Saturday, December 11, 2010

I Am Not Brave

Following my decision this year to leave the teaching profession and join my friend in his startup, I have been receiving comments from people around me. Among the various comments, one phrase kept popping up – “You’re very brave to do this.” And that got me thinking as usual (or perhaps over-thinking, as someone might say).

After some soul-searching, I decided that I am actually not brave at all. I made this decision partly because I saw how the cost of living in my country was rising, and how my salary might not rise in proportion with it. I saw that salaried workers had little bargaining power over their pay, and that the ones making the greatest gain from their labour were commission-based workers, business owners, and political office holders. I balanced the relative risk and reward of each option, and in conclusion, the safer option was to take the risk of stepping out of the comfortable Civil Service, in the hope that at least I would have a bit more control over how I would keep up with inflation and manage the uncertain economic climate in the years to come.

At a deeper level, I am even less brave. In fact, I am scared. I am scared that one day I will find it hard to explain to my child why Daddy did not pursue his dreams while telling her to do so. I am scared that one day I will spend as little time with my child as some of my friends do, but earn much less for the sacrifice. I am scared that when it is my time to leave this world, I will look back with regret at the life I could have lived, and the lives I could have touched, if only I had stepped out of my comfort zone.

So I am not brave, because I am thoroughly afraid of all the things mentioned above. The ones who are truly brave are those who cling on to their jobs in the belief that things will be all right, that the current path they are on is good and true and will lead them to their reward, if not in Heaven, then at least here on Earth. I commend them, and wish them all the best, just as they have wished me all the best in my future endeavours.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Path Forks

I had a choice to make earlier this year (about 8 months ago), and I made a decision which I am still slowly easing into.

That decision was to resign from the Education Service and pursue a different career.

It is still too early to tell how it will turn out, of course. But I am thankful that I made the decision, and am excited about the future.

Before we jump to any conclusions, let me say that I have found satisfaction in the Education Service. It has been my pleasure and honour to have had a hand in educating the youth of my country.

However, I have also reached a point from which I could see with better clarity and understanding, the path ahead of me if I were to continue in the Education Service, and pursue advancement along the civil servant's track. I have also had the benefit of having friends who have pursued other paths, and therefore I have had the luxury of comparing the path of inertia against the alternatives available.

It boils down to which path offers me the most efficient use of my time. Given that I have a limited number of years to contribute to this world, which path offers me the greatest output (multiplying the chance of success by the potential gain of each path)? The answer I came to in March, which I then agonized over and re-analyzed several times, was one that lay away from the Education Service.

And so I tendered my resignation. Of course, there will be the usual speculation about my unhappiness with my current workplace, but that is hardly the issue here. The issue is really about something which HR professionals and economists should be looking at in greater detail, which is the idea of people as independent suppliers of labour, rather than just employees.

I will deal with the re-conceptualization of work and employment in a separate post. Now I just need to pack and tie up loose ends.

It's almost as bad as moving house.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

On Literacy in the 21st Century

I was trawling the net for passages to use in school for comprehension when I saw (on Facebook via Leonard via Kok Hoe) David Harvey’s lecture on the Crisis of Capitalism. I thought it was a great lecture and started looking around for the text version, only to realize that there wasn’t one (horrors!).

This got me thinking about how our access to media is changing the way we acquire knowledge. Whereas in the past, the most effective way to transfer knowledge was through the printed word, technology has now enabled us to watch live renderings of the words actually being produced by the original speaker. We are able to capture speech (and video!) and record it in an easily reproducible form which is easily transmitted and played across geographical boundaries.

I find this profoundly amazing. It validates the idea that our basic human instinct is to communicate via speech. Text and writing came about because we needed a medium that could store speech and allow it to be reproduced across time and space. This idea is supported by the fact that before the Middle Ages, reading meant vocalizing words - the idea of silent reading with its implicit emphasis on knowledge acquisition versus social interaction had not quite evolved prior to then.

Today we have the technology to store and reproduce speech in its original form as perceived by the listener. It has been said that perhaps two thirds of communication is body language, so video is actually a more accurate capture of the communicative act than text.

While textual literacy is still useful and valuable (not least because of the number of texts that we still rely on for knowledge), I believe we are starting to move back towards the spoken word as the primary communicative method, especially now that we can speak across time and space through video. This means that literacy needs to move back towards an appreciation of the spoken word (and body language) rather than the primarily textual basis it currently rests on.

