Reflection on Coursera Course – Design for Innovation

Example Reflection – Storytelling

Storytelling is a tool I use all the time, one of the most useful skill sets that I use all the time and intend to improve over time. As a business analyst cum consultant, I often use this technique to get people to open up and tell me their thoughts, ideas and concerns. I usually do this over a cup of coffee, outside of the office, so they feel more comfortable to open up. Once this is over, I use the information I got and transformed them into ideas to improve or develop the functionalities of the software tools we developed for our clients.

Application – From What to Why

I have numerous stories about storytelling in my short career of five years. A common example would be driving the adoption of technology of all of the software that fall under my care. Usually, I would have regular one to one catch up over coffee or have a conference call with each one of them regularly if they are not based in the same country as me.

There was an incident where our stakeholders in South East Asia (SEA) were not embracing the analytics tool that we have developed for them. So I arranged a video conference with the main stakeholder in each of the countries in SEA to understand their concerns. Turned out that there was a lack of adoption because of lack of training and lack of follow up to understand their future concerns.

Approach and Insight

So during most of the conference calls or what I call ‘catch ups’, I would listen to their thought process and concerns. Turned out that our stakeholders or rather users of our tools are worried about their job security. The analytics applications that we developed will at least shorten their job tasks by 50% while numerous tasks will be automated, such as email scheduling and running reports based on the filters they want.

This was an eye opener although I was not that surprised.  Upon understanding this major concern, I had to reassure them that their jobs are still secured while their main job tasks may have shifted towards providing insights to the sales and marketing teams.  This also means that we had to create additional materials on how they can provide insights to their respective sales and marketing teams such as using color codes and understanding the nature and purpose of the reports. At the same time, we developed a self-service component of the tools to encourage users to explore ways they can further contribute to their teams. As such, we were able to drive adoption of the applications and improve the working lifestyle of our users and stakeholders. The long term benefits, everyone makes better use of their time and fully contribute at work and grow their skill sets.

I never thought that storytelling will allow me to not just deliver my work duties, but it is a truly great feeling when you improve the quality of life for others. Indeed, Albert Camus was right when he said ‘There is no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do’.

Review on Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson

I finished Rework on my first leg of flight on the way to Munich. That means seven hours in flight. That was how easy the book was written by Jason Fried and David Hansson.

Technology has disrupted the way we work. We all know that. We moved from industrial economy to informational and perhaps gig economy. However, the expectations on how we should work, where and when have not changed with the times.

2017 was a challenging year for me. If it was not for God’s grace, encouragement and support from parents and close friends, I probably would not have the courage to pull through. I have learnt a lot of lessons from this year, I would say the most by far. The vacation I took to Munich was not just a much needed one, but I would like to think that I was reborn if not a changed person. I have learnt to trust the process and let the universe to do its thing – that is after all effort has been put. However, at the same time, we need to learn to adapt in the ever changing environment – it can be country or a new company. Simply because there is no one size fits all box and people change over time. Learning to deal with such factors not only make us more confident but more empathic as well.

Rework shows us an easier, faster if not a better way to be more productive. In fact, we don’t need a lot to achieve what we want to achieve. Planning is good, but plans are useless if you don’t start working. I would think this is useful not only for entrepreneurs but for typical employees like me.

Having a strong faith in our ambitions, products is the fundamental of the business or core value. Others may think that competitors can deliver better, but we should not always comply to clients’ requests if they are unreasonable and cannot be delivered within an agreed time frame. Having a strong belief that the business will succeed starts from living it!

In any case, the authors broke down some critical concepts that I think we should follow. You can refer to the mind map below.

Exerting Influence Without Authority

I am not the boss. How can I lead? I am not a full-time employee, just a temporary one. Why would they want to talk to me? I am just a small fry, unlike those big fishes right there in the centre of the room. Perhaps I should skip the meeting.

It is said that we should not aim to achieve triumph in every situation, but rather building bridges and winning hearts over. Communication skills is not easy to master, especially when it comes to dealing with diverse cultures. But at least, with practice and time, we will get used to it and achieve the end goal. It is about identifying the opportunities and stepping in then demonstrate leadership through adding value to the initiative you are in.

One of the articles written by Lauren Keller Johnson suggested lateral leadership. Leadership does not apply to titles or positions. It is the natural inclination of an individual to get things done. The objective is to get things done and not the various ancillary issues that come along with it.

