Steve jobs once said in a commencement address at Stanford, that one can only connect the dots looking backwards. After having the privilege of joining 6 SMC hikes and as we approach the end of the year, it is apt to reflect on the learnings gained and connect them together. Thanks to Dr David Ong and Ms Zoe Liu, I had the chance to listen to intimate insights from various esteemed guests who are at the top echelon in their respective fields. The guest speakers whom I had the honor of interacting with are (In chronological order):
· Ms Mickey Xiong, General Manager of Tmall/Taobao World for Southeast Asia & Hong Kong / Macau and Director at Alibaba Group
· Mr Fabien Karst, Chief Representative ASEAN, St. Gallen Symposium
· Mr Kc Wee, Chief Sales Officer, WIZ.ai
· Mr Lien Choong Luen, Singapore GM, Gojek
· Ms Samantha Ghiotti, Co-founder and CEO, SJ Mobile Labs
· Ms Wong Su-Yen, Chairperson, Singapore Institute of Directors
Application of Chinese philosophy into one’s career with guest speaker Ms Mickey Xiong
My journey with SMC hiking library programme began at Bedok Reservoir park, with Ms Mickey Xiong as the guest speaker. I was fascinated by SMC’s mentorship model which allows youths to interact directly one to one with distinguished individuals from different fields. Intrigued by this new mentorship concept, I immediately jumped onboard upon first hearing about the programme as a representative from Business China Youth Chapter.
After a tiring but refreshing hike around the reservoir, the group is gathered in a small pavilion where Ms Xiong had shared her working and life principles with us. She has advised on the importance of picking out hidden opportunities behind crises and being agile enough to capture those opportunities. She gave the example of her own organization using the pandemic to capture new opportunities, where it had focused on developing strong customer experiences instead of expanding and diversifying supply chains where many competitors were doing. This had enabled her organization to gain an advantage over its competitors. In addition, Ms Xiong had shared her own understanding and application of Chinese philosophical principles of 道 (Values) and 术 (Craft). 道 (Values) refers to one’s mental capacity, attitudes and belief systems, whereas术 (Craft) is defined as one’s knowledge and skills. Ms Xiong feels that the current education system emphasizes a lot on the 术 (Craft) portion but lacks training in道 (Values), especially relating to resilience and endurance. She advises youths to not only focus on the 术 (Craft）but also spend more time to develop our 道 (Values) as it is 道 (Values) that gets us far in the marathon of life. She shared that she was impressed by one of her staff who had displayed exemplary 道 (Values) . Her staff had demonstrated resilience and tenacity as she was not afraid to get her hands dirty and had the patience to deeply understand the organization’s processes and challenges, even it had taken a few years of hardship to do so. Such resilience and tenacity was what allowed her staff to be able to discover inherent root causes of problems and initiate solutions that ultimately propelled the organization forward. Following which, Ms Xiong advised youths not to be afraid of hardships and uncomfortable situations, and to strive to be involved in different corporate experiences and industries.
Resilience and Patience are key!
Insights from St Gallen Symposium planning with Mr Fabian Karst
After having an enjoyable and rewarding first hike, I immediately signed up for the next one. This time was at Bishan – AMK park, with guest speaker Mr Fabian Karst, who is a main organizer of the world-renowned St Gallen symposium.
Mr Karst had kindly given 3 advice for the hiking group. First, he encouraged all of us to challenge ourselves and do something we never tried before. Using himself as an example, Mr Karst considered himself an introvert, getting uncomfortable when interacting with a large number of people. However, putting himself out of his comfort zone, he involved himself in the planning of the St Gallen Symposium, where he was “forced” to interact with a wide range of people frequently, building up confidence and skill in doing so.
Second, he advised us to find supportive team members and to be supportive teammates ourselves. He also encouraged us to be not afraid of asking for help. Citing his experience in organizing the symposium as an example, there was once when he had to resolve issues regarding the event website within one night. However, there were too many issues to resolve by himself in the limited time. He had no choice but to ask his teammates for help. Despite the issues being not in their scope of duty and it being in the wee hours of the day, his teammates were very supportive and immediately rendered aid. Because of the team effort, the issues were resolved in no time. Had it not been for Mr Karst’ s request for help, the issues would not have been resolved, and the event would surely not run as smoothly as it did.
Last but not least, Mr Karst advised us to do the “harder” thing if possible. Seemingly counter-intuitive, Mr Karst explained that sometimes doing the “harder” thing would be more genuine and sincere, which can give one a better shot at landing opportunities. Mr Karst cited his own team’s experience of sending hand-written and customized letters of invitation to various distinguished individuals, in hopes of convincing them to come to the symposium to speak. Mr Karst and his team could have just sent these guests digitally typed emails, but that would entail that these emails would surely be drowned in the sea of emails sent to these VIPs. Sending hand-written and customized letters would land a greater impression and showcase the sincerity of the invitation. Indeed, this method had worked as VIPs had feedbacked to the team that they were impressed by the uniqueness and sincerity of the invitation.
