Monday, September 14, 2015

A simple test for career assessment

Random thought of the day: how do you know if the job you are doing is the right one for you? Or if you're better off quitting the job you have? Or if the job you've been fired or retrenched from is one you cannot afford to lose?

Ask yourself if you would do the job for free. If you can't or won't, get the heck out. The logic is simple. If you can't even give it away, no one in their right mind would pay you for it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Looking back at the results of GE2015

Woke up to clear white skies with just a tinier patch of blue than before. Against expectations, the incumbents took a larger share of the popular vote at GE2015 than earlier indications seemed to suggest. It looks like beyond the raucous rallies and the social media frenzy of support for 'alternative voices' in parliament, the sleeping giant of the silent majority only made a noise where it counted the most: at the polls.

Looking back at how this apparently out-of-the-blue support for the incumbents might have reached landslide proportions, we need to see what the electorate did NOT vote for:

Clearly, the electorate did not want the incumbents to lose its 2/3s majority in parliament. Given that all constituencies were once again being contested, voters took no chances and chose conservatively. Having said that, it is telling that the blues kept their strongholds while the other oppo parties were quite let down at the polls. It could be said that the blues did not fight to win big at this elections but rather strategized to not lose its major symbolic territories. Letting the other oppo parties become the distracting sideshows that they were actually made the blues look good in comparison, and keeping 6 elected seats in parliament is still better than losing them all. The voters win, the blues win, and the other oppo parties win because they still keep an 'alternative voice' in an otherwise all-white government, 'moving forward'.

Even before Nomination Day, the voters could see the infighting, dissent, tantrums and rage quits that showed the different oppo parties not quite getting their act together. If that was what the campaign was going to look like, the electorate could not stomach that lot in parliament where actual decisions are being made about real lives and real livelihoods over the next 5 years to come.

The biggest losers are the Independents because if no one wanted them to join a party... 'nuff said.

The party that was obviously running a poorly-disguised racist platform got few votes because the electorate had already left ethnically-based politics behind decades ago, knowing that a country divided along such lines will absolutely ruin what has gone right for this country for the last 50 years.

The party that promised to TAKE money out of voters' pockets and give it to the poor and needy elderly cardboard collectors union of Singapore found little support for its well-meaning humanitarian social-welfare platform.

The party that stood for Democracy over Action found out that the electorate, though relishing a good debate, is still fundamentally pragmatic and is swayed more by results than a dramatic chin-and-finger-wag.

The People's party found out that after all, only one Person ever mattered, and that without him, they had become the who-are-you party. Which was probably the same case for the remaining oppo parties which ran equally forgettable platforms and candidates.

What the electorate DID vote for was a calm, dignified, matter-of-fact, results-orientated tone of voice. Non-reactionary, non-sensational, ultimately boring and occasionally foot-in-mouth in presentation, perhaps overly-highly paid but at the same time has done nothing to damage the reputation; infrastructure; and standing, trustworthiness and respect of the country on the international stage.

In fact, GE2015 turned out to be little more than a municipal election in which all contesting parties, including the incumbent who went along and played the same game, were only vying for a town council seat. The electorate instead decided to vote for a Government -- the one that was already there in the first place.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The good ship, Singapore

One metaphor used in the #GE2015 campaign is the one that likens Singapore to a 'cruise ship'. The one who proposed it is deluded, and the one who opposes it is equally deluded -- and paranoid. Our little red dot has never been a cruise ship and will never survive as one, iceberg or no. The moment we start believing we are a cruise ship, everyone will want to be a first class passenger, no one wants to work any more. And given the rhetoric that's been passing for 'campaign speeches' on both sides, this belief is strongly setting in already.

Most of us have forgotten what we truly are: a pirate ship. All we have is what we have taken from others. Sure, we are nice pirates and we don't do bloodshed, but we own nothing but the planks we stand on and that's all that's shielding us from rough seas, bad weather and rival privateers, some of whom wield larger cannon and bloodthirstier warriors than those we seem to have on board.

No one in this campaign is talking about them. No, we are stuck with squabbling over how to cut the pie that we have into larger pieces for everyone. For now, it may look like a huge pie in it's totality, but if everyone wants a bigger share of it, we will find out how quickly it becomes a finite resource. Look, if we want more pie, the answer for our little pirate ship is to go plunder other people for what we need. That's all we have to go on.

