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Book of Jonah, chapter 4

It amazes me that as human as we are, filled with insecurities, fears, anger and more, God can still use us. Jonah was an angry man – he lived angry, talked angry and when you read the book of Jonah, it’s easy to imagine that he also walked angry. And yet he had the anointing of a prophet, one of the coveted ministries of the day. And had the call to deliver a message to a city.

The backstory in that Bible times is that Nineveh was the enemy of Israel. I’m not sure what the degree of animosity was, but they will allowed travel through the gates into the city.

And what’s even more amazing to me, is that he can still talk angry to God, and not be fried to a crisp with a mere snap of His fingers. I wonder if it was because Jonah was honest with his anger.

If you missed the plot, the 4th chapter of Jonah reveals why Jonah got swallowed by the whale in the first place. Jonah had a message to warn the people of Nineveh about their destruction. He knew that God was good and merciful. He didn’t know if the people would repent, and hoped that they didn’t. He knew that if they did, God would forgive them, and he didn’t want them to be forgiven – he wanted holy vengeance.

“I know you are a Good God and you would forgive them!” I can’t say this angrily without waving my finger into the sky. And the bible adds that he made a place to sit outside the city of Nineveh, to WATCH the destruction happen.

What is it about God that allows us to be honestly human?

Mental Models for Life

As we live life, we encounter an immense amount of input, receive just as much stimuli, and have to make sense of them to make decisions or take actions. How do we actually process them? I had thought that we usually winged it or allowed some personal guidelines to function through them.

Recently I’ve learned that we instinctively develop some mental models so that we simply do not become overwhelmed. And that we can go beyond instincts to pick up and practice new models.

The book Mental Models by Pete Hollins outline 30 essential thinking tools that everyone should develop and internalise. He posits that each of us may deploy 100 or more mental models, depending on our life, our job, hobbies or interests. These 30 models form the 80-20 Pareto rule (which is also a mental model, itself) that gives us improved decision-making, logical analysis and problem solving.

I am rather stoked that I already live some of the mental models before reading the book. Like “Address ‘Important’, Ignore ‘Urgent'” as a way to prioritize time and focus. I had arrived to some mental models through other reflections or readings, and didn’t quite name it the same way. His outlines (and stories) help clarify the framework for each model.

Some models you may know:
– Ignore “Black Swans”
– Separate Correlation from Causation
– SCAMPER
– Murphy’s Law
– and yes, Pareto Principle

I plan to reflect on more models and place my own examples into them, so as to make the models mine.

How to read a book

I never knew that I was doing this wrong, or there are much better ways to read a book, until I came across this blog.

If you had struggled to finish any book. Or got stuck halfway. Or lost the plot or the intent. Or felt that what you are reading doesn’t add to you constructively. Then felt guilty putting it away?

Then you need to check out the articles at fs.blog/reading

Some early learning:

  • There are good books and there are bad books.
  • There are also good books with bad writing.
  • It’s ok to quit a bad book, or a book with bad writing.
  • Good books stand the test of time. Best books can be read twice.

Four levels of Reading
1. Elementary Reading
2. Inspectional Reading
3. Analytical Reading
4. Syntopical Reading

We spend most of our time between levels 2 and 3. Do Inspectional Reading to skim and find get a feel for the book. Analytical Reading is a deeper dive to muse, meditate upon and digest further.

Speed reading is not about how many books you get through. What matters is what you absorb.

And there’s a segment on taking notes which I’ll try out on subsequent books.

As I aspire to write, I realise that I’ve to read more and read widely. Stay teachable, yet still maintain my opinions. Or at worst, find a way to put the learning through the fire, testing them. I’m going to be working in some of the practices I’ve found here.

How do you read your books?

(As an aside, putting down books means that my earlier goal of book reviews and building my commonplace book becomes something I’d need to re-examine.)

Learning of Combinatorial Creativity

Stumbled upon Maria Popova of BrainPickings.org and I’ve just learned of the concept of Combinatorial Creativity.

I’ve been exposed to it through my life, and must have deployed it many times towards problem solving and innovation causing. It’s that I’ve not heard this term before, nor the champion for this, until recently. I still have trouble typing “combinatorial” without backspacing to correct it a few times.

The concept is simple to implement. Because it’s lived.

It’s about being exposed to a myriad of everything; bits of experiences, memories, knowledge, insights, ideas across different disciplines of science, arts, math, spiritual, in mediums of art, music, words, charts, video and all. And letting your mind brew, stew, combine and connect them into something new, something meaningful.

I’m definitely over-simplifying this science, seeing the number of white papers written about it on scholar google.

For now, I’ll follow Maria Popova and the growing pool of creators who speak about this area. And dive into different types of content to allow my thoughts to combine.

Why Great Customer Service isn’t an Element of Value

As I pondered on the Elements of Value Pyramid, I wondered why Customer Service isn’t on that list. And yet many sales people chant that during their pitch. Why isn’t it on the Pyramid?

That’s because nothing beats a working product.

Customer service in the best form, is when it’s part of the solution delivery, like when clients make insurance claims. The lesser form is for a graceful recovery process to a defective product or an ill-managed service.

A couple of years ago, I bought a scanner-printer from a reputable brand. After an easy self-installation, the print alignment test didn’t work. The scanning alignment was off too.

So I contacted their help desk. And that’s when excellent customer service began. They first emailed me new printer drivers. And the installation didn’t implement. They then sent me an app to setup my desktop as a web client so that their Client Service agent could implement the new drivers. All the while carefully avoiding to say that I might have messed up the earlier attempt. And they (the agent escalated to bring his manager into the conversation too) reached the same conclusion of the failed implementation. The driver was buggy.

