Change is the only constant.

I am a peculiar breed of Chinese. I picked up speaking Bahasa Malaysia as I grew up in a majority Malay area. At home, I spoke English. In my childhood years, I had minimal non-Malay friends, and as such did not end up learning any Chinese dialects.

But, one thing I did enjoy every evening were TVB dramas, typically broadcast on national TV at 7pm. It was my only source of Cantonese.

Other than learning “what is your problem?” and “busybody” in the Cantonese dialect, I unfortunately did not pick up any other phrases. What I did remember, though, was a particular scene in one of the episodes.

The restaurant owner and his customer.

Image source

Out of passion and skill, one of the characters in the show opened an upscale restaurant, serving more sophisticated food. Despite the quality of the food and ambiance, it did not manage to draw a crowd.

One day, a person who was working in a construction area nearby had dropped by to taste the food. The restaurant owner, sensing an opportunity, tried to persuade him to bring his co-workers over. The owner was confident that they would like it, as the food was good!

However, the customer had provided feedback that this is not what construction workers wanted. Despite the food being good, they want food which is cheap, fast, and large in quantity. They need to be full to work hard! If the restaurant owner was willing to cater to these needs, he will most definitely bring them over. There were many hungry workers ready to try out a new place, he said.

The turnaround.

The owner deliberated. Customers were still not coming into his restaurant. He was soon facing financial difficulties in up-keeping the cost of running the restaurant.

One day, he decided to give change a try. He invited that customer back to the restaurant, and this time, serving a menu that was cheaper, larger in quantity, and since he was skillful in cooking, it was also delicious.

Eventually, his customer brought in more of his colleagues, and they all raved about the food and the restaurant. They then promised that they’ll be frequent customers to his restaurant. All is now well. His restaurant was saved!

History repeats itself.

Similarly, real life offers many case studies. Take the example of Nokia. It was unable to see the need to innovate beyond its highly successful versions of mobile phones (remember snake?). What about Toys R’ Us? It did not see the urgency to move into e-commerce. Remember Kodak? It was huge while I was growing up, but nevertheless was made redundant when images went digital.

A familiar quote. (Image source)

By examining history, what can be learned here is that the only constant that we can expect is change. There is no such thing as complete certainty. We cannot expect to land a job and assume that it will always remain there. Similarly, your relationships, health, and finances wax and wane through time. It is up to us to not take these resources and blessings for granted.

It is within the nature of the world that change is constantly happening. This happens at the extent of the ever expanding universe, and even down to the smallest particle. Isn’t it interesting that as you are reading this, the cells in your body are even being replaced with completely new ones?

Who Moved My Cheese?

In the book “Who Moved My Cheese?”, the human characters wake up each morning always expecting the mountain of cheese, to which they get their source of nutrition from, to always be there. On the other hand, the mice characters always have their running shoes with them, constantly measuring volume of cheese remaining, and sniffing around for new cheese.

Image source

Not surprisingly, the cheese eventually finishes. The human characters continue to grumble and be unhappy over the situation, while the mice had already found new cheese. Which would you rather be in this fable, the humans or the mice?

Put on your running shoes.

The only control that we have over change is our attitude. Being open and adaptable to change, always looking out for opportunities, and never taking things for granted are vital attitudes in welcoming change. By having these attitudes, we avoid being complacent, and are instead ready for success.

Do you have your running shoes with you? What are you waiting for, change is around the corner!

Jack Of All Trades

Greetings, fellow Netizens. I am excited to appear from an all new domain name (previously www.meetalvin.com). I also have a new e-mail address, hello@alvin.my. Remnants of my digital footprints bearing my former e-mail address is still floating around in digital space. I’m looking forward to getting to them, as I can then consider myself reborn into the realm of the Internet!

