Category Archives: Career

A Chinese perspective on business

I’m currently reading a book called Dedication – The Huawei Philosophy of Human Resource Management, by Huang Weiwei. I’m only in the first chapter, but I’m already in love with it.

It’s so, so different from the most western-centric business books that I’m used to.

I’m just going to leave you with a couple of the passages in the book that made me go did he really write that?! because it was just so damn Chinese and absolutely refreshing (reminds me of the books by Lin Yutang, that I unsurprisingly also adore):

For the past ten years, I’ve worried about failure every single day and paid no attention to success. I have no sense of pride or superiority, just a sense of urgency. This might be the reason for Huawei’s survival. If all of us try to figure out how we can survive, we may survive for a much longer time. No matter, what, we will fail one day. Please be prepared for that. This is my unwavering point of view because it is a law of history.

[…]

I love my nation, and I also love my company and my family. Of course, I love my family more than my employees. That is the truth. We can unite our employees only by telling the truth. We need to give meaning to our employees’ work, and make them realize how their work contributes to their country. We also need to avoid empty talk and encourage our employees to start small, such as helping people around them and improving themselves. Working for one’s country and for one’s family are two engines that we need to start at the same time.

[…]

Huawei’s Board of Directors has made it clear that its goal is not to maximize the interests of shareholders or stakeholders (including employees, governments, and suppliers). Rather, it embraces the core values of staying customer-centric and inspiring dedication.

Don’t believe I’ve ever read anything close to that in another business book. Brilliant.

Great, but incompatible

It’s painful how sometimes you can put in lots of effort and sacrifice  into a project (or a career) in the hope that it will pay off, only for it to fall through in the last moment.

It’s worse when the motivation that was used sustain that effort was based on the fact that “there’s only X months to go; we’ll be done soon,” but X months has passed and we’re no closer to our goals than we were X months ago.

And sometimes it’s not even the first time this has happened. It could be the second or third (or forth) year you’re telling yourself, “not this year, but maybe next.”

But there will come a time when we have to tell ourselves that it’s time to cut our losses. There will come a time when we have to realise that the seed and soil may both be great, but simply incompatible.

The question is when, and will we know it then?

If it’s not a ‘Hell, yes!’, it’s a ‘No.’

The title of this post, “if it’s not a ‘Hell, yes!’, it’s a ‘No.'” comes from a Tim Ferriss book I’m currently reading called Tools of Titans, and is one of Ferriss’ favourite rules of thumb. Here’s a little more context (Ferriss is quoting Derek Sivers here):

Because most of us say yes to too much stuff, and then, we let these little, mediocre things fill our lives… The problem is, when that occasional ‘Oh my God, hell yeah!’ thing comes along, you don’t have enough time to give it the attention that you should, because you’ve said yes to too much other little, half-ass stuff[.]

It reminded me of how uneasy I was when being tasked with a slew of little projects that I knew were nice to have and that closed a few “open loops” (if only for the sake of closing them). I wasn’t too keen because I knew these were not the game-changing things I wanted to work on, things which I anticipated were on the horizon for myself and the team.

I concurred that, in principle, these were things needed to be done eventually, but that they would have be pushed to the back of the queue the moment something more momentous opened up.

We agreed to putting these tasks on the back-burner, with one or two trickling through during periods of slack and/or while we gained more clarity on any “Hell, yes!” projects that might be coming up (the act of scoping and gathering requirements may turn what seems like a “Hell, yes!” project into a solid “No.”).

I’d never actually though too much about it, but this has been one of key plays of my career thus far. Admittedly, it’s difficult to say “no” to customers (internal and external) early on, when you’re still finding a career niche, building up work experience and interpersonal clout (in fact, saying “yes” to just about everything is likely the better strategy when starting your career).

But once past that, saying “yes” to each and every opportunity and task is a recipe for mediocrity. If I’d continued doing that since starting work a decade ago, I’d probably still be copying and pasting data from spreadsheets, generating business reports by hand because somebody else told me so (albeit in an excellent manner, no doubt).

Instead, I’m working on developing my data science career, leading a great sales operations team, and thinking in my spare time about how I could bring my company’s analytical capabilities to the next level. Things I’d very much rather be doing, because I’ve said “no.”

How I Said No

  • Sure, I understand the report is essential, but does it have to be done that way? (Can we change the process or data sources a little so we can automate this?)
  • Can a self-service option be considered?
  • Can it be done by somebody else in the team?
  • What if we could generate a report that had 80% of the information but that could be churned out at 20% of the usual time?

The questions above are actual examples of those I’ve asked over the years. They were my way of saying “no” to projects that would have sucked up my or my team’s time, without which the many “Hell, yes!” projects (highly impactful, hundreds-of-people-thanking-us projects) would never have come into existence.

 

What are you doing to help the person next to you?

Was taking a break from my studies (exams next week, people!), having my dinner and watching some YouTube vids on “leadership” (just because) when I came across Simon Sinek and this video.

Reminded me of something I knew very well sometime back, but forgotten in the hustle and bustle of corporate life: that we sometimes have to put ourselves aside, ignoring the modern social beat of “I, I, me, me“, and think about how we can help and serve others, not in the hope for some future karmic gain, but because we can.

Developing a Culture

Seth Godin wrote a wonderful post on how we sometimes need an external push (through laws, policies, cultural guardrails) to do what’s best for us. It can be basically summed up by the following statements (from the post):

  • We know that wearing a bicycle helmet can save us from years in the hospital, but some people feel awkward being the only one in a group to do so. A helmet law, then, takes away that problem and we come out ahead.
  • Guard rails always seem like an unwanted intrusion on personal freedom. Until we get used to them. Then we wonder how we lived without them.

I was just thinking about true this is for so many other aspects of our lives. The friends we choose, because of the context they set, determine many of the decisions we make, and consequently many of the paths of life we take.

When setting up a company, a department, a team – how important it would be then to make sure that the cultural norms we encourage and enforce are the ones we want.

Whether it’s a culture of success (however you define it); freedom of experimentation; openness of communication; risk taking; or hard work, it is our job as servant leaders to ensure that it’s the least awkward thing to do.