Elephants At Work

by Alfred Wong

More often than not, especially when we are still adapting to a new workplace, we have yet to find our pace of how much we are capable of covering. In the end, we tend to try doing everything but end up achieving nothing, much to the disappointment of others.

This happens most often with big, complex tasks which we call ‘elephants’ – large, messy problems that take up huge amounts of space in our everyday work.

In his book “Green Beret Time Management Secrets”, Michael Martel explores why we should know how much we can bite, but more importantly, how we can chew and swallow these elephants.

  • Elephants stink
    When you don’t finish eating an elephant on time, the awful smell starts to fill up the office. Similarly in team projects, if you can’t fulfill your quota on time even when you assured your colleagues you would, it will annoy them and hinder the progress of the team. To resolve this, be honest about your own capabilities when tackling huge projects or tasks. It’s okay to say no to a huge elephant if it avoids trouble for the team later down the line.
  • Elephants can get tiring and bland
    Even if it is the most delicious dish, eating an elephant every day can lose its appeal. The same applies to repetitive work as they become more tedious and boring the more you repeat them. Be aware of these ‘hidden elephants’ formed from many repeated tasks into a huge, endless wave of work. If not intervened early, a string of repetitive work can cause you to lose interest and motivation, and become less productive. 
  • Elephants are great for dinner parties
    When faced with elephant problems, divide and conquer. Cut the large elephant into smaller parts, pass it around, and finish the elephant with some help. Employees often get stuck at huge, complex tasks not just because they don’t know where to start but also because they insist on taking on the elephant by themselves. Smart, proactive workers know when it’s essential to defer their judgements, and delegate tasks to others to lighten the load. The resulting work becomes faster, easier, and of a higher quality. 

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Alfred Wong, our resident 2018 Intern for Positive X.

Want to know more about internship opportunities at Positive X? Send us your resume now at info@positivex.asia to find out more!

Edited by Ben Chong.


Design Thinking: Positive X’s July Cohort

By Ben Chong

On July 14, we had one of our best experiences in Positive X’s One-Day Design Thinking Workshops. With intense activities and rapid design challenges, we graduated 21 fully-fledged Design Thinkers!

The July cohort has been our largest group so far in all our workshops. Our coaches saw individuals from all backgrounds transform into powerful innovators as they learned the process of Design Thinking.

Here are some of our favourite moments:

Want to know more about Design Thinking in Malaysia? Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Ben Chong, our resident Design Thinking enthusiast and creative.

Edited by Ben Chong.

How To Teach Design Thinking To Kids

By Ben Chong

Just last week, Positive X held its very first Design Thinking For Youths workshop at Me.Reka Makerspace. We had an amazing time teaching children and teens the process of empathy, ideation, and turning their ideas into reality. Our workshop helped Young Makers realise the importance of Design Thinking, and how to use it in their future.

Check out our video below to peek how we taught Design Thinking at the workshop!



Want to know more about what we did at the workshop? Check out our blog post where we broke down the process: Design Thinking For Youths: Teaching Kids Real-World Problem Solving.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. Our Young Makers programmes aim to transform kids with Design Thinking and cutting edge education into powerful innovators. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Ben Chong, our resident Design Thinking enthusiast and creative.

Edited by Ben Chong.

The Dos and Don’ts of The Working World: Part One

By Ben Chong

A few weeks ago, our founder Marcus was invited to speak at Sunway College’s Explore Talk. The initiative helps students prepare for the working world after graduation. By reaching into his own career experiences, he explained how in reality every industry valued an how well-developed an employee was over how well educated they were. Marcus spoke about the 10 key skills most graduates would need to possess outside of education in order to succeed:

1. Be Self-Aware

Self-awareness lets us be concious of our own character and feelings at all times. In workplace settings, this becomes a crucial skill. When things get heated and the pressure of deadlines get to you, being self-aware allows you to step away momentarily, observe your emotions, and understand how its affecting your work. Competent employees use self-awareness to both minimise harm when they’re at a low point, and maximise their productivity when they are in a good mood.

2. Be Observant
Too often, employees are too quick to share their opinions instead of observing situations first. As new employees, learn to take time to observe yourself, your surroundings, and your work. Being able to hang back at the workplace, and analyse situations can lead you to better, more thought out ideas. This lets you contribute more effectively at work, and helps you stand out among your peers.

3. Always Communicate
One of the trickiest skills to master as an employee is to communicate well with others. In most cases, fresh graduates and experienced employees alike make the mistake of giving their opinion too quickly. When you prioritise listening to others over giving your own opinion, you allow coworkers and clients space to express themselves, understand them more deeply, and make better responses. This turns you into an employee who is valuable, trustworthy, and patient.

4. Engage In Politics
Despite technology’s fast-evolving flood into various industries, the success of a workplace still depends on its people. As new employees, its important to realise all great projects hinge on the responses of people involved. Learn to engage in the politics of a workplace, check who is involved in your tasks, and make a point in interacting with them. This lets you encourage more positive responses within projects, and increases your chances at success.

5. Learn To Value Add
Take the initiative to do more than just your initial workload, and become a well-rounded employee. Encourage yourself to observe and ask your clients and supervisors what more can you contribute to help them. This may involve taking on additional tasks, roles, and even further learning. By learning to value add, you push yourself to become a multi-faceted employee who is reliable in and out of your typical roles.

