Wednesday, April 1, 2015

3 key points from Simon Sinek's Start With Why; Leadership with Clear Purpose

As I'm writing this, I'm currently doing preparations for speech number 4 in my competent communication manual for toastmasters. While going through the books I read on leadership and online resources that I can find, I thought I might as well put them together in a blog post for the reader's benefit. One thing that I must clarify is that none of the content in my blog post is my personal opinion or something that I made up myself, acknowledging that I have no credibility in this topic. This post is solely based on advices that can be found online and mainly from Simon Sinek's best-selling book Start With Why .

"Management is about doing it right, leadership is about doing the right thing." -Peter Drucker & Warren Bennis

Key points from the book.

Leadership and management are two different things. Management is about the bottom-line; How can I best accomplish certain things? Whereas leadership deals with the top line; What are the things I want to accomplish? Or in other words, management is about the efficiency in climbing the ladder whereas leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning on the right wall. There's only one thing that leaders have, and that is followers, not Instagram followers ( because I don't have that many :P), but followers as in people who volunteer to go where you want to go.

Generally, there are two ways to gain followers. The first is manipulation, or the carrot and stick method. In business, there are a number of ways to manipulate customers to buy your products, including by playing the price game, promotions by incentives, instilling fear, aspirations, and even novelty. Lets take novelty as an example, in 1970s, Colgate only had two different products. And when competitions came in, they felt the need to "innovate", and now they have about 32 different types of toothpaste for 1 brand. It worked in short term, but sales never maintained or raise in the long term. The problem is, their competitors do the same as well, and now they are trying to differnetiate themselves, which is probably going to repeat the same cycle.

Manipulation leads to transaction, not loyalty. When you lose your kitten and offer a reward to get it back; you don't need to have long lasting relationship with the person returning it. Police incentivise by giving rewards to those who help with giving evidence that will lead to an arrest. And like any promotion, manipulation works if the incentives are high enough to mitigate the risks. While manipulations may be a viable strategy when times are good, a change in market conditions will make them very expensive. The American car industry learned this the hard way, when they had to rely on the high cost of manipulation when what they actually need is loyal customers to nurture.

In contrast, Southwest Airlines received tremendous support from their customers following the struggle after September 11 because of the company's emphasis on high class customer experience by sending checks. One note that accompanied check for $1000 read, "You've been so good to me over the years, in these hard times I wanted to say thank you by helping you out." Although the checks that Southwest Airlines received may not be enough to make any significant impact on the company's bottom line, they were symbolic of the feeling customers had for the brand- They had a sense of partnership. In short, using manipulations to gain followers is synonymous to using steroids to gain more muscles; you'll gain very quickly in the short-term, but you will suffer heavy consequences after a certain period of time.

The reality is, in today's world, manipulations are the norm. But there is an alternative.

There are few leaders who choose to inspire than manipulate, and every single of these inspiring leaders thinks, acts and communicates exactly the same way. Consciously or not, they followed a naturally occurring pattern that is called The Golden Circle, which is inspired by the golden ratio- a mathematical relationship for proportion and even beauty, supporting the idea that there is more order in nature than we think. (symmetry of leaves, geometric perfection of snowflakes)

1. The Golden Circle Before we can explore its applications, lets define these terms starting from outside of the circle and moving inward.

WHAT: Every single company know what they do, they know what services they provide and they know what products thy sell.

HOW: Some companies and people know how they do it, they know how to explain how they are different or better, or they know their "differentiating value proposition", "proprietary process", or "unique selling proposition".

WHY: BUT very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do.(money is out of the question since profits are results, not the main reason why a company should exist.)  Its the question of what is your purpose, cause or belief? Why do you get out of bed every morning?

In the computer industry, Apple has the same access to the same number of talent, and other big companies like Dell or HP have brilliant engineers like Apple. They also have the capability to design great computers, mp3 players etc. But what makes Apple have stand out?

