Thursday, June 01, 2017

Lessons in Leadership - Part 2

12 Lessons in Leadership

In this part, I will share the quotes and thinking behind Coach Wooden's leadership qualities. I feel it is best learnt quotes as that provides a context for understanding. No point going through theoretical points.

Lesson 1: Good Values Attract Good People

John Wooden built his basketball program a certain way - athletically, ethically, morally - because he believed it would attract a certain type of person, the kind of individual he wanted on the team. He was right.

“Build it and they will come.”

Character—doing the right thing—is fundamental to successful leadership.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” He was referring to character—the habits of our daily behavior that reveal who and what we are. I wanted to create good habits in those under my leadership. Standards, values, and attitudes were important to me. I wanted them to matter to those I taught.

Select people who are seeking you and your organization. Perhaps they recognize shared values, standards, and attitudes.

Lesson 2: Use the most powerful four-letter word (LOVE)

Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the result.

The smallest good deed is better than the best intention.

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. The individuals on our UCLA teams became true members of my extended family.

“I will not like you all the same, but I will love you all the same. Furthermore, I will try very hard not to let my feelings interfere with my judgment of your performance. You receive the treatment you earn and deserve.”

And while I could have great love in my heart for those under my supervision, I would not tolerate behavior from anyone that was detrimental, or potentially detrimental, to the welfare of our group.

Lesson 3: Call Yourself a Teacher

Each member of your team has the potential for personal greatness; a leader’s job is to teach them how to do it.

In the eyes of many observers, John Wooden’s business card should say “Coach,” but this is not what he would choose. From the earliest years he has called himself a teacher.

Four Laws of Learning: Explanation, Demonstration, Imitation—correction when necessary—and Repetition.

An effective leader is very good at listening. It’s difficult to listen when you are talking.

All won’t follow; some need a push. Some you drive, others you lead. Recognizing the difference requires a knowledge of human nature. That’s where being a good student helps you in your leadership.

Lesson 4: Emotion is Your Enemy

There were four or five games in my career when we started out way behind like, 18–2—just getting killed. I’d look over at Coach Wooden, and there he’d sit on the bench with his program rolled up in his hand—totally unaffected, almost like we were ahead. And I’d think to myself, “Hey, if he’s not worried, why should I be worried?”

  - Fred Slaughter, UCLA 1962-1964.

Emotionalism—temperamental flareups and drop-offs—makes consistent high performance impossible.

If you let your emotions take over, you will be outplayed.

Ideally John Wooden wanted the team to improve during each practice and game—every day, each week—throughout the season until they were at their finest on the final day of the year.

Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.

I came to understand that if my own behavior was filled with outbursts, peaks and valleys of emotion and moods, I was sanctioning it for others. As the leader, my own behavior set the bounds of acceptability.

Lesson 5: It Takes 10 Hands To Score a Basket

Be sure you acknowledge and give credit to a teammate who hits you with a scoring pass or for any fine play he may make.

In basketball, a field goal is scored only after several hands have touched the ball. In business, the “ball” is knowledge, experience, ideas, and information. Whether on the court or off, that “ball” must be shared quickly and efficiently to achieve success.

Have one team, not starters and substitutes. No one feels good being a “substitute.”

Each must feel valued, from the secretary to the salesperson to the senior manager. When they understand that they are contributing members of the team and that their role has value, good things will occur.

No matter how great your product, if one of your departments doesn’t produce, you won’t get the results you want. Everybody must do their job.

I told players that we, as a team, are like a powerful race car. Maybe a Bill Walton or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the big engine, but if one wheel is flat, we’re going no place. And if we have brand new tires but the lug nuts are missing, the wheels come off. What good is the powerful engine then, when the wheels come off? Every part, big or small, on that race car matters. Everything contributes to the running of the race. And, of course, a car needs a driver. I was the driver.

Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

Lesson 6: Little Things Make Big Things Happen

There was logic to every move. Details of socks, shoelaces, and hair length led to details of running plays, handling the ball, and scoring points—hundreds of small things done exactly as Coach Wooden wanted them done.

Coach Wooden taught that great things can only be accomplished by doing the little things right. Doing things right became a habit with us. Habits stand up under pressure.

Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.

High performance is achieved only through the identification and perfection of the small but relevant details, little things done well.

Minor details, like pennies, add up. A good banker isn’t careless with pennies; a good leader isn’t careless with details.

Most observers saw only the trophy. Few comprehended the magnitude of perfected details preceding the trophy.