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate from migrating to a new domain (and also watching a whole lot of the TV series Billions) is how vast the entirety of knowledge actually is. I wouldn’t have understood one bit of this IT thingamajig if I had purely defined myself as a psychologist. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have understood references to pop culture and also the financial markets in that TV series. Side note: coincidentally, the financial markets has also been my interest as of late.

I’ve been on a binge with this TV show about law enforcement, politics, and the financial markets. (image source)

What makes a complete person?

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time digging deep into psychology. I’ve even made it my career. While I thoroughly enjoy it, it does not make a complete education of what it means to be a person.

For example, being a brand of psychologist that I align with would mean having skills not only in mental health, but also (among many others):

  • Public speaking and training
  • Group facilitation
  • Copywriting
  • Marketing (digital and conventional)
  • Web design
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Accounting
  • Stakeholders management
  • Networking
  • And many others (this list gets too long)

These skills come alongside the crucial need to develop skills in my personal life that makes me a balanced individual. This can include communication and relationship management, personal finance, spirituality, physical health, appreciation of the arts, philosophy, and leisure.

Depending on where you skew towards in your pursuit of life, there can be many more facets to improving oneself. However, does a person adequately embrace these developmental needs? Most people would hope that the education that they’ve gone through would address their learning needs to sustain their life. I find this to be far from the truth.

Case in point, the first time I had ever verbally presented in front of a crowd was in University. Education till then did not at all include any element of communicating information to a crowd. Had I just relied on what I was good at (at that point, it will be to read, memorize, and regurgitate information), I would be a wholly different person now. And in my opinion, I would be a much more incomplete person.

Safe and sound

I have noticed that a bubble takes shape around a person once working experience starts to accumulate. If a person is a psychologist, that is all there is about the person. If a person is an architect, then that is all there is about the person.

There is a kind of uni-dimensionality that happens to a person with more time spent in an industry. Understandably so, as being good at something provides a whole load of reinforcement. Being competent means having social validation. Being competent also means that a person no longer have to make mistakes. And to a great extent, that is soothing and safe.

There’s big hype surrounding Industry 4.0. Are we ready? (image source)

With safety and validation also comes a great downside. Is being too niche into our skill-set allowing us to thrive (or let alone survive) in the 4th Industrial Revolution? Disruption to industries and the way we live/ work happens at breakneck speed. One day, my industry is booming. The next day, I could be out of work.

Calm seas never made a skilled sailor

In my view, going through life’s education in a holistic manner equips a person to sail through these stormy uncertainties. This journey would require me to stretch beyond skills that I’m good at to skills that I am a doofus in. It may even seem disconnected at times. Strangely, I find that oftentimes it is entirely related, especially when opportunity presents itself.

You and I know of this saying that goes “A jack of all trades, master of none”. I was surprised to learn recently that the complete version of this is:

“A jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

Should You Be GALLUP Certified?

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report in 2013, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged in their workplace. In the same report, disengaged employees stand at 63%, while actively disengaged employees make up 24%.

The Gallup trainer gave an excellent analogy to this. Being engaged at the workplace is like noticing trash on the floor and deciding to pick it up to throw it in the bin. The disengaged employee would instead ignore it and pretend that it isn’t there. The actively disengaged employee is the one who threw it on the floor in the first place.

People are usually unhappy at the workplace. How do we solve this? Image Source

Why I decided to be a Gallup-certified coach

I have found it to be increasingly important to be passionate and enjoy being at the workplace. This became much more apparent while working with my current team. At the same time, I cannot imagine doing a job that I hate. We are working 2/3 of our lives away. For most of us, we have the privilege of choice. We can make better decisions with regards to how we choose to spend that huge portion of our time.

I decided to be a psychologist based on personal experience. I learned that psychology and therapy made me a better person, and as a result, live a better quality of life. This inspired me to provide a similar experience to others as well. More recently, gaining self-awareness and making active choices in my career also provided me with similar benefits. As such, it makes so much sense to learn how to provide this benefit to others too.