6. Keep Changing
Monotony is the greatest enemy of any employee, especially new ones. Let yourself change and adapt faster to the working world by adopting a learning posture. Always ask yourself how you can do your work more efficiently, explore new ways to fulfill tasks, and allow yourself to experiment in the workplace.

7. Think Critically and Creatively
Critical and creative thinking are more than just buzz words and mandatory classes. By adopting these two thought processes, you provide yourself a framework to launch deep analysis, and create meaningful ideas in the workplace. This allows you to catch the finer details in projects where others may falter.

8. Spot Trends
Mobile media consumption has reportedly almost quintupled since 2011 from 5% to 24% of the global population, more than 2 billion people. This rise in technology and media consumption has made trend-spotting a valuable work asset. Being able to spot trends allows you to come up with better ideas, solutions and insights. Even by investing just a little time to catching up with the news can give you an edge as an employee.

9. Embrace Failures
The truth of the matter is that you will fail at your work, a lot. No one is perfect but by admitting so, you allow yourself to embrace those failures, and learn from them. Learning to embrace failures lets you become a resilient and reliable employee who can be counted on to pick themselves up when the pressure is on.

10. Find mentors
One of the biggest misconceptions new employees fall for is assuming their career can only be built alone. This only serves to isolate new employees, make them feel lost in their work, and prevent them from working efficiently in teams. To avoid this, make it your priority to seek out a mentor. Be open-minded, and seek out senior professionals to ask for their opinions. Having a mentor can help ground you in the most difficult times, and their experience can be key to helping you grow into a valuable employee.

Want to know if you’re ready for the working world? Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Ben Chong, our resident Design Thinking enthusiast and creative.

Edited by Ben Chong.

This article is part one of a two-part series.

Design Thinking For Youths: Teaching Kids Real-World Problem Solving

By Ben Chong

Much of today’s education is founded on ‘rote learning’ where classes are more focused on memorising content instead of understanding the why. Rather than engaging the material, schools put more value on finishing textbooks and written exams. This has left children and teens with a huge lack of experience required to be creative and solve real-world problems. So in an increasingly complex world, how do we ensure they have what it takes to innovate and succeed?

On July 25 to 26, Positive X ran its very first inaugural Design Thinking For Youths workshop as part of our Young Makers programme. The workshop is designed to equip kids and teenagers with real-world problem solving skills by understanding user needs. We did this in 4 simple steps:

Learn With Real Challenges
From the get-go, we posed a real-life Design Challenge to get our participants out of the typical classroom experience. By presenting the clear challenge of ‘How Might We Make Publika Mall More Fun?’, we avoided the ‘rote learning’ mindset and instead focused on actively solving a real-life problem. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Coaches also encouraged participants to move around, and explore the mall in order to understand their users. This provided Young Makers with a new surge of independence and creative thinking in the workshop. Children and teens started expressing opinions and ideas more confidently when they realised their contributions would affect a real project.

Approach Users In Real Life
Understanding your users is key to solving real-life problems. In the Empathise step of our workshop, young participants learned to interview real users at Publika. By doing so, children and teens learned how to explore the feelings and needs of users.
Later on, we found out our Young Makers never thought of understanding challenges from the source. They reported the activity gave them more confidence to speak with users in the future to solve problems.

Understand Problems Deeply
Problems can be vague and complex even to the most seasoned of innovators. During the Define step of our workshop, Young Makers learned how to drill down the information collected from users to find a universal need.
Our coaches chose to use only hands-on activities to help the Young Makers categorise all their observations. With lots of sticky notes and paper, children and teens found it much easier to sort information on a physical space. Eventually, this let them identify which users and needs they would aim to help.

Execute Ideas Rapidly
Here’s comes the fun part! In Ideate, Young Makers were responsible for coming up with as many ideas as possible in an hour. Children and teens were given unrestricted freedom to be as creative as possible with their solutions. To facilitate this, our coaches provided simple thought exercises to encourage their ideation.
Copy of P7270256.JPG
For example, Young Makers were asked to ‘Think like a superhero‘, and imagine all the things they could do with unlimited strength, smarts, and wealth. This helped encouraging them to create more unconventional ideas, and resulted in two amazing prototypes by the end of our workshop.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. Our Young Makers programmes aim to transform kids with Design Thinking and cutting edge education into powerful innovators. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Ben Chong, our resident Design Thinking enthusiast and creative.

Edited by Ben Chong.

5 Secrets To a Successful Internship

by Alfred Wong

Here is the truth. Entering the office as a fresh intern carries certain expectations to be upheld, even if they aren’t told to you face-to-face. Interns tend to fall into two categories in these situations:

Fast learners who pick up on these expectations and work on them, and late bloomers who fail to keep up and eventually get overwhelmed by their first foray into the working world.

In my case, I was the latter. I was a slow learner so I constantly frustrated my colleagues at my first job because I was unprepared for situations I would have never expected on the job. This led to huge negative impacts in my work but I was lucky enough to have mentors who helped me pick myself back up.