Here are some interconnected strategies that can be used as guidance to help us achieve that.

  1. Networking:
    • Build a network of relationships in and outside your organization
    • Know the people who can connect you to bigger networks
    • Be genuine and associate with all
  1. Constructive persuasion and negotiation
    • Try to achieve a win win situation
    • See your ‘targets’ as peers and learn to listen to understand rather than respond
    • Put yourself in their shoes
  1. Consultation
    • Take the time to visit the people whom you need to be on your side
    • Ask their opinions about the efforts that you are championing
    • Get their ideas and reactions to your ideas
    • Involve the people to participate in defining the process for achieving the outcome
    • Make sure everyone feels part of the journey and not feel left out
  1. Coalition building
    • Gather influential people together to form “a single body of authority
    • Get to know the people before the kickoff of a project
    • Clarify the destination point
    • Strategic and ‘BIG’ picture thought leadership comes effective at this stage
  1. Acknowledgement and feed forward
    • Acknowledge people’s views and thank them for it
    • Celebrate success and always be forward thinking
    • Review areas of improvements at every stage

Often enough, we get so engrossed in our silo roles that we dont really know who should be included in the networking or coalition building effort. To counter this, one should take time to know who are the stakeholders, who are the advisors. For instance, setting aside a day to have lunch with a different person each week.

The next time you want to get more proactive when it comes to driving projects, initiatives, you should say, let’s work things out and make it happen!


Lesson 4: How to act quickly without sacrificing critical thinking

Often enough, we get into situations where we should act quickly. If we were too slow to respond, we may be entangled into nasty situations where we get consumed or get caught off guard. If we are too fast, we may be perceived as micromanaging or end up making short term decisions.

How do we balance out both?

According to Jesse Sostrin, we all have reflective urgency. It is defined as the ability to bring conscious, rapid reflection to the priorities of the moment — to align your best thinking with the swiftest course of action.

Step 1: Diagnose your urgency trap:

For a start, we need to set time aside for thinking. I do that three times daily. When I wake up, before lunch and before I leave the office. It may be counterproductive if we don’t know what will limit the quality thinking time. One should recognize the habitual, conscious, counterproductive ways that will prevent us from making us of this dedicated and delicate time.  For instance, attending a meeting unprepared or multi-tasking.

When unsure, ask yourself this question, “When the demands I face increase and my capacity is stretched thin, a counterproductive habit I have is….”

Step 2: Bring focus to the right priorities

Start with things you must focus on, rather than tempted/ wanted to work on…

Step 3: Avoid extreme tilts

Do not treat every situation the same. Evaluate the situation and decide if you need to turn down or increase the level of urgency or reflection. Evaluate if you require tactical action or dynamic thinking more and then allocate time for it.

Anyone can use these three techniques, for work, public speaking and so on. When you combine these micro reflections with a heightened sense of urgency, your decisiveness and speed to impact will not be at the mercy of the counterproductive habits and unconscious oversights that occur when you act without your best thinking.


Lesson 3: How to change your brain for good

We all have our ups and downs in life and that often require us to be mindful of what we feel and we will need to motivate ourselves.

There are four steps we can follow to change our brain for the greater good.

I  do hope that by doing this, we will become more focused and certainly reduce the chances of us getting Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, strokes etc.

So here are the four steps to change our brains:

  1. Relabel
    1. Put a label on experiences that are going away from long term values
    2. I am anxious: ‘I am getting anxious now’
    3. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions
  2. Reframe
    1. Use mindful awareness
      1. Process your thoughts into grey instead of black or white
      2.  Know when its good thoughts and when they are bad (cognitive distortion)
    2. Emotional reasoning: Relabel and reframe: figure it out reality versus emotions
  3. Refocus:
    1. Focus your attention in the moment:
      1. Do something constructive using control approach
      2. Divert your attention to something constructive
      3. That’s when you rewire your brain
  4. Revalue
    1. Comes easily when you do the first three regularly
    2. Pattern the first three into your daily life and revalue comes easily
    3. Becomes a positive feedback for your brain to react after

I’m going to try these techniques as I tend to overthink too much at times and often enough, my thoughts do go random.

Lesson 2: How to speak so people want to listen

Morning all and only. I am starting my day by listening to a couple of ted tv videos and pilates.

