Matcha Ice Cream at Asuka Japanese Restaurant

Once a friend of mine uploaded a curious picture to her Facebook timeline. It was green with folds and creases not unlike a brain. At first I thought my friend went to an intergalactic exotic eating place and was served an alien brain in a glass cup. Or maybe an alien cow brain. A closer inspection brought me to realize that it was a cup of matcha, or green tea, ice cream.

I never thought green tea could become an ice cream flavor. I already had some objections against unusual flavors such as black bean, or even durian. Green tea, as my reasoning went, was a drink that should be enjoyed in a liquid state, preferably hot. It was not supposed to be mixed with cream and milk and be frozen. No sir, that is just as strange as eating rice with fresh banana (yes I know some cultures find this to be appealing).

But I was wrong. Green tea, aside from being a drink, can be a flavor just like coffee. People do add coffee to food. Coffee ice cream, coffee biscuits, coffee bread, coffee cake, and the list goes on. So what is so strange about green tea in stuff other than, well, tea?

My first experience with matcha is very favorable. I like it! The green tea lends bitter taste to balance the sugar, and enhances the creaminess of the ice cream. I began to ask for matchas whenever I visited a Japanese restaurant.

The lesson here is not to limit the number of possibilities. With the right combination, you can come up with a great tasting ice cream, or highly effective team.


Kisah Semangkuk Sambal Matah


Saya mengambil beberapa potong ayam betutu dari hidangan di meja prasmanan. Setelah celingukan sejenak, saya tidak menemukan sambal matah yang biasanya dihidangkan dengan ayam betutu.

Sambal matah adalah bumbu pedas yang dibuat dengan irisan bawang merah, cabe, dan bawang putih yang dimasak dengan minyak panas. Sejak pertama kali saya mencobanya di restoran Ayam Betutu khas Gilimanuk di Denpasar, Bali, saya ketagihan. Sampai saya pernah makan dengan beberapa kali menambah porsi karena nikmat sambal ini.

Ayam betutu tanpa sambal matah terasa kurang lengkap. Untuk mengobati rasa kecewa, saya mencoba mengganti dengan sambal ulek yang ada. Tapi saya masih penasaran.

Kebetulan Pak Andri, banquet captain yang bertugas hari ini, sedang berada dekat saya. “Pak, tidak ada sambal matah, ya?” tanya saya.
“Saya tanya sebentar ke kitchen ya Pak,” jawabnya. Tidak lama kemudian dia kembali. “Maaf, sambalnya tidak ada. Tapi kalau mau bisa dibuatkan sebentar. Cuma lima menit.”

Setelah mengucapkan terima kasih, saya kembali ke meja saya dan mengobrol sambil menunggu. Di luar dugaan saya, Pak Andri kembali dengan membawa mangkuk bubur yang hampir penuh dengan sambal matah yang masih hangat. “Ini sambalnya Pak. Selamat menikmati!” katanya dengan senyum ramah.

Baru sekali ini saya dibawakan sambal sebanyak itu. Biasanya sambal disajikan sedikit sekali dalam wadah kecil, dan sebentar saja sudah habis. Kali ini setelah puas menikmati ayam betutu sampai habis, masih tersisa sambal setengah mangkuk. Setengah bercanda, saya meminta Pak Andri untuk menyimpannya untuk makan malam.

Dan malamnya, banquet captain,  bukan Pak Andri, menghampiri meja makan saya. “Pak Stephen, masih mau sambal matahnya?” Saya cukup terkejut karena tidak menduga hal yang saya minta dengan tidak serius ternyata ditanggapi dengan sungguh-sungguh. Bahkan Pak Andri sampai menitipkan pesan pada rekannya soal itu. Saya mengiyakan dengan semangat. Setelah datang, saya membaginya dengan teman-teman semeja sampai habis.

Pak Andri masih mampir ke meja saya untuk memastikan bahwa sambal matah tadi sudah diantarkan.

