We might actually know more than we think we do

As I listened to the speaker of the webinar, a man who had tons of Sales Operations experience, something gnawed at me – something about what he was saying felt incongruent, felt wrong, but I didn’t just couldn’t put my finger on it.

I took notes, and then started connecting the dots. And before long I realised what was wrong: the assumptions he was using, and the analytics advice he was espousing, were questionable at best, and were most likely incorrect.

Despite his deep Sales Operations experience, and despite his air of authority, he was no analytics expert. 

It was actually the first time it became really clear to me that I was actually closer to an analytics expert than many other people were. And though I’ve felt like a newcomer/newbie for the longest time, it is a fact that I’ve been working in the data/analytics field for more than a decade now – it’s time I started thinking that way, and acting it as well.

(Just a casual observation, but I find that we Asians are most susceptible to  imposter syndrome, or at least a lack of belief in our abilities and influence. Or it might be a cultural thing – we know we know better, but out of humility or reverence we hold back our opinions. Problem is, when we hold back our own light everyone stays in the dark, and nobody benefits.

Come on people, let’s shine!

The Perfect Car

Give me a
Merc; a Porche; a Bugatti;
A Fiat; a Bentley; no, give me a Ferrari.
Give me the speed; the space; the luxury!

I could just imagine myself sitting in one of those perfect cars. Hands on wheel, jazz playing softly in the background, driving down a lonely country road in the orange glow of the setting sun. I don’t really know where I am, but it’s beautiful. As I turn to give you a smile I realise you’re not there(?!) Instantly I am sad. This is no longer a car but a prison. Get me out to where you are.

Who needs speed; space; luxury?
What’s it mean if it’s just me?
Screw the perfect car.
I’ll take family.

Tit for Tat

Pleasantries exchanged, we got down to business. 

Rather new to each other, we moved deliberately. The context of the meeting was potentially explosive. It had all the makings of “your word against mine” scenario.

But it started out well. Facts, or perspectives of the facts, were exchanged, and these facts turned out to be decently aligned. We were both professional but cordial. Probing; questioning.

If there was one thing I know about disagreements, having been on the wrong end far more times than I’d like to admit, when two people looking for the same ends disagree, more often than not one or both are missing the complete picture.

By putting aside early on what seem to be differences, and sharing information and perspectives, this can just as often be overcome.

Then his tone changed. Suddenly.

“Do you know what this means for us? Do you not know the implications?”

Jobs, he explained, were on the line.

As much as I had expected something like this before I had got on the call. But I did not expect it then. Not after the dispassionate exchanges since the start of the call.

And I felt offended at his statements – was he implying I wasn’t taking what we were doing seriously? Because it was anything but.

I knew how this work affected others I had gone through extra lengths to make sure it was as good as it could reasonably be. For someone to say otherwise was an insult.

It was at this point that I engaged my own rhetoric. I matched him in content; in tone of voice; in decibels. Two could play this game. 

But then I let up.

Maybe he was frustrated (he probably was). Maybe he was having a bad day (he probably was). Maybe he wanted to get this right, like me (he definitely was).

So I gave him an opening. He took it. 

No, we didn’t manage to settle everything then and there. There were many questions still left unanswered.

But we did manage to do was to return to civility, and an agreement on what we needed to do next.


What transpired above reminded me of the tit-for-tat strategy in game theory, which I first read about in a book on strategic decision making.

It was a rather old book and it didn’t mention the act of generously “being nice” again, which is actually now considered an important improvement to the strategy.

The City of Sophronia

The city of Sophronia is made up of two half-cities. In one there is the great roller coaster with its steep humps, the carousel with its chain spokes, the Ferris wheel of spinning cages, the death-ride with crouching motorcyclists, the big top with the clump of trapezes hanging in the middle. The other half-city is of stone and marble and cement, with the bank, the factories, the palaces, the slaughterhouse, the school, and all the rest. One of the half-cities is permanent, the other is temporary, and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city.

And so every year the day comes when the workmen remove the marble pediments, lower the stone walls, the cement pylons, take down the Ministry, the monument, the docks, the petroleum refinery, the hospital, load them on trailers, to follow from stand to stand their annual itinerary. Here remains the half-Sophronia of the shooting-galleries and the carousels, the shout suspended from the cart of the headlong roller coaster, and it begins to count the months, the days it must wait before the caravan returns and a complete life can being again.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

How to save time

Try one of the following:

  1. Learn how to programme the TV recorder in the quickest way. Two buttons, three steps. Take four minutes, not five.
  2. Use a TV recorder to save your favourite TV shows and skip through the ads. Save 30 minutes every two hours.

Or… stop watching the damn TV. Save two hours every two hours.

Don’t save time. If you choose your activities wisely, time saves itself.


See also: https://www.ted.com/talks/laura_vanderkam_how_to_gain_control_of_your_free_time/up-next

Two stories

Today was an awful day. It started with me waking up a little later than hoped. I’d planned to go in earlier, get a head start on the tons of work I’d left outstanding from the previous day. But by the time I managed to get to the station it was peak and the trains were packed, and I barely made it into the first that came my way. An important project I was working on felt impossible; for hours I sat on end looking for solutions, probing but not finding. I left work feeling stressed, exhausted, and defeated, thinking to myself there had to be easier ways to earn my keep. Back at home I decided a run would do me good, loosen me up a little. Putting on my new shoes I headed out. Within 15 minutes the unseasoned shoes rubbed into my skin so badly it started to bleed. Coupled with the fatigue I took home from work, the run was far slower than expected and a complete waste of time.


