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Spaghetti with seaweed, ume plum sauce and sesame seasoning Japanese style

My 10 year old nephew was recently in Japan, and to distract him from fighting with his sister, I asked him what the difference was, between Seoul and Tokyo.  His first response was that they don’t use spoons in Japan. How true. Even when drinking soup. They suck with loud air. The louder the sound, the more delicious. Don’t try this at home.

Even among Asian countries, we have cultural differences.

What is culture?  Culture comprises both national culture and organsational culture.

We can say that culture is the shared knowledge, beliefs and values, as well as common styles of behaviour and ways of thinking. Factors affecting national culture can include: language, traditions, religion, the legal and political systems, education, values, social organisation, tastes in food and entertainment, etc. It has becoming increasingly important to understand different cultures. Developments in international communication have given us all more exposure to the differences in attitudes and behaviours of other cultures. Due to the development of the global market there is an increase in international trade and workers are much more likely to work in different countries.

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No eating while walking

National culture can affect: the organisation of the business, types of products, ways of promoting products, ways of doing business, the business mission, motivations to work and management style.  It can also affect what is known as etiquette, ethics and even organisational culture and values.

(i) Organisation of business – different countries traditionally organise their businesses in different ways, for example in some countries, small family operations may be more common e.g. Germany, in others, business growth to corporate level may be the accepted goal e.g. US

(ii) Types of products – traditions, religion and legal systems may restrict or encourage production of certain types of products, e.g. production of alcohol is rare where a dominant religion (Muslim) prohibits drinking it. In India, cow is considered holy and eating beef is taboo. McDonalds succeeded in adapting their menu to local tastes, introducing even vegetarian burgers and non-beef items into their menu.

(iii) Ways of promoting products – marketing managers need to consider what is appealing and what is not, to avoid causing offence.   A story goes about Chinese selling poker cards, which in Chinese pinyin is spelt “pu-ke”.  But when written in English and sold in Mexico, it read as puke.

(iv) Ways of doing business – different traditions for making deals or for communicating with each other, which could involve following certain protocols or rituals like using lawyers to come up with contracts vs spending time to build trust, making small talk or giving gifts which may be considered unethical in other cultures.

(v) Business Mission – culture may influence what a business is expected to do, particularly in relations to its social responsibilities. Some cultures e.g. individualist may expect businesses to focus on making profits, whereas others may expect businesses to provide employment for family members (e.g.India) or to improve the community (Germany and France) for the good of all.

(vi) Motivation to work – some cultures value loyalty and commitment to the employers (e.g. collectivist such as Japan) whereas others could approach work as just a means to enjoy other areas of life but not to gain status.

(vii) Management Style – style of management can be influenced by the motivation of employees and expectations placed on the business and cultural traditions regarding systems of authority. E.g. cultures with high uncertainty avoidance would result in a bureaucratic style of leadership. A dictatorial style of leadership would work in cultures with high power distance whereas one with low power distance would prefer participatory or democratic style of leadership.

So what are some ways which culture influence the way you think about success, life and work?

I facilitate a workshop at the local university on “networking skills”. Having worked with superb connectors, colleagues who were diplomats in the Foreign Service, and headhunting, I am aware how lacking I am in this area.  Which makes me humble to ask for advice from the experts and be an empathetic listener to students making their first steps into their career.

Why network?

Myth #1 Networking is only for insurance agents, real estate agents and sales reps

Many people don’t realise that even if you do not need to generate sales, networking is part of our work. Today, we do not work in isolation. As long as your work involves interacting with another person, you need to influence and persuade them to work with you. Job titles, job description or what is known as the Formal organisation, i.e. hierarchical chart, is only on surface.

I learnt this the hard way.  Working for a French company in Asia where the IT proprietary software was controlled out of France.  When IT problems arose with customers, my emails to the IT Coordinator in France often go unanswered. Not because he couldn’t speak English. Complaints to the French IT Director during his visits to Asia were to no avail. Until I asked my direct counterpart, PJ in France for help as intermediary. PJ, British, married to a French, 20 years veteran in the organisation would regularly have coffee with the IT department.  So when it was time to ask for a favour, she has amassed a reservoir of goodwill through regular coffee/ lunch sessions. This is what Max Weber termed the Informal organisation. Possibly the IT Director was amazed at my naivete to expect people to do the work because their job description said so. Elton Mayo in the Hawthorne experiment in 1950s discovered that workers were more responsive to the social force of their peers than to the incentives of management.

Myth #2 No time to network. I can’t even finish my work.

