Disrupt, or be disrupted.

High school reunions are interesting events. They often bring back memories, both good and bad.

But there’s only so much we could do with reminiscing the past.  I find the present and the future, far more interesting.

I was at one such reunion recently.  When a dozen of high school friends in late forties gather over dinner, one subject inevitably popped up.   No, it is not mid-life crisis. We’re too busy with work and family to recognise the crisis.

It’s reinvention.

When a journalist friend shared about the imminent demise of print newspaper, my instinctive response was: “Perhaps it’s time to reinvent yourself.”  And right after I said that, I felt as if I was giving the same advice to myself.

The topic of reinvention isn’t new.  It’s just that, the need for reinvention seems to become ever more pressing now, for organisations as well as individuals.

I believe it was Clayton M. Christensen who first coined the term ‘disruptive technologies’ in 1995, the same year that I started my working life.  Two decades later, today, it has become a new norm.  And the word ‘disrupt’ has become sort of a buzzword, in the same way that ‘business process reengineering’ and ‘transformation’ had been in the 80’s and 90’s.

We now live in the age of disruption.  The impact of technology-enabled disrupters such as AliBaba (world’s most valuable retailer that has no inventory), AirBnB (world’s largest provider of accommodation that has no real estate), and Facebook (world’s most popular media company that creates no content) is felt globally.  CEO’s and business leaders are sleepless over the threats and opportunities presented by big data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things. Coders and techie geeks are supercool and in sharp demand.  So are gamers and data scientists.

The writing is on the wall, literally.  I actually saw that in the office of a promising tech start-up.  And it reads: “Disrupt, or be disrupted.”

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It’s innovate or dissipate. Adapt or die.  Even companies with over a hundred years of success can vanish rapidly.  A popular example is Kodak, that didn’t survive the advent of digital photography.  In contrast, its rival Fujifilm remains strong and relevant, by adapting their knowhow in film processing to venture successfully into cosmetics and skincare.

What is true for businesses is equally so for individuals, if not more.

Reinvent, or be retrenched.

In other words, we need to be willing to periodically reinvent ourselves, or be prepared to be fade into obsolescence.  The roles we play in organisations may change, but one thing remains constant – the need to create value. Those who successfully evolve to create value for the organisation in the ‘new world’ will remain relevant, and possibly more valued.

Unless insulated from competitive pressures, most organisations need to continuously drive for greater efficiency and effectiveness.  That hasn’t changed for centuries.  Those who don’t or fail to reinvent themselves, shall be vulnerable to the brutal effects of automation, outsourcing, and right-sizing.  It’s nothing personal.  Even family-owned businesses are not spared.

The casual dinner conversation has sparked off a serious thought.  A timely wake-up call.  It got me mulling over these few questions:

  1. Is it time to reinvent myself, again?
  2. If not now, when?
  3. How can I radically create more value in the work that I do now – for my clients, my company, and myself?
  4. If I’m not constrained by past experiences, who would I be and what might I do differently?
  5. How can I best contribute to the betterment of the world?

I have a strong bias for experimenting, and learning through doing.  But I also find occasionally pressing ‘pause’ and doing a little disruptive introspection’ can do a lot of good for the soul.

Disrupt, or be disrupted.  I choose the former. What about you?

I invite you to ponder over these questions too.

If not now, when?

Another day to listen and love and walk

There’s something peculiar about celebrating birthdays.  It gets us thinking about stuffs that we don’t normally think about.

Morbidly, I thought about the inevitable.

Death. The one thing that we all have in common, eventually.

Coincidentally, a close friend who shared the same birthday had exactly the same thought.  We both imagined our funerals (if there was one) to be a celebration for the living, and not a solemn mourning for the deceased.

Let there be tears of joy, not grief.  Throw a big party where family and friends would gather to rejoice in the gifts of life.

It turned out that, pondering over mortality occasionally can be immensely beneficial.  I learnt to be more appreciative of every moment I have.  I could not resist the urge to dig out a favourite book that helped me survive the tumultuous adolescent years.

