S For Social Harmony, Social Cohesion And Specificity

Humans are inherently social. We all have the “need for love and belongingness” (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Our psychological need for a sense of belonging can create an obsession with being part of a specific community, tribe or association. A lot of people believe that bigger is the size of the group to which they belong, the more invincible they are. Also, being part of a growing community can be perceived as a sense of achievement.  Our motivation can be driven by many other reasons such as career advancement opportunities or of better social standing.

Being part of a group always require compromises and sometimes even sacrifices when the need to fit in is more important that the right to speak out and be true to our core values. Steep hierarchies in certain organisations or communities has one major inconvenience: not knowing what is going on – making them counterproductive. The high stress of deep hierarchies makes it harder to think but also riskier to dissent. Dissenters are condemned to languish further down the pecking order.

As a result, being true to oneself can become the exception rather than the rule. If you are in a constant state of stress due to the many compromises to be made as being part of a group, it taxes your whole stress response mechanisms. A human’s stress response is generally meant for ad hoc use. Making an abusive use of it can lead to depression or mood disorders. Chronic stress also hampers our ability to think and solve problems.

Rank, status and their associated symbols are constantly evolving so that seeking them can feel like being stuck on the treadmill for ever. Pursuing them can become addictive, driving people to greater and greater extremes, bigger and bigger risks. The rewards are all relative as there will always be someone who has done better, won more, achieved more. Satisfaction can remain elusive for those people with that state of mind. Status has always been, is always and will always be relative….

Dissension is necessary for any organisation or community as it fosters new ideas leading to creative solutions for existing challenges. Choosing to communicate without status and without authority reduces distance so that sharing gets easier and dissolves social barriers. Sharing, trust and the desire to connect is what makes it worthwhile to be human. Size is not what matters.

It has been proved that mutual trust, reciprocity and having shared norms make a society resilient in times of stress. Communities with higher levels of social capital tend to have lower poverty rates, fewer incidents of violent crime, and stronger democratic institutions.

Social barriers are usually inherited rather than learnt. For the growing brain of a child, the social world supplies the most important experiences influencing his or her perceptions about life. For the first six years of a child’s life, every experience is directly downloaded into the subconscious without discrimination.  Parents also have an overwhelming influence on the mental and physical attributes of the children they raise.  The fundamental behaviours, beliefs and attitudes we observe in our parents becomes part of us.

Fortunately, we can choose to perceive the environment in different ways. While we cannot readily change our DNA, we can change our minds on how we perceive our reality. The function of the mind is to create coherence between our beliefs and the reality we experience. Behavioural epigenetics has demonstrated that the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals that propel life.  Changes in beliefs lead to rapid changes in gene activity. When people raise their level of optimism and deepen their social connection, they are happier and they are more successful in their studies and career. Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom point to supportive relationships as the most important determinant. The creation of loving bonds assures the mind that we are safe.

So, whether we choose to be free in how we perceive our world or observing our lives through the lens of social barriers is up to us. In other words, we have the ability to edit the data we enter into our biocomputers, just as surely as we can choose to be part of a group and be ourselves at the same time.

 

 

 

 

What Matters Most Is What We Do

Climate change affects every living soul. Given that the air we breathe as well as sunlight are all free, their use was meant for the benefit of everyone irrespective of social class, nationalities, religion and geographical location.  However, the actions of a few are now harming the health of the current living generations and the future of many generations.

In various parts of the world, economic development has mainly been accompanied by traffic congestion, noise and air pollution. Our cities have become mega cities as economic prosperity have attracted a continuous flow of new residents. The existing infrastructure such as housing, sanitation and public health services are inadequate to cater for the increase in demand.

The public resources of most developed countries have been completely stretched. There seems to be no sustainable solution unless a long-term strategy is adopted in regards to the mobility of people. Increasing mobility of people has also led to diseases being transmitted more easily. Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo is an example of how any disease can become a serious threat to its neighbours. Illegal immigration, terrorism and diseases are the modern plagues of today’s world.

When globalisation took place, not all countries were at the same stage of economic development. A few, mainly the advanced industrial countries, had well developed markets with goods to export and resources to protect their local economies in hard times such as unemployment insurance and welfare programs. Their industries grew in times when protectionist barriers were in place. In other words, the developed markets were, therefore, in a strong position to fully benefit from free trade, contrary to their counterparts in the developing world.

