20 Years Ago

At the end of the introduction of the course, I raised my hand. “Yes?” The professor examined me with his eyes from behind the lectern. “Sir, the textbook you just mentioned is the 11th edition. Is it different from the 4th edition?”

My mind went to the 4th edition of the Basic Financial Management book written by the same authors as the 11th edition. I used it in the Financial Management course in undergraduate school. If there wasn’t much difference, i could use it again and save money.

The professor grinned. “Of course it is very different,” he said. “The new edition is updated to include recent cases.”

It wasn’t until today when I skimmed through the new textbook that I realized something. My third semester in college was almost 20 years ago! By then, I bet nobody here had ever heard about Enron, and some of my class who took accounting major had their eyes on Arthur Andersen for their future career.

Apple was known for Mac, and internet was still in its infancy. A 14.4 kpbs internet connection was already considered fast. Mobile phones came in briefcases. The most widely used OS for PC was Microsoft Windows 3.11. The crew of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation were the only ones who used tablet computers. A 100 kb attachment was enough to suffocate an e-mail server, and a 512MB Harddisk was enough to run a small server. A Big Mac meal in Jakarta cost about a sixth of its price now in Rupiah. US and European boybands (and girlbands) were making it big.

And now, I’m writing this on a 64GB iPad, and online through a 14.4Mbps mobile internet connection. A thousand times more bandwidth than 20 years ago. Wirelessly.

Looking back into the past like this only makes me wonder what the future will be in the next 20 years. Flying cars? Interplanetary travels? Food replicators? Holographic music concerts? Fully humanoid robots?

And so with this I must remind myself to return to my work.

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Talents and Career Choice: Should They Match?

My best friend is a dance fanatic. He loves to dance so much that he took dance lessons, performed on stage on occasions, and took part in competitions. He read biographies of Nureyev and other ballet dancers, and took to learn ballet on his own. On top of that he is also into drawing and music. Immersed in 80’s music in his childhood, it became part of his identity as an artist.

For his career, he chose to be an accountant.

Nevertheless, he struggles with the question of whether he should keep his day job or pursue a career in performing arts. He longs to spend his days doing what he loves. He already holds a comfortable position in the accounting firm, and leaving that to start anew in a very different career seems to be very risky.

So he decided to audition for a televised talent competition to showcase his dance prowess. He’s hoping that by appearing on TV he could share his talent with a wider audience, and it turn that might open new doors for him to jump careers.

Unfortunately, in the second round, the jury voted against him.

What struck me was the question he keeps asking himself. What is the purpose of his having all this talent if he could not put them to use?

Which is exactly the question I have been asking myself.

A few months ago I watched a biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. As a young prince, His Majesty found love in arts. He enjoys jazz, and in school he used to play in a band. He loves photography, and he has a camera hanging around him almost everywhere he goes. He is also a skilled painter.

On 9 June 1946 tragedy struck the royal family. King Ananda Mahidol, the elder brother of Prince Bhumibol, was murdered under circumstances unclear even to this day. The Prince then ascended to the throne to be King Rama IX.

Being King, now all his attention must be given to the governing of the kingdom. With such a big responsibility, it would be understandable if the King ceased his artistic pursuit.

What I found to be inspiring is that His Majesty still makes time for art. He keeps bringing his camera when he is visiting his subjects, and takes photographs of them. And every now and then he entertains his royal audience playing jazz numbers on brass instruments.

Here is one video of his performance.
“Candlelight Blues”, King Bhumibol

If he had been born a commoner instead a royal prince, he might have chosen a career in the arts. But he became king instead. His devotion to his people is well known and well documented. He opened the palace gardens to be used as laboratories for agricultural experiments, resulting in advanced farming for the benefit of the nation. Thailand is now one of the largest rice exporters in Asia. He decreed for education for all. He left his palace and conversed with his subjects to learn of their difficulties and challengea. And he is also known and respected as an accomplished artist and musician.

Being a musician and artist he would have made a name for himself. But by rising to the occasion and ascending the throne, he made a name for his people.

Our talents are part of who we are. If we are lucky, we can make a career doing the things we love. But as human beings we are capable of achieving more than what we might have with our talents alone.

Developing Yourself, One Habit at a Time

Developing Yourself, One Habit at a Time

I just read the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” written by Charles Duhigg. And I realized that many things that I could not do well in life and work are rooted in my failure to develop productive habits.

I had been through 4 cycles of weight loss diet, and everytime a cycle ends, I would regain some of the pounds I lost. During 1997-2009, I even gained all and added 24 more kilograms. I was disciplined enough to keep a healthy and low-calorie eating patterns during the diet program. But after I completed the cycle, I would forget everything and eat whatever I wanted.

The reason is simply this: your body can only survive on 1,500 calories per day for so long. Afterwards, weight loss from eating low calorie diet must be replaced with a regime of exercise. From there, you can slowly return to 2,000 calories a day and maintain weight by doing regular exercise.

I lost the weight, but I failed to build a habit of exercising and of eating healthy food. According to the book, a habit can be learned, but cannot be erased. It can, however, be replaced by another habit. That is why as soon as I stopped the diet program, old habit of snacking and eating greasy food kicked back in.

Benjamin Franklin, the renowned US Diplomat and scientist, devised a method of self development. He made a list of 13 things he wanted to learn or master. Each week, he would devote himself to learn one thing in the list. On the 14th week, he returned to the first item on the list, and so on. In 52 weeks, or a year, he had reiterate the list 4 times.

I reckon that building a habit will take a similar route. I need to identify a list of habits I want to develop in a year, and to set aside a specific amount of time to learn the habit.