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The following lines taken from Hugh Prather’s Notes To Myself had kept me wondering:

But it’s morning.  Within my hands is another day. Another day to listen and love and walk and glory.  I am here for another day.

I think of those who aren’t.

What does it mean to be here? What does it mean to have friends? What does it mean to get dressed, to have a meal, to work? What does it mean to come home? What is the difference between the living and the dead?

I sometimes wonder if the “dead” are not more present, more comfort, more here than those of the living.

Reading that, I felt incredibly blessed to wake up to another day.  Some didn’t.

Honestly, I don’t know how to practically live each day to the fullest or as if it was my last.  But at least, I could strive to be more fully present to the here and now – with the people I am interacting with, the things I do, and even with myself.

Today, I shall listen more intentionally, love more intensely, and walk more mindfully.

That’s good enough for me.  What about you?

Number 47, Midpoint and Counting Down

Age is just a number. So they say.

It’s a number that increases every year (coincidentally, along with my weight and waistline).  Clearly, it violates the conventional wisdom of “What goes up must come down.”47

I turn 47 today – another step closer to 50.  I don’t know why, but I simply can’t help being fascinated by number 47.  I thought, “Why not start the day by swimming 47 laps?”

I put on my swim trunks and headed straight to the pool, and uncovered some remarkable insights.

As I counted each lap, starting from 1, and then 2, 3, 4 … something miraculous occurred at the 24th lap – the midpoint between 1 and 47.  I felt as if I was on top of an imaginary hill, thinking, “From here on, it’s all downhill.”  The first half is done. The second can’t be that hard.

With that in mind, every stroke felt unusually light and easy.  I glided through the water with effortless ease, and experienced what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, called ‘flow’ – a state in which one is fully immersed or absorbed in an activity.    That feeling lasted for quite a while, till something else happened when I completed the 37th lap.

With 10 more laps to go towards the final goal of 47, I started counting down instead.  10, 9, 8 … and lo and behold, the effect was surprisingly awesome.  A sudden surge of energy and strength filled my arms and legs.  I crawled even more strongly, as if a second wind had carried me till the end of the 2.4km swim.  Strangely, I didn’t even feel exhausted at all!

I know it’s psychological – a mental game I’d played with myself.  But what I had experienced physically was very real.  Today, I learnt two vital lessons – the significance of midpoints, and the power of counting down.

Could 47 be the midpoint of my life? And would I be cruising to the end with strength, confidence, and ease, if I were to start counting down?

Seems like another few questions to fuel my inquisitive mind …

Meanwhile, out of curiosity, I looked up the Internet and discovered that in numerology, number 47 is about relationships.  Teamwork, pulling together, intuition, companionship, romance, cooperation — all are in the realm of number 47.

I wonder if this was God or the Universe nudging me to pay attention to the most vital aspect of my life – relationships.

After all, in the end, all that mattered, would not be the possessions we acquire, accumulate, or hoard but the relationships we have with those that matter.

I continue to count my blessings each day, and be grateful of the many relationships I’m enjoying.  And I hope you will find time to count your blessings and appreciate your loved ones too.

How Facebook Almost Ruined My Marriage

I’m still amusingly shocked by what I actually said to my wife last week.

You might find it silly. A Freudian slip, possibly.  But it’s true. And definitely music to Mark Zuckerberg’s ears.

We had a heated argument over what I considered trivial – the kind that loving empty nesters do when they don’t fret over their children.

In the heat of the moment, as she interrogated (or curiously asked) me on the motivations for my weekly posting on Facebook, I answered with gusto, Because I AM an active Facebook user!”

Yes. That’s who I am, and that’s what I do.

We both burst into laughter. It’s absolutely hilarious.

What a nutcase narcissistic social media maniac I’ve become!

Or maybe, not.

At the start of 2017, I began an experiment on gratitude.  Rather than reflecting once a year as part of our annual family yearend gratitude-cum-visioning ritual, I started to count my blessings daily. The initial idea was to keep a daily gratitude journal.   It didn’t take long for me to realise that sitting down to reflect and write proved to be more difficult than jumping into the pool and swim 20 laps every day.

“There’s got to be another way to do this,” I pondered.