It is true to say that the responsibility of getting as much value as possible from its resources resides with a nation – the principles of sovereignty. However, most developing nations had nothing to sell abroad in the early decades of globalisation due to the complexity of their challenges. Most developing countries have a weak national identity making them vulnerable to civil wars, dictatorships and coups d’état. Historically, they were never prepared to be called a nation.

The African continent, for example, were essentially populated by tribes of various ethnic groups prior to colonialism. Tribes who used to live together were separated due to the emergence of man made national borders, drawn by former colonial powers. The Bambara people, for instance, are native to West Africa and have since then been now split into different countries: Southern Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

The “new” citizens of those ex colonies had to learn to live differently from what they have been used to for decades.  Their learning curve was arduous. Unfortunately, the economic and financial assistance they received was, most of the time, inappropriate. Each country differs in its history, culture and circumstances so that it is difficult to apply the same principles of development to obtain the expected result of economic growth.

In addition, the international institutions whose role is to help those nations in difficulties had their own internal challenges. For a long time, IMF’s recommendations were, most of the time, met with scepticism as the institution did not have the required public credibility.  Governance issues and lack of transparency were also part of the challenges faced by IMF. Though IMF consists of 189 member countries, its Managing Director is appointed by the EU with the support of the US. The decision making at the IMF is meant to reflect the relative positions of its members states on the global economy. For many years, it was not the case.

It is unfortunate that little weight is given to the voices and concerns of the developing countries though their natural and human resources have been and are still essential for the economic development of the advanced industrial countries.

Our global environmental and social issues are not going to be resolved easily if there is not a serious political commitment from our part. We all hear lectures about the urgent need for a strong governance, for preserving our living space, for promoting social cohesion but a number of us are inspired by what our governments or international institutions are actually doing…..

Political commitment does drive desired changes. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme is the result of a United Nations resolution about eradicating the trade in conflict or blood diamonds.  With continued commitment of a number of countries, trade in blood diamonds have now been reduced to a certain extent. The most important outcome of the UN resolution has been worldwide public awareness that certain economic activities are sometimes meant for funding unethical activities or are operated using illegal means such as child labour.

This UN initiative as well as others such as the FLEGT by the EU have also reinforced the belief that civil society can influence economic development. In encouraging people to make ethical and conscious choices as to their way of living, we can contribute to bring about desired changes. NGO’s and social enterprises are increasingly becoming a means for civil society to take a more proactive role. Some of them are well known success stories such as Barefoot solar engineers, Grameen Bank and Beauval Nature

Positive transformational changes have been made possible by involving the communities in decision making. It is a means to empower them to take responsibility for their future and that of future generations. According to World Bank studies, community based projects leads to a higher likelihood of success. What makes them successful is that they come out of the communities they service and address the needs of the people in those communities.

NGO’s and social enterprises – the Third World sector as they are known, have proved that values based economic activities are resilient and can thrive despite the odds.  Many of them have evolved into professionalised entities with their own board and management team. The road has not always been smooth for some of them, having to resolve governance and funding issues. Fortunately, their future seems brighter as they have learnt from their past mistakes. They may become a source of inspiration for a comprehensive approach to economic development. Time will tell

US versus THEM OR US = US AND THEM

Globalisation is meant to be the closer integration of the countries of the world. Any country would be free to sell its products to the rest of the world and use the monies received to better the lives of its people. Globalisation was meant to create a world where everyone benefits without any risk and where markets operate efficiently – without a glitch. Unfortunately, this is a myth.

With the advent of globalisation, a number of businesses have grown in size to become what we call multinationals. They have brought jobs and economic growth to certain developing economies. In addition, they were able to introduce cheap goods of excellent quality to the developed markets, giving them more value for every penny they spent.

At the same time, those same multinationals have also created havoc. In some parts of the world, they have driven out small businesses which is part of the backbone of the local communities. Local SME’s are the essential component of the economic and social life of a local community. They are more incentivised to do “the right thing” such as keeping jobs during periods of economic recession.

In contrast, there have been many instances where multinationals have left behind long lasting collateral damage to the natural environment and to the local communities. The most well-known example is the disaster in Bhopal in 1984. It caused the death of more than 3,000 people and injured over 550,000. However, it took 5 years for the victims to receive compensation from Union Carbide after several legal battles.

