The Seasonality of Being Human

I received a gentle reminder recently on how long it has been since I last visited my site and penned down my thoughts. No real solid excuses on why I haven’t written much in the last year… only that there is a rhythm to the stories that have unfolded my life in the past year that I haven’t experienced for a while. Some stories unfurl naturally and slowly, others explode upon contact – all as I become reacquainted with what it means to have some resemblance of stability and monitoring my number of international airport encounters down to under a five count level. I suppose that it has also been a pretty busy year – I got engaged and married to an incredible man, so am finally emerging from my flurry of wedding-related activities that has dominated my life for the past year.

Besides a renewed resolution to write more, I leave you with my thoughts on seasons: If market and economic cycles affect the way that businesses are run on a macro scale (last week’s market volatility is probably a testament to that!), I have come to the slow realization that then seasons affect the day to day of the individuals and the way we function. There is something grounding and beautiful about being able to experience seasons and the occasions within them that reminds me of the stories that I have collected. I supposed that’s why I celebrate multiple New Years, Thanksgivings, and even National Days. And then the more personal ones: birthdays, anniversaries, family traditions. There’s something comforting about knowing with certainty, the story that each season brings. Spring insists that I go through the whole birthday shindig. Summer brings me barefoot days in parks and I realize how beautiful Autumn is with two Thanksgivings. And Winter – the privilege of the annual migration back home. I suppose this rhythm has always been there – just enhanced somehow in the last 19 months when I’m not lugging myself around across different airports and cities.

Finally, speaking of celebrations and National Days, to close out this mash-up of a blog post, today is Malaysia’s independence day. Merdeka!

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
― Yoko Ono

Reflections on Malaysia Startup Academy

If you pour your heart into your work, or into any worthy enterprise, you can achieve dreams others may think impossible.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks

I’ve spent the majority of my Oct back in the motherland, Malaysia, where I had the privilege of speaking at the inaugural Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Startup Academy. As a quick backdrop, MaGIC was established in Oct 2013 by the Malaysian Prime Minister and was launched officially in April of this year. Their mandate is to catalyze the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Malaysia and make it the startup capital of Asia. As one of their major initiatives to achieve this mission, MaGIC hosted an Academy from Oct 15-19 that brought together an impressive:

  • 500 entrepreneurs/participants from across Malaysia and the region
  • 200+ hours of mentoring sessions
  • 40+ instructors and 40+ investors
  • 70+ technology startups and companies hosting a Career Day
  • 5 days of learning, sharing and continuing to build entrepreneurial ecosystem

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MaGIC’s mandate is building on a blossoming landscape, where the country is well on its way to become an entrepreneurial hub in Asia. To share some exciting data-points, out of the eight largest internet companies in the ASEAN region (based on market cap), six of them are Malaysian-based (Business Insider, Aug 2014). In addition, during the time that I was back, two significant events occurred: 1) MOL Global Inc (MOLG) IPO-ed – Malaysia’s and South East Asia’s first technology IPO on the Nasdaq in over 10 years; and 2) GrabTaxi raises US$65M in a Series C and is in 16 cities across South East Asia.

After the whirlwind trip and on my 25 hour flight back to U.S., I spent some time reflecting on my time at the Academy. Here are my top takeaways:

 

1) Going from zero to one means having the grit to show up consistently overtime

The creation of something out of nothing is hard. In an infant startup environment like Malaysia, where you are up against creating and developing everything from infrastructure, content, community to policy –  that’s even harder by several multiples. The MaGIC team taught me that vision and execution is important, but the key to everything not falling apart and to keep the momentum going is pure grit. 3am emails. Back to back 15 hour schedules. 8pm team meetings. Grit is like living life as a marathon. Not a sprint. This takeaway reminded me of this really quick TEDtalk by Angela Lee Duckworth on grit as a predictor of success.

 

2) Establishing an ecosystem is about earning trust

When I think about establishing an ecosystem, I tend to think about three elements: the ratio of transactional and relationship driven activities, creation of entry/engagement/touchpoints and range of players/ participants in the entire system. The past week has made me think hard about adding another key ingredient: trust. Understanding how to gain potential participants/customer’s trust should be at the core. Other elements just layer on top of this.