Lets look at how a typical computer company do their marketing message:

We make great computers. (What)
They're beautifully design, simple to use and user-friendly. (How)
Wanna buy one?
..... not so compelling.

Now, lets look at how Apple Inc. communicate:

Everything  we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
And we happen to make great computers.
Wanna buy one?

The products are still the same, but the message feels completely different. There's no trickery, no manipulation, no free stuff and no aspirational messages. Apple doesn't simply reverse the order of information, they start by clarifying the question why, why the company existed in the first place, which is to challenge the status quo.
Apple's Think Different Campaign

It is no wonder that we are comfortable buying phones and mp3s from Apple, but not from Dell or Microsoft, (they actually did have mp3 players in their production line) because Apple manage to communicate their why clearly. When the Golden Circle (why, how and what) are aligned, the message will be authentic, and it will be able to stand out.

2. This is biology, not opinion

The principles of The Golden Circle are much more than a communications hierarchy. Its principles are deeply grounded in the evolution of human behaviour. The power of WHY is not opinion. It's biology. If you look at a cross section of the human brain, from the top down, you see that levels of The Golden Circle correspond precisely with the three major levels of the brain.

The neocortex, or the rational brain, corresponds with the WHAT level. The neocortex brain is responsible for rational and analytical thought. Whereas the middle two sections comprise the limbic brain. The limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making, but it has no capacity for language.

Humans are irrational. We are more inclined to act based on our emotions than reasoning. This is what we mean when we talk about wining hearts and minds. The heart represents the limbic, feeling part of the brain, and the mind is the rational, language centre.

3. The tipping point.

According to the Law of Diffusion, mass-market success can only be achieved after you penetrate between 15% to 18% of the market. That's because the early majority won't try something new until someone else has tried it first.

Especially when you are going from zero to one (innovating with a new product/service), the goal of business then should not be simply sell to anyone who wants what you have- the majority- but rather to find people who the people who believe what you believe, the left side of the bell curve. It is the percentage of people who share your beliefs and want to incorporate your ideas for themselves. They look to WHAT you do as a tangible element that demonstrates their own purpose, cause or belief to the outside world.

SummaryMartin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Steve Jobs, Professor Yunus and many other great leaders inspire others by showing their convictions on their beliefs, by having a clear action plan and by starting with why.

This book made me think a lot about the significance of having a clear belief and communicate as well as remind about your organisation's belief to those around you. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it because once you have or attain the same values or principle, the people in your organisation//community//society will have a sense of belonging and it is one of the factors that can help them perform better in their tasks.

Personally, I want to close the gap between the rich and the poor through education, because I firmly believe that education is the key factor for those who want to advance further in their career. There's a study that shows those who are well-off and performed badly are more likely to pursue their university qualifications than those who are poor but excel in their studies. Yes, it is true that the lucky ones have their parents' support and there is nothing wrong with that, because I strongly feel that the world is not a zero-sum game. To me, the deciding factors are our ability to learn both hard skills (mathematics, writing, reading)  and soft skills (communication, leadership, especially listening) which is the reason why I decided to continue blogging and share as much as I can from a selection of books that I have read.

My dad always remind me that there are two ways to achieve happiness; purpose and pleasure. I hope this blog post will help you to find your purpose.

Leadership is not a process of invention, it is the process of discovery. :)

Do subscribe to my blog for more posts!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Leadership & Public Speaking. Introverts & Extroverts


"You can learn how to be bitchy, but you don't really have to be a bitch."
In other words, you can act like an extrovert, but you don't really have to be one. (and vice versa)

Public speaking and networking or people skills have high importance and becomes more salient when we progress from school to work. A few examples include job interviews or even scholarship interviews, where in some cases the interviewers will look for those with good "people skills" as in how well they voice out their opinions and how they disagree with others without being too aggressive. A common misconception is that some people tend to believe that public speaking are for those with extravert characteristics, and settle with a delusional belief that some people are just born with the ability to speak well in public. However, there are a number of introverts who have capabilities in networking and public speaking, such as Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Besides, not all extroverts are necessarily good at it naturally. The truth is, you can change your behaviour, not your character; you can overcome your shyness, but you can't change your introvert characteristics. So, the question is, how can introverts (or anyone who's interested- extroverts or introverts) acquire these skills? 