Though the Bhopal incident has had catastrophic repercussions for Union Carbide, it has not stopped corporate greed in its track.  A more recent form of corporate irresponsibility is bio piracy. Developing countries have a reservoir of knowledge in their rainforests and in their traditional medicine such as Aryuveda.  One of the most notorious cases of bio piracy, according to Joseph Stiglitz, was the attempt to patent turmeric for healing purposes. Turmeric is used as a colouring and flavouring agent in many Asian cuisines. It is also used in Aryuvedic medicine. The United States issued a patent for the medical use of turmeric in December 1993. The patent was eventually overthrown but not without incurring expensive legal costs.

These two examples demonstrate the current challenges involved in holding multinationals and their management teams accountable in foreign countries.

It also goes without saying that developing countries spend a huge amount of resources to maintain their bio diversity and it is only fair that they are given incentives to maintain their forests which is of enormous environmental and medical benefit to all. However, intellectual property rights are essentially meant for corporates or individuals. None has, ever, been drafted for the commercialisation of a country’s cultural heritage or bio diversity by a third party. Without full political commitment from the developed world, intellectual property rights would remain solely in favour of the inventors.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Novartis, a Swiss drug company has developed, in the past, an effective drug against malaria, using components of the Chinese tree Qinghao. Malaria is a life threatening disease. In 2017, it has affected 219 million lives and have caused the death of 435,000 persons, according to the World Health Organisation. 92% of the malaria cases are recorded on the African continent. Being socially responsible, Novartis has made it possible for developing countries to buy those drugs at cost or for free. For the past fifteen years, the company has continued its fight against Malaria and has developed the program: Novartis Malaria Initiative

Civil society has also taken a more active role in monitoring the behaviour of multinationals. Over the past few years, with the advent of social media, the wrongdoings of the multinationals are brought to the attention of the whole world.  Bad publicity can bring expensive lawsuits and destroys the image of the company which can account for more than 50% of its value.  The famous pasta brand, Barilla, has suffered huge decline in its sales and financial performance following the statement made by its chairman during an interview in 2013 about his negative views on homosexuality. Shortly after the interview, the public, with the help of social media, chose to boycott all Barilla products. It took the company more than 5 years to turnaround and become a gay friendly consumer product.

With the increasing social and political activism of the public at large, business concepts such as corporate social responsibility, responsible investing and impact investing have taken shape to encourage more responsible corporate citizens.  Though these movements have not yet been fully embraced by the mainstream investment and business community, they have become the main objective of a few influential institutional investors. Norway has recently decided to sell off most of its investments operating in oil and gas exploration sector and to invest more in renewable energy companies. The country has a sovereign wealth fund of approximately US$1 trillion. Similarly, a number of US foundations such as KL Felicitas Foundation aim at promoting impact investment by creating a strong impact investing ecosystem.

It is true that most of us tend to live locally – in our own communities, towns and countries. Globalisation, actually requires that we all start to view ourselves as global citizens -breathing the same air, living on the same planet and promoting a better approach to doing business worldwide. The ongoing motto is “ We have only one planet for everybody. There is no planet B.”

Globalisation, Ecosystem, Holistic……

In today’s world economy, most nations have suffered the impact of global instability. The current trade talks between the US and China are having negative ripple effects on the rest of the world. Embargoes on some countries and social instability in others have triggered a sense of vulnerability amongst multinationals as their revenue model is being threatened.  When the global players get sick, the world suffers from the potential loss of jobs and tax revenues limiting economic growth in different parts of the world.

The World has come to realise that most nations are interdependent on each other. The survival of one country depends, to a large extent, on the “Rest of the World”, including those nations that they may not trust or with which they have no strategic interest…. To put it simply: as growth slows down in the developed markets such as China, US, EU, they will buy less from those export driven economies which make up most middle income and low income countries.

Globalisation has also shattered one main economic concept: economic development is measured essentially by an increase in GDP. An increase in income does not always translate into better living standards. Health, measured mainly by life expectancy and infant mortality, is also an important determinant of the living standards of a nation.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains that no one can grow and fulfil their potential if they are not well fed, do not have proper accommodation and have no sense of belonging to the community where they live. Alienation, low self esteem, loneliness all contribute to encouraging someone resorting to violence as a means to express their frustration against society as a whole.

To achieve sustainable economic success on a national level requires that the basic needs of the population is met. Only then can the country aspire to long term social and political stability. In other words, both high levels of employment and limited inequality are the prerequisites of the long term continued economic development of a country.

One of the most important resource of any nation is its people and if a large proportion of its population do not live up to their potential – the country will not live up to its potential. High levels of inequality, especially as a result of unemployment, can result in social unrest; crime is likely to increase, creating a climate that is unattractive to businesses.