Talent must be nourished in an environment of high performance standards. Sloppiness breeds sloppiness. When it comes to details, teach good habits.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Lessons in Leadership - Part 1


A long hiatus doesn't even begin to describe how long it has been since I last wrote anything meaningful. I have kept this series in draft version for a while, with the intention to clean it up before publishing. 

However, I have decided to take a different approach. The lessons that I am about to share are relevant now. Let's just treat it as a work in progress and I will polish it from time and again as I see fit.

This series is targeted at new and mid-level managers who want to make the next leap in their career in the corporate sector. 


Over the last 9 months, I sort of chanced upon a journey on leadership. The organization that I work in nominated me as one of the 40-odd people to participate in a course called "Harvard Business Leadership". One of the first "lessons" I learnt in that course is that: ALL models are wrong. Some are useful.

On the surface, it seems like a joke, but on a deeper level, it taught me two very important lessons about myself.

1. I have a strong tendency to rely on models and frameworks in the things that I do.

This is not because I am a robot (which I am). I rely on models and frameworks because they allow me to predict a likely future. Yes, I get my predictions wrong a lot of the time, but I also get them right just often enough to make them useful. For example, I rely greatly on the Myers-Briggs personality categories in my daily interactions with people. It helps me identify why people do the things that they do, and how I can respond accordingly to suit their personality. The trouble with models is that I need to know when to use which model. Because I have actually been relying on models and frameworks all my life, I just seem to know when to apply them intuitively.

2. I NEED to make use of my strength in viewing things in models and frameworks.

I was reminded by one of the things that was said by Brendon Burchard: Frameworks allow people to REPEAT success. While I seem to be an expert at frameworks, I have only been using it for myself. My wife frequently asks me to share my views on many things in life, because of how I can simplify very complex issues into models or frameworks that makes things easy to understand. That is why I started work on this series on Leadership.

The work below is definitely not my own. They are just notes that I have extracted from the book "Coach Wooden's Leadership Game Plan for Success: 12 Lessons for Extraordinary Performance and Personal Excellence".

The crux of the book is centered around Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success. As the name suggests, the Pyramid of Success contains qualities and attributes that are built from the ground up, with the base of the pyramid serving as the foundation for success, building all the way up to the apex of the pyramid.

But before we can dive into the pyramid itself, we must first start with the right ethics and attitude. As with all powerful tools, using them in the right way is essential to create a positive impact in the world. That is why the book starts off with ensuring that all leaders must start from the right intention.

Ethics and Attitude

Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are. Character is more important.
I am not what I ought to be, Not what I want to be, Not what I am going to be, But I’m thankful that I am better than I used to be.
Throughout the book, Coach Wooden emphasizes progress over perfection. The key focus to be successful should be on continuous and sustainable improvement.

The Ground Rules for Success

Coach Wooden repeats the mantra set out by his father, which is just a simple 2 sets of threes. Simple, but not easy to live up to.

1. Never lie
2. Never cheat
3. Never steal

1. Don't whine
2. Don't complain
3. Don't make excuses

If what it takes to be successful can be summed up into 2 sentences, it would be below
1. Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to stay there.
2. There are no "big" things, only an accumulation of little things done well.

The Pyramid of Success.

Before we can even talk about what it takes to succeed, we must first define success. And I really like how Coach Wooden defines success:
I don't care how tall you are.
I care how tall you play.
Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

Success is totally under your own control. No one can give it to you; no one can take it away. No one except you.

Don’t judge yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you could have accomplished given your ability.

First Tier

1. Industriousness

There is no trick, no easy way. Success travels in the company of very hard work. 
The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Industriousness meant true work at your highest capacity; fully engaged, totally focused, and completely absorbed; no clock-watching, no punching in and out, no going through the motions. 

2. Enthusiasm

Work without "Enthusiasm" is just work. "Just work" is not enough.

As a leader, you must be filled with energy and eagerness, joy and love for what you do. If you lack enthusiasm for your job, you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Industriousness is unattainable without enthusiasm. 

"Working Together" Blocks:
3. Friendship

The time to make friends is before you need them. Camaraderie is a spirit of great goodwill that can exist between a leader and member of the team. 

To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, “You destroy your adversary when you make him your friend.” 

4. Loyalty
There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone,
All that we send out to others,
Comes back into our own.
- Edwin Markham
Give loyalty and loyalty will be returned in abundance. First, be true to yourself and your beliefs. Second, be true to your team.