Saya sungguh terkesan dengan pelayanan Restoran Srikandi The Royal Surakarta Heritage Hotel. Dari pengalaman ini saya belajar beberapa hal tentang pelayanan pelanggan :

1. Dengarkan permintaan pelanggan.
2. Berikan lebih dari yang diharapkan
3. Bekerja sama dengan rekan kerja
4. Tindaklanjuti untuk memastikan pelanggan sudah mendapatkan apa yang telah dijanjikan.
5. Anggap permintaan pelanggan sebagai peluang untuk melampaui harapannya.

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Changing 2

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of Working with a client in a time management workshop. The client had their marketing and support staff to attend, and it was quite a learning experience for me.

One of the points that I wanted to make was that regardless of our occupation, ultimately we are the one who must make a choice of what we do with our time. And using the Pareto principles, we ought to spend 80% of our time on 20% of activities that will bring 80’% of our results.

One of the thing that I tried to suggest was to take time to tackle one problem that often Uses up 80% of our time while yielding only 20% of our result.  That is the problem of bad work relationship.

As I said that, I could practically watch the class disintegrated before my eyes. The averted look, the “hems” and “haws” and “ums,” the uncomfortable stolen glances towards the HR people observing the class from the back of the room, all that sent a blaring silent alarm that l just pushed the wrong button. The air suddenly felt hotter, and the Japanese food that we had for lunch became heavier.

To tell you the truth, until this moment l don’t know for sure what hit me that day. But from what I could deduce, what l asked them to do was probably something that they perceived as beyond their control, or something that was a big taboo to discuss.

From that point, it was a losing battle. I got a less than average evaluation from the class.

l learned the hard way that no matter how true your idea, position, opinion or suggestion, you must first win their agreement that they need it, and that they want it very badly.

The will to change must first come from them. Our task is simply gently toss the thought in a non threatening way.

The Importance of Being a Good Person

During Dale Carnegie & Associates 67th Annual International Convention in Honolulu last December, I had a conversation with a colleague from Taiwan. I complimented him on the success of Taiwan team in the past fiscal year. With great enthusiasm I recounted some facts about their achievements (which in retrospect should be something that he already knew).

Of course behind all my excitement I wanted to know how they managed to make it happen. To be honest, I was expecting something in the line of, “Well, our team got together, we drew a strategy, and in the execution everyone chipped in their best effort.” Something that shows camaraderie, team work, hard work, focus, and so on.

Instead, Arthur gave me the biggest smile and said, “We have a good boss.”

At that moment, the doors were opened and everyone in the foyer began pouring into the ballroom for the morning’s General Session. I did not get to ask him what he meant by that. I wish I had pulled him aside and grilled him more on that. Since I didn’t, so I was left to myself to figure it out.

I know his boss. Although John Hei is a popular public figure in Taiwan, the first impression you take on him will not show that. He speaks with a soft voice, and he smiles a lot. One thing that truly leaves a strong impression on me is his humility. He is already in his 70s. In Asian culture, he is considered a senior to whom people pay a great respect. People will understand if he would choose to stand in the sidelines and let the younger generation do the hardwork.

Despite of that, he is not beyond sitting in a classroom with people half his age, to learn from a trainer 20 years his junior, as evident in a program that I had the privilege to be part of in 2011. He did the same exercises as the rest of the class, he took part in small group discussions, and the most amazing thing for me was he was willing to be coached in front of the younger people.

I am sure that is not where the list stops. If I were to interview his team members about him, I think I can get at least 100 more reasons why he is such a good and inspiring boss.

For me, this is where leadership plays an important role in an organization. All the management knowledge remains important to run a successful business. But in the end, what drives people is their leader. What the leader does, what the leader says, how the leader relates with others, will be the driving force behind a great organization.