 

3) Design for the future and then design for demand

During my mentor lunches, I had a lot of conversations about understanding the marketplace for a product or service. While I think that is crucial to understand, I think that entrepreneurs should begin the creation of a company with the question of “what do I envision the future to be?” It doesn’t matter which it is a future for yourself, or for your users or for the industry – the context will manifest itself different with different entrepreneurs and what they want their business to be. I used to sit on the other end of the startup table, on the investor side where I shared some of the responsibilities I believe that investor should have one of them including “living in the future.” Now, working in a startup and helping establish other companies, I believe that entrepreneurs have to hold themselves to set of responsibilities. One of these responsibilities, is that entrepreneurs should be able to answer the question of their deepest “why” and be able to imagine what the intersection of the future and demand would look like.

 

4) Compulsion loops are a secret weapon

I learnt this term from one of the other speakers, Noah Lucas, who is currently a mobile designer at Expedia (highly recommend the app if you don’t use it already!). I don’t know whether it’s this newly found vocabulary but I started looking for compulsion loops in all of my apps (darn you Instagram and your well designed loops!). Compulsion loops are a habitual designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure or relief from pain. Compulsion loops also showed me how you can exploit inbuilt human instincts to create a better product and service.  I particularly enjoyed this post by Pete Collier on short, medium and long term loops.

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If you’re interested in finding out more, here are additional resources:

1) Cezary Pietzark, one of the keynote speakers: posting on challenging startup conventions 

2) Heislyc Loh, MaGIC Program Director: lessons learned from the Academy 

3) Local news coverage and overview of the Academy

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Thank you MaGIC team and especially to Cheryl, Heislyc, Ken, Afiq and Warren. You guys continue to show me what it means to build something incredible in Malaysia.

 

Building relationships, communities and ecosystems

I had a conversation earlier in the evening with one of my co-founders, Jason, about how to measure community engagement – or even – how are we even defining community. We quickly breezed past this question in favour of getting to the more tactical nature of our conversation – but on my walk home, I was mulling over this concept and the different levels of community. Thought that I would share some of my favourite readings/ discoveries on community and relationship building, starting from an individual’s perspective and how this rolls up into an ecosystem.

Individuals

1) Why being the most connected is a vanity metric – Michael Simmons, Forbes.com

Simmons talks about about the science of network brokering and committing to discovering ‘new groups’ as a way of gain vantage point and provide value to your communities. I also enjoyed his more recent piece of the evolving nature of building relationships

 

Companies

2) 1,000 true fans – Kevin Kelly

A lovely way to think about the long tail, the importance of acquiring fans and how it connects up to making a living. Bonus read: Kickstarter subscribing to the 1,000 true fans philosophy 

3) Tribal Organizing – Seth Godin

If you tee up the previous article, with this one by Seth Godin – it might give you some ideas about how to separate out engagement points to gain ‘true’ fans. Seth Godin talks about effectively building tribes around: connection, commitment and conversation

4) What to learn from the man who managed  Reddit’s community of millions – First Round Capital, The review

I believe that there’s a pretty large difference in the way that you manage in-person communities vs. online communities. The rules of the game are different, and was struck in this piece, how the community manager balanced managing time and cultivating connections. Worth the long read

 

Ecosystem 

5) How did Silicon Valley become Silicon Valley? – Endeavor Global

Thoroughly enjoyed this report about the power of alumni in creating an ecosystem and how entrepreneurs can kickstart a community

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MIT Healthcare Financing Lecture

mit_crest_logoIf 2014 had a narrative arc, it would look like a series of sprints – from obtaining visas, starting a new job, moving apartments to being in a new industry – all leaving me just enough room to catch my breath before the next leg begins. Amongst the many life-sprints that have occurred, one particular sprint has been most unexpected and rewarding – both personally and professionally.