So for those of you entering the workforce hoping to leave a glowing referral on your resume, here are 5 unspoken rules I learned to live by for a successful internship

  • Pay attention to your surroundings
    Pay attention to who or what is more important, such as tending to your superior first while your assignment can wait. Respond clearly and directly to what the other person just said, as being responsive shows that you are paying attention. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have reprogrammed yourself to automatically respond and give a prompt answer.
  • Stay hungry to learn more
    You only live once, so don’t be satisfied with just passing or not failing and learn all you can. Shadow how your senior negotiates a deal and be observant of your surrounding work culture. Ask your superior for regular feedback on how to improve and reflect on it during your journey home. Enrich yourself with the hands-on experience and resources that you can’t obtain in part time jobs. By doing so, you show your initiative and you will be regarded as someone dependable. Whatever you learn could prove invaluable in your future careers.
  • Always be honest
    Honesty is a rare quality in the modern competitive corporate or startup ecosystems, and well worth their weight in gold. Giving honest compliments in interactions and earnest effort at work subconsciously builds trust. In time, trust feeds into credibility, respect and eventually faith that you won’t let others down.
  • Adopt a “Can-Do” Attitude
    Be as reliable as a secretary. There is nothing a superior likes more than an employee who is always thinking ahead and takes the initiative. It could be small acts such as preparing the meeting room and equipment without being instructed to do so. That way, you will come off as a reliable and flexible employee that people want to hire.
  • Manage your appearance and conduct
    Take care of your appearance, adopt a suitable attire and choice of words that align with your workplace. As an intern, you present a visual image of the organization you work for. By donning a formal attire, your appearance speaks an unspoken message that you are being professional, and taking your client seriously.

All ready and set!
These 5 secrets will help you in your first steps into the working world but it ultimately boils down to your attitude of taking it seriously. You should treat your internships as valuable opportunities that serve as a crucial foundation of your future careers. Good luck!

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Alfred Wong, our resident 2018 Intern for Positive X.

Want to know more about internship opportunities at Positive X? Send us your resume now at info@positivex.asia to find out more!

Edited by Ben Chong.


Positive Stories: Yong Vin Kit

by Yong Vin Kit

Joining Positive X as an intern was a surprise for me. I never imagined at any time in my life that I would get to work in a startup. But here I was, learning everything from scratch, and realising that there really was a lot out there that I didn’t know.

Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to list down everything I learned in my three months at Postive X – startups are expected to be lean right? So here are 3 of the biggest lessons I learned as an intern.

It’s about the team

We’re often told that being competitive is the way to go to succeed in life. But life isn’t just about being the best, it’s also about creating value. Working with other people is the best way to create that value. Interning in a startup made me realise that collaborating can create amazing results that will amaze you. But it can be tough to work together, especially when you’ve been told all your life that the winning team are the only ones who matter.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it certainly wasn’t built by one person! Organising events, and brainstorming for ideas made me appreciate the value every individual can bring to the team. Nurturing that cooperative and collaborative relationship between individuals is key to sustaining a healthy, productive working environment.

Expectations, expectations, and expectations

Working life is all about managing expectations. While we’re used to meeting a list of prerequisites in order to excel in our classes, that’s not the case when you start working. One main difference between both is the kinds of expectations at stake.

In school, I studied to meet the expectations of my parents, friends, and teachers. Every effort I put in, and every mark I earned was made for their expectations of my own performance. However, my internship showed me how a change in perspective was needed. When you work for a company, every effort you make, no matter how small or big, could determine an entire project’s success or failure. Unlike school, you not only have to meet your own expectations but have to take into account the collective expectations of your colleagues and workplace as well.

But most important of all these lessons…

The only failure in making mistakes is not learning from them

The fact of the matter is that you’re bound to fail a lot when you first enter the workforce. Your knowledge and abilities are constantly challenged and under pressure, especially if you’re working in a startup that’s relatively new! You’re bound to realise that a new job or a new business can pose intense learning curves, and throw lots of obstructions in your way to success.

But the beauty of it is that you don’t have to be afraid of you’re failure. In my 3 months as an intern, I learned from my mentors at Positive X it didn’t matter how many times I failed but how many times I learned from failing. Everyone has to start learning from somewhere – true failure only occurs when you don’t stand back up at the first bump.

So don’t be scared of making mistakes, embrace them as opportunities to get better at handling the same problem next time instead!

Learning on the job is an entirely different world to learning from books. But be brave and enthusiastic about the challenges you encounter, and you’ll soon find yourself growing into a powerful team player.


Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

Yong Vin Kit is a 2018 Positive X Intern, who is involved in market research, and organises workshops and training regimens for Positive X’s Design Thinking programmes. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Finance with Honours from Sunway University. Check out his LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/yongvk/.

Want to know more about internship opportunities at Positive X? Send us your resume now at info@positivex.asia to find out more!

Edited by Ben Chong.


Managing Expectations in the Workplace

by Hannah Azlan

Managing expectations (and your stress levels) is the single most important skill you’ll learn in the workplace. “Back to the drawing board” and “I thought you had this covered” are two phrases you don’t want to hear from your boss, and they’ll inevitably affect your performance review, bonuses and the like. All of this causes stress, leading to emotional and physical stressors which will affect your performance at work.

Having trouble? Take these three easy steps to navigate expectations.


Understand what is expected of you. Assuming that you and your boss are on the same page will be a huge mistake. It’s in your best interests to take responsibility for understanding – in detail – what your priorities are and what will be considered a success. Here are a few key points:

  • What specific objectives are you expected to accomplish?
  • In what timeframe(s)?
  • Are they realistic?
  • How will your progress and performance be judged or measured?
  • What are the priorities?