There are only two ways and there is no shortcut to this.
(1) learn
(2) practice

1. Learning
I learned public speaking while I was in the marching band (unexpectedly). Back in 2010, I was appointed as the Drum Major because there were no other candidates left and I had to take the job. Being introverted, I was more used to spending my time with smaller groups and I was very uncomfortable with the fact that I had to lead a group of 80 band members. I was very horrible, even infront of my own juniors because I stammered and mispronounced words a lot to the extent that my juniors made fun of me from behind- and it was very embarassing since I know I have to face this for many more months as the Drum Major.

So, I had no choice but to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to improve my speaking as well as leadership skills. Question is, how? I didn't like to read any books because there were too many words and I rather spend my time on playing video games. One day, I followed my dad to a bookstore and I scanned through the books under the non-fiction section. I realised that many of these books are practical advises to help us to grow, and I felt like these books might be relevant for me. I purchased a book called Influencer by Kerry Patterson, read it but didn't understand half of it because it was very "wordy". Nevertheless, there's a slow progress because I start to pick up these concepts and I continued to read more books.

As I progressed, reading slowly becomes a habit, not because I was so disciplined (if you know me well, I'm a very lazy bum) but because I felt like I'm growing//learning a lot from it. Here's a list of recommended books  that are related to leadership skills and public speaking that helped me a lot (including the book, Influencer that I mention above)

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie (at least read this one!)
Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Start with Why by Simon Sinek

band days ~

2. Practice 
Like any other skills that you learn such as music or maths, we all need to have some practice. There are a lot of platform out there where we can improve our public speaking skills. If you are still in school, join a debate team, Model United Nations (MUN) or a public speaking competition. If not, find out about your local toastsmasters club. Toastmasters club aim to help those who want to improve their public speaking in a very friendly environment, so I highly recommend it as it is certainly worth the investment. Not enough time to join these societies? Then go online, there are actually FREE classes for public speaking online, all you have to do is look. One website that I would suggest you to go is this Although the lecturer won't be able to give you direct feedbacks, there's always peer-based assessment where you can join a facebook group and ask them to give you feedbacks, or just ask your friends to help you. If you want to practise anytime anywhere, try start a conversation with a stranger.

Back to focusing on the introvert and extrovert subject...

"There is no correlation between the best speaker and those with the best ideas." - Susan Cain, author of Quiet.

Energy excites, charisma inspires.
RAHHH!!! With a roar, Steve Ballmer, the man who replaced Bill Gates as CEO of Microsoft, bursts onto the stage of the company's annual global summit meeting. Ballmer loves Microsoft- he says so in no uncertain words. He also knows how to pump up a crowd. His energy is almost folkloric. He pumps his fists and runs from one end of the stage to the other, he screams and he sweats. He is remarkable to watch and the crowd loves it. As Ballmer proves, without any doubt, energy can motivate a crowd. But can it inspire a population? What happens  the next day or the next week when Ballmer's energy is not therer to otivate his employees? Is energy enough to keep a company of about 80,000 people focused?

In contrast, Bill Gates is introverted and awkward, a social misfit. He does not fit the stereotype of the leader of a multibillion-dollar corporation. He is not the most energetic public speaker. When Bill Gates speak, however, people listen with bated breath. When he speaks, he doesn't rally a room, he inspires it. Those who hear him take what he says and carry his words with them for weeks, months or years. And that is an exemplary of a good leadership.