And, no, on a pirate ship, there are no lifeboats, no safety nets, unlike a cruise ship. The reason why we've been confidently sailing the 7 seas for the last 50 years is because we knew our vulnerabilities and we've played by the rules of our constraints. We do have a few rubber rings, but more importantly, we have each other and we have each other's backs. At least, we did, until we started recognizing that some of our shipmates were starting to look and talk a little differently from ourselves. Then we were no longer 'we' any more, but 'us' and 'them'. And now it's getting to be more like 'me' vs everybody else.

A pirate ship does not become a cruise ship. We have all got to get back to being pirates. Everyone works, no passengers unless they are hostages held for ransom. Not happy with a pittance of a fixed wage? Take a risk. That's what the top-paid pirates are doing. Not happy with the income disparity? There's a way to get some of that money back for yourself. It's a free market, so sell a better product or provide a better service. Make other people say, 'please, take my money'. Plan your own raids, recruit your own crew, branch out and remember to pay your taxes (kept low to encourage entrepreneurship) when you make it big. But if you don't make it big, remember that it was a risk you took and it doesn't always pan out. Either settle; or learn, grow and try again. Can't stomach the risk of a raid, then don't complain about swabbing the deck. Your fixed salary will see you through, as long as you're careful with your expenses. That's the pirate's life.

More importantly, there are opportunities out there that we are missing. Those opportunities are what we should be talking about. We need to be planning adventures, expeditions into the unknown; seeking new resources and planting our flag everywhere. It's not like anyone died and has left us an inheritance to divvy up (although we are behaving a lot like that). Rather, we are building on the foundations laid down by our pioneers, building a stronger, better, faster, more nimble ship that will carry us into our pirating future. And as crew, we don't need the 'leadership' to tell us how to manage ourselves -- we take care of each other.

If the competing candidates now want to captain a cruise ship instead of a pirate ship, well, it's been a fantastic 50-year voyage. There are no lifeboats...

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Achievement unlocked

This is the team (well, most of it -- there were others helping out in many areas but who couldn't be in this pix) that fulfilled a long-standing ambition of mine. It took 14 years, but NYeDC has finally performed in a professional venue for a national youth theatre festival that isn't the SYF. Cast, crew, coach, all, were dedicated and driven; and strongly bonded through the experience. Good humour abounded in this production. One team member, in particular, received the appellation of 'comedy gold' for his off-stage comments during the feedback interview event. Theatre noobs, all, but thrown in this pressure cooker of juggling rehearsals and schoolwork over these few months, they've grown so much. This team knows what professional theatre is like, running five shows in four days, and it's not hard to tell that they love it. I'm so proud of them!

Last night's show marked the culmination of a peak I've been patiently scaling. My one (and only) career ambition is now fulfilled. I need a new destination that lies somewhere over the horizon. Today, I have the luxury of asking myself, 'where do I go from here?' The answer, I hope, will come to me soon.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hiddenradio2 -- big sound from a tiny can

Another early arrival -- my set of 2 Hiddenradio2 Bluetooth speakers. Ordered from Kickstarter more than a year-and-a-half ago, it arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep this morning.

Unboxed and activated (right), it looks like a soft drink can. The bottom layer is the speaker proper, while the upper bit is the casing that slides up and down on a smooth touch-activated mechanism. In fact, there are no visible controls at all. Just touch the top surface for on-off; start-stop music track; or draw circles, clockwise for more volume anticlockwise for less. Right now, I've got a single speaker playing music on Spotify. The sound is beautifully crisp, no hiss, no fuzz; lyrics, instrumentation and percussion sharp and clearly reproduced -- though given its size, it's not bass-heavy. Maybe when the app is released on the respective app stores, there'll be a software equalizer to play with. Still, sound projection is omni-directional, which means it should do well outdoors, especially when paired with its twin for a stereo effect.

For the moment, though, I'm thinking of keeping one unit at home and taking the other to work. Yes, there are times I need an easily set up wireless speaker system while being hard at work. This device should fit the bill quite nicely!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

It's timely

This box arrived at my doorstep even before I got the notification that it was on the way.

It's my new Pebble Time bluetooth watch and its magnetic charging cable. a couple of hours' charging, and I'm supposed to get a week's usage out of it. Let's see...

Not much to look at now, since it's fresh out of the box and I haven't activated it yet. It looks functional as it is. No fuss, just clean lines and an assurance that it... just works.

There! On the wrist and connected! A simple e-paper display in colour, and cutesy animations precede notifications of incoming activity from its paired smartphone. The design is slightly slimmer than its predecessor, the Pebble, and with a curved back it's a lot more comfortable to wear. The side buttons feel more robust and more satisfying to push as well. And that's just it for the physical construction. I have yet to explore the Pebble Time app that promises loads more watchfaces and other utility apps that will keep me busy and distracted for a while.

