Tag Archives: work life balance

An Instructional Experience

I just finished my first term as a professor at Singapore Management University. I taught an undergraduate course called Computer as an Analysis Tool, which is on business modelling and data-driven decision support. I had about 130 students, in three sections of three classroom hours each per week. I have to say the whole thing was a very enriching experience. Of course, the reasons behind this statement will be expounded on, theorized and hypothesized – this is Unreal Blog, after all.

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Internal and External Successes

Success can be internal or external. External success is easily measured in terms of money and material possessions. The internal one is measured in terms of less palpable yardsticks, like happiness, peace of mind etc. External success is related to extrovert qualities, like articulation, and depends on what others think of you. The internal one, on the other hand, depends on what you think of yourself. It is made up of things like duty, honor etc. Confusing one with the other leads to misconceptions like identifying money with happiness, for instance. You need one for the other, but they are definitely not the same.

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How to be Successful in Life?

When I talked about the dimensions of success, I used the word dimension with an ulterior motive. I want to define success for you in a formal way. You see, an entity that has many dimensions is a space, similar to the three dimensional space we live in. When we have such a complex multi-dimensional space to define success in, we have to apply some good techniques from physics to do it right. Don’t worry, i am here to help.

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Dimensions of Success

Money is only one dimension along which success can be defined. There are many others, such as sports, music, art, acting, politics, professions and even more abstract things like articulation, soft skills, philanthropy, wisdom, knowledge etc. Excellence in any one of them can be thought of us success. Success is easy to spot — look at any one of the celebrities and ask yourself why you know them. The answer is usually one of the dimensions of success — and fame its byproduct.

Excellence in any field can translate to money, which is what Eddie Felson in the Color of Money tells the younger pool player. This transformability often leads us to mistake money for the measure success, which, by the way, is the theme of the afore-mentioned movie. Towards the end of the movie, when Felson realizes that there is more to life than money, he says, “I just want your best game.” Ability to hang with the best game anybody can dish out in any field is excellence; and it has to be reckoned as success. This excellence is probably what the ancient Greeks called arete.

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Definition of Success

We all want to be successful in life. What does success mean to us? Because success is goal in life, when it is not achieved, we get disappointed. We are then, to be blunt, unsuccessful. But the word success can hold anything within. So if you we don’t know what success is, disappointment is inevitable. We really do need to define it.

Let’s go through a few common definitions of success and see if we can draw any conclusions from it. By the end of this series of posts, I hope to give you a good definition that will make you successful in life. What more can you ask of a blog?

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Are You an Introvert?

Here is a simple 20-question quiz to see if you are an introvert or an extrovert. Introverts tend to agree with most of these statements. So if you get a score of close to 100%, you are a confirmed introvert, which is not a bad thing. You are likely to be a quiet, contemplative type with strong family ties and a generally balanced outlook in life. On the other hand, if you get close to 0%, congratulations, I see stock options in your future. And you are a party animal and believe that life is supposed to be wall-to-wall fun, which it will be for you. I’m not too sure of those in the middle though.

These questions are from Susan Cain’s best seller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and a prelude to my review of it. The questions are copyrighted to Cain, and are reproduced here with the understanding that it constitutesfair use.If you have any concerns about it, feel free to contact me.

Was Yours, Now Mine

I feel I have lived through an era of great changes. The pace of change can seem accelerated if you travel or emigrate because various geographical regions act as different slices in time. I have had the benefit (or the misfortune) of multiple emigrations. With that, coupled with my advancing years, I feel as though I have seen a lot. Most of what I have seen fills me with a foreboding of gloom and doom. Perhaps it is merely the pessimism characteristic of an unduly cynical mind, or perhaps it is the true decay of our global ethical standards.

On the positive side, the pace of change is indeed fast and furious. This is the kind of change you like — you know, vinyl to spool tape to cassette to MP3 to iPod kind. Or the land-line to satellite to cell to Skype to Twitter kind. However, along with this positive and obvious track of changes, there is an insidiously slow and troubling track creeping up on us. It is n this context that I want to reuse the over-used allegory of the frog-in-a-pot.