What makes a great leader?In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins defines what he calls "level 5" leaders, as those with strong professional will and genuine personal humility. Leadership isn't just about giving instructions or telling others what to do, its also about listening to those around you. To those who are more extraverted, learn to listen. To those who are introverted, learn to speak up.

For my next post, I will write about the golden circle of why inspired by Simon Sinek. Since I will be having exams, it would be most likely that I will post after the exams which is at the end of this month. But nevertheless, do subscribe to my blog for more! :)

Thanks for your time to read.

 (ps. Carl Jung clarified that there is no such thing as absolute introvert and absolute extrovert. There's a range of spectrum to these traits, meaning that some people can be mostly introverted and a bit extroverted)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Leonardo Da Vinci's unrealised Golden Horn Bridge

Its been more than one year since I wrote an entry on my blog because I'm a lazy bum. But I suddenly felt a bit motivated when my friends suggested that I should write something on my blog, especially since I have time to post lengthy facebook//instagram posts, why not make time for my blog?

Currently, I am studying Civil Engineering in University of Manchester and I am on a winter break with my family in Istanbul. Since I'm studying Civil Engineering, I should be passionate about structures including bridges; since I'm currently in Istanbul, a blog post on Leonardo da Vinci's Golden Horn Bridge in 1500s, an unprecedented bridge design that was 300 years ahead of his time, which connects the Europe and Asia continent in modern-day Istanbul, would be most appropriate for my current interest.

Utilizing three well-known geometrical principles ( Honestly I have shallow knowledge on these principles, so if you are intrigued to analysis the bridge, please ask Mr.Google :P) ; the pressed-bow, parabolic curve and keystone arch, da Vinci designed an unprecedented single span 240m long and 24m wide bridge for the Golden Horn, which would have become the longest bridge in the world of that time, and certainly could have been one of the most significant tourist attraction in the world.
design of the bridge

Unfortunately, like many ideas that are unfamiliar, or 'too far ahead of time', it was ultimately rejected. Instead of putting in effort to understand the design and perhaps make some suggestions, as most people should as learners, skeptics including engineers and architects advised Sultan Mehmed II to turn down the proposal. I have nothing againsts skeptics and in fact, I like them for their critical mind, but I personally think skeptics should also test out and try ideas instead of simply rejecting them.

 For five hundred years, the beauty and symbolism of Leonardo da Vinci's graceful design intended to span the Golden Horn inlet in Istanbul (then Constantine) remained an obscurem tiny drawing in a corner of one of Leonardo's volumnious notebooks. It was until 1996 when Vebjorn Sand, a Norwegian artist, proposed the Norwegian Public Roads undertake the construction of the project, which eventually turned reality in Oslo, Norway as the mini version of da Vinci's design.
Leonardo da Vinci's mini Golden Horn bridge in Oslo, Norway

Imagine, what if the engineers were more curious and open to new ideas, or if they were willing to take the risk and spend enormous amount of resources in this ambitious project, or at least test the idea on a smaller scale before proceeding to the big project, da Vinci's bridge could have been a reality, and certainly, a central figure for historical monuments in the world. (the bridge could have been in Assassin's Creed too :P)


Friday, October 11, 2013

Our first social project

For our first social project, we hope to help orphanage with their education by means of technology. Our center goal would be building relationship with orphans through education, as opposed to simply promoting flipped learning. And of course, we'll start by knowing and adjust according to their needs.

With lectures turned into video lectures, there'll be more time for students and teachers to interact, challenge them if they learn fast and help if they can't cope. We'll also always bear in mind that it's not about technology, but how we use the technology.

Tomorrow, I'll be dropping by at the orphanage to give them the video lectures before leaving to the airport for mid-term break. Since facilities are limited as they only have 2 computers, on the 27th of October, we'll hope to have participants ranging from 20-40 people to volunteer and help out at the orphanage to solve mathematic questionnaires in accordance to their level. We'll have them to bring their laptops with them so that they can use the video lectures as an alternative to text books for reference.