5. Cooperation

Make sure the people you lead feel they're working with you, not for you. Have the utmost concern for what's right rather than who's right. 

It is often difficult for a strong-willed leader to incorporate Cooperation because listening to others, evaluating, and embracing their opinions and creativity may seem to suggest uncertainty and doubt about your own judgment and convictions. The ego gets in the way of your eyes and ears. It’s easy to get lost in your own tunnel vision.

A strong and secure leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak insecure leader gives blame and takes credit.

Second Tier

6. Self-control

If you do your best, never lose your temper, and never be out-fought, out-hustled, you'll have nothing to worry about.

Control of your organization begins with control of yourself. Be disciplined.

Self-control is necessary in all areas. The choices you make in your personal life affect your professional life. They are not separate. A leader who lacks self-control outside the organization may lack it within the organization.

It starts with control of your emotions, but it extends to having the resolve to resist the easy choice, the expedient solution, and, at times, temptation in all its alluring forms. 

7. Alertness

Nothing is static. Expect each day to bring new threat and opportunity. Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team. 

Never be a spectator. Be in the fight at all times. A leader who is sluggish in recognizing what's going on will soon be going on without a job. 

Perfection doesn't exist. Thus, actively be alert and looking for imperfections in your team and your competition. It is there. Find it. 

8. Initiative

Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.

Having the courage to make decisions and the willingness to risk failure. A team that won't risk mistakes won't win many games. 

The team that makes the most mistakes wins. 

Hesitancy brought on by fear of failure is not a characteristic of great leadership. Play to win rather than "not to lose". Do not be afraid to fail. Use good judgment and then use initiative. The leader who fears failure will often fail to act when action is required.

9. Intentness

It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it. 

Stay the course. When thwarted, try again - harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly. 

Never be satisfied. Work constantly to improve. Perfection is a goal that can never be reached, but it must be the objective. The uphill climb is slow, but the downhill road is fast. 

Good things take time, usually lots of time. Achieving worthwhile goals requires Intentness. There are setbacks, losses, unexpected reversals, hardships and bad luck. Does the fight continue? The team looks to you for their answer. The answer is Intentness. 

Industriousness and Enthusiasm are a powerful combination essential to Success. But the great force they produce must be constant and ongoing. Things achieved without effort are seldom worthwhile or long-lasting. 

Third Tier

10. Condition

What you do away from practice can tear down all we accomplished during practice. 

Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there; mental, moral and physical. 

Practice balance and moderation in all that you do. 
"All we've worked so hard to accomplish on the court today can be torn down quickly, in a matter of minutes, if you make the wrong choices between now and our next practice."
Be concerned with your preparation, not theirs; your effort and desire, not theirs. Don't worry about them. Let them worry about you. 

A leader who lacks physical condition is less likely to summon the mental strength to stand up and fight for beliefs and convictions. 

What you do off the job is directly related to how well you do on the job. 

11. Skill

When you are through learning, you are through. 

What a leader learns after having learned it all counts most of all. 

Know your job and be able to do it quickly and correctly. Knowledge of and the ability to execute your responsibilities will separate you from most of the competition. This means being prepared to do all that your job requires.

Push yourself to keep learning or you will stay as close to the bottom as to the top.

Whether in basketball or in business, you must be able to “get open” and “shoot.” One without the other makes you a partial performer: one who can be replaced because your skills are incomplete; one whose leadership falls short because of your own limitations when it comes to knowing your job.

You must also be fully aware that mastery is a lifelong process of learning. The best leaders are those who realize it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts most.

Knowing what you’re supposed to do means little if you don’t have the Skill to do it.

12. Team Spirit

Initial definition:
Team Spirit is the willingness to lose oneself in the group for the good of the group. 

But... a "willingness" to be selfless does not satisfy the requirements. It suggests begrudgingly doing what is required for the team's welfare. 

New Definition:
Team Spirit is the eagerness to sacrifice personal interests or glory for the welfare of the group - is a tangible living force that transforms individuals who are "doing their jobs willingly" into an organization whose members are dedicated and eager to work at their highest level for the good of the group. 

The star of your team is the team. 

"We" supersedes "me".

Fourth Tier: Getting to the top: Trademarks of Greatness

13. Poise:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same...
- Rudyard Kipling
Just be yourself. Don't be rattled by events, whether good or bad. 

Hold true to your belief that what counts most are your own high standards and making the effort to do the best of which you are capable regardless of how bad or good, the situation may be. 

Poise means being true to yourself even if it goes against popular sentiment, even if you must stand alone. 