If you put a frog in hot water, it will jump out of the pot and save its skin. But if you place the frog in cold water, and slowly heat up the pot, it won’t feel the change and boil to death. The slowness of change is deadly. So let me be the frog with delusions of grandeur; allow me to highlight the unhealthy changes accumulating around us. You see, along with the technological miracle that we are living through, there is an economic or financial nightmare that is spreading its tentacles over all aspects of our social and political existence, transfixing everything in place in its vice-like grip. Slowly. Very slowly. Because of this invisible hold on us, with every iPod we buy, we (the middle-class) take a couple of dollars from the very poor and give it to the very rich. We don’t see it that way because some of us make a few cents in the process. The Apple store franchisee makes a few cents, the employee-of-the-month gets a token raise, an apple developer may enjoy a nice vacation, or a senior executive might get a new jet, the economy of the country goes up a notch, NASDAQ (and so everybody’s pension) goes up a tiny fractionall are happy, right?

Well, there is this little question of the packaging material that may have killed part of a tree somewhere, in Brazil, perhaps, where people don’t know that the trees belong to them. May be a little bit of pollution escaped into the air or a river in China where the locals haven’t realized that these resources are their heirlooms. May be some moderately toxic junk ended up in a landfill in Africa somewhere where they haven’t quite grasped the concept of land ownership. It may have cost a developer in Bangalore or a call-center girl in Manilla an hour or two more than it should because they don’t know that their time is a resource bought low and sold high in markets they don’t see or know of. It is from these distant places and phantom people that we pick up a couple of dollars and pass on to the equally distant corporate coffers and stock markets. We take what is not ours from the unknown owners to feed the avarice of unseen players. And, like Milo Minderbinder would say, everybody has a share. This is the modern capitalism of the corporate era, where we have all become tiny cogs in a giant wheel inexorably rolling on to nowhere in particular, but obliterating much in the process.

The problem with capitalism as an economic ideology is that it is pretty much unopposed now. Only through a conflict of ideology can a balance of some sort emerge. Every conflict, by definition, requires adversaries, at least two of them. And so does an ideological struggle. The struggle is between capitalism and communism (or socialism, I’m not sure of the difference). The former says we should lay off the markets and let greed and selfishness run its course. Well, if you don’t like the sound ofgreed and selfishness,” tryambition and drive.Associate it with words like freedom and democracy, and thisLaissez-Faireideology a la Adam Smith is a winning formula.

Standing in the other corner is the opposing ideology, which says we should control the flow of money and resources, and spread happiness. Unfortunately this ideology got associated with nasty words like totalitarianism, bureaucracy, mass murder, killing fields of Cambodia etc. Little wonder that it lost, save for this economic powerhouse called China. But the victory of China is no consolation for the socialist camp because China did it by redefining socialism or communism to essentially mean capitalism. So the victory of capitalism is, to all intents and purposes, a slam dunk. To the victors belong to spoils of history. And so, the socio-politico-economic ideology of capitalism enjoys the mellifluous association of nice words like liberty, equal opportunity, democracy etc., while communism is a failed experiment relegated to thealso-rancategory of ideologies such as fascism, Nazism and other evil stuff. So the battle between capitalism and the occupy-wall-street movements is pathetically asymmetric.

A battle between two well-matched opponents is nice to watch; say, a match between Djokovic and Federer. On the other hand, a “matchbetween Federer and me would be exciting only to meif that. If you are into violent entertainment, a boxing match between two heavy weights would be something interesting to watch. but a brawny boxer beating the living daylights out of a two-year-old would only fill you with revolt and disgust (which is similar to the feeling I had during the ’91 Gulf War).

Don’t worry, I’m not about to defend or try to revive socialism on this blog, because I don’t think a centrally controlled economy works either. What worries me is the fact that capitalism does not have a worthy adversary now. Shouldn’t it worry you as well? Corporate capitalism is beating the living daylights out of everything that one might call decent and human. Should we ignore and learn to love our disgust just because we got a share?