It started in Dec, 2013 – when I received an email from a friend whose paths I crossed during my Nairobi days in late 2012. She offered the opportunity for me to become a guest lecturer at MIT Sana’s spring course on Global Health Informatics to Improve the Quality of Care. They were looking for someone to speak about financing in healthcare in rural/resource-limiting settings. Truthfully, it has never crossed my mind that I would be lecturing at MIT especially at this stage of my career/life, but embracing Sheryl Sandberg’s philosophy of “if you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on!”, I accepted and found my way to the MIT campus in the beginning of March to deliver my lecture.

The course itself  “focuses on innovations in information systems to accelerate improvements of health outcomes in developing countries. The course will focus not only on technology and mHealth as it applies to global health, but also on broader issues necessary for the successful deployment of information systems such as quality of care, disease burden, and project management. This is the fourth iteration of the course, which is a collaborative offering from Sana, MIT, Partners in Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and a network of international partner academic institutions located around the globe.” – MIT Sana

During my lecture, 400 students were watching from 45 locations around the world. The lecture itself was a very basic introduction to financing as most of the students do not have finance or investing backgrounds. It will also be turned into an official MOOC edX/MITx curriculum in 2015! If you’re interesting in watching my lecture, it is available online.

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Thank you Sarah, for this amazing opportunity.

Nairobi Terrorism and the Hierarchy of Trauma

Talking about evil is hard. It involves at least two paradoxes. Here’s the first. On the one hand, to denounce evil is an ethical act. It is to affirm our deepest values and to commit ourselves to preventing acts that dehumanize others. On the other hand, to denounce evil can be an unethical act. It is a way of demonizing; it is, precisely, to dehumanize another. Here’s the second paradox: On the one hand, we need to the concept of evil to philosophically and ethically distinguish acts that shock our consciences, acts that are not adequately encompassed by words like bad, wicked, or wrong. The concept of evil clarifies. On the other hand, the concept of evil confuses, prevents thinking. We imagine evil is other than human, beyond understanding, almost mystical. This lets us off the hook, lets us deny our own capacity for evil, and stops us from analyzing the very human, very common causes of it.

James Dawes: The Guts of Atrocity

I have never quite known what to react in the wake of tragedy. Saying too much almost feels too opinionated, and saying too little almost feels to insincere. I remember my first encounter five years ago with a personal tragedy and death was uncontrollable laughter. Apparently my ‘coping’ mechanism then, was to try to see the humorous side of the story. Highly inappropriate. But now, over the past week, I am finding no humor that can help me cope as I watch Kenya balance a growing sadness of a nation, the anger of their citizens and the anguish of loved ones as terrorists stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi claiming over 60 lives.

As emails, phone calls, texts and social media updates came pouring in, the irony is not lost on me on how tragedies happen everyday around the world and yet, why is it that this one just seems so much more real. As my emotions slide between the continuum of “why” and “shock”, a strange version of this Hierarchy of Trauma began to emerge. As I scroll through the news for updates on Nairobi on that day, and throughout the week, it dawned on me that hundreds of people die and are affected by conflicts around the world. In Pakistan, 81 people perished in a church suicide bombing. In Nigeria, over 500 perished in terrorist related violence in the north of the country, and the on-going Syria crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Countries and communities that I can’t even comprehend who and where – are suffering. Yet, why my heart aches the most for my Nairobi home and only for a fleeting moment of empathy for the news in Pakistan.

And suddenly it struck me, trauma and grief isn’t a competition or a hierarchy. We each grieve for different losses, in our own way and in time. There is no trauma that is superior to, lesser, greater, less shocking, better covered, or any other comparative phrase, than the suffering of any individual or community. All we can do, is know that even if your experience does not have a chapter in other stories of conflict and trauma, it still a part of our story as humanity as a whole.

Thinking of you.

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Selected pieces that provide different perspectives on the Nairobi incident:

1) Generosity of citizens in donations for the victims

2) NY Times on the Value of Suffering 

3) A Tribute to a Friend: Ravi

4) Aung San Suu Kyi: the Freedom from Fear

5) A beautiful piece in The Nation on forgiveness

6) Nanjala Nyabola in Al-Jazeera on Keeping the Nairobi incident in perspective 

7) An interview with author, James Dawes on his new book: Evil Men – a collection of dialogues with war criminals from the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)

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.