The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one. – Oscar Wilde

Globalisation, off-shoring, outsourcing, right-sizing, machines replacing me. Sorry, Mr Wilde, thinking about this doesn’t make me love my job, but more fearful.  Fear makes people do weird stuff.

What if my boss starts listing my job on eBay and get workers to bid salaries online, like a reverse auction and have jobs going to the lowest bidders.

20 ideas of the future

A excellent book that deserves a place on the shelf is “50 ideas you really need to know about the future” by Richard Watson. He is a scenario planner and has a blog on top future trends.

I’ve digested the 50 ideas into 20 career areas with potential. Jobs are disappearing and new ones being created.  Read his book to see the ones that don’t yet exist (e.g. robot relationship counsellor?).

For those of us who want work-life harmony, we will see more part-time, flexible working, and tele-commuting. More job specialisation – yes I see that coming from my clients in headhunting. Watson predicts that work that cannot be outsourced to highly intelligent machines or outsourced to highly intelligent people in lower-cost countries – I call them localised jobs that need the emotional, personal touch: nursing care, teachers, architects, writers, poets, painters, musicians, philosophers and plumbers, together with certain scientists, designers, engineers, lawyers (funny he should say that, the Law Ministry just said we’ve over-supply of lawyers), stress counsellors, masseurs, religious ministers, policy makers, strategists, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Many of these jobs are context-specific. Although we have a glut of lawyers, we are lacking in those practicing family law, criminal law for instance, according to the Ministry of Law. And young people, if you choose the area of study because of the trend reports, read the fine-print carefully.

Commencement addresses are another excellent way of seeking advice from the successful.

Mr Khenghuai recently sent me the following link of Vivek Wadhwa’ commencement address the Hult International Business School on 22 Aug 2014. URL Source:

The present stage of man’s history is unique, as entrepreneurs can do what only governments and big corporations could do before.

Computers, and the information technology that they enable, are going into other fields –  artificial intelligence, robotics, medicine, 3D printing, etc. This has allowed the creation of new industries and the replacement of the old. This can come in the form of 3D printing household goods, entire buildings, electronic circuits, and even food; delivering of goods by drones; developing new organisms to improve agriculture and clean up the environment.

With the good, there is also the bad that these technologies bring – large-scale destruction, spying, and many unimaginable horrors. Technologies which are available in Silicon Valley, and the same knowledge and ideas, are available everywhere – entrepreneurs, governments and criminals, are also developing them.

The jobs and careers that exist now may not exist a decade later.

The most important skills of the future?  

“Ability to learn and adapt”, “to collaborate with others and build relationships… share ideas, inspire and motivate.”

What Dr Wadhwa said, reminds me of an account of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement address at Havard, where she shared an advice then Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave her when she was considering joining Google. Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Read more:

Do you want a seat on the rocket?

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”
― Alvin Toffler

Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Last night, I posted photos of the Divine Trees at the Night Festival. An illusion of faces created by play of light and shadows projected on the trees by Clement Briend. Knowing that the museum had no power over pruning of the trees along the museum grounds, I kept thinking about this illusion.

Clearly my eyes cannot be trusted. Gestalt psychologists have told us that. Our mind tricks us to see two faces and a vase by the play of black and “space”.

A very good book I’ve pushed off reading, is “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman talks about the “experiencing self” vs the “remembering self”.

Most people make a mistake in the focusing illusion to give attention to selected moments. We neglect what happens at other times.  The mind is good at telling stories. When we look at a sparkling diamond ring, we think it would make us a very happy married couple.  Neglecting that working off the debt to pay for this ring, may cost us our very happiness.  Several young couples here in this country have found themselves heavily in debt, after splurging more than they could afford on their wedding celebrations.

Experiments have shown that our experience and our memories of an experience may differ. There’s a brilliant and funny TED talk by Daniel Gilbert, “The Surprising Science of Happiness“. I have his book, Stumbling on Happiness.  (

“Our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.”

Shakespeare once said, “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. 1 Thess 5:18 “In every circumstances, give thanks…” advised Apostle Paul.

Too much choice actually cripples you.

Prof Gilbert cites an experiment at Harvard.  A black-and-white photography course was conducted where students could learn how to use a darkroom. Students took 12 pictures with the University’s cameras; selected their best 2 pictures, blew them into 8-by-10 in the darkroom. [Here’s the catch.] They had to choose one picture to keep and give up the other one to the school as evidence of the course.

Students were randomly divided into two groups. First group was allowed to change their mind on which photo to keep and return. You ever want to change your mind, it’s totally returnable.”

Second group was told they can’t change their mind: “Make your choice. You will never see the picture that is returned to Headquarters.”

Which group of students do you think will come to like the picture they kept?

When asked, students think “they’re going to come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind”. It doesn’t much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition.

The Havard team found that five days later, students “stuck with the picture, who have no choice, have come to like it a lot!  Those who were deliberating — “Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn’t the good one? Maybe I left the good one?” — have killed themselves. They don’t like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don’t like their picture.”