The whole purpose of creating economic development has always been about transforming the lives of people, not just transforming economies. Policies for education or employment need to promote growth. It is also critical to understand how they affect individuals directly. Education is meant to open up the mind to the notion that change is possible. Great education teaches the basic elements of analytic reasoning and enhances the capability to learn. Education is important but if there are no jobs for those who are educated, there will not be development.

It is the role of any government to create a climate that allows businesses to thrive and create jobs. The economic, legal, social and political environment of a country is to be constantly revisited as society evolves and technology continues to make advances into improving our capability to handle the complexity of today’s economy. Information is always imperfect and markets are always incomplete. A mix of government intervention and “laissez faire” is fundamental for any country to thrive economically.

According to Ruchir Sharma, a long term observer of a nation’s economic success, a good understanding of economic reforms is a necessary ingredient for those who are at the helm of the economy.  No nation can ever hope again to grow as a free rider on the waves of a global economic boom as so many had been able to in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They will have to learn to row vigorously well if there is no wind….

Many nations often hope that their alliance with other countries will boost foreign investments and create jobs. Foreign investors are not only a source of additional tax revenue or the credible proof of a nation’s competitive advantage. They can become the vehicles for the transfer of technology or know how to train the local workforce.

Petronas, Malaysia’s oil and gas company, became one of the nation’s flagship thanks to the pro active stand that the government took in ensuring that the proper training was given to the local management team. If a nation was left to grow organically with no clear directives from its government, there will be too much of some things such as pollution and too little of others such as research and a well educated workforce.

Another example of great economic vision is Bengalore – India’s capital of information technology. The Indian government founded the Indian Institute of Science in 1909 and has since then continued to invest heavily in education and research which eventually paid off today.  Such long-term vision and determination from governments are rarely observed, unfortunately for us….

But multinationals have now become savvier in assessing potential investments overseas. They look at many factors including how well money is channelled into productive investment. A commitment to build and strengthen the productive investment of a country directly encourages the emergence of a strong entrepreneurial spirit generating stronger SME’s leading to more domestic jobs creation. Relatively high levels of corruption and government favouritism, if not seriously addressed, can cause social unrest as it has been the case for those nations involved in the Arab spring in late 2010. The aftermath of the Arab Spring is still painful and not fully resolved.

Development is a process that involves every aspect of society: engaging the efforts of everyone: markets, governments, NGO’s, cooperatives, not for profit institutions. Various World Bank studies have highlighted the importance of community involvement, finding that local participation in the choice and design of projects leads to a higher likelihood of success. Community involvement ensures that money is spent in creating the projects rather than in corruption.

Changing a nation’s economic pillars of growth is always tricky. Managing change becomes even more complicated with the existence of special interest groups. Those special interests often lose sight of the big picture, confusing their interests with the national interests of the country. Restructuring the economy inevitably implies loss of jobs. Most of the time, those who lose their jobs do not move on to better alternatives. They end up onto the unemployment roll and increased insecurity is the direct result.

This is why the role of trade unions is as important as a thriving business community. One cannot survive without the other. However, finding the right balance (as always!) is critical. Strong wage growth is as important as jobs creation for the whole workforce. The high level of unemployment in South Africa has been partly the result of the South African union movement (COSATU) focusing solely on strong wage growth for its own members whilst neglecting the fate of the rest of the South African working force.

To conclude, past economic history suggests that economic development is like a game of snakes and ladders, according to Ruchir Sharma. There are fewer ladders than snakes, which means that it’s much easier to fall than to climb. So, once at the top, a nation has to continuously strive hard to maintain its top ranking by investing heavily in research and development and working painstakingly to contain the kind of income inequality that can produce popular resistance to rapid growth.

Diversity – A Hype Or A Reality?

We have all experienced changes in our identity over time as we become parents, uncles, aunties, grandparents or even great grand parents. Change becomes a constant factor as our professional standing develops and sometimes as we migrate to other countries. Change/mixture/diversity, as such, has always been part of our lives, probably taken for granted. It can sometimes bring confusion. For example, in cases where we are born in a culture different from that of our parents. Growing up in that foreign culture for most of your life, fully embracing it and speaking fluently the language and then being told by your parents that you are from a different culture….so confusing….. It is true that we live in our own representation of reality.