How do you acquire Poise? In fact, you don’t. Poise acquires you. It is part of the harvest you reap near the top of the Pyramid. Suddenly it is there, part of you and your leadership style and substance: Poise. It also becomes the style and substance of your organization.

Have respect for, without fear of, every opponent, and confidence without cockiness in regard to yourself. 

14. Confidence

You must earn the right to be confident, the kind of confidence that comes from proper preparation

Confidence cannot be grafted on artificially. Real abiding Confidence, like Poise, is earned only by tenaciously attaining those assets that allow you to reach your own level of competency.
Beyond the winning and the goal,
beyond the glory and the fame,
He feels the flame within his soul,
born of the spirit of the game.
And where the barriers may wait,
built up by the opposing Gods,
He finds a thrill in bucking fate
and riding down the endless odds.
Where others wither in the fire
or fall below some raw mishap.
Where others lag behind or tire
and break beneath the handicap,
He finds a new and deeper thrill
to take him on the uphill spin,
Because the test is greater still,
and something he can revel in.

- Grantland Rice from
“The Great Competitor”
Fifth Tier

15. Competitive Greatness

A goal beyond victory, a standard above winning.

Competitive Greatness: Performing at your best when your best is needed; a real love for the hard battle. 

Competitive Greatness exists in the journey and culminates in the tough competitive fight in which you and your organization are at your best because you’ve prepared to the full extent of your abilities.

When you define success as John Wooden does, the only thing to fear is your own unwillingness to make the effort - 100 percent - to achieve your potential in leadership and teach those on your team how to achieve Competitive Greatness as an organization.

Personal greatness is not determined by the size of the job, but by the size of the effort that one puts into the job. This applies to everyone on your team.

16 and 17: Faith and Patience: Symbolic Mortar

A leader must have Faith that things will work out as they should - a boundless belief in the future. 

A wise leader also knows that good things take time. If difficult goals could be achieved quickly, more people would be achievers. But most people - many leaders - lack Patience. 

Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details. 

Success may result in winning, but winning does not necessarily make you a success. Success, as I define it, is harder to achieve.

The above are pretty much quips and quotes scattered throughout the very user-friendly book written by Coach Wooden and Steve Jamison. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety for budding and mid-level managers in the corporate sector. I would even encourage sharing the book with the rest of your team as it will definitely set the direction for your department and team culture.

In the next part, I will start diving into the 12 Lessons in Leadership that Coach Wooden has to share.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

5 Benefits of Being Married to a Doctor

Some of you may know, about 10 days ago, my son was born through elective C-section surgery. For those who don't know what this means, it is basically an operation near the abdominal area of the mother to remove the baby from the womb. It is a fairly straightforward surgery. Our doctor advised us that natural birth posed a higher risk for the baby, but less risk to the mother. On the other hand, surgery posed a higher risk for the mother, but had minimal risks for the baby. Based on that, we decided to take the latter route.

And over the last 10 days, while I was busy celebrating the joys of being a new father, I had some time to ponder our 9-month long journey that led up to the pinnacle of Baby Michael's birth.

There were many ups and downs but on hindsight, this ride was made so much smoother just because my wife is a doctor. I don't show it often enough, but I truly and greatly appreciate the fact that my wife is a highly skilled and knowledgeable physician.

The list below is the top 5 of many other benefits of being married to a doctor.

1. Free personal medical advice/medicine/medical documentation

No prizes for guessing that I get free medical advice. However, being a doctor in the government clinic, she also enjoys the benefits of knowing other doctors, pharmacists who can dispense medication/supplements during her pregnancy.

She was also working in Sibu, Sarawak, which is about a 2-hour flight from Selangor, where I work. As a pregnant lady, taking flights back to West Malaysia requires a doctor's note. And my wife flies home at least 1-2 times a month. Having to go to a clinic to get a doctor's note every time she has to fly would have been a pain in the butt. But since she is a doctor who works at the clinic, getting those notes became no hassle at all.

2. Calm in the middle of a storm

By now, some of you may be wondering how can a pregnant woman fly so often. That is the very nature of my wife. In general, I truly believe that doctors are trained to be strong and independent. To remain calm when everyone around them is panicking. Otherwise, they would never get past 5 years of medical school.

What I truly appreciate about this characteristic is that her calmness keeps everyone else around calm. There were so many unknowns and uncertainties throughout the 9 months of our long distance pregnancy experience. How often do we have to fly back and forth to see each other? What happens if the baby had to be born prematurely? Can she survive living practically alone for 8 months carrying a child?