On the third work day, they took over my desktop again to reinstall the whole printer application and driver, from some other corporate link. That seemed to fix the printing alignments. But the scan alignments were still off.

They said that they will send me a replacement printer of the same make and model. That rapidly arrived the next day, hand-delivered by some courier company. By this time, I had expressed that I was not touching any software installation, so we arranged a date for them to come online again to finish the process. About two more attempts.

The scanner alignment was better, but not perfect. When I scan full A4 documents, they worked well enough. If I needed to scan passport photos, the auto-detect cropping was slightly off, by about 1cm to one side. The best workaround offered was for me to outline a bigger frame, when I needed to scan smaller images.

We agreed to leave this replacement printer in a stable but not-so-critical condition. And oh, the first scanner/printer which I originally had? They said that I could just toss it – they didn’t want it back.

Now on review, the customer service team was well beyond excellent. With the time spent online together, the replacement printer, the courier overnight – their cost-to-serve must have been 10x the cost of the printer. And it does not erase the bad aftertaste I have of that global brand. How could I? I was still living with a kludged solution.

A quality product beats a great customer service recovery process.

Breaking the Iron Triangle

We have heard the adage before: “We deliver on Quality, Speed and Price – pick two.” And that has become the business constraint, the Iron Triangle, that we accept.

In fact, when a product or service claims to provide all three nodes of the triangle, it’s really more of a commodity with diminished value or no longer having significant market differentiation.

How does a company provide 2 of 3 values and still maintain a market edge above other competitors?

That’s to have a closer look at the Elements of Value Pyramid.

Say your logistics business is able to deliver on Quality and Speed on delivery. And because of that, your price point is going to be higher due to the infrastructure needed to fulfil that. Your business currently lives in the Functional layer of the Pyramid describing “Quality” and “Saves Time”.

You may consider using technology to provide the client better tracking of their goods through your logistics pipeline. That could be the “Reduces Anxiety” element in the Emotional layer.

Another logistics business focused on Quality and Speed, may offer a loyalty program to encourage more shipments. That’s focusing on the “Rewards me” element in the same Emotional layer. And that’s where companies differentiate themselves from each other.

At the end of the day, customers are presented with an Apples to Oranges comparison. This adds more colour to the marketplace.

Can the logistics company provide BOTH the tracking and loyalty program? Sure they can – but it gets more costly to implement and maintain. The business has to weigh if the direction is worth the reward.

If your business aces on Quality and Speed, what would you add as your differentiating value?

What I learned in hosting AMA

Our Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) sessions were birthed with the intent of giving a spotlight, allowing other chapter members as the audience a different insight of the hot-seat member / speaker.

It gives the speaker the practice of airtime, being on the stage, and the tension of being in the ‘public eye’ (albeit within the chapter). You realise that the only way to overcome stage fright is to be on stage until it no longer gets frightening. So the only way to being forefront as a leader, is simply to be in the forefront.

Interestingly, as the host, I too had the opportunity to learn about hosting.

1. Preempt the audience
Even when it’s Ask-Me-Anything, it’s good to set some context and some operating parameters. Since it’s a business platform, I had informed members that we’d stick to business areas; challenges, how they overcame, new directions, other networks, along this line.

2. Preempt the speaker
In a business network, we will get warmer with each other naturally. Occasionally, some friendly questions do hit too close to home, being oddly personal or offbeat. I prepare the speaker that I will filter these as best I can.

3. Ask open questions
Always ask questions that allow the speaker to share more. The Why, How and What are good ones to field. Parroting the last thing the speaker says, also helps the elaboration process.

4. Narrow the focus
At times, the speaker would meander off and digress or drift into storytelling mode. I have learned to spot this, and to bring the focus back. The art of interrupting is also an area to develop.

5. Hold Court
This is about watching the audience as well as the speaker. As the host, I’d need to moderate the pace, picking it up when required, or changing the levity when it shifts too serious or too light.

6. Change topic
Part of holding court, is to also know when a topic is done, and to being the conversations to another area. This is why pre-empting is also effective, as no one gets surprised when I move to other topics.

7. Create connections with the audience
The goal of AMA is to foster and strengthen the connection between the speaker and the audience. When I feel that the audience gains new insights of the speaker, and finds ways to help him/her in the business, it’s the achievement I seek.

8. Conclude and create good tension
The session doesn’t go on forever. I aim to end it on a high note, create a tension for the audience to want to know more. The idea is that they would arrange their own time together with the hot-seat member to perhaps work out a collaboration.

Thank you for the opportunity to learn as a host.

Working out your Elements of Value Pyramid

When working with my SME clients on their marketing direction, I sometimes see them get stuck on how they are creating differentiation from their competitors.

What’s scarier is that they usually fall back to motherhood statements of quality, price, speed, customer service and “it’s new”. I’m not saying that these are not good differentiators, but their advantage is fleeting, if not temporary. How do I help them through this?

I’ve recently discovered a framework by Bain and Co, where they describe 30 Elements of Value which thriving businesses deliver upon. The outline is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and they group the various elements into the different layers of Functional, Emotional, Life Changing and at the apex, Social Impact. The elements describe what customers want from that product or service.

While Bain and Co focuses and consults on larger corporations, their framework gives a lot for smaller businesses to think about.

In my exposure to BNI members and various startup and entrepreneurial networks, many deliver to a good degree, on 2 elements. I’ve also noticed where if they only have 1 element covered, they wouldn’t launch that business endeavour or new product/service range yet.

When businesses define their 3rd element and deliver on it, they have effectively create differentiation from their competitors. Bain and Co observes when companies deliver on their 4th element, especially in a higher layer on the framework, they command customer loyalty and retention. And these are playing at the regional or global level.

I’ll describe more on what I’ve observed with this framework in later blogs.