Forty years ago, one’s cultural identity was like that of a baobab, having its roots deeply and solely in one geographical space. Today, for many people, their personal identity is no longer set in stone. Sharing a common ethnic heritage with little or no shared cultural references or experiences such as Japanese and people of Japanese ancestry is a very flimsy foundation for long term, successful and fulfilling relationships. People in similar life situations would have much more in common than any differences in their gender, racial and linguistic backgrounds might initially suggest.

Cultural identities are now a dynamic part of people’s personal identities. They are in constant flux as people strategically select and combine features by which to differentiate themselves. Their continuous interactions with others and how they perceive these experiences would regularly change the boundaries of their cultural identities.

In the age of Facebook, Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, people are constantly being exposed to multiple cultures. Diversity can no longer be overlooked! It is people’s ability to engage constructively with each other that will allow their own cultural identities to evolve and become a personal and professional asset. In some cases, people feel frustrated with ambiguity as they are unable to navigate in between two or more cultural worlds with whom they resonate strongly with. Trying to accommodate the requirements of each of those cultures would not allow someone to be your true authentic self.

Cultures are now inevitably dynamic. As a result, some people tend to view globalization as an unwanted intrusion. They are unable to protect their cultural heritage and what used to be their comfort zone feels like uncharted territory. Cultural shock sometimes leads to alienation as one feels “visible and out of place”. One’s inability to adapt is sometimes wrongly interpreted as a refusal to embrace change. It is useful to bear in mind that people tend to classify things in categories such as family, mother, student, British, and so on. Anything or anyone that can’t be categorised automatically brings confusion, stress, fears – all the negative feelings that can lead to disagreements, conflicts and sometimes, social exclusion.

As a matter of fact, every intercultural experience needs to be contextualized as it represents a snapshot which does not necessarily represent the whole picture. Interpreting this incident as a general rule of thumb would not allow anyone to fully benefit from any new experiences and therefore, to new knowledge. Personal growth is inhibited whenever “you need to run from a mountain lion”. You cannot protect yourself if you need to expend energy on growth. Protection requires you to shut down so as to avoid any intrusion. A sustained protection mode would not allow anyone to fully enjoy life. Only a fulfilling life can stimulate personal growth.

It has also been proven that stresses in our bodies, if not released, can damage the visceral organs from doing their work of digestion, absorption, excretion – fundamental to the good health of a human physical body.  Chronic stress can, in addition, interfere with your sense of good judgement and lead to reduced intelligence.

A critical incident has always the power to make a person stop and think. It raises questions with respect to one’s beliefs, values, attitude or behaviour. How one respond to it becomes a turning point for one’s personal development and growth.  Consider the people who walk across coals without getting burned. If they allow their fears to override their mind, they end up with burned feet. A person’s beliefs act like filters on a camera, changing how she/he sees the world. And one’s behaviour adapts to those beliefs.

Every person has, at least once or if not many times, come across people who have misperceived her/his identity. They have defined your identity as something that may have deeply conflicted with your self image. If those misperceptions are allowed to override one’s sense of self, realizing your potential is sabotaged.  When individuals raise their levels of optimism and deepen their social connection, they not only raise their level of happiness, but also dramatically improve every single business and educational outcome tested for. The opposite is also true.

Success becomes within reach when you leave the old wounds behind in the past and focus on building your vision of the future, with your “two feet solidly rooted in the present”. When you have one foot in a boat towards the future and another one anchored in a boat facing your past – moving beyond your wounds is impossible. Old grudges become the very weight that stops you from achieving your potential.

When crisis hits, ripping down your old identity and rebuilding it makes you become a model of change OR scrambling to defend your existing identity makes you a symbol of status quo. Which one are you aiming at?

The Miracle Of The Gifted Quarter

I watched the documentary twice and every time I felt its message strongly. The Miracle Of The Gifted Quarter is a Japanese documentary on children with special needs based on the life and work experiences of a teacher working with a few of them.

Every form of life has its purpose. Every person brings new insights as to the meaning of life. Children with special needs looks at the deeper meaning of live as they go beyond their physical, mental and emotional challenges. They value what they have been given as being sacred, as beautiful gifts given to them by life itself.

In today’s society, there is a tendency to seek perfection. The myth of the perfect body, perfect clothing style, perfect life style coupled with the popularity of social media puts on additional pressure for young people as well as adults to race through life seeking continuously “perfection”. The beauty of who they are, their talents – everything is within themselves. And yet they continue on seeking something else that is elusive.