If you’re coming from a management role, share these expectations with your team, and filter the actions downstream accordingly. Giving others a realistic milestone of what success looks like for the team will give them the confidence to move forward.


Maintain your performance with continuous communication  to gauge progress, assess risks, and adjust actions. Keeping your boss in the loop ensures they’re aware of your progress, and lets them marshal additional resources or expertise to overcome any finicky obstacles. Here are some tips:

  • What method does your manager prefer for communications?
  • Do they prefer the summarized version, or hear the supporting evidence?
  • Does your manager reward people who solve problems on their own, or those who ask for advice and collaborate on solutions early on?
  • How will you inform them of potential issues or barriers to achieving the objectives?

If you’re a manager yourself, help your staff by letting them know your communication preferences. No one’s a mind reader – so don’t become obstacles to your own success.


Confidence is a double-edged sword. It is crucial you speak up when expectations are unrealistic, or if your project is in jeopardy.. Forging forward in silence when there are significant risks will not end up reflecting well on you, or your manager. While the the initial discussion may feel uncomfortable, the outcome of being honest is that everything is more successful for everyone involved. Here are some key points for an honest conversation:

  • Are there areas where the expectations set for you are unrealistic?
  • What concerns do you have about being able to achieve your goals?
  • Do you need to ask for adjustments in your annual objectives, or modify timeframes?
  • How and when will you bring up concerns to be addressed?

From a management perspective, make sure that you foster an environment where your team feels comfortable sharing concerns and raising issues. Work through challenging situations with them to build trust, because that’s important for creating a cohesive team.

The expectations that go unspoken between colleagues and employers can have a huge impact on the health of an office. Without proper communication for expectations, frustration and negative emotional labor can pile up in the workplace. Take heed of these consequences today, and manage your workplace environment better by openly speaking with each other.


Want to learn more about how to change your workplace culture for the better? Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about us at http://www.positivex.asia.

Hannah is our resident copywriter and social media savant. Check out more of her on Twitter at @hannahcyanide.

Edited by Ben Chong.


Design Thinking To Manage Workplace Stress

by Yong Vin Kit

Taking up my first full time job was a real eye-opener. Thought that all those years of stressing yourself out from studying was the worst time of your life? Well think again! But that’s another story for another day.

So what is the best way to manage stress in the workplace? Well, a quick Google search gives you tons of ideas from exercising to tapping into your senses to even faking a smile (whaaat?).

But another great way of managing stress could be Design Thinking. Originally created by the Architecture School at Stanford, it’s a five step process that helps you understand what the people you want to help need before you create a solution.

So how can a process meant for architects help you overcome stress in the workplace?

Here’s how!!!

Step 1: Stop and think about your problem

Sometimes problems are problems because we tend to overcomplicate things, which is no surprise since you may have a dozen or more things coming at you in the office at once. Give yourself a second to really think about the problem and ask yourself: “Is the problem really as urgent as I think it is?”, “What is the most important problem I’m facing right now?”, and “Will this problem affect my other problems?”

Step 2: Write down your problems in one sentence

Once you’ve have a clearer picture of the problem, try writing it down to one sentence. For example, if you have a project that’s due next week, you can write “A project due next week is still short on data”.

Note: Do not create a to-do list now as it can reduce the number of ideas in the next step.

Step 3: Brainstorm for ideas

Stay open for ideas. Brainstorming all by yourself can be hard since there’s no one else to bounce ideas out of. So try getting a friend or colleague to help. As with all brainstorming sessions, keep an open mind and consider ideas no matter how whacky they seem at first.

Step 4: Use the simplest idea

Once you have a list of ideas you can chew on, choose the simplest. Now you can come up with a to do list or plan how you would like to use your idea in solving your problem.

Step 5: Start it small

As the saying goes, big things come in small packages. Start small when you’re using your idea. For example, you may want to schedule enough rest time for yourself to destress yourself. If it works, think about going bigger. If it doesn’t, maybe try something else on the list.

In a nutshell

There may not be one best way of managing stress for everyone, but Design Thinking can definitely play a part in helping you overcome problems that are stressing you out. So try it, and see if it fits your style of managing stress.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Yong Vin Kit, our resident 2018 intern at Positive X.

Want to know more about internship opportunities at Positive X? Send us your resume now at info@positivex.asia to find out more!

Edited by Hannah Azlan and Ben Chong.


Solving Problems With Empathy

By Hannah Azlan


As we all know, Design Thinking (or DT as we like to call it) is a unique approach to solving problems.

DT solves problems with people in mind, which means we try to empathise the problems people we’re trying to help are facing before we try tinkering a solution.

Another way of putting it is that we need to understand what our stakeholders need before we actually try to help them.

Knowing Your Stakeholders

Take Uber for example. Before the age of ride-hailing apps, taking a cab can be daunting experience, if there’s one where and when you need it to start with.

That was what their founders famously found out, and realising that it’s what all cab users would face, they decided to do something about it.

Uber got around all those problems by creating an app that allows users to book their own cabs anytime they want it via a push of a button.

In short, the guys at Uber found their customers’ pain points, problem solvers can create solutions that have long-lasting impact on users and society as a whole.

Understanding the problems faced by the people you’re trying to help, whether it’s through listening to them or putting yourself in their shoes, helps you shape your own solution to their problem.

Shifting Paradigms

Besides bringing you closer to other people, empathy can change the way you see a problem.