As I  was listening to Julian Treasure, I learnt the few things about our own unique voices.

There are seven deadly sins of speaking and we should avoid it as much as possible.

  1. Gossip
  2. Judging
  3. Negativity
  4. Complaining
  5. Excuses
  6. Lying
  7. Dogmatism

Four foundations of speaking that we can use to make our speech more powerful. The speaker used the acronym of ‘HAIL’.  The definition is ‘to greet or acclaim enthusiastically’.

  1. H – Honesty
    • Be clear and straight
  2. – Be authentic
    • Be yourself
  3. I – Integrity:
    • Be your word
  4. – Love
    • Wish them well
    • Don’t judge them

A few techniques we can use for speaking will be:

  1. Register your voice
    • Voice from the chest for power and authority
  2. Timbre
    • The way your voice feels
    • We prefer voices that are rich, smooth and warm
  3. Prosody
    • Voice variety not monotone
    • Repetitive prosody (every sentence ends like a question)
    • Break the habit
    • Pace
      • Fast, slow
      • Silence
  4. Pitch
  5. Volume

Do voice exercises before any speech does help too!

Remember that powerful speaking often leads to conscious listening in an environment that is fit for purpose. Create sounds consciously will eventually lead to sounds being received consciously and that will create an awesome environment for sounds and people will reach an understanding of what you are trying to address. That is the end goal of any speech.



Review on Humans Are underrated by Geoff Colvin

Humans are not all alike. We each have our own unique genetic makeup, as well as our own experiences and cultures. Understanding this is useful to managers because it provides a framework for appreciating why people behave in a certain manner under organisational settings. Some behaviour are positive, others are not. Humans’ strength comes from the mind. The thoughts and emotions are enveloped in their psyches and have always determined their behaviours today.

In an unpredictable world, those who thrived have always relied on their instincts. Although, most companies are in favour of logical softwares and tools instead of emotions, the latter can never be fully eliminated. The need to feel is the most basic human requirement and one of the central human acts of inhabiting of connecting ourselves on this planet which belongs to us and to which we belong. So is being optimistic, empathetic and kind enough to swim through the waves? Often enough, we wish people are more rational but we can never run away from our emotions. If we can no longer keep up with computers, how else can we contribute to the working society?

Coming from a computing background, I kind of mentally prepare myself that I will always be on the move, always will have to pick up new technical skills along my career journey. From project management skills, IT security, SQL to big data and excel. It’s easy to be focused, do what you need to do and ignore those around you. In my book, it’s the next easiest thing after running. While it’s good to try to improve, we forget that sometimes, what matters is the depth not the width. Being in- depth, does not just means being good at what you are doing but also, being your humane self, always in search of a deeper purpose, while continually look at life and situations in an obscure way to discover what’s beyond the surface.

So, how do we get out of the mundane repetitive world that some of us are in and move to a much deeper level? In our daily lives, we all form relationships despite doing transactional tasks. For instance, when one drops by a coffee house and place an order. The barista listens and tries to interact. He might even remember what your favourite order is, asks about your well-being and share things. Notice the valuable traits – good listener, we know they are people who always got our backs, which means that they are trustworthy, sincere, caring and committed to you apart from doing what they need to do. There are many benefits of being a trusted person. You get access to information faster, referrals as well as people tend to be helpful and forgiving. The key thing is, people need to know that you care about them more than yourself. So ask for their opinion, tell them your standpoint and be open about the outcome.

Geoff Colvin mentioned about the power or storytelling. Humans are created to form interpersonal connections, create ideas from personal contact rather than from hard data. Hence the reason why it’s easier to improve or create new processes from stories than facts. Most big organisations work in a counter-intuitive and data driven approach. Perhaps what we need to remember is that people with their own talents and aspirations make up organisations and they create processes that best represent the organisation’s mission and goals. Then, use the shared mission to drive the strategy and act aggressively.

The difference between a story and a narrative is that a story is forgotten over time while a narrative is open-ended (determine a powerful beginning, middle and end) and invites participation while maintaining the purpose of the ambition. That is how the audience come together and expand the horizons of human knowledge in peace and tranquility and eventually lead to innovations that change the course of human lives.  Use a story as an event and as a part of a larger narrative, it provides the core of a mission where everyone can contribute.

We all agree that we can no longer compete with computers. So here are the three skills that Geoff Colvin mentioned that will be essential for one to survive in the industry.

