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A Whole New Mind December 12, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in A Whole New Mind, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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In the past, I have always envied people with a creative knack, especially those who are able to make a living with their creative and artistic abilities. I envied them because I’ve found them to be true to themselves, have the tenacity to stand firm on their interest and pursue a rewarding career doing what they enjoy most. It must be that they enjoy doing what they do because otherwise, they would have succumbed to the left minded social pressures of the 21st
century. Reading this book gave me the startling realization that “right” minded people, once seen as the social outcast, will eventually be powering the next wave of economic transformation.

To those who are like me, a typical “left” brainard MBA, this book is definitely a good source of information for ways to improve “right” brain thinking. I do strongly believe that with diligent practice, every ability can be attained and improved over time. As Malcolm Gladwell identified in his book Outliers, successful people were great at what they do simply because they were given a headstart, an opportunity to clock up massive hours of practice and training ahead of everyone else, not because they were born great.

So, it’s about time for us to start putting our “right” minds to work – “right” brain gym time! Design threadmill, Storytelling benchpress, Symphony abcrunch, Empathy dumbbells, Play rowers and Meaning ellipticals…bring them on!

How to be an Outlier??? December 7, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in [Books] Leadership & Change.
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Malcolm Gladwell brings up yet another set of interesting observations through his book Outliers. The central idea revolves around the hidden and unexpected forces that propelled successful people to their fame and wealth. In essence, Malcolm reasoned that it is the intersection of opportunity and persistence that created these extraordinary capabilities. These hidden forces tend to influence success or failure outcomes much more than we would otherwise imagine. It may seem unnerving that we have so little control over our destiny.

However, reading through the book, it became clear that the key takeaway is for us to be aware of and understand the hidden influences and various factors that may provide an edge to us. These hidden influences may come about from sheer luck, such as being in the right place at the right time, or they may come about from social structures that society put in place. The astounding fact is that even a small advantage provided by an opportunity can accumulate over time and become a drastic increment in capability that differentiates the successful from the ordinary.

As the future catches you December 6, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in As The Future Catches You.
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The author made a compelling argument and provided substantial historical evidence that technology adoption leads to wealth accumulation for the community or nation. He continues to assert that nations wishing to prosper should depart from traditional resource-based economies and focus on developing “value-added” service industries. While I agree that knowledge driven industries increases productivity and economic value-add, I think there are significant risks involved when a country becomes over-reliant on such an economy. Singapore, for example, was worse hit amongst most South East Asian countries in the recent financial crisis. A balance should be struck between resource-based as well as knowledge-based economy in order to limit a nation’s exposure to extreme volatility in wealth creation and destruction.

As to the author’s point on concentration of knowledge pools within certain localized areas, communities or ‘zip’ codes, I’d like to add another potential reason for this phenomenon by drawing a parallel to the idea of specialization as a method of increasing efficiency. As globalization continues to lower trade barriers across geographies, localized communities no longer need to be self-sufficient. They can trade goods/services between them. Naturally, the need to remain competitive will drive local communities to specialize in order to maximize efficiencies, thereby creating localized centres of excellence.

A quick thought on corporate social responsibility: Should global corporations that profit from exploiting natural resources from countries such as Nigeria and Myanmar be responsible to ensure that some of the wealth created is reinvested in a sustainable way, e.g., help develop local communities, education, etc? When local governments fail, shouldn’t global corporations profiteering from the countries step in?

FunTheory-Change behaviors by making it fun! November 1, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in Design Thinking.
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We often think about changing consumer’s usage behavior or perception about a product by making it cheaper, more intuitive, easy to use, etc. But making it fun to use has a more profound impact, especially in encouraging repeated use of a service or product.

This concept seems like it can be extended to a wide range of applications, including social challenges that are inherently difficult to address (e.g., encouraging healthier, more socially and environmentally responsible behaviors amongst the general public).

Follow the link to see examples of social experiments on Fun Theory.

Design Thinking September 30, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in Design Thinking.
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There are two key ideas that stood out to me from the article:

i) Shift in mindset when adopting the human centered design thinking – Traditionally, businesses pursued innovation by enhancing a technology, or building upon their existing competencies or product line. Rarely does a new product/service introduction start with customer/user behaviour in mind. The human centered design ethos forces us to take a step back to identify the ‘real’ user need, before jumping into a solution. I found it interesting that the solutions to problems shared in the article often surprised me because they seemed to have gone off tangent, but in reality, are is solving the root cause instead of addressing the symptoms.

ii) Prototyping to solicit feedback for the product design process, as opposed to the notion of prototyping to test the final product.  Clearly, this necessitates that the prototyping process does not require huge time/money investments, resulting in quicker cycles between iterations. Although, on the flipside, I would imagine that having a more ‘complete’ prototype will enable designers to get higher quality feedback since it is closest to the final product.

Pau Min Wong on Back of the Napkin September 23, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in Back of the Napkin, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Having worked in consulting for several years, the process of selecting appropriate tools to visualize and present volumes of data in a simple and communicable way became a natural part of daily work. I stopped thinking hard about it and relied mostly on existing templates, previously used visuals and slides. However, reading Dan Roam’s “Back of Napkin” provided me with two fresh insights.

Firstly, Dan extends the usage of visualization beyond the typical presentation and communication process, and instead made it central to the problem-solving process itself. He proposes that any business issue can be broken down into 6 basic questions: Who/what, How much, When, Where, How and Why. Using these 6 lenses, we can then decide on the most appropriate visual tool that best represents the information we have, helping us to look beyond the numbers, see and recognize trends and imagine the underlying forces at work. This eventually leads us to either a set of deeper probing questions, or a likely solution for the issue at hand.

Secondly, Dan provided a simple yet elegant and structured framework to encapsulate the entire visual thinking and presenting process. The same six lenses that we have used to inspect problems can also be used to project the solutions and ideas. Adding to that, Dan introduces the SQVID technique that guides us through the delicate tradeoffs involved in customizing visuals to the needs of specific audience groups.

I must admit that Dan’s framework is not a ‘cure all’ solution. It merely provides a guideline, a starting point for us to think on our feet (or rather hands), throw some ideas in the air (drawing board in this case) and kickstart the discussion. Getting to the right solution still requires application of the inquisitive mind, collection of past experiences, strong analytics, all of which cannot be replaced simply by a visual thinking framework.