How I Read

7/365: Currently Reading

This post is a little different to my normal posts, but thought that I would share a very relevant on-going theme in my life and how I’m going about it: reading and writing. The motivation behind this was spurred by the shutting down of my beloved Google Reader which has served me faithfully for the last few years as my main portal of consuming information. I agonized over what could take its place and after reading this post on on How to Read on Farnam Street Blog (arguably my favourite go-to website), decided to improve how I am consuming and sharing my information and to use some tools more intentionally than I have in the past.

Traditionally, I’ve used my Google reader as my primary Inspectional Reading method, and as a way to keep up with news and thought leaders in specific industries. I still read on average a book per week (yes, sometimes I do slip up!) but haven’t been very good at going a step further in Syntopical Reading. Also, in either case, I haven’t been the best at keeping track of articles that I really enjoy, or dug deeper into them for more Analytical Reading. I’ve used delicious.com half-heartedly to save these articles I like, but still – not good enough. Hence, in efforts to be better at tracking and sharing, I’ve divided my information consumption into the following three categories based on the How to Read post:

1) Inspectional Reading 

– I’ve migrated over to Feedly in replacement of my Google Reader and although am still getting used to the interface, I do like the design, and the process of migrating over has forced me to cut down about 20% of my RSS feeds so I can derive more focused content. I still have WAY too much feeds for my liking, so I need to cut down at least another 30% more.

– My twitter feed also serves as a way for me to keep up with news that I skim through on a frequent basis.

2) Analytical Reading

– I’m going to start using Pocket a lot more to filter through from my skimming of my Feedly and Twitter feeds to articles that really catch my eye. (It helps that I am a speed reader so can skim very quickly through large quantities of information)

Findings.com helps me capture key ideas that I can revisit and captures quotes that I really like for articles online.

Tumblr will do the same for for me as findings does, but for books that I read. I just to make sure that Readmill is pulling information consistently from my Kindle highlights.

– In terms of ‘saving’ articles that I like, I’m testing out Potluck, which so far is underwhelming, but what I like about it is that I can see what other friends are reading as well. I might return to delicious.com if the platform doesn’t pick up, as I like delicious’ hashtag feature (makes sorting and searching so much easier)

3) Syntopical Reading

– I find that this type of reading is best done when I force myself to pen down my thoughts and hence, will be blogging more about my reading and cross referencing it with articles that I read. I’ve debated migrating over to Medium but haven’t reached that tipping point yet.

– I’m cutting back on my One Book per Week and instead, making sure that I read more deliberately and aim for a book per 2 – 3 weeks and intentionally what I’m reading on this website. I find that I’ve read so many books, but have missed out on the value that each of them provide as after a while, they all blur together. I’m making it a habit to reflect after each book and write down my thoughts on the book while it’s still fresh.

P/s: I’ve updated my What I’m Reading list, and am open to suggestions on how I am best tracking/sharing books that I want to read. 

Design Gym: Learn design thinking and solve real world problems

How do you solve real world problems with a human-centered lens? How do create a product that is effective and beautiful? Where can you find a community of thinkers that have the skills and process to solve wicked problems? Where do you find an accessible avenue to learn design thinking that is pragmatic and  affordable?

A few months ago, myself and a group of strategists and designers set out to solve this challenges and emerged with a really exciting concept:

The Design Gym, a community of skilled problem solvers through a workshop-driven design thinking curriculum. We partner with organizations to help them approach their problems in a new way by connecting their challenges with our community.

Our inaugural project is a weekend long intensive at the Brooklyn Brainery from July 27th – 29th, 2012. We’re kicking the weekend off on Friday night with beers, networking and an intro to design thinking. Saturday will be a deep dive into the design process, methods and best practices, and finishing off on Sunday with a hands on application of skills solving a real-world problem. Don’t worry if you don’t have a design or strategy background. We’re all here to learn, and see a problem from a different perspective. Sounds like you want to know more? Sign up here, spread the word (we’re on twitter too!) and bring a friend!

If you’re an organization/company/non-profit and are interested in partnering with us, please feel free to email me. I would love to chat with you. If you have any questions, please email me. If you would like to trade stories about the space or learn more about the project or even just to say hi, please email me. I think you get the picture! I will reply! Seriously.