Get uncomfortable, dare to ask, get supportive teammates and be one yourself, do the harder and more sincere thing!
Getting from Point A to B with Mr KC Wee
For this hike, we went to the sister park just beside Bishan – AMK park, Lower Pierce Reservoir park. The guest speaker invited was Mr KC Wee, Chief Sales Officer of an emerging enterprise called WIZ.ai . Mr Wee’s life experience was multi-faceted and inspiring. He had served in the Singapore Armed forces, acted in a television drama before and even served as the captain of the Singapore Men’s Basketball team, before transitioning into the tech scene. Mr Wee was very kind to share some hard truths that many youths need to pay attention to. He feels that life is too valuable be left to random occurrences but rather should be approached with careful planning if we want to live a meaningful life.
Mr Wee has advised on a simple approach for us to plan our lives. First, he advised us to reflect and look at our current state, which is what he deemed to be as “Point A”. Next, he advised us to see where we want to go and what do we want to achieve. That would be our goal destination, our “Point B”. Then, he advised us to evaluate and assess all possible routes from Point A to B, determine the roadblocks and tasks needed to get there, and then put in the time and effort in overcoming the challenges to get to Point B. Sounds simple, but this process can take a very long time, even decades. Mr Wee reminded us that finding one’s point B is already difficult enough for many people as many tend to be unsure what they want to achieve in life. Furthermore, the route ahead from Point A to B may change from time to time, where the obstacles needed to be overcome can transform. Citing the application into prestigious schools as an example, one may work hard in achieving the requirements needed to get into a school he/she desired, but by the time he/she has achieved those requirements, those requirements could change, and the individual has to work all over again. Hence, Mr Wee reminded us that while it is important to be persistent and determined in achieving one’s goals, one must also remain agile enough to adapt to changing routes and conditions. He himself has dedicated a time every week to reflect on his points A and B, and assess the route between these points. He emphasized on the discipline one needs to have in planning for one’s life. If one can spend hours binging on dramas, why not use the same time to plan for one’s life – this was what he reminded all of us on.
Be disciplined, focused and yet agile!
Balance between efficiency and exploration with Mr Lien Choong Luen
Moving into the Northeastern part of Singapore, the group is set in one of Singapore’s most beautiful parks – The Punggol Waterway park. After having a delightful time conversing and basking in the wonderful scenery of the park, the group is set in a lookout pavilion as we get ready to listen Mr Lien Choong Luen’s sharing, the Singapore General Manager for Gojek. Besides his responsibility at Gojek, Mr Lien is also juggling many multiple roles including serving as the President of Singapore Athletics. We were fortunate to have him taking time off his busy schedule to share his experience with us youths.
Mr Luen has shared the difficulties he encountered during his career and how he overcome them. For instance, when he was serving in the Singapore Armed forces, he brought up the challenge of ensuring the safety of a full battalion (consists of hundreds of people) in a night live fire exercise, where the lack of light and complexity of the exercise made it exceptionally challenging to do so. Hence, he emphasized on the importance of communication, delegation and proper protocols for e.g. frequent safety checks and sound offs by each soldier as he could not be everywhere at any single time. He shared that this experience/insight had later benefitted him in his career especially in corporate leadership positions, as having sound communication and protocols helps to build trust and confidence which would enable large organisations to function efficiently.
In addition, besides striving for efficiency in whatever he does, Mr Luen also allocates time for exploration and curiosity. While improving and optimizing on efficiency, Mr Luen emphasized on the importance of not neglecting exploration as exploration helps one to discover new ideas and be refreshed from routine and repetition. This is why Mr Luen finds time to indulge in adventures, including challenging himself in adventures like mountain climbing expeditions and ironman triathlons etc. Mr Luen then ends off the sharing session by sharing his general plans for moving Gojek forward and his strategy in product pricing and development.
Never forget to be curious!
Serendipity with Ms Samantha Ghiotti
Set in Hort park (with the accompaniment of a wedding ceremony), Ms Samantha Ghiotti has shared her insights on serendipity and how we all can learn from it. Ms Ghiotti kicked off the session by first sharing with us case studies of serendipity, and the takeaways we can gain from them. It is worth noting that Ms Ghiotti had taken the time and effort to research and print out pictorial copies of case studies she wanted to discuss with the hikers.
The first case study was the discovery of Viagra. The discovery of the most successful drug for sexual dysfunction in history originated from a serendipitous encounter. The inventors of this drug were initially researching on treatments for Angina, a coronary heart disease. However, their research had led them to unexpected side effects - it turned out that Viagra, designed to relax blood vessels around the heart to improve blood flow, was having the same effect on arteries within the penis.
Instead of dismissing the unexpected side effect as a mistake, the researchers saw another value in it and repurposed the drug for sexual dysfunction treatment, which became a huge commercial success. What seemed to be a failure initially had in the end turned out to be successful in another way.