If this model works, we hope to raise fund to invest in some computers for the orphanage, hoping that it can be turned like a "learning" cafe (instead of cyber cafe) and visitors can come at an allocated visit hours to help out the orphans with their studies.

Lets hope this project will be a success, and wish us good luck! :)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Update 8/9/13 : The Heart of Education

"Education is not the learning of facts, but teaching the mind to think" -Albert Einstein

To those of you who have been following my blog or who are aware of my "project" , I'm sure you guys are familiar with the implementation of flipped learning that I have been working on since early this year. The problem with flipping the class isn't technical , the challenge is persuading the teachers to at least try flipping their classes.

At the heart of education is teaching & learning. Change this , and our education will be improved , which is why education reform is actually a bottom-up approach where students and teachers are the ones who should be actively involved.Of course , looking at the bigger picture , flipping the class isn't the only solution, but it is a start for education reform.

Last week while I had an appointment with the principal regarding the flipped day (a global initiative which was scheduled to be on the 6th of September) , and I was told 2 things:
1) some may view it as "Americanism"
2) it may be an assumption that the teachers haven't done anything.
(Actually,some aspects of the flipped learning is carried out by teachers on daily basis , such as challenging the students to think on some difficult problems or having them to do some group work. However , the difference is that the emphasis on having the students the focus on the content before engaging in some challenge in class is more in flipped learning method. Students get to learn through video lectures that are prepared by teachers so that more time will be spent on teaching them how to think as opposed rote learning. Indeed knowing facts are important , but I believe that more priority should be on challenging our thinking.)

Given the circumstances , I believe it is best to get teachers with experience on flipped learning , as they have more credibility on this topic , to have a dialogue with those who are interested(not forced) to flip their classes. Therefore, I've been trying to get some teachers who may be willing to help through emails , forum in FLN(flipped learning network) and recently just started a TED conversation. For now I'm just waiting for some responses.

As for my social enterprise , Voices of Global Students , I've already made the MVV( Mission , Vision and Values) for the organisation a month ago, and I'm currently trying to figure out a business plan for my organisation. I'll be attending a social entrepreneurship bootcamp at the end of this month, in effort to refine my business plan and deliver a presentation on it. Those with the most appealing project will be funded RM250,000 by the foundation, which will be a major boost in the purpose of the organisation.

I've faced a number of setbacks , but at least I learned to pick myself up when I received a number of support from my friends.  This project isn't something that I can do alone , and I hope some of you could contribute by getting involved in the dialogue (if you are one of the teacher with experience on flipped learning) , some suggestions on the business plan , and support the facebook page here .

Aren't we preparing for jobs that don't exist yet?

How are we preparing ourselves for our future jobs that don’t exist yet? Is it by burning the midnight oil to study for exams? Have you ever wondered how are you going to apply what you learned in school in real life? What are you actually learning, to be obedient, or independent thinkers? Did you know that our education system was modelled and conceived during the Industrial Revolution?

In his article, “How To Get A Job?” Thomas L. Friedman asserts that since jobs are evolving so quickly, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy for your ability to do a particular job by employers. Whether you acquired your education through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), homeschooling, or Stanford, all they care is one thing: how you add value to what you learned. Paraphrasing Harvard education expert Tony Wagner, “ the world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares is what you can do with what you know”.  So what is education? What are we learning in school?

“Education is not a filling of vessel, it is the kindling of flames” – Socrates

With change happening at an unprecedented scale and rate, we face challenges that require us to be creative, as in combining old ideas into a new one, curious, and lifelong learners. The word education is derived from the Latin word, Educe, which means, “to draw forth from within”. It’s about “lighting” the potential in us as learners rather than filling our minds with loads of information. Having that said, how do we solve this problem within our circle of influence?

