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Close to my Chinese roots, my mother put in a lot of effort to find my Chinese name, it means the bell that rings at dawn because I was born pre-dawn. Embeded in my name is my mother’s hope for me. Wisdom, riches, beauty, fame, peace are the typical aspirations. Every Chinese knows this tradition, and in some families, we even choose characters that reveal your position in the family tree.

Yet when it comes to getting an English name, many Chinese/ Taiwanese / Hong Kong Chinese would choose names like Noodle, Rock etc and we puzzle at the quirkiness.

Not so, a young British girl. Beau Jessup. She is making more than $300,000 and funding her way through college by naming Chinese babies. As founder and CEO of Special Name, a website designed to provide Chinese parents with culturally appropriate English names for their babies.

How did she come up with the idea?

Jessup was inspired to start the business in 2015, when she was just 15. She has since named a total of 677,900.

Empathise- A chance encounter

Jessup was traveling with her father in China, when a business contact, a Mrs. Wang, asked for help in naming her three-year-old daughter.

Where are the pain-points?Constraints can be opportunities

“Due to language barriers and internet censorship in China, the ability to research English names can be limited, often resulting in unfortunate and sometimes comical selections”, Jessup noted.(Source: http://flip.it/BN0YJM)

Prototype: A minimally viable Idea

Back home, Jessup hired a freelance web developer to build a Chinese language website for the Chinese community. Meanwhile, in her spare time, she filled a database with more than 4,000 boys and girls names, attributing five characteristics that best represented that name, such as honesty and optimistism.

Ideate – create choices

The website uses algorithm to generate the names. It also allows collective decision making by encouraging users to share the three name suggestions with their friends and family via a direct link to Chinese messaging app WeChat on the site — to help them settle on their favorite and avoid any “cultural mistakes.”

Travel, Empathise, Talk to locals

Beau Jessup’s idea came about because she is a bridge to a diverse network. How many English speaking Chinese can do what she did? Many.

Sometimes, a simple idea is waiting to be discovered.

Go out and talk to people. Empathise with their constraints and see if you can help solve their problems in a win-win way.

Network for ideas

University of Chicago sociologist Ron Burt has referred to this sort of networking as bridging a gap between different social networks.

Burt studied 673 managers in a large U.S. electronics firm and found that those managers who had a broader network of contacts were consistently rated as generating more highly valued ideas.

Their access to diverse, often contradictory information and interpretations gives them an edge when it comes to spotting and developing good ideas.

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This morning, I visited Gardens by the Bay Flower Dome. I bought a one year pass which will expire in June 2019 and have yet to use it.

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Here I am, having a mini holiday in Japan, right here in Singapore. Sakuras are fresh and in full bloom. I came at 9am, no queue and was out by 930am.

The drive was just 10 mins from my home and enroute to work. When I texted my envious friends, they could not believe it.

Weakness can be a strength

Yes, Singapore is that small. Its tiny size is a weakness as well as a strength. All attractions are accessible. Just a mindset change away.

What resources are you underutilising?

🍍Just like my one year membership at Gardens by the Bay which I bought at $45 during a promotion.

🍍My “close distance” to the displays which are refreshed every month.

🍍Treating my Asian tiger mom as my best feedback coach. Undeniably she often has my interest at heart. (Her coaching fees are free.)

Do you have a friend at work? It matters to your happiness.

12 Tough Questions to ask yourself regarding Workplace Happiness

According to Gallup Organisation, 71% of American workers (as of 2012) are “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work.  Surprisingly, Gen X are more disengaged than Baby Boomers (above 65 yrs old) and Gen Y (below 30 yrs old).  Those with college education and above are more disengaged than those with High School Diploma.  Perhaps not so surprising, considering that the Gen X and those with higher education qualifications may be caught in the middle management squeeze and unfulfilled dreams.

How do Singaporean workers fare?  According to a Bloomberg report, 2% of Singapore workforce is engaged, down from 6%. Global average is 11%.

Source: Gallup

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Given the strong relationship between workers’ workplace engagement and the company’s positive business performance, employers should care that their workers are engaged.    What can employers do?  After 80,000 interviews with 400 managers,  Gallup narrows down 12 questions that all employees should ask:

Network upwards:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

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Source: Lunch atop a skyscraper in New York

Networking sideways: 

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

Looking inwards:

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

From First, Break All the Rules, What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

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Photo: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Transiting from a technical to a management role, young managers  lack a power base of followers.