Photo by Byzantine_K cc

Ridiculous, Annoying and Embarrassing

Now it is officialwe become embarrassing, ridiculous and annoying when our first-born turns thirteen. The best we can hope to do, evidently, is to negotiate a better deal. If we can get our thirteen year old to drop one of the three unflattering epithets, we should count ourselves lucky. We can try, “I may embarrass you a bit, but I do not annoy you and I am certainly not ridiculous!” This apparently was the deal this friend of mine made with his daughter. Now he has to drop her a block away from her school (so that her friends don’t have to see him, duh!), but he smiles the smile of a man who knows he is neither annoying nor ridiculous.

I did a bit worse, I think. “You are not that annoying; you are not always ridiculous and you are not totally embarrassing. Well, not always,” was the best I could get my daughter to concede, giving me a 50% pass grade. My wife fared even worse though. “Oh, she is SOOO ridiculous and always annoys me. Drives me nuts!” making it a miserable 33% fail grade for her. To be fair though, I have to admit that she wasn’t around when I administered the test; her presence may have improved her performance quite a bit.

But seriously, why do our children lose their unquestioning faith in our infallibility the moment they are old enough to think for themselves? I don’t remember such a drastic change in my attitude toward my parents when I turned thirteen. It is not as though I am more fallible than my parents. Well, may be I am, but I don’t think the teenager’s reevaluation of her stance is a commentary on my parenting skills. May be in the current social system of nuclear families, we pay too much attention to our little ones. We see little images of ourselves in them and try to make them as perfect as we possibly can. Perhaps all this well-meaning attention sometimes smothers them so much that they have to rebel at some stage, and point out how ridiculously annoying and embarrassing our efforts are.

May be my theory doesn’t hold much water — after all, this teenage phase change vis-a-vis parents is a universal phenomenon. And I am sure the degree of nuclear isolation of families and the level of freedom accorded to the kids are not universal. Perhaps all we can do is to tune our own attitude toward the teenagersattitude change. Hey, I can laugh with my kids at my ridiculous embarrassments. But I do wish I had been a bit less annoying though

An Office Survival Guide

Let’s face it — people job hop. They do it for a host of reasons, be it better job scope, nicer boss, and most frequently, fatter paycheck. The grass is often greener on the other side. Really. Whether you are seduced by the green allure of the unknown or venturing into your first pasture, you often find yourself in a new corporate setting.

In the unforgiving, dog-eat-dog corporate jungle, you need to be sure of the welcome. More importantly, you need to prove yourself worthy of it. Fear not, I’m here to help you through it. And I will gladly accept all credit for your survival, if you care to make it public. But I regret that we (this newspaper, me, our family members, dogs, lawyers and so on) no se hace responsable de ninguna consecuencia adversa de la aplicación de mis sugerencias,,en,Venga,,en,deberías saber mejor que basar tu carrera en una columna de periódico,,en,Este descargo de responsabilidad me lleva naturalmente al primer principio que quería presentarles,,en,Su mejor apuesta para el éxito empresarial es atribuirse el mérito de todos los éxitos accidentales que le rodean.,,en,si accidentalmente derramaste café en tu computadora y milagrosamente resultó en reparar el CD-ROM que no se había movido en el último trimestre,,en,Preséntelo como su curiosidad innata y sus habilidades inherentes para la resolución de problemas que lo impulsaron a buscar una solución poco ortodoxa.,,en,Pero resiste toda tentación de reconocer tus errores,,en,La integridad es un gran rasgo de personalidad y puede mejorar su karma,,en,toma mi palabra,,en. Come on, you should know better than to base your career on a newspaper column!

This disclaimer brings me naturally to the first principle I wanted to present to you. Your best bet for corporate success is to take credit for all accidental successes around you. For instance, if you accidentally spilled coffee on your computer and it miraculously resulted in fixing the CD-ROM that hadn’t stirred in the last quarter, present it as your innate curiosity and inherent problem solving skills that prompted you to seek an unorthodox solution.