See Myth #1. Networking is part of your work. Ever wondered why your boss had no time to see your report? As a young officer, I believed in being respectful to the secretaries of my bosses.  We lunched. Many times, they have helped me beat the deadline by putting my report on the top of the in-tray for my boss or warning me to re-type a piece of work in the format boss preferred.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book ” Outliers” called them the gatekeepers. He had other terms for influencers in the organisation. The “sneezers” are those who report on office gossip ahead of the official circular, the “grapevine” where information is passed by word of mouth. Be careful not to share too much, as the sneezers can turn against you by broadcasting your woes and gossip to the rest of the organisation.

“Its not what you know, but who you know that matters”. All things being equal (ceteris paribus) the one with a better upward network gets the promotion.

Michael Watkins in “The First 90 days” advised that you may need to rework your network as your progress. In the early part of your career, you may want to cultivate people who are good technical advisers and help you get the work done. As you get promoted, it becomes important to get good political counsel and personal advice. The typical iceberg analogy can be used to understand the culture of the firm. Culture is the unseen, beneath the surface, and divided into organisational, professional and geographic and influences how people behave.

Myth #3 I’ve 150 friends on Facebook, and constantly networking via Twitter and social media sites

The size of your rolodex and the number of namecards you collect do not equal the size of your network. Notice patterns in your power circle. Too many relationships can overwhelm you.

Often HR Managers complain that their Gen Y consultants prefer to email clients/ customers instead of picking up the phone or meeting clients face-to-face. You need to “press the flesh”. Politicians understand this, and so shake your hands and carry babies during election time. Nothing beats “Face time” in developing rapport.

Drop by their office, spend some time with small talk. If you run into colleagues at the office pantry, exchange some pleasantries. Arrange to have lunch/ coffee together. As Keith Ferazzi would say, in his book by the same title “Never lunch alone“.  Your lunch/ dinner slots all filled out? As my boss in the Foreign Service would say, “how about breakfast?”

Myth #4 I’ve nothing to offer

Make a list of your personal strengths, accomplishments and eco-systems. The Bible says its better to give than to receive.  Step into the shoes of the other person, and help them identify a potential solution to their problem. We all have problems.  Always do what you say will do. Giving without strings attached usually is rewarded, in ways you do not expect. Don’t ask too soon.  http://paulcbrunson.com/2013/06/its-called-networking-not-using/

Add value to the other person (opportunities, information, money and connections). A quote attributed to Woody Allen, that 80 percent of success is showing up. I would agree with that for networking. Many of the clients have told me  that my showing up more often at their events, being offe with their issues increased my credibility.

 

Where good ideas come from

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I recently chanced upon a Ted talk by Steven Johnson, “Where good ideas come from”. Flashing a photo of “The Grand Café”, the oldest existing coffee house in Oxford, Johnson persuasively points out that the architecture of space leads to collaboration and the spread of good ideas. That the participants were awake and stimulated from the coffee obviously helped. “The English coffee house was crucial to the development and spread of … The Englightenment, … in part because of what people were drinking there.”

Good ideas don’t come from a lone genius working in a lab as often as they come from interactions between geniuses.  “People would hang out in this intellectual hub and have these free-floating conversations about all these different interests and passions,” Johnson says.  In the 18thcentury, Benjamin Franklin’s own Club of Honest Whigs would meet at the London Coffeehouse in London to shoot around their ideas. [Read interview of Johnson.]

“There should be a plaque to commemorate [that coffeehouse],” Johnson says. “It was really a tremendously generative space. In the book I describe these as ‘liquid networks,’ where there is … fluidity in the conversation, but it is also a network of different people with different perspectives coming together.”

Paris too had its share of café-philos where artists, writers, philosophers would converge.

 

Where Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
By Steven Johnson
Hardcover, 336 pages
Riverhead
List price: $26.95

 

Eureka moments or ‘Slow Hunch’

From the lone genius of Thomas Edison slaving away on his lightbulb to Madam curie with her Bunsen burner,  if you pose me a name of a greater inventor, immediately the image of a lone wolf pops out.  In his TED speech, Johnson showed pictures of Rodin statue “The Thinker” alone and deep in thought.

Johnson addresses this image in my mind, and possibly many others. Case in point is how Darwin developed his theory of evolution. In his own autobiography, Darwin writes about having a great epiphany one night in 1838 while reading Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population.” He claims he suddenly understood the principles of natural selection, a theory he went on to base much of his work off of.