The book also mention what is known as a keystone habit. It is one habit that will cause you to develop other productive habits. For example, let’s say that you want to make it a habit to jog every morning. To give you enough time for that, you have to wake up earlier than the time you are used to wake up now. To wake up early, you must sleep early. To sleep early, you must stop watching TV and get in bed early. To sleep early without digestive trouble, you have to have dinner early. And in time, you become a healthier person who jog regularly, sleep early, watch less TV, and who do not eat at night. Morning jog in this case is your keystone habit.

The keystone habit that I need to develop is to write down my daily activities. I chose that because my biggest failure is not in my health and well being, but in my use of time. By writing down what I did daily, I will have a clear idea of my use of time and can manage it better.

What about you? What habit do you want to develop in the new year?

When Another Wish Came True

I’ve written about this a couple of years ago. And then it happened again. And again. So I think I ought to write about it again.

Has it happened to you that you were innocently wishing for something, and then suddenly it unexpectedly came true?

Small example. Let’s say one evening you were bored at home. You began to think about stuff that would make you happy. And then you remembered that little pizza place across town where you had the most fun you’d ever known in the past twenty years or so. You wished you could assemble the gang again for a night out there.

Your phone suddenly rang. It was your best friend asking if you were free because the gang was in town and – what were the odds – they wanted to have dinnner at that place you just thought about!

A few years ago I watched a documentary program on TV (I cannot remember whether it was on Discovery or National Geographic channel). The program showcased a modern miracle in Seoul, a mega city that was plagued with traffic jams.

Instead of building more highway to ease the congestions, the city government decided to do something that may seem to be counter intuitive. They upgraded the public transportation system, and put in place a state of the art traffic information system.

The major unusual step was they torn down a major highway into the city, and restore the Cheonggyecheon, an ancient stream in the middle of the city that for many years had been covered by the highway.

They took water from the river Han, had it processed, and put it into the stream, resulting in a clear water flowing in the stream.

On the day they opened the restored stream for public, the mayor took his shoes off and waded into the clear water. He scooped some water into his palm and took a sip. A stream that used to be so filthy that they closed it under concrete now filled with fresh water good enough to drink.

I was mesmerized by the program. I made a promise to myself to one day go to Seoul and see this miracle for myself.

The problem was I didn’t know how I could make it happen.

Fast forward to 2012.

When planning for a company trip to Honolulu, we made an interesting discovery. Most of the possible flights to Hawaii from Indonesia with single stop must have more than 12 hours of transit. After comparing alternatives from several airlines it was decided that we would fly on Korean Airlines and to fill the 12-hour layover by taking a day tour of Seoul.

We had a great time spending the day visiting temples, palaces, museums, markets, and trying local food. At the end of the tour our guide asked, “We still have a couple of hours left before we have to get you back to the airport. Is there any more place you guys want to see?” I raised my hand and asked, “How about the Cheunggye…” I knotted my eyebrows trying to recall the name. Her face suddenly lit up. “You mean the Cheonggyecheon? Sure! It’s not so far from here!”

As I walked along the paved bank of the Cheonggye stream that cloudy winter afternoon, marveling at the clear fresh water running in it, I wondered at the series of what seemed to be unrelated events that finally brought me there. It was nothing short of miraculous.

Make a wish. Have a dream. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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Changing

As a trainer, I often approach a problem from a positive, optimistic and almost naïve point of view. I assume that people want to be more productive. I assume that people want to be a better worker. But do they, really?

Some people may deliberately choose to lag for lack of motivation. Some choose to not to do 100% because they think 75% is already earning them a comfortable lifestyle. So what are they doing in a training class if they feel things are just fine?

The biggest challenge here is not to change the paradigm of the participants, but to challenge assumptions and one-sided thinking, which I unfortunately have. And the best place to start is by thinking that they don’t need this training. What must a trainer do to sell the idea of change to the participants?

Some use a case, some use to use an example of a person so successful others cannot help not to want to be like that person. And yet, many people are like the story of an old man and his dog.

In a rural area far from the city, a visitor lost his way. He finally came to a cabin where an old man was sitting in his rocking chair while nursing a drink in one hand, and a pipe in the other. The visitor asked for direction, and while the old man was talking, he could not help noticing the big dog
that was lying in a wicker basket near the rocking chair. Every now and then the dog whined pitifully, but its master did not seem to care.

The visitor could not restrain his curiosity any longer, and asked, “Is your dog OK? It seems to be in pain.” Upon which the old man replied, “This old wicker basket? Some of the nails sticks out and pricks the dog.”

“But why didn’t the dog move somewhere else?” Asked the perplexed visitor.
The old man put the pipe in his mouth, scratched his graying head, and said, “Well, I reckon because the nail ain’t near that painful for the dog.”

Often times a good inspiring story is like a nail that doesn’t give enough pain to make someone want to leave his situation for good. For a moment it sounds so electrifying and people ooh and aah over the glitzy powerpoint. But by tomorrow everything is back to the way it was before the training.

So we need to build such a strong case to persuade people to make a permanent change in their lives. Something that got them thinking and saying, “This is not acceptable anymore.”

To Be Continued

Finding Balance

I am mostly a thinking person. Some experts or scientists call people like me as a Visionary. We think in terms of long term, big picture things. We like to talk in big words like strategy, growth. We often justify slow progress as learning process. But to tell you the truth, nothing makes me more nauseous as showing little or no results.

Results require execution, and execution is a discipline. For me, discipline is always a challenge.

My mission now is to come up with a good executable long term strategy that delivers short term results. And finding the balance is not easy. I’ll keep you posted with the updates.