But resist all temptation to own up to your mistakes. Integrity is a great personality trait and it may improve your karma. But, take my word for it, no hace milagros en tu próximo bono,,en,Tampoco mejora tus posibilidades de ser el jefe en la oficina de la esquina.,,en,Si tu debacle cafetero,,en,resultó en una computadora que nunca volvería a ver la luz del día,,en,te concederías,,en,es un resultado más probable,,en,tu tarea es echarle la culpa,,en,¿Tu colega en el cubículo de al lado roncaba?,,en,o estornudar,,en,o eructar,,en,¿Podría haber causado una vibración resonante en su escritorio?,,en,¿La copa estaba mal diseñada con un centro de gravedad más alto de lo normal?,,en,un título en ciencias es útil para culpar,,en,su primera tarea para sobrevivir en un nuevo entorno corporativo es encontrar ganancias rápidas,,en,porque la luna de miel pronto terminará,,en,En el lugar de trabajo de hoy,,en,a quién conoces es más importante que lo que sabes,,en,Así que empieza a trabajar en red,,en,empieza con tu jefe que,,en,presumiblemente,,en. Nor does it improve your chances of being the boss in the corner office.

If your coffee debacle, for instance, resulted in a computer that would never again see the light of day (which, you would concede, is a more likely outcome), your task is to assign blame for it. Did your colleague in the next cubicle snore, or sneeze, or burp? Could that have caused a resonant vibration on your desk? Was the cup poorly designed with a higher than normal centre of gravity? You see, a science degree comes in handy when assigning blame.

But seriously, your first task in surviving in a new corporate setting is to find quick wins, for the honeymoon will soon be over. In today’s workplace, who you know is more important than what you know. So start networking — start with your boss who, presumably, ya esta impresionado,,en,No te habría contratado de otra manera,,en,él,,en,Una vez que alcance la masa crítica en redes,,en,cambia de marcha y da la impresión de que estás marcando la diferencia,,en,Conozco a un par de colegas que mantuvieron sus contactos para siempre,,en,agradable,,en,gente sociable,,en,ahora son ex colegas,,en,Todo hablar y no trabajar no los va a llevar muy lejos,,en,puede,,en,pero puede llegar más lejos identificando avenidas en las que puede marcar la diferencia,,en,Y al hacer un poco de esa maldita diferencia,,en,Concéntrese en sus habilidades básicas,,en,Ser positivo,,en,y desarrollar una actitud positiva,,en,Encuentre su lugar en el panorama corporativo,,en,Qué hace la compañía,,en,¿Qué importancia tiene tu papel en eso?,,en,la gente puede subestimarte,,en,Sin ofender,,en,pero encuentro que algunos,,en,expatriados,,en,son más culpables de subestimarnos que los demás singapurenses,,en. He wouldn’t have hired you otherwise, would he?

Once you reach the critical mass in networking, switch gears and give an impression that you are making a difference. I know a couple of colleagues who kept networking for ever. Nice, gregarious folks, they are ex-colleagues now. All talk and no work is not going to get them far. Well, it may, but you can get farther by identifying avenues where you can make a difference. And by actually making a bit of that darned difference.

Concentrate on your core skills. Be positive, and develop a can-do attitude. Find your place in the corporate big picture. What does the company do, how is your role important in it? At times, people may underestimate you. No offence, but I find that some expats are more guilty of underestimating us than fellow Singaporeans. Nuestra supuesta falta de gracia,,en,puede tener algo que ver con eso,,en,pero ese es un tema para otro día,,en,Puedes demostrar que los que dudan están equivocados con acciones en lugar de palabras.,,en,Si se le asigna una tarea que considera por debajo de su nivel de experiencia,,en,no te preocupes,,en,mira el lado positivo,,en,es algo que puede hacer prácticamente en poco tiempo y con considerable éxito,,en,Tengo un par de amigos increíblemente dotados en mi lugar de trabajo.,,en,Sé que las tareas que se les asignan les parecen ridículamente sencillas,,en,Pero solo significa que pueden impresionar a todos,,en,El éxito empresarial es el resultado final de una guerra total,,en,Tienes que usar todo lo que tienes en tu arsenal para tener éxito,,en,Todas las habilidades,,en,sin embargo no relacionado,,en,se puede atar para ayudar,,en,Jugar al golf,,en,Invite al CEO a un amistoso,,en,Jugar ajedrez,,en may have something to do with it, but that is a topic for another day.