This also means a whole new (old?) paradigm shift in teaching and learning again. Wonderful times, these.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Fast Slow Fast

Dean Kamen, father of the Segway, is the inspiration for today's post. (link here)

There are 3 steps in new technology being taken up by the masses.

First, the technology has to be invented and developed to a working and stable state. This is where the inventors, engineers, etc. come in. Usually, this happens pretty quickly because we are all so good at Math and Science and whatnot.

Next, people need to overcome their resistance to technology and start using it. This is where the early adopters come in. The rest of the people don't get it, though, and are slow to react. Some are not even aware that the technology exists.

Finally, the technology hits the mass market and everyone gets one, even if they don't quite "get it". This is where the businessmen come in. Usually, at this stage, the market is rapidly flooded with copies of the technology. If you haven't got your distribution networks in place already, you're going to lose a big piece of the pie. This also means distribution is even more important in a world that is probably inventing many more things faster than ever before.

Dean Kamen says that "the rate of emotional, intellectual, cultural, and regulatory inertia of the world is very high." What it means is that of the 3 steps mentioned above, overcoming resistance to technology is the part that takes the longest. Hence, we see that technological advancement moves in a Fast, Slow, Fast rhythm.

This explains why there are so many inventions lying around out there waiting for us to chance upon them.

This also means that there is a place in the value chain for people to pick up existing technology and convince the masses that it is good and necessary for them to use the technology.

The people who would fulfill this role best would be those whose skill set enables them to 1) understand how people behave and what people want, and 2) understand technology and how it can be used to meet those wants.

That's all for today. Hope you got a few good thoughts out of this.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thinker's Block

Stuck on my paper on luxury brands. Going over my old blog posts, I think I was more articulate back then. Grown rusty from lack of use, and facebooking doesn't help.

Oh well, at least I'm back. Finally reconnected after a long hiatus.

Blogging is therapeutic. Somebody should do research on the health benefits of blogging and diary keeping.

That's all for now. Stay in touch. I mean me, not you.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Save Our Orchard Road Trees

I know my blog’s been moribund for a while now, but I just read an article in The Sunday Times that shocked me out of my stupor.

It’s about the Orchard Road trees.

Ignatius Low wrote an article suggesting that we remove the trees to create more buzz and turn Orchard Road into a First World shopping area. I think he’s off his rocker.

Firstly, if we remove the trees so that we can be more like London or Tokyo or Paris, we lose our uniqueness. People will have even less reason to come to Singapore because they can get the same experience (and even better) in another city. So the extra crowds that he envisages will be thinned by those who have gone elsewhere for their First World City Shopping Belt experience.

Mr Low goes on to suggest that we can sit in air-conditioned sidewalk cafes and enjoy the “buzz” of the shopping street better if the trees were gone. But if the trees are gone then people wouldn’t be walking outside – the Singapore weather is simply too inclement for casual walks in your nice street clothes. So there would be nothing to see but cars and building facades. And that would certainly make the latte in the sidewalk café that much less enjoyable.

He also says that there’s no point in having world-class architects design buildings on Orchard Road if they can’t be seen for the trees. I think if they were such good architects they would find a way to make their buildings stand out despite the trees, or even because of the trees. Mr Low’s knee-jerk response is typical of rapacious industrialists in Third World countries – if it blocks my view, get rid of it. This is hardly First World, civilised, win-win thinking.

As for his point about why put up decorations if they can’t be seen from across the street, I think his question answers itself. If I can’t see it from across the street, then I will have to go nearer to look at it. And since I’m there outside the store already, I might as well go in and have a look. This way, the shops entice more customers to step inside. If I can see everything from far away, then I’ll just take my photographs and hop on the next MRT train to Changi Airport, thank you very much. The sense of discovery is actually heightened by the trees, and makes the shopping experience so much more special than that of any other shopping area in the world.

I can probably think of a lot more reasons why we should keep the trees, but you’ll have to buy me a drink for that. Meanwhile, I hope this has been enough to spark your interest in the issue and do something about it (like blog). I sincerely hope no civil servant or politician takes Mr Low seriously and adopts his suggestion. That would be the greatest mistake in our urban planning ever.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Worry-Free Life

In a very belated attempt to find a resolution for the year (so typical of me - always late for everything), I have dug up an old theme which has manifested itself in various forms over the years.

Sometimes I have called it a Simple Life (no relation to the TV show), at other times it has been a Quiet Life, but I believe a Worry-Free Life best describes it.