Coincidentally, Gallup has established a reputation to be one of the leading authorities in employee engagement surveys and solutions. Their main source of revenue comes from the administration of related psychometric tools, corporate consulting, and coaching services. I bought myself a seat to be trained in one of their tools and to be a certified “strengths coach”.

And So My Journey Began

I flew over to the Philippines by paying a grand sum of about RM15,000. This course fee was for 4.5 days worth of training. Given the princely sum (at least for me), it is worth objectively evaluating whether the course has been worth the price.

I arrived a day before the training and checked into a hotel within walking distance of the place. The training location was comfortable, the food was great, and the participants were welcoming and eager to learn.

The course itself? To be honest, it was nothing short of impressive. As a business, they have certainly established the “why” of their value proposition:

  1. Disengaged employees are costing businesses a lot of money.
  2. People are unhappy at the workplace. They spend a lot of time doing something they dislike (while being terrible to their colleagues).
  3. Managers could be technically skilled. However, managers often work up the ranks from a technical position. As such, they may not necessarily have the skill set to manage people. Have you heard of the term “people leave managers, not companies”?

Gallup offers a solution to this through a psychometric tool which gives a glimpse to a person’s “strengths”, which are described as “talent themes”. These are a person’s tendencies in thinking, behaving, and feeling, especially in a professional setting. By developing this self-awareness (and going through coaching of how to best use these strengths to his/her advantage), he or she will be able to navigate through a satisfying career path, work along better with colleagues, and manage others more effectively.

I must say, the company has thoroughly done their homework. They delivered a solid learning experience. To top it off, I received a variety of learning materials, picture cards, handouts, booklets, and any possible tool that you can think of to start coaching with this psychometric tool. Gallup equips you with comprehensive material from start to finish. This includes coaching tools for the employee, the manager, the team, and even the initial business pitch to the company (with PowerPoint slides included).

This course provides tools to work with a variable number of people, which is neat. Image Source

The trainers are also highly knowledgeable in the ins and outs of the tool. If you are in it for the right reasons (continue reading below), then this training is definitely worth the money with great take home value. I also took home with me 5kg worth of materials, which they have nicely included into a Gallup tote bag.

But…

No doubt, this tool and coaching principles offers great utility in helping people navigate through a professional setting. As with any other tool, it measures a limited scope of human potential. A coach has to be mindful to not overgeneralize “talent themes” beyond what it can. From time to time, the training program may insinuate that it is possible to make this sweeping generality. For example, the trainers made us examine how Talent A can in fact be used as Talent B, Talent C or Talent D, which ultimately defeats the purpose of identifying what Talent A is in the first place (to know more, read the Barnum effect).

However, this does not change my high opinion of the course, tool, or trainers. I am aware that this is due to a commercial decision. The organization is treating this as a comprehensive product and service due to it being the bread-and-butter of the company. While a person who is highly competent in coaching through this tool will provide significant benefit to the coachee, it is not a be all and end all of coaching. It simply does not possess the scientific rigor for such an ambitious task. The same goes for any other psychometric tool.

Should You Sign Up For This Course?

You can consider signing up for this course if you:

  1. Work with people at a capacity of a consultant. This includes psychologists, counselors, coaches, trainers, and so on. This tool and training provides an angle to work with people who are seeking guidance in being better working professionals. If this tool can be an added value to your existing skills, is relevant to your clientele, and is a promising means of return on monetary investment, then you can seriously consider taking up this course.
  2. Are a passionate manager who wants to grow his/ her team. A great manager is one who is also a mentor, coach, and leader to his/ her team. This tool can be a great addition to your skill set. The caveat here is that the tool is purchased on a single use basis. Each team member has to take the assessment first.
  3. Are looking for marketable value if you have a related consulting business. Many companies use this tool. You can leverage on this.