A huge shoutout to my team, who are kick-ass all round. Go stalk them: Andrew Hagerman, Daniel Stillman, Jason Wisdom & Miles Begin.

One Book Per Week: Tumblring My Findings

Since coming to New York, I’ve developed a healthy habit of reading on the subway going to and fro from meetings. My Kindle has made it a lot easier to read in a packed subway car and my expanded networks have provided me a wealth of books to add to my reading list. After a conversation with a good friend who inspired a goal setting quest, I decided to embark on a One Book Per Week Project – where I would read a book a week as a personal self-development goal. It has been two months in, and I am pleased to share that reading is firmly back in life and can officially say that I have read all the books on my shelf. I’ve added some of the books that I read and loved to my Book List but more than that, I would love for my readings and discoveries to be shared in a more public way. Hence, going forward, I will be doing this in two ways:

1) Tumblr

I started a tumblr where I would post quotes and highlights from books that I am currently reading. Majority of my readings are now done on my Kindle and thanks to this awesome tool called: Findings.com, all the highlights from my Kindle readings will be shared to my tumblr. Quotes Galore aka. my personal quote bank and tracking of books that I am currently reading. Below is a snapshot of Findings.com. I definitely recommend that you check it out!

2) Moleskin Book Visualization 

One of the skills that I have been working on is the Art of Visual Thinking. I am naturally a visual leaner, but the art of translating thought and complex ideas into pictures is a completely different thing. Hence, to help me along with this learning process, I decided to combine it with my One Book Per Week Project. I bought some brand new moleskins and will be summarizing up the books I am reading into one page in my moleskin. This not only enables pushes my ability to retain information, but also allows me to piece together the book in my own way.

My African Experience: South Africa

In the summer of 2007, I participated with a group of 8 other students and 2 professors, in the Social Entrepreneurship 101 from my business school to South Africa. This was my team.

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The team at the end of the trip = UBC students + our local ground support from Ubuntu + Go Global + Nancy Langton + Robert Gateman ( taking the picture)

So briefly, SE101 is part of the African Initiative of the Sauder School of business to deliver business plan training programs to youth living in Africa. The efforts have been focussed in Kibera, Nairobi and Johannesburg. The workshops we delivered were aimed to educate and enable impoverished youth to start their own businesses in a practical, applicable and sustainable context.
Project Components:(Kibera and Nairobi)
  • Develop and present three weeks of workshops that inform interested Kibera youth about the essential components of a business plan, touching on a wide variety of topics from operational organization to marketing tactics and financial strategies.
  • Conduct one-on-one consultation sessions with the program participants, to share ideas and information, design complete business plans and organize step-by-step development stratagems.
  • Arrange guest speakers from the Kenyan business community to provide a local prospective, impart inspiration and share essential knowledge and experience.
  • Create a sustainable link and spread awareness through website updates, and progress reports about the progress of the program participants.
* Taken from the SE101 website
However, on the Johannesburg, South African initiative, our project components were slightly different. As a team of 9, we were divided into sub teams of 3, and were placed in three different site: 1) Orphanage in Soweto; 2) Business Plan Development, Alexandra Township and; 3) Ubuntu organization – our local partners.

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I was part of the team that was assigned to the orphanage in Soweto, and here, we were ‘consultants’ looking into the orphanage’s organisational structure and finances, seeing what could be improved on. We looked into  the orphan selection process, forms, criterias, allocation of finances and fund management. Our orphanage placement was the Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry, which is headed by Carol Dyanti, affectionally known as “Mama Carol” to more than 1,700 orphans in over 200 homes. All these children live in child-headed households (parents have passed away due to AIDS).
Ikageng are the orphans’ life support, mentoring, providing life skills, paying their education, providing basic needs such as food, clothing and transportation. During my placement in Ikageng, I visited several child-headed households in Soweto ( My Saffer friends are gasping that I emerged unscathed, as Soweto is an incredibly dangerous place) and I can definitely say that the impact and reality of what these kids endure, hit me very very hard.
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Above is the residence of one of the child-headed households. The silver tin shack is home to 10 kid. It is roughly the length of the truck beside it.

I’m not going to divulge into details, but there are 2 stories that I would like to share.