Jean Louis Barsoux and Cyril Bouquet in MIT Sloan Review suggest 3 areas to plug this deficit:

  1. Legitimacy
  2. Critical resources
  3. Networks

1. Legitimacy with bosses sends a signal of your credibility to others leading to more visibility and influence, boosting your standing.  Your boss can also connect you to influential people and information.

Research on (LMX) Leader Member exchange indicates that bosses mentally divide their members into “in group” vs “out group”.

How to build legitimacy with bosses?

On the job:Hard work while important is exaggerated to secure credibility.

LMX research suggests that one’s attitude and perceived compatibility with the boss are more powerful determinants of good relationship.

Style:

  • Understand the boss’s style, objectives and preferences. Example: Do they prefer short or long meetings? Email vs face to face?. Brevity vs depth. Adjust your communication style accordingly. Goals and interests to provide the kind of support to help boss succeed.
  • Deliver on those objectives.
  • Seek feedback as appropriate.

Accumulate credits by helping superiors get things done.  Kick start the virtuous cycle of reciprocity by making good faith deposits upfront.

2. Be a resource. Gain special expertise or niche.

  • Find subtle ways to advertise your expertise by publicly volunteering to help colleagues tackle difficult problems.

What sort of expertise ?

  • Identify problems nobody else has noticed especially regarding disruptive trends or that few people are capable of resolving and then work to address them.
  • Consolidate your strengths.  Be so good you can’t be ignored. Don’t just be a generalist.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co once said, “To be a future leader, one should have a skill that everyone looks at and says X is the go-to person for that skill. Unless you’re really known for something, you don’t stand out from the pack.

One of the risks involved is that you’ll be locked into the position.

3. Build your own network.

A high quality relationship with a poorly connected boss may do more harm than good. Protect yourself from toxic bosses. Otherwise, you’ve to identify escape routes for yourself in the event of sudden organisation shake up.

Cultivate useful allies. Sponsors who know your work and speak up for you during promotion meetings. Look beyond titles and formal roles to discover informal ties and actual dynamics that drive decision making in a group. Real movers and shakers.

How?

Reach out to both internal and external stakeholders. External stakeholders can include government relations, customers and analysts and institutional investors and board members. Ask customers what they really need.

Curate– create forums where ideas and information can be exchanged.  This could be physical, e.g. company dinner and dance or a virtual forum where you help people connect. Gain a reputation as someone who knows how to connect people.

Many of these roles contain risks, acknowledge the authors. So walk a fine line as you may be seen as using the role for your own gain.

Assess the areas of influence which you lack.

Small Talk Topics.

Why connecting is good for our brains but social rejection is not …

9 relationships we need in our network

How do introverts network?

Next to public speaking, networking must be on the Top 5 biggest fear list.

When asked about networking, most people conjure an image of exchanging namecards at a business networking event, and not seeing the person again.  Meaningless activity.  How often have you gone home and thrown away the namecards?

Networking is done at two levels (i) With people you don’t know, but would like to know and (ii) those whom you know and want to deepen connections. I’ve recently chanced upon Michael Port’s article, which I’d like to archive in my blog.

(i) Reaching out to new contacts

Michael Port in his book “Book Yourself Solid” suggests the following:

(1) Start by creating your List of 20.

20 people that you’d like to know but do not yet know but who can help you do your work.

For example:

If you want to get booked to speak, you might include specific meeting planners.

If you want to get booked to write articles, you might include specific editors.

If you want to meet well-known bloggers or authors, you might include them.

Or, maybe, if there are specific potential referral partners that you’d like to meet, you might include them.

Put these people on your List of 20.  If you don’t have 20 people who come to mind right now, just start with three. But eventually you’ll grow it and keep it at 20. Why? Keeping your list at 20 ensures that it’s a large enough so as to keep your focus expansive, yet small enough that you’re able to focus on each person specifically.

What do you do with this list? Simple. Reach out to one person on this list each day. NOT to ask for a favor or to meet for coffee but to express appreciation for them and their work.

  • Write a blog post about them or comment on a blog post that they wrote.Retweet a few of their Tweets in one day or Tweet about them or to them.
  • Write a short (under 5 lines) email or handwritten note to them telling them why you appreciate their work.

Michael Port’s favorite quotes from Winston Churchill,”It’s a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” Building relationships work the same way.

So, if there is someone you’d like to get to know and they have a higher professional status then you, don’t call them up and ask to meet them for a cup of coffee. You’re probably not (yet) relevant to them unless they have some prior connection to you. Remember, “Only one link in the chain of destiny at a time.”