On hindsight, the past 9 months have been a miracle. My wife has been a rock throughout the last 9 months (and more). We are both truly blessed that our son is born healthy.

3. Other doctor friends

One of the coolest things about being married to a doctor is that they have plenty of doctor friends. I attended a couple of wedding dinners of my wife's friends, and we usually get seated at a table full of doctors. Generally, I don't really understand 50% of what they are talking about, but that is OK because that also means I don't have to talk very much. Just nod and smile.

Jokes aside, one of the other cool benefits is that she knows a Obstetrician & Gynaecologist who gave us a very significant discount for conducting one of our scanning sessions. We decided to go to a private hospital to get a 3D scan during the 7th month of pregnancy just to see what our son looks like.

A typical checkup costs close to RM300, depending on the hospital. We got to do our checkup for a steal. We could not believe the bill when we saw it.

Another great example is that my wife's ex-boss is also a Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. A very good one at that. Because of this, we knew exactly where to go to deliver our son. We did not have to shop around at different hospitals to find the most suitable and affordable option. We went straight to her ex-boss at a government hospital and we got excellent service there. More on this later.

4. Willingness to save others first

This is definitely one benefit that cannot be oversold, especially once you become a parent. For the first few days, your entire world (and sometimes more) revolves around the needs of this "can't-be-reasoned-with" dictator. 

WARNING: DO NOT stand or look too closely when you change a baby's diaper.

With the arrival of a child, if not managed well, the needs of the child can often turn into a major source of conflict for both parents. Whose turn is it to change the diapers? Whose turn is it to pick up the kid from soccer practice? This kind of behavior can often lead to unsustainable marriage practices as discussed in my previous article.

The Wall Street Journal quotes a research paper:

About two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child, according to data from the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening families. 
Sorry for all that negative publicity for having children. What I am trying to say is that while we share in the joy of having children, very often, couples forget to appreciate one another, and start to revert to their instinct of self-preservation. They start placing their own desires ahead of the family's. 

However, it is my belief (stereotypical as it may seem) that doctors somehow are less susceptible to selfish tendencies. This belief is founded on the basis that doctors generally have to fork out about half a million Ringgit to pursue what is considered to be one of the most difficult programs in university. To top it off, for the investment in being a doctor to be financially sound, one has to complete his/her specialization and sometimes sub-specialization before he/she can earn the big bucks. By this virtue, I choose to believe that doctors inherently have some gene in their body to want to help others first. 

And that is why I feel reassured that my wife and I will be able to raise our child in a wholesome and happy family. 

5. Special privileges at government hospitals

Last and perhaps the most important is that we really do get special benefits/treatment at government hospitals. 

Anyone who has been to a government hospital in Malaysia will most likely experience the expected dread that is the bureaucracy of the Malaysian public sector. I am actually quite pleased to say that we had quite the opposite experience at the government hospital that Michael was delivered in.

During our final check-up before deliver, I was admittedly dreading having to do it at the government hospital. Even though our appointment was at 12.30 pm, my wife insisted that we had to be at the hospital by 10.30 am and wait there for 2 hours. This would have been completely unacceptable in most other circumstances, but this is what we have come to expect from the Malaysian public sector. 

However, during our registration, the administrative assistant at the counter told us that we could just come at 12.30 pm and we were definitely too early for our appointment. We would be the first in line in any case. The multiple steps required by the bureaucracy still existed, and we had to do a bunch of silly administrative chores. Ordinarily, we would have been served by nurses and medical assistants that had sour faces (perhaps due to overwork). 

The biggest difference I noticed was that every time they looked at our files, they immediately took notice of the fact that my wife was a doctor, and their sour faces turned into smiles (that exude rainbows and unicorns). They became extremely courteous and polite, serving us to the best of their ability. I noticed the same thing happening again during the day of Baby Michael's delivery. All the nurses kept referring to my wife as "The Doctor" like she was the Don of some Italian Mafia. I was pleasantly amused. 

On top of that, only a few days ago, we had to take Baby Michael for his jaundice check-up. We were concerned that his jaundice had spread to his legs and decided to go straight to the Trauma and Emergency Unit. The medical assistant at the gate had initially tried to turn us to the clinic before allowing us to seek consultation with the doctors at the emergency unit. However, upon finding out that my wife is a doctor, he quite promptly ushered us in without any further argument. Thankfully Baby Michael is just fine and we were informed that it was safe to go home.