The Pebble Time's arrival was also particularly timely as the old Pebble's e-paper display is starting to bleed, causing the graphic images to smear badly. So, time for a change, I say!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Rising above merit

Meritocracy is a great idea to build a society around. It upholds the ideal of equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of social background; ethnicity; creed; or any other impediment that might hold an individual back from doing better in life. Our country is built on the idea of Meritocracy. Those who prove they can, deserve the biggest rewards is what we believe. Unfortunately for us, that's not how Meritocracy works. I'm not saying that our version of Meritocracy doesn't work, I'm saying that the mechanic of a meritocracy in general does not work the way we think (or wish) it would work.

The central tenet behind Meritocracy is "the best man (or woman) for the job". True. Whomever has the ability will also have a job. But no one said the job had to pay well. Meritocracy works fine in determining an individual's starting point. The transition between schooling and getting employed is certainly determined by the merit of one's academic qualifications, no question there. Entry-level requirements and starting pay can be said to follow along a merit-based scale. So it's no lie to tell the kids to study hard to get a good [entry-level] job.

But once in a job, merit is acquired by meeting job requirements, and sometimes taking up higher education is part and parcel of those job requirements at higher levels. So far, that's what we do understand of how Meritocracy works. What we haven't quite grasped yet is that being competent in one's job is not commensurate with the expected rewards that go with it. So when we berate our overwhelmingly well-paid top policy-makers for not being competent at solving the problems they are being paid to solve, what we fail to comprehend is that they are not actually being paid to solve those problems.

Let's talk about 'competence' first. Being competent means to do one's job well. It's a matter of training, a little aptitude, and a whole lot of experience in order to be competent at one's job. The longer one stays in a job, therefore, the more likely one will become increasingly competent in it. This is especially true if the job is a safe, normal job that many other people are doing and thus it is easy to benchmark one's 'competence' against an industry average. If the job we are competent in is a job many other people are also doing, that's a job that isn't likely to be well-paid because everybody's doing the same thing.

So how do some "lucky" people wind up with the jobs we know are better paying? The better paying jobs are the ones that have few common equivalents. These are the jobs that shoulder huge risks, or are so incredibly difficult that no one knows how to do them properly -- or what 'properly' even means in this context. At these levels, people are rewarded, not because they are competent but because they are willing to take on those risks. We're talking about the risk of epic failure; of losing big and committing career suicide; of facing daily public ridicule and disparagement; of losing fortunes, family reputations and possibly their personal freedom if their failure is somehow interpreted as a criminal act; of letting down lots of people who depend on their continued success (which no one has guaranteed). In short, these people are not being paid for being competent, but for their gumption and audacity to take on these risks which we ordinary folk would never dare to even consider.

Ironically, while the top paying jobs are the jobs we prefer not to do, the least paying jobs are also jobs we would rather not do. The "sandwich class" is stuck being competent in our little fish-bowl world.

It's easy to be competent swimming in a little fish bowl, not so if we choose to swim in the ocean. There is potential for much reward out there in the ocean, but it's safer in our fish bowl where we get three square meals a day -- that's it. Maybe we are so competent we can actually solve those big problems we complain about every day, but unless we are willing to take that plunge from frying-pan into fire, don't count on those well-paid people to solve them for us. It really isn't their job to do so.

In short, the way to the best rewards in a Meritocracy is to say "yes, I'll do it!" and take responsibility in situations we have absolutely no experience in; to tackle problems no one (not even ourselves) knows how to solve; and to basically make people believe the impossible can happen. If we don't get it right, or if we screw up, say we are learning from our mistakes and we'll do better next time. It's either that or face the consequences and die.

The Meritocracy our society is today was envisioned by our late former PM, Mr Lee. We are fortunate that when he stepped up to the plate, he faced the impossible and made it happen. Although we paid him well for his efforts, we all firmly believe that he didn't do it for the money. His life was exemplary -- someone who made huge waves abroad, yet kept a humble, frugal, incorruptible personal life at home. He did what he had to because he believed in us. He fought for us; played hard-ball for us; he WAS us to the end.

With his passing, the mantle has firmly fallen on us, the next generation to continue where the previous generation has left us. Now we will we find out if our generation is made of the quality of steel he and his generation were made of. Will we discover that the meritocratic state that hems us in and determines how we are to live does not actually define us? Like him, can we rise above Merit and just do what needs to be done, do whatever it takes because the bigger picture means more to us than our individual whims and fancies? I don't know, but I will say that Mr Lee was an extraordinary gentleman, and  -- I hope -- the likes of whom we will see again in this present generation.