Storytelling & Four Shifting Forces

Back in New York, I attended one of the best Creative Mornings sessions, a captivating talk delivered by Jonathan Harris on the storytelling. I’ve blogged before on deconstructing the power of storytelling, and if you’re looking to understand more about this, Jonathan Harris’ projects are absolutely remarkable. They have ranged from documenting an Eskimo whale hunt to capturing human emotion on the interwebs to interviewing Tibetans on happiness. Here’s his Creative Morning talk and my visual notes from that day:


















So my notes couldn’t quite capture the tail bit of his talk (I basically ran out of space!), but essentially, he highlights key trends that he is observing in our evolving world of tech and storytelling:

1) Rise of Social Engineers: Never before has there been such a small subsection of society ( aka. software developers in tech startups who are having a big effect of millions of human through design of software.

2) Urges & Outcomes: All tech extends some preexisting urge. What is the urge within humans that needs to be enhanced?

3) The Ethics of Code: How can we regulate software? Could there be a self-directed ethnics from the creators of software? This ties in back to point 1 on the responsibilities of a social engineer, given their wide-spread influence.

4) Healers & Dealers: Startups are basically falling into two buckets: healers and dealers. Healers: marketplace companies that connect people. e.g. kickstarter. Dealers: Attention economies that take up your finite resource aka. time by convincing people to spend time on their product/sites. e.g. facebook.


All in all, I was very struck after the end of his talk with this question(s): what kind of presence do you want to have in this world? Am I a healer or a dealer? As our world’s language continues to trend towards a technology-based one, how do we position ourselves to become creators once more, instead of just curators of information?

For now, I suppose I am satisfied with being a Healer in the investment world. The bigger picture of all of this, is wondering, as an investor, what trends in society do I want to help accelerate…

My Week’s Discoveries: Malaysia

So, I’ve been in South East Asia for the past three weeks, namely Malaysia and Singapore. The trip has been long time coming as I haven’t been back to my home country in over five years, and boy – am I ever glad I did. I have never been so inspired, humbled and proud of my fellow countrymen for the incredible work that they are doing in South East Asia. If you have the privilege to be involved with their organizations or have a coffee with these remarkable individuals, I assure you that it will be time well spent. Also, given that today is Independence day in Malaysia, thought it would be timely to share a few of my discoveries with you.

1) Malaysia Social Enterprise Alliance

This is a Malaysian organization for social enterprises and entrepreneurs with solutions to some of the most urgent social problems in Malaysia and globally. One of their more notable endeavors is ChangeWeekend, a 9-10 month program as a facilitative platform that would equip organizations with design thinking and developmental skills. Even more incredible is the driving force behind all of this is a wonderful lady, Ellynita Lamin, who has a heart of gold and is trailblazing her way in this part of the world. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what one of the local newspapers has to say about her work too!

2) Teach for Malaysia 

Teach for Malaysia (TFM) enlists Malaysia’s most promising leaders to improve education in Malaysia. It models after Teach for America, where it is a two-year, fellowship program where fellows are placed in local schools. Besides the fellowship, the team has not only enlisted an incredible amount of support from private and the Ministry of Education, but clear strategy and vision in how fellows can transform Malaysia’s education system from inside out. Change is on the horizon. This initiative is particularly close to home for me as I went through the public education system in Malaysia (yes, just like the adorable kids in the video!) and to get a glimpse of what TFM is up to, check out the video below.

3) Weekend: The Weekend Movement 

This is a community of people that is creating a weekend movement where they come together to build projects, create solutions and bring great ideas to life. So far, their weekends consist of Hack Weekend, Make Weekend and Change Weekend, and I’m sure it doesn’t stop there. The weekends are designed to kickstart innovation and new projects. If you ever are in Malaysia for a weekend that coincides with one of their workshops, definitely don’t hesitate to check it out!