This experiment was conducted on Havard courses, with two groups of students, first group given the opportunity to switch their course even after it had started. Second group given no choice to drop their course. Which group do you think would be happier. Ironically, same results were found. Those given the liberty to drop and choose new courses during the first two weeks of term were the least happy.  

The secret to happiness? “Be content in all circumstances”. Thinking what might have been, and that you have made a bad choice, can actually kill your happiness. What you experience is different from your memory of it.







There is another fascinating TED talk citing experiments on what motivates us at work by Dan Ariely.




Its recruiting season soon and time to start writing resumes, preparing for interviews. One question which students don’t need to take seriously is “Do you have a hobby?”  I often see “Reading and running” at the bottom of the resume. As if, anything else too lavish connotes a lack of focus on work and job hunting.

In Nolan Bushnell’s book “Finding the next Steve Jobs“, he shared that his boss, Kurt Wallace hired him in part because he was so impressed with his ham radio hobby. Bushnell is the “founder of Atari, and the man who launched Steve Job’s career”, writes Walter Issacson, author of “Steve Jobs“, the autobiography.

Hobbies aren’t just a sign of passion and creativity, they are also about diverse knowledge. Bushnell cites Stephen Gillett, COO of Symantec, who publicly credited his obsession with online role-playing game World of Warcraft with helping him manage his on-the-job tasks.

Others who start businesses based on hobbies, [you mean besides Mark Zuckerberg, Mchael Dell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?]

Australian-born American entrepreneur Megan Duckett always loved the stage.  Growing up, she would perform as a dancer, cellist but she knew she wasn’t of the league to perform professionally. During an internship at High School, she applied to Melbourne’s Victorian Art Centre to do the lightings. Instead of going to a college, she went to work as a freelance lighting technician and got into the ecosystem of rocknroll bands. She later went on to work for an events planning company. One day, she got a request to dress up 10 coffins to look like Dracula beds. [She didn’t even know how to sew. But that didn’t stop her.] Soon she went on to make costumes for children during weekends etc. One day, while they were doing their taxes, her husband commented that she was making more from her weekend crafts than from her day job. Today, revenues of her company stood at US$5.4 million. [Bushnell wrote that Duckett sewed the coffin drapery because of her child’s Halloween party but I couldn’t verify this in her interviews found on the internet. Nonetheless she has an inspiring story off the beaten track. Read more:

Being connected to the eco-system is really important.  Someone once said, that in Silicon Valley, you can change jobs without changing parking lots.

Unfortunately, a number of young people today, would just want to sit in front of their computer. [When I was in university, I recalled spending my time studying and relaxing with friends. Anything else was a waste of time and distraction from studies. My sociable parents would force me to volunteer at the neighbourhood community centres. My dad would try to strike a conversation around international affairs (on newspaper) at dinnertime. Which eventually helped in my entry into the Foreign Service. So, I didn’t know better either.]

Someone sent me a cute cartoon on how modern man has evolved.  It certainly describes L. In his youth, L would play squash, keep a small aquarium, try different restaurants, meet interesting friends. Today, he’s sitting in front of his computer reading his favourite graphic novel.  Come to think about it, so am I, in front of the screen.

Anyway, a little about the artist, Levni Yilmaz. According to his interviews, it was an accident how he got into cartooning. The evolution of his work from a hobby to a career seemed more out of practicality.  “I had just moved to San Francisco, and I didn’t know anybody. I was a transplant from Boston. I was finding it difficult to meet people, so I started keeping a journal just to keep myself company. I would write down what I did on any given day, and after a while, I started illustrating it as well with these goofball little sketches. One day, I woke up with a hangover, and read what I had written the night before on the bus, on the way home from a rather disappointing party. …  There was no planning, or proverbial lightening bolt of inspiration. I find that most life changing excursions can come from looking at banal events with a slightly heightened sense of curiosity.”   “I stared doing screenings around town that were getting good responses, and it occurred to me that I should try selling DVDs.”  [Drawing cartoons was something he did as a child, and returned to, as a way of letting out steam in his journals before he decided to commercialise it.]

Read more:



A female acquaintance, smart, attractive cosmopolitan (born in China, worked in New York for L’Oreal and then McKinsey in Singapore), once commented on seeing a couple sitting quietly eating their meal. Then single, she lamented “I wouldn’t want to be in a marriage like that. Same bed different dreams.”

Unconsciously, that comment became my “battle-cry” as I resolved not to allow that to happen to my marriage.  When my husband was home, I would try to make conversation. To no avail. His eyes glued on his handphone.  Rejected, I read books on “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus”, advised that when a man is in his cave, wait patiently until he decides to come out of his cave.  Don’t badger him until he’s ready.  I would wait, poke my head in the cave and call out “Are you ready?”