The second case study was the repurposing of the washing machine for the washing of sweet potatoes in China. Initially, the chinese company Haier was selling washing machines to help improve the lives of rural farmers, hoping they could make the task of washing their clothes more convenient for them. However, after a customer visit following a “technical fault” complaint, it was discovered that rural farmers were using the washing machine to wash their harvest like sweet potatoes instead of their clothes. Instead of teaching the farmers on the proper way to use the washing machine, this unique observation was adopted by the company to improve its washing machine to be able to wash both clothes and potatoes. This adjustment quickly made the washing machine wildly popular andpropelled the company to huge success.
Last but not least, the case study of the Köln Concert was shared. Initially, because of the substandard and poor piano conditions, the concert nearly failed as the pianist Keith Jarett was not willing to play and almost left before the concert ever began. But through her sincerity and resilience, the concert organiser, 18 year old Vera Brandes, had convinced Jarrett to stay and continue to perform. Jarrett decided to make do with the poor piano and adopt a different playing style, making impromptu piano improvisations throughout the concert that were never executed before in his previous performances. Unexpectedly, the concert was a huge success where Jarret had even received a standing ovation as everyone had witnessed a performance unlike anything they had seen before. The performance became Jarrett’s most popular one to date and its recording continues to sell well even decades after.
Taking all these case studies together, Ms Ghiotti reminded us that the successes from these case studies were not so much because of serendipity itself but rather our attitudes, mindset and responses to unexpected outcomes and setbacks. With a simple change in perspective to a situation, we can discover new opportunities and enjoy unexpected results. In addition, Ms Ghiotti shared that she herself has persisted on travelling to different countries to live and work with her family to gain new perspectives and experiences. She cited the importance of breaking stereotypical barriers, for example, that only youngsters have the energy to start a company on their own/
Uncertainty is progression’s best friend while comfort is progression’s worst enemy!
Being agile and flexible with Ms Wong Su-Yen
Being the last hike of the year, the hiking group was now set in the Kallang and Bay East garden area, with Ms Wong Su-Yen as the guest speaker.
Having advised numerous corporate leaders and being a keynote advisor on global leadership, Ms Wong shared with us that one of the greatest difficulties facing many corporate leaders is enabling their organizations to be agile enough to deal with ever-changing challenges. The importance of being agile not only applies to corporate leaders but to all of us as well. In this modern era, it is no longer sufficient to be adept at a single thing where all of us must be well-versed and comfortable in serving multiple functions. Ms Wong advised us to rotate around different job functions whenever possible for example, moving across different departments like finance, sales, marketing etc from time to time. Doing so wouldallow us to be exposed to multiple perspectives which could attune our mindsets to become more agile and adaptable. Ms Wong is a proponent of spontaneity, as she believes that doing spontaneous and unplanned things helps her to be ready to tackle any unexpected challenges with finesse and versatility. Citing her own experiences as examples, Ms Wong had embarked on a trip to Antarctica, simply because she had never been there before and was curious to find out how it was like over there. The experience had provided another life perspective for her as she described the pristineness over there as unlike anything she had experienced anywhere else despite being already well-travelled herself. Furthermore, her remarkable stint in completing the Polar Circle Half Marathon was nothing short of being spontaneous. At first, it was meant to be a simple curious trip to Greenland, where Ms Wong also had never been before. Then, she and her husband had decided to explore events that were happening then during their time of visit, and that was when they came across the Polar Circle Half Marathon. So they just went ahead to sign up for it despite having no targeted training for the half marathon. To Ms Wong, this experience is one of the most memorable ones she had, as she had literally stepped into the unknown and dealt with the unknown challenges like running on slippery ice head on.
With her own experiences as living examples, Ms Wong encouraged us to be daring in going out there to explore and experience the different facets of life, being open minded and willing to embrace uncertainties and differences. That is how we can grow and be always on the ball, ready for any headwinds ahead. At the same time, Ms Wong reminded us that it is easy to get confused between feeling lazy, fatigue, pain and discomfort as one will do during running, where knowing how to differentiate them can enable one to learn how to judge when to stay on course and when it is time to pivot to new things as we explore life.
Be open, embrace discomfort and have fun!
Writing this reflection piece had allowed me to discover overlapping insights from each of the speaker – there seems to be an overarching theme on the importance of being curious, exploratory and not afraid of discomfort and yet having the discipline, resilience and persistence to tackle the uncertainties and challenges faced in the exploration journey head on. At first hand, there seems to be a paradox between being curious and resilient to me. If one were to truly embrace the spirit of exploration, won’t that mean constantly changing course and always seeking new experiences, and not let the challenges and difficulties ahead bog you down? On the other hand, if one were to be truly resilient and persistent, won’t that mean focusing one’s effort and time on fully understanding and developing a certain course/direction, and simply being a bulldozer in overcoming the challenges in the continuation of a certain course?