We often forget “What’s the real issue here? Why am I trying to here to find a solution?” before diving in to find that solution. And we often end up wasting time and resources proposing ideas that do little to solve the issues of people who need help.

While in Nepal, Stanford University student Linus Liang was trying to understand why premature birth was a real serious problem.

His team thought of creating a cheaper incubator for hospitals – until he realised that many hospitals were well equipped… but empty.

To their surprise, the team realised that the problem wasn’t because Nepal didn’t have enough incubators, but that the distance between homes and hospitals was too far.

This was a paradigm shift that led to the development of the Embrace Baby Warmer – a device that would keep a newborn warm until he gets to an incubator.

Empathy helps to frame the problem from a users’ perspective. Just imagine how much time it would have taken the Stanford team, policymakers and health experts to overcome Nepal’s high newborn mortality rate if they continued framing the problem the same way?

“Humanising” the Problem

Empathy reminds us that there’s just one bottom-line on why they’re looking to solve a problem – helping people.

Malaria kills nearly 500,000 people each year in Africa. Yet, due to a lack of understanding of the issues faced by locals, Unicef-distributed mosquito nets found their way to being used as fishing nets as the need for gathering food was more urgently needed.

Unicef in Africa needed a solution, and fast. In response, it started the U-Report, a two-way messaging platform communicates life-saving info with local communities and solicits feedback.

Since then, the program has helped to reduce misuse of mosquito nets in communities where they are being distributed.

Getting users involved in the problem solving process helps reduce miscommunication and misunderstandings. The first step towards realizing the need for it is, of course, empathy.

Bottom-line: Putting People First

In a rapidly changing world, problems that are constantly evolving need solutions that can re-adapt themselves all the time.

That’s why problem solvers (and design thinkers) need to remind themselves what’s the bottom line – helping the people who need it; and empathy opens the door to understanding that need.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Hannah Azlan,our our resident copywriter and social media savant. Check out more of her on Twitter at @hannahcyanide.

Edited by Ben Chong.


Call It Living

I grew up dreaming. I wanted to have my own business – a business that is on the road to world domination.

I remember vividly that I knew this is to be true on one of my trips to Singapore. I cannot remember what the speaker was expounding on – something on dreams, make your dream happen (yada yada yada) – but I felt strongly convicted that I will have my own outfit someday. It took 8 years for this vision to bear fruit. Not as bad as Noah but it was bad enough in my books.

It was not smooth sailing at the start. My first ever attempt (back in 2004) was cut short in just 6 months – quite foolishly because I quit my job and declared that I wanted to start my own gig – with no plans in hand. Quite sadly, I had to rely on someone else’s product to sell and they were not convinced that I am the right partner. As this product had a long sales cycle, my savings ran out which brought me to the decision to hop back into the job market, painfully and shamefully, with my tail between my legs. Even though it was my fault the venture failed, it was painful nonetheless.

My second start, OrangeTree was a little more promising. We sold handmade baskets sourced from the Philippines. It was by accident – we came across some pretty baskets over there, we took a liking and took the gamble of stocking up, lugging them back on the plane and selling them to families, friends and hey, at the bazaar! We quit after the second attempt at shipping in the stocks when we were clobbered with a 20% import duty – which literally ate into our margins! At that time, making a grand total of RM8,000 for a couple of months work was outstanding.

This taught me important lessons – that my wife is better than me at remembering product prices and most importantly, it taught me that I could really make money. You see, I have never sold anything in my life before this. This built my confidence.

My third attempt was PositiveLinks Asia, a boutique executive search firm, which I started late 2010.

Truthfully, if I were a betting man, I would not have wagered on myself. And to the reason why, let me share with you my life qualifications.

  • I’m of average intelligence. Really. My IQ scores suck (but not that bad). Like I mean, I can really identify with Moses when he said that he was of “slow speech and mind”. I amm toooo.
  • I’m a late bloomer. I need time to figure things out, to mentally process them. I have no witty comebacks. No insights to share or spare.
  • I’m no sales guy. Someone recently mentioned that I did not have the “killer instinct”. He’s right. After 7 years in business, I still don’t.
  • Did I tell you that I’m monolingual? I can only speaketh English. As this post is evidence itself, I can’t write for s**t.

But, with God’s grace, it has been 7 years a very fulfilling, non-linear journey. The good and the painful; of growth, of pruning and of adjustment; and of faith.

I gained and I grew. From success, mistakes and failures in a life that isn’t linear. However, I don’t intend to rabble on.

What I’m trying to express is this – that setbacks and failures shouldn’t be reasons for us to quit our dreams, to quit trying. Sure, our confidence takes a good knock, we blew off (burn, burn, burn) some serious cash, we upset people, we are mocked. But the thing is this – we experience failures only when we put ourselves out there.

I failed many times. This is what I did – I picked myself up, spend some time in solitude to lick my wounds and unwind, figure out what the learnings were and then carry on with my life.

Is PositiveLinks Asia on the path to world domination? Not even close. But I still harbour this ambition. World domination may not ever come but this doesn’t mean I should quit dreaming.

After all, is this not what we call living?

How I Learnt To Take Performance Reviews In Stride

As a young professional, the very thought of going for a performance review still makes me a tad nervous – not as bad as the first few sessions early in my career life but that fleeting moments of nervousness is still there.