The silence frightened me. I’m not afraid to be alone. I’ve lived alone for a number of years. In my previous jobs, I travelled to international conferences. I’ve no problems taking 12hr flights from Asia to Europe. Once onboard Singapore Airlines, I fall asleep on economy class, and wake up for breakfast. [Flights to the US and Latin America were a problem, and I quit when I had to fly to Mexico and Chile four times a year.]

Silence = rejection. In the silence, I projected my fears. Fear of insignificance. Fear of my parents’ failed marriage. Fear of being unattractive.

So, I was at the library, picking out books on compassion and chanced upon  “The power of silence – the riches that lie within” by Graham Turner.

In Chinese philosophy, there are two opposing forces: yin and yang.  In the book of John 1:7, there is light and darkness. In fact, I don’t think its limited to philosophy and spirituality. Someone once said, no matter how you slice something, there’re two sides.

So in music, silence is critical. “It is the canvas on which the whole thing is painted” said Stephen Varcoe, a baritone. “Silence is a flower bed, an environment out of which beautiful things can grow. The flower bed in our age is full of weeds because of chatter that foes on all the time” said Mark Messenger head of strings at the Royal College of Music in London.

In psychotherapy, there are different “colors, tone, shade of silence” said Daniels. Profound traumas that have been locked away in silence remain unhealed.  Yet, under a skilled (or compassionate) psychotherapist, questioning and listening creates a safe environment.  Silence fosters a two-way connection between the left and right hemisphere. That can lead to all kinds of new insights – such as realising that a pattern of self-limiting or even destructive behaviour. This remains true for me. Just as I was sitting in bed, after a tiring day at the Gardens Festival, thoughts of the inappropriate comments I had made, flood my mind. If someone were to point it out to me, I would have become defensive, or feel victimised and bear a grudge. But in silence I get a chance to hear myself.

Hymie Wise quotes:

A wise old owl liv’d in an oak,

The more he saw, the less he spoke,

The less he spoke, the more he heard,

Why can’t we be like that old bird?


Owls from the Dragon Kiln in Singapore

In Chinese there’s a saying, that when your heart is still, naturally, you feel cool. Lotus comes out from the mud but is not stained by the mud.

This is not Buddhism but a Chinese philosophy. In the Bible, God says to David “Be still and know that I am God” Ps 46:10


A friend once emailed me this riddle:

A rich man needs ——-,a poor man has ——,if u eat ——- u will die.

This was one of the question for her nephew’s Primary 1 entrance exam into a school in Hong Kong. Every kid knows the answer. I’m glad I’m not vying for a place in that school.

A koan has no right answer.  The modern western view is that all questions have one right answer.  Outcome based. Bell-shaped, normal distribution. Evidence based.  Such a view is important and efficient. For the Asian, the process of arriving at the answer is also important.  Two sides.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping”.  A koan is not a meaningless statement. It is a mirror, reflecting your current state. A tool to grapple with and empty your thoughts during meditation. Answer frequently points to “non-attachment, nonduality” a sense that one is at peace. But the journey is a frustrating one during meditation.  As one turns to face oneself and hear your inner voice,  chatter, demons get uncorked and all kinds of fears released.  Reaching the stage of non-attachment. The Zen Master cannot tell you the right answer. Putting it into words, would seem like using a knife to help a butterfly break out of its cocoon. The struggle is a necessary process to strengthen the wings and force liquid out.  Everyone goes through their own struggle and journey. A Zen Master would know the right answer because of the connection at that space in time, when the two universes collide (as quantum physicists would phrase it.)  There’s no graduation ceremony or a pot of gold.

Unless you empty those thoughts and inner chatter, you will not be able to listen for new thoughts, new life, creativity and generosity that’s going to pour inside you.

For some, it is not to be the case. Meditation leads to arrogance. [Although in Chinese saying, “zou huo lu muo” that the practice of divine arts do lead some into another realm, and not always to enlightenment, as the ego becomes entangled, and one becomes arrogant.]

If I were to meet this bright female acquaintance again, I would ask her. “What was the sound of the silence of the couple?” Perhaps it was the sound of connection. Tang poet BaiJuyi has a saying in the poem “Journey of Pipa”, in a moment such as this, no words can express the beauty of the moment.

In the Bible And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:12, So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.

“In silence there is eloquence.
Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves.”

“You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure

You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it

It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.”
“Only from the heart
Can you touch the sky.”
“People of the world don’t look at themselves,
and so they blame one another.”
“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi[By the way, in Japan, there’s a shop where you eat ramen in silence. No small talk.  Reverence and focus on the ramen. Friends have told me about their experience, but I could only find one blogger:] L kisses me twice, as I blogged, seeing me intent at work on my blog. The silence encouraged him to come forward, at his own time and space. He shares something about himself. More than if I had badgered him.

Note:”The Sound of Silence” is a song by the duo Simon & Garfunkel. Written in February 1964 by Paul Simon in the aftermath of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy,[1] the song propelled the group to mainstream popularity.