Story 1: Our first day in the orphanage, a girl of about 16 years old came into the office needing counselling. She had no one else to go. Three years ago, this girl had both a father and mother. But one day, her mother comes home and discovered that her father was HIV+ and had not told the family. Her mother went into a rage and stabbed her father 48 times in front of her and because of that, was improvisoned for murder. The girl then came into the care of Mama Carol and the orphanage. She dropped all contact with her mother after the incident. Recently, her mother was diagnosed of AIDS and is in the hospital dying of both AIDS and meningitis. Her mother then requested that her daughter take care of her. The girl is almost finished high school and needed advice on whether to leave her education as it is to take care of her mother whom she has not spoken to in 3 years, or to ignore her mother’s requests and continue her education.

Story 2: Part of the orphanage’s support is providing transportation to school, as the township is unsafe, and these kids live far away from a decent education. 2 girls that we were in contact with, told the orphanage that they were old enough to walk ( they were both about the age of 14) to school to save some money in the summer as it would still be light out when school ends. Although the orphanage was uncomfortable, they agreed to the suggestion – both girls lived relatively close to the school and there were others who needed the money more. The next morning on their walk, they never made it to school. They were raped.

Now, these 2 stories were just some of the few that really resonated in me during my time with Ikageng. But it also illustrates several key takeaways that I would like to share:
1) Ignorance
It blows my mind how absolutely ignorant I was on thinking that I could ‘help’ the orphanage within a period of 2 weeks that I was there. Prior to our trip, we prepped on material, cultural challenges, exercises that we would use on site. We brought our SE101 financial ‘textbook’ there to ‘teach’ the locals on organisational structure and financing. None of us opened a page of that book. I was blown away, and I think I can safely say the rest of my teammates, were caught off guard by the situation, the people we were in contact with and paralyzed by our incapability  create change within those 2 weeks. Time was not on our side. You often read about situations like that in the news, but does the reality of it really process?
2) Teaching vs. learning
Before I landed in Johannesburg, I was prepped with the mindset that I was going there to help, to teach. A month later when I flew out of Johannesburg, I was the student instead for the month. It struck me that I was going in blind, without any prior situational knowledge or any proper contact before to ‘teach’ business to local Africans. What did I really know about a life, an economy, a living standard that is so different to my own? How can I tell someone to create change in an organisation when their daily decisions are to turn away orphans because their can’t support them financially or instead, to deny transportation rights to 2 girls that just want to go to school…
3) What I really learnt instead
Of all the numerous things that I learnt, below are some of the simple things that yes, may seem repeated and heard alot, but really impacted my time there until now.
  • Never underestimate any situation that you are going into, and never presume that you have an ‘upperhand’ just because you are more educated or come from a better off situation. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn.
  • All development help needs to be sustainable. You are virtually creating an expense for an organisation which is already short on funds to ‘entertain’ you for 2 weeks and then disappear back in your own life forever. If you want to help, make sure that you follow up, or is plugging into  an organisation that has a sustainable plan in place. This leads to Part 2 of my African trip, which will be blogged about at a later time.
  • Staying for 2 weeks will not create the change that you have envisioned. Especially if it’s just you and the locals. If you really want to help, stay longer. Alot longer. Or develop a sustainable plan. – refer to point 2 above.
  • If you are travelling in a team, your teammates can be your greatest assets or worst liabilities. Pick well. Mine were great people and I still see some from time to time.
  • There is always hope. Always.
Finals thoughts:
If I could describe my entire South African experience as one word, it would be: CHANGE. It changed the way I fundamentally viewed development and aid. It changed my view of Africa and the people. It changed me, issues I care about, future projects I worked on.

“Participating in SE101 was probably one of the best decisions that I have made in my undergrad life. This program challenged and changed me in the ways I view learning, education and teamwork. I found myself discovering so much more in terms of culture and knowledge, and challenging the traditional notions of developmental work. Not only has my experience exceeded my expectations, I also found inspiration and a sense of direction in terms of my Bcom degree.

As a result of the skills that I learnt while taking part in SE101, I have since been able to be involved with development work both locally in Vancouver and in Africa. I am also currently structuring a course with Sauder which incorporates a global learning perspective encourages a more cognitive learning/educational experience tapping on the passion students have for volunteering and helping others.”