There were many other small examples of how a government doctor really does have special privileges, but the above is just simply a clear exhibition of the "good fortune" that I have experienced just because my wife is a doctor.

It goes without saying, but I really must say that I am truly grateful and blessed with a loving wife (not just because she is a doctor) and I look forward to raising a very cute and intelligent son with her. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

3 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married

Ordinarily, catchy titles like these are just gimmicks or click-baits that make you click to an article that falls severely short of the promised content.

I did not even intent to make this into a public post, but after the continued urging and coercing by my peers, I felt that perhaps, there is some value of this wisdom that I have acquired through many years of studying human relationships and personalities.

One could argue that apart from finding your purpose in life, finding your soul mate is considered to be one of life's most important quests. It would seem unlikely that anyone could reduce such a complex matter to just 3 questions.

As a keen observer of life, I would actually argue the opposite. Most of life's greatest wonders are often simplest. When asked to describe their soul mate, many people have a list of criteria that they tend to belt out: e.g. smart, funny, has a nice smile, kind eyes, caring, loving and the list goes on. But this is the problem. Once the list gets too long, the criteria becomes impossible to meet.

So how then, do we know if we are marrying the right person? The 3 questions below will help you determine if your partner is that right one.

1. What does he/she do when shit hits the fan?

It is inevitable in life that things can and will go wrong. How does your partner react when you experience an unforeseen and unfortunate event. What does your partner do when your car breaks down in the middle of the highway. Does he drive out to pick you up? Or does he ask you to take a cab?

While it may seem like common sense, it is very far from common practice. The point I am trying to make is that, is your partner willing to sacrifice his own convenience to assist you in overcoming yours? Such behavior would be a clear indicator of how he/she would treat you when you are in need.
It is easy to be caring and loving in good times. But the true test of the right partner is whether he will stick around in bad times. Try to observe your partner's preference over a period of time. This is the most easily observable trait. If he/she fails this first question, we don't even have to go to questions 2 and 3.

2. Do you have common principles?

What are principles? Google gives us this definition:

a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior.

An example of life's principles is Abundance:

Abundance: We live in a world of abundance. There are unlimited wealth and unlimited opportunities for everyone. So don’t worry about whether you can succeed in something and focus on how to succeed in it.

Another example:

Being yourself: It is better to be a first rate version of yourself than a second rate version of someone else.

There are always tells for your partner's principles. Does your partner require other people's approval to to feel happy? Do you feel that your success is defined by your own terms and not on others?
Bear in mind that there is no right or wrong here. It is just how you choose to live your life. However, if your fundamental beliefs are different, it will more often than not become the source of your disagreements.

You will begin to notice that many of your arguments often begin or end with the question, "Why do you keep.... *insert verb*...?" These are clues that show that you have differing life principles.
Having similar life principles is infinitely more important than liking the same movies or the same songs. Tastes and preferences change over time. But our fundamental beliefs and principles? I would not bet on it.

3. Am I bargaining?

Well, sorry because I tricked you. This question us actually in 2 parts. So technically it is 4 questions. But these 2 questions are so interlinked, I decided to lump them together.

3a. Am I bargaining with my partner?

Some people tend to see this as compromise. Yes, if done sparingly, this can be perceived as compromise. For example, this question manifests itself when situations like these occur:

"Yesterday I washed the dishes. Today is your turn."

"I just hung the clothes out to dry earlier. Can you please bring it inside?"

On the surface, this appears like helping each other out. However, if these scenarios happen too frequently, it can transform into pettiness. It is actually a symptom of being calculative. For a relationship to be sustainable, partners should be generous with one another. As in all relationships, we often get in return more than what we put into the relationship.

As my wife often suggests, always aim to give 10% more than what you are supposed to. You will be surprised at what you get in return.

3b. Am I bargaining with myself?

Often, in our journey towards finding a soul mate, we come very close. We arm ourselves with our lists of criteria, go out into the world, in search for the partner that meets all our criteria. After years of searching, some of us get lucky, but most of us, usually come close.

Some of my peers have commented that they love their partner very much, but there is just one or two things that they wish that their partners could change. The counter argument to this is that we should accept our partners as they are, their flaws as well as their imperfections.

I submit that it is hogwash. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as finding someone who is perfect. Rather, only someone who is perfect for you. You would usually find yourself in such a situation when your partner fails Question No.2. On some level, your principles are not aligned. Eventually, you will find start bargaining with yourself, especially regarding your partner's behavior. You tell yourself that you should be able to accept them for who they are, including their flaws.