Let me define Worry before too many brickbats get thrown. To me, Worry is thinking about the bad stuff that might happen, not doing anything about it, and continuing to think about the bad stuff.

For me, bad stuff ought to be thought about, but just once, to see if anything can be done. If yes, then do it. If not, or if what can be done requires too much sacrifice (as in more than what I would lose to the bad stuff), then prepare to minimise its effects and take it when it comes. In the former case, once action is taken, no need to worry - what can be done has been done. In the latter case, same thing. And it's a matter of whether you can say in good conscience that you have tried your best. No last scenes from Schindler's List (where Oscar Schindler laments that if he had sold his car, he could have saved a few more [Jews]) for me. I've done what I could, or thought I could at the time, and I will take whatever comes as a result.

So, as the song goes, don't worry, be happy.

What are the things people worry about? Money, social status, job satisfaction, relationships, family. I've left out things like job security and providing for the family because they all go back to money.

Money - I've got enough to spend. I know what I would spend on if I got more money (a theatre company), but it would take a lot of money and it's not so important to me that I devote my life to getting it. Besides, there are corporate sponsors for that sort of thing. As for spending on potential others - I'll take on extra work if I need to, but that's not something to worry about now.

Social status - Reclusive ol' me? Ha. I'm happy with the small circle of friends I have. And even then they might complain I don't talk to them much. Heck, I don't even blog that often. Besides, if I really wanted to I could go back to teaching and get the adulation of youngsters who don't know any better, but that's not what I signed up for.

Job satisfaction - Starting to get some variety in job satisfaction, but still hungry for a wider range of experience. Still, I seem to be headed in the right direction overall. I just hope I can overcome the prejudice against older people when I eventually move on. If not, there's always teaching :P

Relationships - Not too successful so far, but not worried either, especially since an ego-boosting incident while being Chief Presiding Examiner last year. As someone commented, "Got house got car where got scared no girlfriend?" We're all shallow like that (me included). Only question is whether I'm willing to let someone get so close to me again.

Family - For those in the know, my mom's situation is advancing slowly. The doctor says it's normal, and that it's quite a good (slow) pace so far. The interesting thing was that his first question to my mom (after "how are you?") was "Are you happy?" which for me is the most important thing right now (for her). And I think she is. She'd better be, with what the rest of the family's doing to keep everyone's spirits up. And dad's finally playing golf again and he's much better for it so nothing to worry about there either.

In summary, nothing to worry about. All accounted for. And that's the way my life will be. And I'll be damned if I let anyone take that away from me.

OK enough about my personal report. Will gripe about my people and my country when I can be bothered with them again. Which I expect will be soon since elections should be just round the corner.

And someday I will look back on all this and smile. (I'd laugh but my false teeth would fall out).


Just came back from reservist, or compulsory military service. Good experience, because I got to meet everyone again. And it's amazing the diversity you find among them. They're people from all walks of life, all finding their own meaning and purpose from the myriad of choices they face each day. Choices we all face.

I'm glad to see them because it helps me to see my life in perspective. They, or rather we, are Singapore. The scientist, the manager, the air steward, the car salesman, the property agent, the nightclub owner, the professional MC-cum-DJ, all come together and put aside their differences for two weeks and just enjoy each other's company (not in the Brokeback Mountain kind of way). I see people moving up, and/or moving on, and I think to myself, my life's not too bad.

Some of the guys have kids already, and they were chatting quite eagerly about their little ones. One of them even invited everyone to his son's birthday party on the weekend in the middle of our reservist stint. Got me thinking of getting a kid of my own. Someday.

The other thing about reservist is that it really marks the passage of time. I just got my 5-year Good Service Medal (for not screwing up any during the past 5 years), and for some of the guys, it was their last High-Key ICT, so it was a tearful farewell to them too (yes guys do cry, and yes it was quite manly). In a few years time I will have to take a medical just to see if I'm fit for military duty. Such cruel reminders of age :P

But overall the past few years have been good. I've learnt a lot from people close to me, sometimes more than I care to admit. And I find that I'm a lot more open to learning these days. I've seen my dark side come out as well, which I had always known existed and had tried my best to control and subjugate. I haven't broken the law yet (except for a minor traffic violation) so things are still all right, but I don't think I'm the same guy as, say, five years ago.

Anyway the point is that I'm starting to take life with some measure of equanimity again. They say that still waters run deep. Now peace is returning to the depths. Not because of reservist, but it has given me the time to reflect on things, and so helped me mark another stage in my life.