The miracle of gifted quarter is a beautiful reminder that we have been given everything to make our lives something worth remembering. Everything we seek is right there within our reach ready to serve us if only we have the courage to see ourselves in the most beautiful light. To see ourselves as “miracles of nature” whether we are considered by others to be “fat”, “weird”,”ugly”. We take strength, courage and confidence. It is sometimes a challenge to be who we truly are when we are faced with challenges that remind us that we are vulnerable, prone to make mistakes, unable to meet the expectations of our loved ones and finding it difficult to steer our lives in the direction we want. It takes courage, confidence and strength to listen to our true heart’s desires and create our own path amidst the expectation of our parents, family and friends.

It is sometimes important to step out of our own story to ask “Am I doing what makes my heart sing and allow me to live a comfortably?” Am I living the life that I truly want?” What makes this life mine – truly my own creation and not what I have been led to believe because of my past experiences. What I do, what I value and believe is this a true reflection of who I am?

The End Of A Culture Of Entitlement And The Beginnings Of Self Accountability.

Looking back at the history of the global economy, most nations have experienced a series of economic growth alternated with periods of economic slumps. There are a few exceptions. South Korea is the most well known amongst them.  In his book, “Breakout Nations In Pursuit of the New Economic Miracles”, Ruchir Sharma related how South Korea strove as a nation to recover from the 1998 crisis. The country was forced to contract a record loan of US$58 billion from IMF, at that time. This triggered a nationwide solidarity amongst the Koreans.  Koreans began mobilizing to pay the national debt, waiting in long lines to donate their gold jewellery to the cause.  How many nations have had such similar experiences?

We have also witnessed that size does not always provide the necessary cushion from the aftermath of natural catastrophes. Whatever the size and wealth of the country, only those with well organised logistics and strong human solidarity amongst its population stand better chances of a rapid recovery. It goes without saying that financial wealth does make a huge difference. However, money without the proper channels ends up wasted.

It can be observed that only those nations who are engaged with the world such as South Korea can continue on with their economic development and prosperity. The complexity of achieving economic progress has always been and is still the main challenge of most nations. High increase in GDP per capita does not automatically translate into continued economic growth for the future. The BRIC nations are good examples whereby their economic momentum has not turned them into strong economic powerhouses– China being the only exception, one could say

The same goes for an individual’s personal success. One is expected to regularly re invent oneself, continue on acquiring new skills and certainly not rest on one’s laurels. Attitudes such as “fake it till you make it” tend to drive people overlooking their personal flaws. Many rags to riches success stories are not achievable without their quotas of personal hurdles.

The motivation to avoid failure represses the courage needed for exploration. Boosting one’s self esteem is not the panacea to addressing all personal issues. It sometimes turns people into narcissists: people who look upon themselves as fundamentally “special, entitled and unique”. A family of successful entrepreneurs does not necessarily imply that the following generations are deemed to continue on as successful business owners.

The culture of entitlement has permeated all aspects of today’s society. It is especially true in communities which believe deeply in tradition and history. It is even more of a challenge to stand out when one lives in homogenous communities with widespread normalised behaviours. Walking one’s own path, irrespective of the family background and of societal norms, can be lonely and challenging. People imagine that there is safety in numbers. Unfortunately, people surrounded by pleasers who would never pose a challenge or a threat, does not always evolve to their full potential.

It is generally the case that, people/nations/communities undergo huge transformation when their backs are against the wall. There is also a tendency for people to defend their existing status, rank or title. It does demand a lot of courage to give it up and rebuild it differently. When one is on a winning streak, one would hardly be motivated to slow down and think ahead. Complacency gradually sets in and reduces further the motivation to think outside the box.

However, examples abound to demonstrate that living off the dividends of past successes is not an option anymore. The emergence of new political parties has disrupted the political establishment of many countries.  Iphone and Ipad came at a time when there was a need in the market for something more user friendly.  The same goes for AirBnb, Uber and their likes….

What would be most important to someone: is it about having a title or is it about the long term recognition and respect from your peers or at large, society? How can one remain loyal both to one’s roots and at the same time, be open to other possibilities? Keeping one’s balance is a centuries old universal message.

Follow The Pack Or Lead The Pack?

For every hype, there would be those who would jump in the bandwagon at first sight and those who would wait and see whether this fad is worth their attention. There is also another category: those who would start the hype. People in need of novelty would always find someone who is willing to give them what they want. Because it is out of place, “unique” and makes them stand out of the crowd, novelty lovers would fall for it. Whether this hype is a fad or is powerfully disruptive to create jobs, generate income, it would largely depend on the factors that have created the hype in the first place.