Therein lies the problem. The fact that you perceive your partner's traits as flaws is in itself problematic. Traits are just traits. If you have to bargain with yourself to accept your partner's traits, you will be starting an internal conflict that will continue to fester until it eventually erupts.

However, that is not to say there is no remedy for this. For starters open communication is key. We need to be able to communicate our dissatisfaction openly. In order to avoid getting stuck with being unhappy with certain traits, we should openly discuss how we can move on together as a couple.

For example, if you are a neat freak and find that your partner likes to leave things around all over the place. It is easy to just whine about how they should keep keep their stuff neat and tidy. However, we need to take the extra step and provide an enabler for that behavior. One way is to buy a shelf for them to store their things. Perhaps, the reason they are leaving their things lying around is simply because there is insufficient space to store those things.

It must be surprising that the secret to a lasting relationship can be simplified to 3 simple questions. But it sure beats having to run each and every one of your partners through a list of criteria that cannot be fulfilled in its entirety.

I must however warn that the 3 questions above must not be compromised. If your partner meets 2 out of 3 of the criteria above, it is still very far from being sufficient. All 3 must be met for a long and sustainable relationship.

That said, I wish all of you the very best in finding your soul mates. I would very much like to hear from your experiences in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

5 Awkward Ways To Answer the Question "How Are You?" For Introverts

Ever entered an elevator at your workplace or apartment and see a familiar face that asks, "Hi, how are you?" or some version of that. This is typical in Western culture, especially in the US. When I was studying abroad in Australia, I regularly get asked, "How are you going?". To the unfamiliar ear, the Australian way of asking can easily be misinterpreted as an inquiry of the method with which you plan to travel somewhere.

Nonetheless, being from a Chinese upbringing, the way to ask "How are you?" is perhaps even stranger to the foreign ears. We often hear our elders ask each other, "Have you eaten?". This question can be asked at all times of the day, even when it is not near meal times. How strange is that?

Some people may think that I am over-analyzing this simple but courteous question. But is it really courteous? In the US, when people ask "How are you?", they typically expect you to reply, "I'm good, thanks. How are you?". Any other answer will shock them. I had the great fortune of learning this in my first year of studying in the US. Being the brutally honest person that I am, whenever someone asks me how I was, I typically attempt to tell them about my day, only to notice that they actually have no interest in hearing what I have to say. I soon realized that people asked "How are you?" only as a courtesy, without having the intention to actually find out how I was actually doing.

Not only that, some people even believe it is over-sharing if I attempt to share how I am actually feeling, especially when he/she is not so familiar with me. The thing that bothered me the most was, if you did not want to know how I was actually doing, why did you ask? Call me a robot, but I was programmed to ask only if I am interested in the answer.

That said, over the years, especially since spending almost four years in the US, and 6 months in Australia, I have been able to program myself to answer this troubling question, "How are you?" in five simple ways.

1. Conversation Starter (if I am feeling talkative)

"I am good, thanks. I notice that life is treating you well. What's your secret?"

The above answer says something positive about the person and encourages the person to become more familiar with you as well as to loosen up. If I am lucky, that person will even share some valuable experience with you. As an introvert, this is a perfect way to flip the question around and return to the comfort of being the listener. You get bonus points if you use the above line on extroverts.

2. Conversation Ender

"I'm fine" (with a brief smile).

This shows that I am just not in the mood to talk. Whatever that is happening in my life, I have no intention to share it with you. I don't even have the energy to fake it until I make it. It doesn't necessarily mean that I am having a bad day. It just means that I don't think you are truly interested in knowing how I am actually doing, so please stop asking. I must admit that this is not a great way to make new friends.

3. Autopilot

"I'm good, how are you?" (with a slightly longer smile).

An improvement on No.2. At least it does not entirely shut that person down. I still don't really want to tell you about my life because I don't think you sincerely want to know (or even have the time to listen). I equally have no interest in knowing how you are doing because I am simply not familiar enough with you, but I don't want to appear rude. I have recently programmed myself to say this as a reflex action because really, who wants to hear how shitty my day went?

4. Brutal Honesty

(With a deep sigh) "Life sucks (or some version of it). I am... (proceed telling about your problems for the next 23 minutes)..." 