20 years ago, a scholar named Howard Gruber went back and re-read Darwin’s notebooks, he found that Darwin’s discovery was anything but an epiphany. “Six months before this alleged epiphany that Darwin had, he was writing out the full theory of natural selection in his notes.” Johnson says. “But then it isn’t for another three months that he actually writes out the theory in a complete fashion.”  This is what Johnson calls the “slow hunch” — quiet ideas that linger in the background and take time to, pardon the pun, evolve.  In “The Dark Side of Charles Darwin”, the author cited that Darwin’s ideas on evolution was probably influenced by and borrowed ideas from many people in his time, not least his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin, although he did not willingly acknowledge the works of others.

Other inventors like Thomas Edison

“Midnight lunch: 4 phases of team collaboration success from Edison’s Lab” by Sarah Miller Caldicott, his grand niece reveals his passion for collaboration.  Read about her interview on: Innovation Excellence. I quote the interview below:

What is midnight lunch?

Edison would speak personally with the dozen or so employees who were staying late to work on their experiments, encouraging them to share insights with each other, and learn from the diverse expertise each person brought to their projects. Everyone would roll up their sleeves, working together amidst heady dialogue.

Work-Life Balance?

At about 9 PM, Edison would order in food for everyone from a local tavern. For an hour or so, the assembled crew would relax, tell stories, sing songs, and even play music together, before heading back to work until the wee hours of the morning. They connected socially, and created a deeper understanding of each other as people and not just workers. This process of midnight lunch transformed employees into colleagues. It served as the foundation for collaboration in all of Edison’s labs. Through midnight lunch, we see the importance of activities that encourage employees to come together in ways that link work with their social lives. – See more at: http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2013/02/03/midnight-lunch-how-thomas-edison-collaborated/#sthash.EXkypmv9.dpuf

Even Madam Marie Curie did not work alone but collaborated with her husband who although a French outsider,  Several tons of pitchblende was later put at their disposal through the good offices of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. At this stage they needed more room, and the principal of the school where Pierre worked once again came to their aid.  Brilliant and persistent, she surrounded herself with great minds in the field.  When she presented her doctoral thesis, two persons in the examination committee of three comprised her former teacher, Lippmann who would go on to receive a Nobel Prize for physics and Moissan for chemistry. Coincidence or context?  Would Madam Curie, a Polish by birth discover her calling if she hadn’t moved to Paris, met Pierre Curie and collaborated with him. Pierre was head of a laboratory at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry where engineers were trained and had later arranged for her to work in the school’s laboratory.

Reflection:

Today, companies institute “Work from home” where employees come back to office for meetings, talks, discussions.  Is this sufficient?  What about lunches with colleagues, having tea, hanging out after work. [Some Japanese companies go the other extreme of having drinks at Izakaya till really late and getting drunk together to establish camaraderie.  So do the Chinese.] Seems that it is prevalent in every culture.

1. Context – be where the action is.

2. Persistence or passion? Chicken or the egg?

3. Specialise.

4. Collaboration – no man is an island.  Build on the ideas of others, and cross fertilise them.

5. Promote – even Madam Curie scrupulously claimed credit for her contributions to radioactivity (Ernest Rutherford)

1. Where are you from

2. What skills you bring

3. How I first became interested (in this area of focus)

4. Where you’d like to be

Sample A

HELLO (XXX), my name is (_____________).  I’m a second year student in (XXXX University, studying (____________________).   I hope to pursue a career in  (____________________).

When I was 15, I was first introduced to the social sector by volunteering at a National Library Board programme known as ‘kidsREAD’. I got to interact with children from different backgrounds, and I saw how my weekly two-hours had a hand in nurturing these children. I saw how some initially shy children would slowly warm up to you, sometimes taking as long as five sessions. I saw how the bolder ones became more confident. In the three years I volunteered for kidsREAD, I saw children who were barely recognise words, stand in front of everyone, confidently reading out loud. I developed patience and understanding through interaction with children. Amidst the sessions, I learnt to deal with unforeseen circumstances and calmly take actions to curb them. I can confidently say that with my experience in dealing with children through my years of volunteerism and internship will push me to achieve excellence in this sector. (JJVQ)

Sample B

Someone who wants to start her own company

Hi good morning, my name is  XXXXXXXX. I am currently pursuing a degree at XYZ   University. I have a passion in designing, marketing and advertising. I am currently a freelance graphic designer and worked with companies like XX, YY, ZZ. Over the years, I’ve also been improving myself by learning how to do web design, and I’ve been helping several SMEs with their corporate website.