Most new trends tend to collapse once the novelty factor dies out. They disappear as fast as they came. They took shape because there were “easy money” to be made: banks giving cheap loans and people looking for the next big thing, aiming to become the next “millionaire”, like their neighbours, a few blocks down the road – showing off their new car or pictures of their new property bought in some exotic place. If your new investment depends on market values to pursue a never ending rise then prepare for the pain of the downfall. For everything that goes up must come down.

When it requires you to be part of a “select” group of people to take advantage of this “new innovative idea”, I would stay away from it… “Cozy” relationships require long term investment of one’s own energy and time. Being well connected is not about being seen with the right crowd. Joining an “in” group makes you vulnerable as you are subject to “peer pressure” and the need to feed your sense of pride that you have made the right choice.

Creative disruption comes from making wise and challenging choices that would have a long term positive impact on the future. These choices are not dictated by what the rest of the herd is doing. People’s lives and success can bring inspiration and kick start your own creative sense. Emulating them can bring you some dividends. As there is no real ownership from you and no strong personal commitment of using your own strengths, you remain in your “comfort zone” and tend to refrain from going the “extra mile”. Whatever popular idea that you borrowed loses its momentum and its value to you.

The most unfortunate denominator for all those “financial soufflé”: memories of the collapse fade over time. Also, people tend to cling to dated ideas and rules for too long, particularly notions that minimize or explain away potential risks. Generally speaking, it always painful to recount your mistakes and learn where you went wrong. It is easier to put the blame on “bad timing” or on receiving bad advice as long as your sense of pride does not take the hit. Playing “the victim” won’t help restore your self confidence.

To be a serious trend setter requires that you are able to bounce back from all previous failures and embrace the lessons learnt.  To leave the past where it is and focus on what matters in the present requires personal resilience and pragmatism. When things start to go badly, keeping your own inner compass intact is necessary if you want to come out in one single piece.

Most well known trend setters went through a major personal ordeal before raising from the “ashes” to make a stronger comeback. Their personal fortitude makes them all the more determined to strive. A few well known examples are Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs.  It does take a lot to be a trend setter and what matters to most people is to have their own place in the sunshine, at the end of the day.

Whether you are a trend setter or a follower actually does not matter as long as you are aware of your core assets and mindful of your personal challenges. Everyone has the right to one’s own place in the sunshine. Taking a consistent approach of understanding whether the hype is moving in a productive direction is most important. The “herdlike” mentality of having to catch up to the Joneses can be highly risky and lead to nowhere other than pain, disappointment and loss in self confidence.

Stability in growing your own wealth is what makes your life enjoyable. It helps you to focus on the essentials – investing your resources in productive assets, setting the right priorities, managing your sense of pride so that it does not cloud your judgment, hanging out with people who inspires you, stands up to you when there is need to and truly supports you. It is all about balance: a strength taken too far can become a liability or ignoring your personal challenges is a huge risk.

To follow your own path to success is doing what is necessary: engaging deeply with yourself so as to learn how to deal with your personal challenges. Exploiting your strengths is easier as people tend to be more at ease with themselves in times of success. No one can hope to succeed as a free rider on the tailwinds of fortuitous circumstances. Complacency in dealing with yourself can only lead to stagnation. No one can continue on to be successful by using their sense of pride to mask their personal challenges. Living beyond one’s means intellectually or financially is the fast express route to doom! “If there is no wind, row”.

Checklist, Priorities and Time

Time management has always been the subject of many books, studies and talks.  One of the most well known is the book:“The 7 habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. In short, there will always be urgent things amongst which are stuff that you definitely need to respond to and those that you would probably respond at some point in time.

With experience, you have learnt not to allow yourself to be dictated by the tyranny of the urgent. Each person views the world differently and, therefore, what is considered as urgent varies according to each person. Your boundaries have sometimes been “invaded” by people who have tried to forge bonds to create a sense of solidarity in an effort to gain your support for their personal challenges. Attempts at highlighting what you both have in common: shared ethnic identities or common passions have been used to encourage you to view the world from their point of view. Your strong sense of self have finally helped you regain control of your boundaries and push back any further attempt of influencing your agenda for today’s work.