Our Asian culture which dictates that we must always respect our elders, seniors, or bosses, and to humbly accept their feedback and criticism for they are wiser, rich in experience, and always right; I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of doom even before I step into the meeting.

Over the years and having gone through a number of performance reviews, I realised that I do look forward to these sessions because at the end of it all, I have walked away with insightful gems.

Sheila Heen rightly said in her book Thanks for the Feedback, “It’s the receiver who decides what they’re going to let in, what sense they’re going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change.”

However, it is not always straight-forward process because there are times when receiving and responding to feedback, my emotions have gotten in the way – clouding my rationale and ability to distil constructive feedback and actionable insights, reducing me to tears, or becoming snappish towards my superior.

Fortunately, life is a learning processes filled with kind and patient seniors and bosses who were generous enough to share their experience with me on how to make the process a positive one where everyone wins.

So here is my two cents worth on how you can manage your own performance review better:

Think Positive

Try be positive and pro-active. Instead of dreading your review, kick-start the meeting on a good note by letting you managers know that you interested to know how you performed and would like to understand what are the areas that you can improve on.

And just in case, also them know that you may need time to think about their feedback and comments as you may have more questions and thoughts. In-directly, giving them heads up that you may request for a follow-up session.

This works for me as it allows me to focus on what is being said rather than what I feel because of what is being said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a time-out if you need it

If somewhere in the middle of your review your boss says something that you think it’s wrong or unfair and it gets you worked up you may want to request a break to “cool off” before you say or do something that may damage the relationship or your reputation. You may be a bit apprehensive to ask for a break, but trust me both parties would appreciate it.

It might also give you a few minutes to calm down, think about what triggered you, and when you return to the conversation, you’re more ready to ask specific questions.

Concentrate on clarity

It’s pretty normal impulse when someone tells you how you can improve, your first response may be to think about all the reasons why they’re wrong. However, it can be quite harmful if you cling to it and dismiss everything your boss says. Try let go of your defensiveness and focus on getting clarity from what’s being said. Understand what your boss is saying as clearly and specifically as possible and to ask a ton of questions.

If your boss tend to be vague with his statements like “We want to see more leadership from you” or “I’d love to see you get more proactive.” It’s up to you to find out what they mean.

On the other hand, if you work for an organisation or bosses that is very generous with their praise and would avoid any hint of negativity, you may want to take a different approach.

Asking your boss “Do you have any feedback for me?” is good because there’s always room for growth but it may come across unclear as to what sort of feedback you would like. Ask instead for one or two things that you can do to improve.

Take notes and ask friends to evaluate any criticism

One thing that I find which helps me maintain keep an open mind and keep my emotions in check during performance review is taking notes – not mental ones but actually writing down the feedback you’re receiving.

Not only does it helps you focus on something else other than your own feelings or the voice in your head, it acts as a reference point for further questions and clarify.

Additionally, if it still troubles you, these notes allows you to go to a trusted buddy to ask for help to sort through it. They can give you a candid feedback that you may not have been able to see yourself.

Let it go!

Some of us are harder on ourselves, so there will be times when we would take a feedback and criticism more personally. It’ll eat us up on the inside and it takes up a lot of mental space. If that sounds like you, I do suggest putting things into perspective on paper – journaling it down or drawing a chart with columns to make sense on what the feedback is about and what it is not will enable you to have a more balanced point of view.

It helps to remember that a performance review is designed to help you grow as an individual and team player in an organisation rather than merely criticism. Along with these little tips, I hope you can view your performance review in a different light and gain some insights that will help you with your career and personal growth.

Finding Your Focus In The Chaos of Juggling Multiple Projects

It is normal for most of us to find ourselves juggling the demands of many teams at once in today’s workplace because theoretically, this system of “multiteaming” offers a number of upsides: You can deploy your expertise exactly where and when it’s most needed, share your knowledge across groups, and switch projects during lull times, avoiding costly downtime.

However in a  research conducted over the last 15 years by Heidi K. Gardner and Mark Mortensen, they found that for most of us, getting pulled across several different projects is stressful and less productive than theory would suggest.

Switching attention between tasks takes time and it saps our focus and energy.

When moving between teams, you will need to adjust to different roles — you might be the boss on one but a junior member of another, for example — which changes not only your level of accountability but also your ability to juggle resources when a crunch time hits.

On top of that, you may also need to nagivate between different teams with their own unique cultures, including relationships, routines, symbols, jokes, expectations, and tolerance for ambiguity which would required energy to manage.

How can you manage your time and stress-levels if you’re on multiple teams? And how can you stay focused on what’s most important?

In their article, Gardner and Mortensen suggests to start with some up-front planning and to follow a few simple rules:

Prioritizing and Sequencing Your Work

Get the big picture. Schedule a regular status check on all your projects to note milestones. By proactively identifying crunch times when multiple projects have high demands, you can better manage your time and set expectations.

The speed and demands of your projects determine the ideal frequency of check-ins, and the management style and seniority of your stakeholders sets the tone for establishing priorities when push comes to shove.

Sequence strategically. Pick one task and focus on it intensely, rather than juggling. Start with the task that requires the greatest concentration and give it your undivided attention.

Decide on a distinct set of must-achieve outcomes, define which actions are necessary to achieve only those results, and ruthlessly stick to them.

Research shows that attention residue — thoughts held over from a project you’re transitioning from — takes up valuable mental space, so the fewer switches you can make in a given day, the better.