You can prove the doubters wrong through actions rather than words. If you are assigned a task that you consider below your level of expertise, don’t fret, look at the silver lining. After all, it is something you can do in practically no time and with considerable success. I have a couple of amazingly gifted friends at my work place. I know that they find the tasks assigned to them ridiculously simple. But it only means that they can impress the heck out of everybody.

Corporate success is the end result of an all out war. You have to use everything you have in your arsenal to succeed. All skills, however unrelated, can be roped in to help. Play golf? Invite the CEO for a friendly. Play chess? Preséntelo como la razón subyacente de sus habilidades naturales para resolver problemas.,,en,Canta melodías inquietantes en chino,,en,Organiza un karaoke,,en,Ser conocida,,en,Ser reconocido,,en,Ser apreciado,,en,Ser recordado,,en,Ser extrañado cuando te hayas ido,,en,Al final del día,,en,que mas hay en la vida,,en,Cuando se trata de noticias,,en,las cosas rara vez son lo que parecen,,en,Los medios de comunicación pueden colorear los acontecimientos noticiosos sin dejar de ser técnicamente objetivos y estrictamente fácticos.,,en,Frente a informes tan insidiosamente precisos,,en,no tenemos más remedio que leer entre líneas,,en,Es un arte engañoso,,en,desarrollamos una sana actitud de escepticismo,,en,Armado con esta actitud de no confiar en nadie,,en,examinamos la pieza para llegar a las intenciones del escritor,,en,la idea no siempre es desaprobar la agenda oculta,,en,pero ser consciente de que hay uno,,en,siempre,,en. Sing haunting melodies in Chinese? Organize a karaoke. Be known. Be recognized. Be appreciated. Be remembered. Be missed when you are gone. At the end of the day, what else is there in life?

How Friendly is too Friendly?

We all want to be the boss. At least some of us want to be the big boss at some, hopefully not-too-distant, future. It is good to be the boss. However, it takes quite a bit to get there. It takes credentials, maturity, technical expertise, people skills, communication and articulation, not to mention charisma and connections.

Even with all the superior qualities, ser un jefe es duro,,en,Ser un buen jefe es aún más difícil,,en,es un acto de equilibrio complicado,,en,Una pregunta delicada es,,en,qué tan amigable puedes ser con tu equipo,,en,esta pregunta puede parecer una tontería,,en,Los subordinados también son seres humanos,,en,digno de tanta amabilidad como cualquier,,en,¿Por qué ser engreído y actuar de manera mandona con ellos?,,en,La razón es que la amistad erosiona el respeto formal que es un requisito previo para una gestión eficiente de las personas.,,en,¿Cómo puedes enojarte con tus amigos que llegan treinta minutos tarde a una reunión?,,en,no te molestarías si llegaran un poco tarde a una cena,,en,Si eres amigo de tu personal,,en,y un jefe demasiado bueno para ellos,,en,no eres un buen jefe desde la perspectiva de la alta dirección,,en. Being a good boss is even tougher; it is a tricky balancing act. One tricky question is, how friendly can you get with your team?

At first glance, this question may seem silly. Subordinates are human beings too, worthy of as much friendliness as any. Why be stuck up and act all bossy to them? The reason is that friendship erodes the formal respect that is a pre-requisite for efficient people management. For instance, how can you get upset with your friends who show up thirty minutes late for a meeting? After all, you wouldn’t get all worked up if they showed up a bit late for a dinner party.