Today was a great day. Though I’d woken up a little later than I’d hoped, I managed to catch the first train to work despite it being peak (missing two, three trains in a row wasn’t uncommon). I continued my work on that important project – something that’d been causing me a lot of stress of late. And despite spending hours on end I made almost no progress today. No, wait, I lie. I developed 23 solutions that didn’t work, so I’m 23 solutions closer to the one that will. And you know what? I felt great – this was what I signed up for. This is what progress and learning looks like. At the end of the day I was spent and had nothing left to give. I’d given my all, and in a funny protestant-ethic-kind-of-way it made me feel good about myself. Back home, I decided to go for a run. After a day like this, I needed to get out. I put on my new shoes — a great past-season pair that was 40% off retail, can you believe it? — and headed out. 15 minutes into the run they chaffed a little, but it was to be expected; so I went a little slower, taking in the scenery. Halfway along I ran past this 70-something Malay lady on a wheelchair, watching the water, ships, and the opposite shore, while a young man prepared his fishing line and a young woman held the lady’s hand. It was so peaceful; so serene. I had half the mind to just stop and ask if I could join.

Then I realised — I already had.

Training for a Marathon

For the past half a year I’ve been in the midst of training for a marathon. The decision to participate this year came after incessant badgering by a colleague. As I remember, when I finally agreed it came when my defences were low following a particularly stressful period at work, during which I couldn’t think straight.

But that’s over now. No time for regrets.

The training has been interesting so far, and getting increasingly intense.  Just a couple of days ago, for the first time in a long time I cut a run short because I was too hungry. Desperately seeking calories, my original goal to run to the end of a park still ten kilometres away turned into a run to a vending machine that was just three. It was funny how when I reached the machine and looked through the nutritional information on the label I was disappointed it contained as little energy as it had – 98kcal  – the first time in my life I was looking for the highest caloric option my money could buy (which was $2).

When it dawned on me what I had just done, my mind was blown. What a different lens to see life by.

Seek feedback and iterate

As I sat there in front of my screen developing the spreadsheet/tool that was to be shared with the more than hundred salespeople in the company I realised I had doubts – would this really work? Was this an improvement to what they already had? Or was it more change for the sake of change?

I honestly felt that it was a genuine improvement, but I didn’t know. And having spent so much time already getting to where I was on its development, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I was on the wrong track, and that my work would come to nought.

Also, I was in a state of flow, and getting feedback was an overhead that would break that. Did I really want that?

I got up from my seat, walked over the coffee machine and made myself a coffee while mulling over this: to get feedback or not to get feedback – that was the question.


Development’s fun – I enjoy it. Solving technical problems and shipping something useful is one of the main reasons I entered the tech/data space. But having moved into a managerial role it’s something I do less and less – development’s now a team sport, one in which I’m no longer the star.

That sense of accomplishment when something you create goes out into the wild and receives accolades is something I really miss.

If this piece of development went live, I would well get back that high.


The steaming cup of coffee in my hand relaxed me and made things a little clearer: I made a mistake of having worked on the development as long as I had without getting feedback. I should have followed the same advice I always give my team: don’t work on something for too long without getting feedback, otherwise you may just find yourself spending days or even weeks on end working on something nobody wants to use.

(Thank goodness I also always drill it into them: “Do what I say; not what I do.”)

The longer I went without feedback, the harder it was psychologically to want to seek it. But I knew I had to do it.

I personally had doubts, and this was my baby here. I gritted my teeth, got up from my seat, and started seeking feedback. Like Sun Wukong (aka Monkey King), I reluctantly travelled to collect the sutras, during which I had to bear the pain of hearing things like “it won’t work” and having my “great” ideas turn bad.

It was emotionally draining, but it had to be done.


Hard as it was, I stopped development that day. The week (and weekend!) of frantic development came up to nothing.

Still, there was something I got out of it — like they say, there are no mistakes, only learning opportunities. And for me, it was a reminder to myself to seek feedback early, and iterate.


It was ironic that it was about this time that I was reading the Lean Startup by Eric Reis, one of the pioneering books on iteration and getting feedback. I leave you with this passage that I always use to remind myself before I go too deep into a development or process rabbit hole (text in bold mine):

From the point of view of individual efficiency, working in large batches makes sense. It also has other benefits: it promotes skill building, makes it easier to hold individual contributors accountable, and, most important, allows experts to work without interruption. At least that’s the theory. Unfortunately, reality seldom works out that way.

Consider our hypothetical example. After passing thirty design drawings to engineering, the designer is free to turn his or her attention to the next project. But remember the problems that came up during the envelope stuffing exercise. What happens when engineering has questions about how the drawings are supposed to work? What if some of the drawings are unclear? What if something goes wrong when engineering attempts to use the drawings?

These problems inevitably turn into interruptions for the designer, and how those interruptions are interfering with the next large batch the designer is supposed to be working on. If the drawings need to be redone, the engineers may become idle while they wait for the rework to be completed. If the designer is not available, the engineers may have to redo the designs themselves. This is why so few products are actually built the way they are designed.