Lessons Learned from A House Project

1. A general contractor, no matter how smart he speaks, is NOT a designer.
2. And neither is he an architect.
3. What is generally accepted as good is not always for you. Find your own style
4. Put every little tiny annoying detail in writing. People forget. When they did, you’re screwed. When you did, you’re screwed, too.
5. Be the foreman. Make issues about everything that you think is not according to what you agreed. Praise whatever pleases you. Believe me, they need it because they cannot guess what you like or don’t like.
6. But don’t raise your voice when you want to address a problem.
7. Compare prices before committing.
8. Have a dream.
9. Fall in love with your dream.
10. Work it. Make your dream house a reality.

Time Management Idea #2: While You’re At It..

Before leaving for a convention in Vancouver, I once asked one of my team member what she would like me to get for her as a gift. She said, “Anything that is uniquely Canada!”

Now, wouldn’t that be a difficult thing to find, let alone to bring home!

Of course when we are visiting a country, we are interested in things that are unique to the country, and not things that can be found anywhere else. That is why you’re looking for a parisian bistro instead of a McDonald’s when you’re in Paris, and for an italian coffeehouse instead of a Starbucks when you’re in Rome.

The same principle can be applied in managing time. To optimize time, we need to focus on what we can do while we are in a certain place that cannot be done in other places.

While we are at the office, during work hours, what are the things that we can do best there? For one, meeting and coordinating with our coworkers. That is why my boss, who is out of the office most of the time, usually calls for meetings when he is in.

Another one is accessing data that you need for the reports and plans that you are working on.

Those things will be difficult to do when you are somewhere else, or at times outside work hours.

While we are at home, what are the things that we can do best there? Resting, spending time with the family, doing your hobby.

In the age where a telephone can also function as a mini computer, it is sometimes difficult to focus.

Have you ever found yourself happily exchanging instant messages with your school friends, at work? Me, too. And that is supposed to be something that we do outside of work.

Have your significant other ever frowned on you for seeming more interested in discussing work with your colleagues over e-mail than in him or her who was there at the same time and place with you? Same here.

We can use our downtimes or less productive times for things like that. While sitting alone in the doctor’s waiting room, for example. Or standing in line at the movies.

To make a meaningful life, we need to make each moment meaningful. For that, we need to do what we can do best while we are at it, not while we are someplace else.

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Time Management Idea #1: Use Breaks To Do The Next Thing On To Do List

I was working on something and I felt like a break was in order. So to distract myself a bit, I turned on the tablet, and played a few rounds of “Bejeweled 2.” When I looked up at the clock, what was meant to be a short break had turned to be a 45-minute time waste.

Then it dawned on me, that I actually had other things to do that were high on my priority list, and just as much fun as a few rounds of unproductive games. One of them was actually writing on this blog.
Even more important was to evaluate my day, and to make plans for the next day. Even higher in urgency was collecting the stuff I need to pack for my business trip on Thursday.

Why on earth were those things didn’t cross my mind, and instead I was more ready to do something that didn’t help me to be productive?

For one, these things take time to practice into a habit. And it’s not just to start a new habit, but also to stop the old habit.

My old habit is to take a break from my work by doing something that I consider to be fun or entertaining. Nothing wrong with that. Everybody likes to distract one’s mind with something amusing. Hence the invention of amusement park and amusement center. These days, entertainment is just a TV remote click away. Or if you happen to be a technologically savvy person, it is just a tap on your tablet away.

A break or distraction from work doesn’t have to be something that is completely detached from your work. The most important thing is to rest your hard-worked faculty for a few minutes, by putting another one at work. Analysis work usually utilizes your left-brain intensively.

To get a break, simply switch gear to something that doesn’t take a lot of left hemisphere thinking. It may be having a cup of coffee, take a walk, having a social conversation, etc. Or if you are inclined to be the productive type, you can take the time to clean your desk a little bit, or quickly jot a few lines to capture ideas that you came across just this morning, or feed the goldfish.

One cardinal rule to always be kept in breaks to keep you from spending too much time on it is to be sure that you do something with a clear objective. Tidying up your desk in under 15 minutes gives you a clear goal to achieve. Working a Sudoku puzzle does not, because there is a possibility that a puzzle would take longer time to complete than what we originally planned.

Have a great and productive breaks today!