If you must multitask, then coordinate and group any compatible duties. For example, if you know you are going to need to answer phone calls at random intervals, work on another task that can be interrupted at any time.

Setting and Communicating Expectations

Protect yourself. When you’re focused on a high-priority task, buy yourself a mental escape from unnecessary intrusions. For example, when I’m writing — my highest-concentration task — I put an automatic reply on my email telling people I’m not checking messages till a certain time of day, and offering my mobile number in case of an emergency.

By telling people not to expect an instant reply, you buy yourself some time to focus, while reassuring them that you will pay attention — later. Including your phone number signals your willingness to respond but also makes people think twice about whether their request truly needs immediate attention.

Document and communicate progress. Seeing momentum helps your team leaders feel empowered and in control. Be up front when problems arise. The earlier you say, “I’ve got a conflict and might have trouble delivering 100%,” the more leaders will trust you.

One seasoned team member in the authors’ research shared that many of his responses to team requests are simply two words: “On it.” Even this super-brief response tells colleagues that he received their request, so they know he’ll follow up when he can provide more details.

The significant financial benefits of multiteaming mean it has become a way of life for many of us however following this simple guideline may just help us manage the stress and focus when faced with multiple projects all at once.

One Of Life’s Most Important Questions

All of us know what we want in life that would make us happy – a great career, financial security, good looks, popularity, the list goes on. However, what we always fail to consider is how much are we willing to sacrifice for the things that we think would bring us happiness.

Mark Manson hits the nail squarely on the head when he wrote “… happiness requires struggle.”

“What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”

When you want something, you need to realize that you need to want it enough that you are willing to go through the hard work, struggles, and risks of failure for it.

For example, if you want a great physique, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the gym sessions over social outings, and the sacrifice of giving up junk food.

If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten thousand.

In today’s world of instant gratification, we are conditioned to expect the reward without the struggle, the results without the process, instantaneously. But hey, life does not work that way.

The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life. What we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.

If you find yourself wanting something for weeks, months, or even years yet nothing is happening, you better ask yourself if it is something that you really want. Better yet, is it something you want ENOUGH?

The answer to that question will help determine what are the struggles that you are willing to through to achieve things that will make you happy. If not, perhaps what you want is just a dream and not something that you truly want.

People who enjoys the daily struggles of a gym are the ones who get in good shape. People who enjoy the drudgery of long work-weeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who move up it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainty of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.

They know their costs and are even willing to enjoy the struggle because they understand happiness requires struggle.

So ask yourself, “What are you willing to struggle for the happiness that you want today”?

This post was inspired by Mark Manson’s The Most Important Question Of Your Life. 

Learning How To Agree To Disagree Without Conflict

Remember the last time you had a conversation with someone whose opinion or views you did not agree with? How did that conversation go?

My guess, it was probably not the most pleasant experience and it would be something you would try to avoid getting into the next time.

I don’t blame you because I’m not a big fan of conflict either.

And given that in this day and age where everyone is entitled to their own perspectives and opinions – some driven by various levels of verifiable information and, often, excessive amounts of emotion – it is not surprising many of us do not like to talk to people we disagree with.

We prefer to huddle with people that we agree with, and make ourselves feel good by agreeing with each other about our conclusions, without getting into much about why we believe what we believe.

However, in doing so, we are limiting ourselves from connecting with people as well as expanding our world view.

Alternatively, learning to engage with someone who disagrees with us without getting into conflict is something we could learn to master especially if we want to easily connect with people who may have differing views from us.

Megan Phelp-Roper’s TED Talk, urges all of us to talk and to listen to the people we disagree with. Here, are her tips for how to have effective conversations:

1. Don’t assume bad intent.

Assuming ill motives almost instantly cuts us off from truly understanding why someone does and believes as they do. We forget they’re a human being with a lifetime of experience that shaped their mind, we get stuck on that first wave of anger, and the conversation has a very hard time ever moving beyond it.

But when we assume good or neutral intent, we give our minds a much stronger framework for dialogue.

2. Ask questions.

When we engage people across ideological divides, asking questions helps us map the disconnect between our differing points of view. That’s important because we can’t present effective arguments if we don’t understand where the other side is actually coming from and it gives them an opportunity to point out flaws in our positions.

But asking questions serves another purpose; it signals to someone they’re being heard. When my friends on Twitter stopped accusing and started asking questions, I almost automatically mirrored them. Their questions gave me room to speak, but they also gave me permission to ask them questions and truly hear their responses. It fundamentally changed the dynamic of our conversation.

3. Stay calm.

This takes practice and patience, but it’s powerful. When my husband was still just an anonymous Twitter acquaintance, our discussions frequently became hard and pointed, but we always refused to escalate. Instead, he would change the subject. He would tell a joke or recommend a book or gently excuse himself from the conversation. We knew the discussion wasn’t over, just paused for a time to bring us back to an even keel.

People often lament that digital communication makes us less civil, but this is one advantage that online conversations have over in-person ones. We have a buffer of time and space between us and the people whose ideas we find so frustrating. We can use that buffer. Instead of lashing out, we can pause, breathe, change the subject or walk away, and then come back to it when we’re ready.