I major in Entrepreneurship during my study at ABC College  and have since been very keen in starting my own business. During my internship with Youth Enterprise Academy, I was mentored by the CEO who shared with me  the importance of delivering value to my clients. With knowledge in finance, marketing, accounting, operations and all aspects, I am really looking forward to starting my own business in the near future, and right now I’m looking for opportunities to expand my network and looking forward to more collaborations. (LMYG)

Havard Business School 

1. Describe who you are

2. Describe what you do

3. Why you’re unique (what do you offer that others don’t)

4. Describe your goal (what are you asking of the listener)

Sample C

Information Systems

Hi My name is XXX.  I am an undergraduate student of XYZUniversity majoring in Information Systems Management. Additionally, I am taking up Organizational Behavior and Human Resources as my 2nd major.  My focus is in pursuing the alignment of business and information technology across business functions within the organization. For instance, during my recent internship with AXXX  Consulting, I had worked on a project with the business performance department to improve the existing working process.  Despite being an intern, the company adopted my recommendations, and was able to reduce their operational costs by 20% last year. Knowing that  (your company)  has a similar department, I hope to make similar contributions.  (WT)

Sample D

Accountancy

My name is XXX and I am a second year XYZ University student undertaking a double degree in Accountancy and Business. I enjoy accountancy and  I am known for my ability to deliver quality work and yet maintain good ties with my coworkers.  Recently I led a team of 18 to organise an event attended by more than 2,000 students. Not only was the event well received, I was able to earn the respect of my peers because I believe in practicing what I preach, and setting a good model for others.

Sample E

Hello. My name is  XXX. I am an undergraduate at ABC  University studying accountancy. I will be graduating in 2 years times and will be looking for an auditing role in an assurance and advisory company in China.

When it comes to work, I have an eye for details.  This is exemplified during one of the audits I did with my assurance and advisory team at the University Club.  During one of the financial audits we conducted, I discovered a lapse in the internal control of a club with a clean track record. This was an unexpected find, as other team members had checked the records and not noticed anything amiss. The lapse would have potentially opened up loopholes in the fund-raising claims.  Although it was a tiring process to reevaluate the effectiveness of the measures that were already in place, I realized the need to improve their controls. After a week of discussion, my team and I eventually came up with a new set of controls that significantly reduced the risks of the lapse happening again.

After I graduate, I hope to land a career in the assurance and advisory sector. With the experience that I have already gained from the school’s assurance and advisory team, I am certain that I will be able to make significant contributions to the organization.

Sample F

(Law)

My name is XXX, I am an undergraduate in ABC  University pursuing a degree in law. I am very interested in the Legal Aid Sector in Singapore and hope to get a chance to intern at the Legal Aid Bureau. I am actively involved in the ABC’s Pro Bono Club which involves working with the underprivileged, unable to afford legal services, allowing me to understand the workings of the Legal Aid System.

Currently, I am also taking part in the University Court Friends Scheme (UCF) which involves us volunteers being attached to the various sectors in the Subordinate Courts. I am now attached to the Criminal Law Registry in the XXXX Subordinate Courts, assisting the various departments in administrative as well as hands-on work. Through this experience, I believe that I have developed better interpersonal skills due to the variety of people that come to the Crime Clinic to file complains. I believe that this is highly useful if I were to intern at the Legal Aid Bureau, as interpersonal skills are very important for people in the Legal Aid sector as most of the legal aid clinic’s “clients” would be underprivileged people and one needs to have the good interpersonal skills to deal with the different types of people that approach us. With all the soft skills that I have obtained though the various times I’ve volunteered to do Pro-Bono work, together with the knowledge I have gained through law school, I feel that if I get this chance to intern at the Legal Aid Clinic, I can learn a lot from this experience and maybe in the future decide to pursue a career in the Legal Aid Bureau. I hope you will consider giving me a chance to intern at the Legal Aid Bureau. (BC)

Sample G

Finance sector

Hi, my name is XXX. I am a first year ABC University student doing double degree in Business Management and Accountancy.

For instance, I love investing and analysing stocks to see stock prices fluctuate, and understanding the fundamental reasons behind them. This passion draws me to join the ABC University-Student Managed Investment Fund, interact with like-minded peers and seniors, monitor stocks in various exchanges, especially in  the Technology, Media and Telco Sector. Personally, I also manage a basket of stocks with an average 8% return.

Apart from investing, I like to be around people, and am actively involved in organising events, such as the inaugural ABC Scholars Camp. As the Finance Director of the Camp, I overlook all finance-related matters, accounting for all expenses and preparing budgets, working with the different teams.

Another event that broadened my perspective was my first Overseas Community Service project to Chiang Rai, Thailand. For the first time, I spent 2 weeks staying in rural villages, experiencing their simple pleasures and constructing a school for the children. This was a very fruitful and meaningful journey to give back to the community. (GZC)