After you reach out to the person on the top of the list, put them on the bottom. So, the person that you reached out today goes from number one to number twenty. The person who was number twenty becomes number nineteen and the person who was number two advances to the number one spot.

Then, tomorrow, reach out to the next person at the top of that list. Do this every single business day. This way, each day you are connecting with, at least, one person on your List of 20. And, over the course of one month, you’ll have connected with every person on your List of 20.

How long should this take you? About 5 minutes a day.

Of course, if you develop a strong connection right away and your relationship starts to build quickly then you take them off your List of 20 and add them to your Network of 90.

(ii) Networking with people you want to develop deeper relationships

(2) Michael suggests to keep a Network of 90 – a specific, managable, number of relavant contacts. Again, these are people you already know (or have met) that you’d like to stay in touch with and continue to build stronger relationships. If you focus on the most relevant ninety people in your network along with the twenty people on your List of 20, then you stay below Dunbar’s number of 150 which is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

You don’t need to know a million people, just the right people who can put business opportunities in front of you. Your job is to earn that business.

Now you’ve got your Network of 90. And, as you might remember from the beginning of this article, I suggested that you do four things each day to build your network and get booked solid.

The first was to reach out to one person on your List of 20 each day. The second, third, and fourth daily action steps will bring you closer to the people in your Network of 90.

(3) Introduce two people in your network who do not yet know each other but might find each other relvant (personally or professionally) and appreciate the introduction.

You might have two people in your Network of 90 who are scratch golfers and they live close to each other. Golfers are always looking for a 4th but they want somebody at their own level. So you might introduce them.

If you are nervous about whether or not you should make the introduction, you might ask each one individually, “I would love to introduce you to a good friend of mine who is also a scratch golfer, would you like me to?”

Or, maybe you know two people that are in the publishing industry or two people in the real estate industry. Both would present excellent opportunities for making an introduction.

Generally, business owners and executives want to continue to move forward in their careers and, to do so, they know it’s essential for them to meet new people. As a result, 9.9 times out of 10 they are going to say “Oh, yes, please do introduce me. Thank you!”

Note: when you make the introduction, share only professional, public contact information unless it’s requested that you share private contact information instead.

(4) Share information

Next, each day, share some useful or helpful information with at least one person in your Network of 90. The easiest way to do this is by reading articles in online magazines, journals, and blogs every day, the ones that are most relevant to your network.

When you see an article that is relevant to one of the people in your network, send it to them via email and say, “Hey, Jennifer, I just read this article and I immediately thought of you. It was about ‘this’ and I know you’re very interested in ‘that’ so I thought you might find it valuable. Have you read it? What do you think?” And, now you can get into a conversation with her about the subject matter and, as a result, develop your relationship.

If you like this post, subscribe to Michael Port’s newsletter.

Nature vs Nurture: Inside an introvert’s brains in a cocktail party

How understanding my introversion helped me wake up at 6am

Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words cannot hurt me.

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Photo credit: By himself of a shopkeeper enjoying small talk with a customer in Naha, Okinawa, 2017

If social connections are important, useful even, why are we afraid of socialising?

May be we fear the social rejection of others. No wonder that public speaking is #1 fear most cited.

As I write this blog, one of my all time favourite coaches for creatives, Mark Mc Guinness has a blogpost, “Are you willing to be laughed at?”

Pain of social rejection

Cyberball Experiment 1
Reviewing Michael Liebermann ‘s book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Emily Esfahani Smith reported an experiment involving a internet video game, Cyberball. Researchers (Liebermann and Naomi Eisenberger) put people in a brain scanner where three people toss a ball around to each other. Only one person is a real subject, the other two are pre-programmed avatars.  (The subject does not know this.)

The aim of Cyberball game was to make the player (the research subject) feel rejected. Initially, all three players toss the ball to each other in turn. But at some point, the avatars only toss the ball just to each other and cut the human research participant out of the game.

Interestingly, although the research subject never met the other players in this silly game, the research subjects were really hurt. They started feeling distress. They felt rejected. When they came out of the scanner, they kept talking to the researchers about how upset they were.

Is pain from social rejection real? Is it as real as physical pain?

Yes. The most interesting part of the study was how their brains processed the social rejection. To the brain, social pain felt a lot like physical pain—a broken heart can feel like a broken leg, as Lieberman puts it in his book. The more rejected the participant said he or she felt, the more activity in the part of the brain that processed the distress of physical pain.

Experiment 2
In a follow-up study, participants were again called into the lab and played Cyberball with a brain scanner. This time, there was a twist. Before they came into the lab, half of them had taken Tylenol every day for three weeks while the other half had taken a placebo.

