in life is for truth.

Indifference is as important as passion?

Suddenly, I’m confronted with the view by Robert Sutton and David Maister, that I too can be a jerk or asshole.

David Maister reflected on the times he behaved as a jerk.

1. I was over enthusiastic about a view that I got out of proportion.
2. I was tired
3. I felt I didn’t get the respect I deserved.

Suddenly I realised that I too have been a jerk many times over, simply because I was over passionate. I’ve blogged about the importance of speaking up, against injustice. But..

The people whom I consider as jerks were likewise very passionate about the topics they believed in, hence the desire to criticise others.

One jerk begets another jerk.

My self reflection moment this week courtesy of Easter :

First, do no evil. Google’s mission statement.

I’m going to check out Robert Sutton’s books on “Weird ideas that work”. If you’ve not read David Maister, his books on creativity are excellent.

How to survive assholes at work? (if you cannot quit)
Reframe the situation and see if they’re really perfectionist who are trying to help.
Avoid them.
Treat it as a game on how long you can avoid saying something. (Seriously, will they even listen to you? )