You should not sign up for this course if you:

  1. Are looking for career advancement, and think that adding a (rather niche) coaching certification can add value to that. In this case, there is a bigger value add to instead go for a part-time MBA. Albeit requiring a little more money, time, and effort, there will be more weight to what you can offer the business. Where I come from, companies still rely a lot on paper qualifications.
  2. Have no relevant background in working with people and intend to start doing so. This course isn’t for you. You could instead go for more a general coaching course. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) do recognize some of these courses, which is an added advantage. It’s cheaper, you get a wider scope of study, and your coaching will not be narrowly defined by a psychometric tool.
  3. Are interested in consulting people, but not specifically for corporate settings. In this case, it will be much more relevant to be trained as a counselor. Mental health services has a wider market when it comes to individual clients looking for personal development.

In Conclusion

Gallup’s psychometric tool and it’s accompanying coaching course can be a great addition to your existing repertoire of skills and resources. I enjoyed myself throughout the training. I personally find that I made a worthwhile investment. My only caution is to not harbor hope in it being the only tool that you’ll need to rely on. After all, personal development is a journey that never stops.

Team Work Makes The Dream Work

Recently, a student had uttered the title of this post during one of our many group sharing. As of late, I’ve come to appreciate this tagline much more.

I completed the MBTI (a kind of personality test) sometime last year, along with team members from the university that I am attached to. What I’ve taken away from it is that I thrive more when tasks/ projects are pursued based on the “big picture”. Also, I do well when tasks are done more spontaneously in a less-structured manner. In a nutshell, I get “fired up” when something has a strong “why”, with problem-solving done as things go along.

Understanding Differences

This resonates with me, as I oftentimes find myself getting excited over prospects of projects and pursuits that I have in mind. I am very motivated when piecing parts of my life together – the opportunities available, the skills that I can contribute, resources that I can gather, and the hypothesized outcomes of that. Throughout the course of the year, I have also realized how drained I become when following through with a highly-structured routine or task. If I’m caught up with tasks that requires intense organization skills, it’ll only takes a fraction of the workday for me to feel completely exhausted.

On the other hand, there are people who LOVE doing things that I’m weak in. There are people in my department who thrive in a highly structured and organized environment. This can include tasks in designing and going through lists, steps, and specific formats to get the job done. At the same time, these are the people who would also be drained and irritated when tasks or projects do not have clear and detailed rules or steps to completion.

Obvious fact: Teamwork leads to positive outcomes (Image Source)

Although these two attributes may not be so clearly defined within us, you and I tend to have our preferences. And when two individuals with strong opposing attributes are in a team, there is a chance for unproductive and damaging conflicts to happen. Likewise, when team members understand each other deeply, these attributes can instead complement and improve a team’s performance.

Intentional Teamwork

What I’ve learned is that intention matters a lot. In improving relationships, whether romantic or collegial, intention is the key in making it work and bringing it to the next level. Intention allows for investment of time and effort into the relationship. One aspect of what I like in the current department is that there is the intention to develop a culture of deep understanding with one another. This involves spending a great deal of time with one another.

We have weekly meetings which starts with personal updates and icebreakers. There is also tremendous investment in training which develops not only our primary roles, but also in learning new things about one another. Not forgetting, all the retreats and outings that we have gone for, with the intention of not only to having fun, but to have sessions to reflect and learn about ourselves and others in the team.

As a result, our strengths and weaknesses complement one another. There is little, if at all, damaging criticism or finger pointing. There is ownership over assigned tasks, and no hesitation in seeking for each other’s support when times get tough. Projects are completed well, and the team spirit is high.

Happy Career = Happy Life (image source)

A Meaningful Career

Not many teams I’ve belonged to, or if at all, have reached this level of cohesion. With this experience, my aspiration is to belong to working groups that has the intention in developing high levels of team work. I strongly believe that investment should be prioritized in developing human capital, and only with that is it possible to reach new heights in career advancement.

After all, we spend 1/3 of our lives working. Wouldn’t it be all the more meaningful to spend it in a way that’s enjoyable?