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

In the heart of education is teaching and learning, without it there won’t be education. Hence, what needs to be improved is teaching and learning, by creating a condition where teachers not only teach the students, but making the students teach amongst themselves. It’s not about putting more effort by using the old solution; it’s about changing our teaching and learning methodology in classrooms, provided that the teachers have the autonomy since they (should) know what they do best. One of the solutions is flipped learning, or also known as the student-centered learning.

In it’s most basic sense, the flipped learning is basically where what you do as homework will be done in class and what you do in class will be done as homework by the use of video lectures. The definition of flipped learning is very slippery, as there could be many versions of it. For example,  Flipped Class 101 ( as Bergmann and Sams ,pioneers of flipped learning call it) , teachers create video lectures for students to watch at him so that they can help them with what used to be their homework in class.  Some have moved to Flipped Class 201 where students work on their own pace until they attain mastery in the topics they are studying.  Apart from that, others didn’t focus on mastery , but  rather other deeper learning strategies such as problem or project based learning, inquiry , challenge based learning etc. It’s entirely up to the teachers on how they would like to run their class.

So what is flipped class, or preferably known as flipped learning? Here are some points on what flipped learning is.
·      Transfers the ownership of the learning to the students.
·      Personalizes learning for all students
·      Gives teachers time to explore deeper learning opportunities and pedagogies with their students. (Problem based learning,  Challenge based learning , Mastery etc.)
·      Makes learning (not teaching) the center of the classroom
·      Maximizes the face-to-face time in the classroom.

Since many people tend to have misconceptions on the flipped learning , here’s a list of FAQ on it.

1. Does it make the teachers less important?

With the flipped learning, the role of a teacher is empowered, by giving perspectives, inspire and mentor the students instead of rote lecturing. The class will be student-centered instead of teacher-centered. Students will be more likely to claim ownership of their education. It's not just about the student-teacher ratio, it is about student-teacher time ratio. With this, struggling students will receive more help from their teacher, and students will also get to see things from many different nuanced perspectives, which develops their critical thinking skills. In short, technology doesn't replace, it complements with the teachers.

2.Isn't it more like an opportunity to bring boring lectures to a different location?

I believe that there are many approach that can be made to make the video more interesting, such as having more dialogue, make it approximately 10 minutes short and etc.

3.What if the Internet is simply too slow?

We can always consider using flash drive , or burn the videos into a disc.

4. What if the teachers are interested, but do not have the time to produce the videos?

Not all the teachers are expected to make these videos for their classes. Besides , as for a start , we do not need to flip the whole subject , we can begin by using the method only for difficult topics, as pointed out here ( on myth no.2.

Flipped learning is becoming increasingly popular in universities like Harvard and Stanford University. It shows that it can bring outcome we desire , provided when we implemented it correctly. Since in the heart of education is the learner and educator , I believe learners or students should play their part in the education reform that is already happening now , especially in the U.S.A.  Do support and like my facebook page here and follow my blog on

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Update: 27/7/13 and the audition for TEDxKL

Having finished my exam , we have started on trying to implement the flipped classroom in our physics class, by having different topics assigned to different groups, and post the video lectures or any learning resources on the physics website. Hopefully, next term, we'll get to have it fully implemented for at least 1 or 2 topics. If the desired outcome is reached , I'll get to make presentation on the student-centered or flipped learning in school as part of the effort in balancing real learning and learning to answer exam questions.  I think it's just a matter of time.

While waiting for the desired outcome, I'm planning to audition for a slot on TEDxKL this Monday. Unfortunately it's on a schoolday,  I have a few problems such as lack of transport (hopefully I could find a taxi to go back to school) and  now I'm asking if I could have the audition on Saturday instead after the Speech Day(last day of school). As part of preparation for the talk on TEDxKL (that is , if I pass the audition) , I'm taking an online course on public speaking and joined it's facebook group to hone my public speaking skills. It'll be a big challenge for me. Failure or success, I'll certainly learn a lot from this experience, and I certainly need a lot of luck and support.