The last time I successfully picked up a new daily habit was when a colleague nominated me to take up a 22 Days Push-up Challenge (#22PushUp) – a campaign to raise awareness on war veterans suicides due to post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD).  The rule of the game was simple.  Over 22 days, each day, I was to do 22 push-ups, capture it on video, post it on Facebook, and nominate another to the challenge.

What started with a tinge of regret (I shouldn’t have liked her FB post) turned out absolutely amazing!  I never knew I could pull it off, especially on days when I was flat out exhausted after work.  But the drive to honour my word, the encouragement from friends, to fun of roping in my boys and brother,  and the inspiration from watching those I subsequently nominated kept me going.

It was the first time I managed to keep up with doing something new every day for about month.   Reluctant to give up a habit that took much determination and sweat to develop, I carried on with daily push-ups beyond the 22 days.  I felt strong and fit, but eventually had to stop due to a wrist injury.

But not all went to waste. I learnt a valuable lesson on habit formation.  And it’s not the usual motivational BS like will power, perseverance, or determination.  It’s not the “It takes 21 days to rewire the brain” kind of pop-psychology.  And there’s no need to get overly philosophical – although I’m a huge fan of Friedrich Nietzsche who famously said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

What I’ve learnt, is simply … the power of structure. Having an enabling structure can make the performance of the habit easier.  22 push-ups isn’t easy, at least for me.  But the entire act of pressing record on the phone, get down and just do it, and then post it on FB is relatively simple.

So, I applied that learning to my attempt at cultivating a habit of gratefulness.  I started posting my reflections at the end of each week on Facebook (#CountYourBlessings).  After four weeks of sharing photos of significant moments and people, receiving a few hundred likes, and exchange of comments with friends with whom I hadn’t been in touch for years, I hit the first snag.

My wife wasn’t too pleased.

She’s concerned with the risk of chronicling our family life online, and preferred a little more privacy.  Whilst I think her concerns are valid, I have a higher risk appetite, and lower need for privacy.  There all kinds of FB users.  I’m just not that type that post picture of cats or share videos of Trump parodies.  So, we have our differences.  Not totally irreconcilable.

I promised to be more discrete, but I’ll carry on, at least till Week 52.  Why?

Because I AM an active Facebook user.  It’s that simple, and more …

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The second lesson, and possibly a more significant thing I’ve learnt about human change and habit formation, is identity.  Co-incidentally, I chanced upon a chapter in The Impact Code (a book I’m currently reading) in which author Simon Tyler wrote:

There are few phrases as powerful, as evocative as: “I am …”

“I am …” reflects, or sets the tone for, the activity of your life. When you say and feel “I am …”, you release unstoppable springs from within.

The release of unstoppable springs from within – that totally resonated with how I felt.

I am adventurous … someone who loves challenges and new experiences.

I am curious … someone who loves experimenting with new concepts, behaviours, ways of seeing and being.

I am a man of integrity … someone who keeps his words.

I am grateful … someone who counts his blessings regularly (and not shy to share it online).

I am unstoppable (at least on this weekly #CountYourBlessings experiment on FB)

Honestly, I am not sure how well this will impact my marriage.  But I am open to whatever lessons that Life sprinkles into our lives.

I am a huge fan of Nietzsche (as you know by now) – who also famously said: “That which does not kill you us makes us stronger.” I remain hopeful that if Facebook doesn’t completely ruin our marriage, it will strengthen it.

I blog, therefore I am.

OMG! My last post was in January, 2013. And that’s the third post including the auto-generated “Hello World!” when this domain was registered in March, 2011.  Obviously, an average frequency of 0.333 posts per year for the last 6 years definitely isn’t enough to make me a blogger. A blogger wannabe, maybe.

But this can change. And it will.  And here’s why …

In our family, we practise a wonderful annual yearend ritual, first initiated by my wife several years ago.  The process is simple.  We gather as a family, review the vision we have set for the year, reflect on the accomplishments and experiences that we are grateful for, and take turns to share out loud.  And then, we craft a vision for the following year, starting with the ‘Top Ten’ list, share it, narrow down to the ‘BIG 3,’ and create a vision board to keep us on track.