A real mood killer. While my parents taught me to be an honest person, I came to realize that no one really wants me to be that honest. Negativity breeds more negativity. In an otherwise perfectly fine day, he/she now feels obliged to at least listen to you and perhaps offer a solution to your problems. Besides, remember that the other person really has no interest in hearing about my day. And when someone tries to offer an unsolicited solution, some of us may lash out because all we needed was someone to listen. This is usually a lose-lose scenario and I no longer use this line with strangers.

5. "I No Speak Ingrish"

(Just smile and nod)

Shortest and sweetest answer of all. This can easily be deployed in Western countries. With my Asian looks, many people assume I don't speak very good English. This allows me to get away without answering any question I don't feel like answering. Like "How are you?". This just means that I am aware that you really have no interest in knowing how I am, and I don't feel like lying to you. I am not feeling good, and I don't want to feel obliged to say that I am good. I may not also want to run the risk of having you deploy No.4 on me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Zhuge Liang on Opportunity

"There are three avenues of opportunity: events, trends, and conditions. When opportunities occur through events but you are unable to respond, you are not smart. When opportunities become active through a trend and yet you cannot make plans, you are not wise. When opportunities emerge through conditions but you cannot act on them, you are not bold. Those skilled in generalship always achieve their victories by taking advantage of opportunities."
Zhuge Liang (circa 200 AD, The Way of the General)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More INTJ Insanity

Just taking a quick break from my long hiatus. I swear that I have a perfectly good explanation for the long break. This post is an extension of an earlier post about my personality type. You can take the test HERE. I swear this is not some mambo-jumbo link that you get in forwarded emails or facebook status updates. This is the real deal Myers-Briggs personality test.

While the previous description sounds  a little too braggy, I think this description sounds a bit more objective. For those of you who think (or know) that I am way too complicated, perhaps this explanation can shed some light on the reasons why:

Top Ten Words That Describe Most INTJs:

Tenacious ... Private ... Deep ... Intellectual ... Future-focused
Independent ... Driven ... Intense ... Reserved ... Direct


There are two phases of most projects or meetings: 1) the vision and strategy setting stage; and 2) the execution stage. INTJs tend to gravitate towards the former. Highly future focused, out-of-the-box, logic-driven thinkers, few can match the INTJ’s capacity when it comes to doing what they love - developing long-term strategies and solving complex problems that involve a lot of moving pieces. An INTJ’s mind is unconventional and unrestricted by previous approaches or traditional thinking.


“Good enough” is not typically part of the vocabulary of an INTJ. They haveextremely high standards for both themselves and others, and a tremendous stamina for hard work. They constantly push themselves to achieve excellence in all of their endeavors, which often translates into long hours with more focus and fewer breaks in concentration than most other personality types.


Of all the 16 types, INTJs have perhaps the highest need for continuous learning, and to constantly challenge themselves intellectually. INTJs thrive when they are progressively working towards higher and higher levels of competency and excellence, and are easily bored by assignments or tasks that they have mastered before - or have a straightforward execution.


Rather impervious to criticism and highly intrinsically motivated, INTJs are among the most independent of all the types, and thrive working productively alone for long periods of time. They tend to hold themselves to their own high standards, not looking to others for frequent validation. As a type, INTJs are often uncomfortable giving compliments and regular positive feedback. Finesse is also not a natural gift for INTJs, and if not careful, they can be direct to the point of being blunt - and come across as intimidating or offensive.


INTJs are often well known for their insightful, thoughtful, and unique perspective. Their best ideas and solutions to complex problems usually come after they’ve mulled the topic over for a while. This “percolating” process can take a couple of days, is not always conscious, and more often than not, leads to a solution that just “pops” into their heads out of nowhere when they are alone, relaxed, and are engaged in or thinking about a completely different topic.


Underneath that calm, cool exterior is one of the most rich and well-developed inner worlds of any of the 16 types. The brain of an INTJ is always “on,” processing the complex issues and strategies that INTJs love to tackle (even while they are watching TV). At times, they can be so lost in their thoughts that they walk past people who are saying “hi” in the hallway - and have a hard time quickly switching gears when interrupted at their desk.

Top ten: INTJs are the type MOST likely to . . . 

1. Miss what is going on around them because they are lost in thought
2. Push themselves harder than any other type
3. Work for LONG stretches of time without a break
4. Talk over others’ heads without realizing it
5. Do exceptionally well on standardized tests; achieve excellent academic grades
6. Under-compliment and over-criticize
7. Have a top-notch vocabulary and be an avid reader
8. Catch on to a new idea, concept or approach quickly
9. Need significant time alone each day to feel optimally recharged
10. Have solutions just pop into their head out of nowhere