  1. Humans will remain in charge
    • Humans will make important decisions
    • Human nature to listen to leaders not machines
    • Humans will need to be held accountable for important decisions
    • Social necessity to have leaders at every level in an organisation
    • Every single interaction involves influencing and persuading others to get what we want
    • Give credit to others when things go well and take responsibility when they don’t
  2. Humans must work together to set collective goals
    • Teamwork is important to define the problems in an organisation and how to solve them
    • Keep the focus on the other person. Keep your stories short and complaints shorter. This will leave the other person wanting more. Let them share more about themselves. That’s when they start to trust you.
    • Groups can solve problems faster than individuals
  3. Only humans can satisfy deep interpersonal needs
    • Human beings evolve for interaction with one another
    • Personal relationships equates survival
      • Great work ethic while having the ability to have relatable, effective and influential relationships
    • Possess most deeply human abilities
      • Empathy above all, social sensitivity, storytelling, collaborating, solving problems together, building relationships
      • Great leaders are expert networkers
      • Have a small group of people whom you trust to confide into, That’s how you remain calm under pressure

In conclusion, right brain skills of social interactions are as important as left brain logical skills. In fact, due to the rapidly changing economy, empathy is the key to high value work, not just to be productive, but also to negotiate and resolve conflicts in the most effective way. The next question is, what do you do if your efforts backfired? That happens, especially when you exceed expectations. One will get unpopular. But at the end of the day, you will need to remind yourself that you are not hired to please everyone, but rather improve the organisation as a whole. Great leaders understand the positive energy and try to increase these activities. They  recognize what drains their energy and minimize those interactions and replace with something that inspires them.

To put things in perspective, being a great performer is becoming less about what you know, but more about what you are like. For that, make the most out of you, for is what there is of you. With that, have a positive 2016!

Humans are Underrated by Geoff Colvin


Review on Start over, Finish Rich by David Bach

I have never read any of David Bach’s books until a friend recommended me to read this one. Apparently it was quite spot on. Exactly what I need since this month, yes, this September 2015, marks my financial freedom. I am going to be free of my education loan, which took me a good three years to finish. Back then, I would have moments whereby I would get anxious and worry about the future, my career prospects and how people would judge me for putting my life on hold. Now, I tell myself, the past is past, it does not mean I can fix things to make it better for myself and possibly, my loved ones.

Start over, finish rich starts and ends with traditional and simple advices, one, it’s never too late to start saving and always give to others. I would say live within your means and give more rather than raising your standard of living. It’s a tough one to follow, I have to admit, I have failed a multiple times as well. While writing this review, I am actually trying to put a plan in place, to get my personal finances right.

Firstly, I have decided to save the monthly expenses that I set aside for my education loans. I am going to split it into three portions, which are for master’s education, life savings and other random expenses such holidays or getting a new laptop or camera. I am lucky that I am not the type of lady who shops every month. Hence, I am able to plan my expenses and rate them according to importance.

So let’s start over. Firstly, we need to know where the money is and where it is going. So what it means right here is that we should keep track of all expenses, maybe in an excel spreadsheet. Depending on our background and circumstances, the folders that each folder one may have differs from another. For me, latter factors, expenditures and savings folders matter the most.

Secondly, one needs to know how to manage his or her’s credit card debt. In my opinion, one needs to be independent and responsible when it comes to paying off the debt on time. I personally do not believe in making a minimum amount instead, one should be disciplined to pay off the full amount. However, if one fails to do so, he or she should pay off as much as possible and finish the remaining amount within the next six months. In Singapore, it is important to maintain a good credit score on all their bank accounts.

Thirdly, the next important thing, at least for myself is to rebuild my emergency savings account. I had a hard time building my cash cushion three years ago as my bank loan was about half of my salary. Now that its over, I am going to save that money into three components, life and emergency savings, my future education funds as well as holiday treats. I will set it to be automatic and grow them separately in three accounts.

Lastly, the one thing that we will never go wrong doing, is giving back to society and charity. It can be in the form of monetary funds (set it to be automatic) or contributing your time. I must admit that I used to teach, but I quit after five years due to lack of time. Now, I guess I need to figure out how exactly I want to give back. It will be nice to spend some time out of your comfort zone, say maybe at a hospital. Oh well, I will figure it out soon.

In the meantime, here’s to a better tomorrow!

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