Call it ‘Law of Attraction’ or ‘Power of Vision,’ the vision board has its magic. Last year, all three of Sean’s (my eldest son) vision came true!  His proudest moment was when his team emerged champion in the national interschool floorball championship.  As parents, my wife and I are super proud of and happy for him too.  But I couldn’t say the same for myself, for I was still stuck at the second last step – picking my BIG 3.

I can’t help thinking that the Universe’s message for me was “Focus, focus, focus.”  Ironically, my last post was titled “To enhance focus, speed up.”  [Note to self: Read my own blog once in a while.]

So, for 2017, I’m inspired and determined to make ‘Blog weekly’ one of three major things to get done.  Ironically, it took me a month to get to this point (procrastination is one of my strengths), but I’m grateful that I finally did.  Better late than never.

And this isn’t some new year resolutions that get forgotten by February.  I’m conscious that it could be something that will transform the very core of who I am.  And here’s why things are gonna be different …

In truth, I’m really sick of carrying forward the ‘Restart blogging’ from one year to the next.  I’m done with repeatedly feeling the shame of not taking action to live out my vision.  I don’t want to be merely a dreamer, but a doer that realises his dreams as well.  And I don’t want to let myself down, again.

OK, to be fair, I’m not a total failure at this vision-to-action thing.  I did manage to tick off a few things in my vision for 2016. Skiing with my family in Japan, check. Run 10 km, check.  Swim Ironman distance, check. Learn yoga, check. Reduce weight to 78 kg? Hmm, perhaps a more realistic target for 2017 will drastically increase my likelihood of success.

So, back to blogging. Will turning it into one of my BIG 3 help? What will it take for a blogger wannabe to become a blogger?  And what will it take to become an excellent blogger?

Aristotle once said,

“We are repeatedly what we do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

Perhaps it’s as simple as starting to do it, and then keep on doing it, learning as we do, continuously developing ourselves, and practice, practice, and more practice.

What do you think? And what have you put off doing, that might benefit from a bit more focus?

Now that I’ve publicly declared my intention and given blogging another shot, only time will tell if I do indeed honour my words, at least to myself.

Fast forward to December 2017 … I’m seeing myself expressing my gratitude for all the encouragement and feedback from readers like yourself, and feeling even more inspired to write for the rest of my life.  Thank you for reading, for without you, this would be another page of my unread diary.

I blog, therefore I am.

To enhance focus, speed up.

Tonight, as I raced up the steps leading up to the stadium to give my heart a good workout, I noticed a remarkable increase in my focus on where I was stepping.  The image which immediately sprung to mind was an F1 driver giving 100% concentration to what he was doing, and shutting out from everything else in the world. A slight distraction may mean a fatal crash. In my case, perhaps a mis-step leading to a painful tumble.

I wonder if that observation applies to business and leadership too. To get people to stay focused, leaders need to up the tempo and drum up the pace.

NOW is a good time to start.

Every now and then, my mind gets hijacked by a deluge of random thoughts.  And each time that occurred, I wished I had captured them. Sometimes, I jot them down either on a notebook or  the phone. Other times, I just let them go by. And today, in the midst of an evening run, I experienced another episode. Only this time, one of the thoughts said:

“Blog it, starting from today, and now is a good time.”

And here am I, writing my first post since this blog site was created almost 2 years ago. Unbelievable! I’ve deliberately left the original “Hello world!” post dated March 5, 2011 to remind myself of how well I have mastered the art of procrastination.  I’m not proud of that, but I’m glad that I finally figured out what got in the way.

It’s silly, but real.  I got stuck at filling up the default “About” page. Fed up with feeling stuck and not knowing what to say about myself or this site, I simply deleted it. And then came a breakthrough! Barrier removed. No more obstacles. I’m free to get on with capturing my random thoughts.

Somehow, things always seem simpler in hindsight.

Today, I learnt that getting clear on “What’s really stopping me?” and taking small actions to address that can be a great way to jumpstart myself into action.

So, what’s really stopping you from doing what you want to do?