4) Malaysia Design Archive 

This is a beautiful project combining design, history and preservation of culture. The project traces, maps and documents the development of graphic design in Malaysia to protect our visual history. Malaysia’s historical design influences are particularly fascinating as this is a meeting point and cultural crossing of the East and West – from ornate Islamic texts, to Chinese calligraphy and European engravings. As you browse the site, the graphics tell a wonderful story of Malaysia’s cultural transformation. I highly recommend you start here.

5) Other notable mentions:

  • SOLS 24/7: education program in Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, Malaysia and Thailand that has educated over 80,000 youth.
  • Gawad Kalinga: Building communities through tourism, social enterprise, disaster relief, reconstruction and development to end poverty.

Thanks to Ellyne, Shie Haur, Nicole, Tasnim and John for inspiring this post.

So, what is strategy anyways?

Two weekends ago, I attended a four hour session on Strategy taught by Mark Pollard (who also has a really thoughtful blog). I spent the afternoon learning about different tools and frameworks and below is the four hour session distilled into two pages in my notes. Overall, I thought the class was useful in getting a peak into the digital branding world, and Mark was a particularly great facilitator, a highly underrated skill! If you’re interested in learning more about advertising and marketing, definitely place this class on your watchlist.


As I thought more about what I took away from the session, I felt that the focus was primarily around the digital agency world (which is fair as it is where Mark’s background is in). However, I wanted to share a couple of my personal thoughts on what I think is strategy in a general setting.

Good strategy stems from the question of: How do you maximize impact given a limited amount of resources? Here’s a couple of guiding thoughts:

1) Kernel of Strategy: A diagnosis, guiding policy & coherent set of actions

I recently picked up Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt and it has since influenced a substantial amount of how I think about strategy. I came across this book when a good friend asked me “How do you define strategy?” As I stammered and stumbled across my different perceptions of my answer, he promptly handed over the book and had my eyes opened since.

The basic premise of the book is that strategy consists of three components, a diagnosis, guiding policy and a coherent set of actions. A diagnosis is not a description of symptoms, but an analysis. A guiding policy ensures that you understand your constraints and is an element of strategy. However, the first two need to be translated into specific actions by coordinating policies and actions on critical keystone objectives.

1) Value Creation: Price is what you pay, value is what you get

I think a key development point of strategy is understanding what value you are creating. The  value of product/service needs to be at the core of what you are developing. There is a desperate need to escape the existential terrors of bad and inefficient products/services. You achieve this by taking a close and hard look at product value.

Value creation is particularly important in the world of social change, where the product development is critiqued less than the storytelling around it. We have become so accustomed to ‘feel good’ exhortation in this space that we feel ‘guilty’ questioning further about the real impact and value a non-profit/social enterprise is creating.

2) Defining a Challenge: Making choices and overcoming obstacles

A great strategy starts by understanding the fundamental problem at hand.  A great deal of a company/ organizational task is knowing how to identify the biggest challenges to keep progress and create a practical approach to overcome this barrier. Two effective methods to get to the root of a problem is the 5 Whys question asking technique developed by Toyota during the evolution of their manufacturing methodologies, the other is the Why-because analysis. Essentially, don’t stop at the obvious answer and determine the cause-effect relations between the factors.

All in all, good strategy is like a hypothesis. It’s tested and adjusted over time. You pressure test it, see what works and you pivot. Oh, and the biggest thing: don’t ever mistake tactics and goals for strategy.

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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:, 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 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.

On Understanding the Learning/Thinking Process

There has been a theme of learning and creativity in my last couple of posts, and I thought I would sit down and share the way that I have been approaching the topics as I go through the process of understanding how I learn and changing the way I think about thinking. The process for the last couple of months has largely been very unstructured, full of trial and error, experimentational, and gut-driven. However, what I have come to understand about my own learning and thinking process can be synthesized in the followed illustration:

Let me break it down for you.  When I embarked on this journey at the beginning of 2012, I set out with the intent of breaking my linear process of learning. Along the way, I came across three concepts, of which I drew best practices from and found a happy in-between the three as illustrated above.

Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking 

When I was trying to understand a problem, I was going about it in a convergent way. I would look at my possible options and from there, converge my options into a conclusive solution. I could attest that my background in accounting and finance really honed this type of thinking and learning over years. However, what happened is that I started tackling problems with a limited amount of tools in my toolkit.

I then came across a design-thinking concept by Tim Brown in his book, Change by Design on divergent and convergent thinking. I found that I lacked the ability to think divergently, to create choice, to uncover new insights, to think laterally and to see multiple answers. This approach meant that whenever I approached a problem, I now starting my process by asking: “What if”? I realized that in order to ask this question, I had to expand my learning into other fields, be unrelentingly curious about best practices and continue to build up my toolkit. I currently find myself in learning furiously at the intersection of technology, design and development. Ultimately, the optional process would be to navigate the tension and exchange between these two ways of thinking, through continuously making choices and eliminating them as needed.

Fixed Vs. Growth Mindsets

‘Two Mindsets,’ Stanford, magazine article, 2007

Data Source: Carol Dweck: ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, 2006. Design: Nigel Holmes

I stumbled across this infographic in one of Brain Picking’s early May posts and related to both sides of the infographic. On one side, a Fixed Mindset leads to a deterministic view of the world, and on the side, a Growth Mindset that leads to a greater sense of free will. I’m not a fan on how the Fixed Mindset is portrayed with rather negative connotation, but I do like the breakdown of categories, which is more important to me at the moment. In this approach, I would argue that simplification of the mindsets should instead be a spectrum instead of a split path, as the continuous movement between understanding effort, challenge, criticism constantly changes. My main takeaway from Mindsets, is really honing in on the categories on which I felt needed improvement to improve my motivation and productivity.

The biggest breakthrough for me in the last couple of months is in the category of Effort. I discovered that I never saw effort on a path to mastery as I used to believe that people were naturally talented/ inclined to be better in certain areas than others. I have come to realize though, that talent is overrated. When people ask me how I have been learning so much these days, I tell them: I hustle. Alot. 

Opposable Mind 

 In order to properly extract lessons from the two concepts I mentioned above, I found notion of the “opposable mind” extremely helpful in understanding how to create a balance in my thinking/learning. I first discovered this book on Acumen Fund‘s Fellows reading list and picked up a copy myself. The book presents the concept of an “integrative thinker”, someone who has “the predisposition and capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” The above graphic is the gist of the book, starting with the question of thinking how you think.

My biggest takeaway from this book is an understanding of how I nurture my own imagination and how I create balance to turn my curiosity into tangible outcomes. This understanding then links back full circle into the original two concepts of Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking as well as Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets.

My Week’s discoveries: Creativity

I’ve been expanding my reading, watching and learning horizon to different type of projects and must say I’m becoming quite the creative/innovation junkie. It’s amazing what individuals can come up with and thought I’ll share some creative videos/projects that have crossed my path:

1) Future of the book by IDEO

I love reading and am a hoarder of books and ideas. This brilliant UX project by IDEO links together discussions and debates along with the book’s content to enhance your reading experience. An interesting way to increase the popularity of digital books too. Full disclosure: I own a Kindle and it has single handedly changed my reading frequency and patterns.

2) Chemical Reactions

This one I found absolutely hilarious and what better way to make chemistry fun! Real life chemical reactions! I’m bookmarking this idea for the next “how to make complicated and boring things fun” project I work on. I definitely see a clever marketing/branding concept in this.

3) Speed Painting

I’ve began a tentative foray into the art world and came across this artist: Agnes Cecile and became captivated by her work. The video above was a collaboration with an Italian fashion designer. I used to spend alot of time in my childhood, painting using water colour and her work just reaffirms my need to get more in touch with my artistic side.

Sidenote: If you’re looking for creative inspiration, check out portfolios on Behance. It’s like crack.