On the other hand, developing your own list of priorities at work is actually not only about your own sense of urgency. It also needs to take into account the diverse expectations of the people making up your working environment.  Decoding what would actually work for you and for your colleagues/team members sometimes require that you probe further to develop a better understanding of the inner workings of your environment. Asking the right questions, using the right approach to enquire and probably verifying that you have well understood takes valuable time but worth you putting the effort.  Making a checklist for today that is actually very different from the expectations of your team members or co workers may be sending the wrong message – “I want to be left alone and I don’t need you…”. You may be reminded of that single mindedness at a time when it matters for you to rely on the valuable contributions of your colleagues.

Determining your work priorities correctly require a working understanding of the different boundaries which permeates your workplace.  These boundaries can only be determined through your various interactions with your co workers.  Respecting those boundaries sometimes lead to vain efforts of complying to conflicting priorities. Your efforts to perform at your best are completely undermined by the dynamic power structures at work. Maneuvering the margins of your workplace require you to take an active role. Choosing to negotiate the boundaries would actually add value to your work brand. It is through these social negotiations that your work brand is constantly being moulded giving you opportunities to grow professionally and personally. Your ability to deal with both complexity and ambiguity and at the same time, managing your sense of confusion is crucial for you to successfully navigate your workplace.

There are times when you will feel trapped by those same boundaries that you are trying to redefine. You may then feel a looming sense of frustration and you tend to become very self conscious.  It is at this very moment that your resilience needs to kick in. Resilience is not about continued success but more about your ability to cope with crises, failures. It is an enduring process where at times you will feel vulnerable and lost but you will ultimately emerge stronger over time.

In the end, your approach to managing your priorities and defining your daily checklist is not linear. It does not necessarily follow the construct of any recommended framework. It is in constant flux imbued by the various experiences that act to enrich your time management skills.

Swapping Identities As You Journey Through Life.

Each person has multiple identities: as a sister/brother, daughter/son, colleague/boss, neighbour, alumni/teacher, friend. With globalization, the flow of people crossing borders is increasing and our interactions are not only an emotional experience. It is also about having new cultural experience shaping our view of the world. As a result, most people have “fluid” identities – moulded by life experiences, interactions with a variety of people, overseas travelling, job changes, amongst others. You also would tend to tweak your “personal brand” to fit your new personal and professional goals as you go into a new phase of your life.

Every industry or workplace or country has its own norms and values which must be understood and embraced if you hope to be considered as being “one of them”. It does not necessarily mean that you have to be a completely new person.  Remaining true to your core values and at the same time being open to new possibilities is a century old challenge to anyone who embraces change.

In integrating a new environment, you will probably choose those elements that enable you to “fit in” and that are, at the same time, aligned with your core “self”. Keeping your own sense of “balance” requires a constant management of uncomfortable emotions coming from a sense of confusion, being misunderstood, harbouring contradictory beliefs and a feeling of being “out of place”. In those times, it is important to have access to some kind of social support where you can voice out your anxieties and feel heard. This is also where your problem solving skills can help you to directly address the sources of your discomfort. Remaining open to suggestions made by people who have been in your shoes is another means to successfully achieve this transition.

As you constantly renegotiate your identity over time, your relationships tend to change as well. Most people would use their own personal experiences to make assumptions and behave accordingly. As a result, you will sometimes be perceived differently from your own self image. It is important to bear in mind that no matter how much efforts you put into setting things right, the outcome is largely to the discretion of the other person.

Using an approach characterized by dialogue can sometimes dissolve the misunderstandings. Dialogue is not about having a number of conversations. It is about being fully conscious of your own personal bias and having an understanding of what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes at the same time. It is creating the necessary space so that the parties involved can freely express themselves and be “seen” in their own personalities. Such engagement would become possible when the parties involved perceive that “the stakes are high”. Engaging into this “dance” to reach common ground requires personal commitment and a level of self confidence. Only then, the relationship can continue to flourish and evolve in a way that is both mutually beneficial to both parties.

There is always an element of risk when you go into a new career/country/workplace.  You can actually end up valuing more what you have lost. However, being curious about other people’s views and experiences can only broaden your vision and improve your interactive skills. Going out of your comfort zone is actually healthy because it is good to know what lies beyond and to test your own sense of self. No matter the age gap or difference in cultural background and/or in their career path, people, having experienced similar life situations, have much more in common. You will eventually make new friends and widen your network.

It is important to bear in mind that each encounter in your new environment is only a snapshot. People make up the very fabric of any environment and because people’s identities evolve,  making hasty conclusions can only validate your self doubts, strengthen your resistance to change and lead to self marginalization.

In the end, navigating through the twists and turns of your journey can only provide you with opportunities for personal growth and can help you develop a stronger sense of self.