If you are friends with your staff, and too good a boss to them, you are not a good boss from the perspective of the upper management. Si aspiras a ser un jefe eficiente y de alto poder visto desde arriba,,en,eres necesariamente antipático con tus subordinados,,en,Este es el dilema del jefe,,en,Desde la perspectiva del empleado,,en,si tu jefe se vuelve demasiado amigable,,en,suele ser una mala noticia,,en,El jefe tendrá su número de teléfono de mano,,en,Y una excusa para llamarte cuando le apetezca,,en,Otra consecuencia desafortunada de la cordialidad accidental son las expectativas poco realistas de su parte.,,en,No necesariamente esperas una gran bonificación a pesar de un desempeño deficiente solo porque el jefe es un amigo,,en,Pero serías un mejor ser humano que la mayoría si pudieras ser completamente inocente de una idea tan ilusoria.,,en,Y este tinte de esperanza tiene que conducir a una amarga decepción porque,,en,si el tu jefe es amigable contigo,,en, you are necessarily unfriendly with your subordinates. This is the boss’s dilemma.

From the employee’s perspective, if your boss gets too friendly, it is usually bad news. The boss will have your hand phone number! And an excuse to call you whenever he/she feels like it.

Another unfortunate consequence of accidental cordiality is unrealistic expectations on your part. You don’t necessarily expect a fat bonus despite a shoddy performance just because the boss is a friend. But you would be a better human being than most if you could be completely innocent of such a wishful notion. And this tinge of hope has to lead to sour disappointment because, if he your boss is friendly with you, es probable que sea amigable con todo el personal,,en,En general,,en,Los jefes por aquí parecen funcionar mejor cuando hay un mínimo de distancia entre ellos y sus subordinados.,,en,Una forma en que mantienen la distancia es explotando cualquier diferencia cultural que pueda existir entre nosotros.,,en,Si eres un jefe de Singapur,,en,y su personal son todos indios expatriados o chinos,,en,puede ser algo bueno desde el ángulo de la distancia,,en,Las diferencias culturales y lingüísticas pueden actuar como una barrera natural hacia una familiaridad injustificada que puede generar desprecio.,,en,Esta inmunidad contra la familiaridad,,en,ya sea natural o cultivado,,en,probablemente esté detrás del éxito de nuestros pasados ​​maestros coloniales,,en,Sus vestigios aún se pueden ver en la gestión aquí.,,en.

By and large, bosses around here seem to work best when there is a modicum of distance between them and their subordinates. One way they maintain the distance is by exploiting any cultural difference that may exist among us.

If you are a Singaporean boss, for instance, and your staff are all expatriate Indians or Chinese, it may be a good thing from the distance angle — cultural and linguistic differences can act as a natural barrier toward unwarranted familiarity that may breed contempt.

This immunity against familiarity, whether natural or cultivated, is probably behind the success of our past colonial masters. Its vestiges can still be seen in management here.

La modulación de la actitud cuando se trata de la cantidad adecuada de amistad no es una prerrogativa de los jefes solo,,en,El personal también tiene algo que decir,,en,Como jefe menor,,en,Me interesa de verdad el bienestar de mis subordinados directos,,en,especialmente porque trabajo de cerca con ellos,,en,He tenido personal al que le gustó esa actitud y a quienes se sintieron incómodos con ella,,en,La capacidad de juzgar la distancia profesional correcta puede ser un gran activo para su productividad y la de su equipo.,,en,no puede regirse por un conjunto de reglas básicas,,en,La mayor parte del tiempo,,en,tiene que ser jugado de oído y modulado en respuesta a las actitudes y situaciones cambiantes,,en,Por eso ser un buen jefe es un arte,,en,no es una ciencia exacta,,en,Cuando las cosas se ponen difíciles,,en,Giro de vuelta,,en,Elton John tiene razón,,en,lo siento es la palabra más difícil,,en. The staff have a say in it too. As a minor boss, I get genuinely interested in the well-being of my direct reports, especially because I work closely with them. I have had staff who liked that attitude and those who became uncomfortable with it.

The ability to judge the right professional distance can be a great asset in your and your team’s productivity. However, it cannot be governed by a set of thumb rules. Most of the time, it has to be played by ear and modulated in response to the changing attitudes and situations. That’s why being a good boss is an art, not an exact science.