What the researchers found was remarkable: the placebo group felt just as rejected and pained as those in the initial study, but “the people in the Tylenol group were immune to the social pain of feeling left out“.

A broken leg and a broken heart did not seem like very different forms of pain”. Researchers hypothesise that pain is a sign that something is wrong. “Social pain signals that we are all alone—that we are vulnerable—and need to either form new connections or rekindle old ones to protect ourselves against the many threats that are out there”.

Social pain may be a survival instinct because being low on status means last to enjoy spoils of the hunt.

In humans, researchers suggested, social pain can be relieved through forming attachments. In studies of rats and their pups, when mothers do not respond to the distress call, the pups often die within two days of birth.

Connecting with others

Maslow is wrong in the sense that there is no hierarchy in needs. Social connections are as important as the need for food, safety, and shelter. But as society prospers, our social connections weaken. Oftentimes, our social skills are left wanting, and we cause pain- both social and physical to our lives and others unwittingly.

Evolutionary, humans have learnt both to connect and to exclude others. We simply do not have the capacity to include everyone.

Social rejection can take the form of sniggering at another, to discrimination to outright bullying.

Could this be why depression and stress has increased?

Holidays are social events and also account for the highest suicide rates, because of another phenomenon, social rejection.

Can this fear of social rejection be unlearned?

1. Be proactive. Build Circles of Influence not circles of concer. (Stephen Covey’s Habit #1). A kind word a day, keeps the doctor away.

2. Living a meaningful life, does not have to be big as scaling a mountain. All muscles need to be exercised and built.

3. Pick up social skills. Invest in your tribe.

4. Hurting people hurt others. Forgive

5. Next time, someone hurts you socially or emotionally, don’t withdraw.

Connect.

Dig your well before you are thirsty.

Build status.

I enjoyed the article by  EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH and can’t wait to read her book on The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters.

Nature vs Nurture: Inside an introvert’s brains in a cocktail party

Perhaps its the impact of three social holidays in a row, Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year. Especially Chinese New Year when we spend 14 days visiting each other and texting greetings to one another.

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In Singapore, we even have a dish that requires us to engage socially, the lo-hei, a raw dish salad dish that we toss and wish each other blessings. Networking is the oil which culture is passed. This dish, is now commonly practiced across the Chinese diaspora from the Chinese immigrants that passed through Singapore-Malaysia.

I am digging up a book by Michael Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

Social anthropologists such as Dunbar have long hypothesized that a species’ brain size or its neocortex is a function of its social group. Most animals have brains in proportion to their body size – species with larger bodies often have larger brains. But humans have bigger brains, six times larger than that expected for our body size.

This has puzzled researchers, as the brain is draining resource – burning 20% of the body’s energy while accounting for only 4% of its mass.

As evolution tends to eliminate waste, how did humans evolve large, energy-consuming brains?

A dominant hypothesis suggests that challenging social interactions were the driving force. Ecological problems only lead to human-sized brains when individuals can keep learning hard skills as they grow. When individuals learn from allies their culturally accumulated knowledge, such as making fire. Mauricio González-Forero and those of others suggest that a hard ecology and the accumulation/ transmission of cultural knowledge socially could act in concert to produce a human sized brain.

Why do we need to network?

Whether you believe in evolution or are a creationist, research seems to point that human survival is wired for it.

There is a price tag on relationships. Studies on the brain’s reward center, which turns on when people feel pleasure, was more active when people gave $10 to charity than when they received $10.  Emily Esfahani Smith

If social connections are important, useful even, why are we reluctant to socialise?

When we talk about socialising or networking, the negative usually comes out, “Its who you know that counts”. “She got that position because of social climbing”.

Yet why don’t we do more of it, if we know that networking is helpful to our career?

Or that connecting with diverse group will improve quality of ideas and creativity?

Have a friend at work? And why it matters.

9 relationships we need in our network

Myths of Networking

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Last night right after class, I went down to the Singapore River, excited to catch the LightUp of Singapore River for the Bicentennial celebrations of when Raffles sat foot in 1819.

How different it looks at night. Sitting on a bumboat, enjoying the breeze.

Our Singapore Story began even before 1819, our location was useful to the Majapahit empire before, connecting people to the global trade, a rest from the Monsoon winds.

Reflecting how our story began 200 yrs and prior. How will our story end? What is your story?

How are you building bridges, connecting people? Taking a rest from the winds of disruptive change?

Head down to the Singapore river.

#buildingbridges
#iLightSingapore
#bicentennial