4. Make the argument.

This might seem obvious, but one side effect of having strong beliefs is we sometimes assume that the value of our position is, or should be, obvious and self-evident; that we shouldn’t have to defend our positions because they’re so clearly right and good; that if someone doesn’t get it, it’s their problem — that it’s not my job to educate them. But if it were that simple, we would all see things the same way.

We are all a product of our upbringing, and our beliefs reflect our experiences. We can’t expect others to spontaneously change their own minds. If we want change, we have to make the case for it.

Try these four tips the next time you are in conversation with someone with a differing opinion. And regardless of what happens, do not be discouraged.

Remember, you went out of your way to expand your world, to connect with another human being, and, if not to take down a wall, to at least build a window in one.


“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart

The Art of NOT Procrastinating

It is the start of the day and I’m ready to rock and roll!

I get up with a full list of things I want to accomplish – get started on a work project, talk to a couple of clients about a new idea, get that presentation deck ready for an up coming meeting and etc.

Oh, there’s also a few emails that I need to send out from last week, and that other document that is pending for another project with a looming deadline, ugh, but those can still wait. right?

Before I know it, there’s this little voice saying perhaps some of the “more difficult” items can wait while I focus on the “easier” work so that I can get those done faster hence giving myself a bit more time later to focus on the harder tasks.

It becomes a vicious cycle of procrastination with plenty of stress, guilt, and frustration of not getting things done which does not seem to end!

After many procrastinating cycles and even more pending items later, I realised that there is actually a very simple way out of it – just get it done. Throw in a bit of discipline (and intentional focus), soon I was getting things completed – and that felt good!

Recently, I came across an interesting article by Heidi Grant on the Harvard Business Review which sheds light on why a person procrastinate and employing the right strategy to over come it.

In short, there are 3 reasons why we are more inclined to procrastinate. By recognising them and adopting the suggested solutions, it may actually help us be more effective getting things done.

Reason #1: We put things off because most of us are afraid of messing things up.

Solution: Try adopting a “prevention focus.”

There are two ways to look at any task. One, we can do something because we see it as a way to end up better off than we are now – as an achievement or accomplishment. This is what psychologists call promotion focused.

Or two, when we are driven by anxiety or doubt, and is afraid we might mess up a project or task. These fears and anxieties may actually paralyse us from taking any action at all.

So instead of thinking about how we can end up better off, we see the task as a way to hang on to what we have already got – to avoid loss. The author calls it prevention focus.

When we are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action.

Overcoming our fear of messing up is a lot easier when we realise that there are more dire consequences if we do nothing at all.

Reason #2: Because we do not “feel” like doing it.

Solution: Ignore what our “feelings” and just do it.

Oliver Burkeman, author the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning, ” or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we cannot get ourselves to feel like doing these things.

To be honest, if you think about it, somehow we have been sold the idea that to be motivated and effective, we need to feel like we want to take action. To some degree, yes we need to be committed to what we are doing BUT we do not need to feel like doing it.

Afterall, successful people and top athletes get to where they are today because they rely on routines that forces them to put in a certain number of hours a day – rain or shine.

So what is stopping us? NOTHING! Because we really do not have to feel it to get things done.

Reason #3 We things off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.

Solution: Use if-then planning.

We have to admit that our will power is limited and some days getting ourselves to do things we find tedious, boring, or awful can be a challenge.

This is where the if-then plan comes in handy.

Making an if-then plan helps us decide specific steps we need to take to complete a project and it also decides where and when we will take them.

For example, If I am unable to finish the report by 2pm, then I will stop what I am doing and work on the presentation that my colleague requested.

Deciding in advance what we are going to do, when and where we are going to do it, leaves us very little time to deliberate – reducing the demands placed on our willpower to decide at the critical moment because we have already made a decision way ahead.

So the next time you find yourself struggling with procrastination, take a step back to figure out why you are doing so and use one of the 3 strategies above to help you be more effective.

The Other Side Of Fear: Pushing Past Your Biggest Anxieties

In a recent article by Tim Ferriss taken from his book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, he shared that most people would choose unhappiness over uncertainty and failure no matter how brave they consider themselves to be.

Even Ferriss himself admitted that he spent years being held back by his fears and insecurities until sometime in 2004, while trying to convince himself to take a sabbatical year, he stumbled upon a very simple solution – defining his worse fears and worse-case scenarios then finding workable solutions around it.

In doing so, not only did he realise that his worse nightmare, at most, will have a temporary impact on his life but not to the extent that it is life and death. In fact, it turned out quite the opposite. Not only did he manage to that that 15-month sabbatical that he was so hesitant to take but his business flourished while he was away.

Drawing from his personal experience, Tim shares 7 questions we can ask ourselves when faced with a major or life-changing decision to help us push past our biggest fears and take that plunge!

If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100 percent certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.

  1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering.
    • Write down what doubts, fears, and “what-ifs” that pops up as you consider the big changes you are planning to make. Visualise them in detail. Would it end your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1 to 10? Is it really permanent?
  2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily?
    • Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
  3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios?
    • Now that you have defined your nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal or external?  How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have other people done this before and pulled it off?
  4. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?
    • Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1 to 3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
  5. What are you putting off out of fear?
    • Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be — it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it and do it. As Tim Ferriss says, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
  6. What is it costing you – financially, emotionally, and physically – to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action?
    • It is important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed 10 more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you?
  7. What are you waiting for?
    • If you cannot answer this without resorting to the BS answer of “good timing,” the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world.

Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.