Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own.  Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

At the end of the book, the author sums up this way:

whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

This mirrors the beginning of the book where he quotes the Chinese writer, Lin Yutang:

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.

The reason why we need to do this, McKeown argues is so we can focus and make our “highest contribution towards the things that really matter”.

To figure out what these things are, we should ask these three questions:

“What do I feel deeply inspired by?”
“What am I particularly talented at?”
“What meets a significant need in the world?”

To eliminate non-essentials, we must learn to say no, accept trade-offs, set boundaries, admit our mistakes and cut our losses. Not easy. But McKeown reminds us that focusing on the essentials is a choice. You can choose to say no to your boss, you may risk your promotion but you can say no.

Not easy, but still a choice.

Nowadays, I love books that inspire me to ask questions. Here are some questions that I asked myself after reading:

  • What are the things that really matter in my work, at home, in my personal life?
  • What should be my highest point of contribution?
  • What do I want to do with my “one wild and precious life”?
  • What can I reduce, simplify and focus on?
  • What should I give up?
  • What losses do I need to cut?

Some things I learnt:

“Weniger aber besser”

Dieter Rams’ design philosophy – Less but better. I sometimes find people who say “less is more” is really interested in more. Less but better is better.

We should think more deeply about our actions than our options.

For too long, we have overemphasized the external aspect of choices (our options) and underemphasized our internal ability to choose (our actions).

We don’t just have options that we must blindly follow. We can choose. We can choose neither of those options. We can change things. We don’t have to accept job A or job B. We can make our present job better. If we don’t know what we want, we may be led by the options that are available. Led astray.

There was no plural for priority.

“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.”

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

This quote by John Maxwell is my lens of looking at things. Just a few things are important. Cherish those things. Fight for those things. Clear a way for those things. Those things are everything.

Warren Buffet said: “Our investment philosophy borders on lethargy.”

Laziness and lethargy can be virtues if it means we focus on a few important things rather than work on many things.

To decide means to kill. 

“The Latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill.” Deciding means giving up on something.

I love this quote.

Thich Nhat Hanh: “Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”

2 key words – available and abandon. Great news – life is available! Even though it hurts, it’s confusing, it’s painful, life is available. Life is available – despite the circumstances.

Abandon – that’s a crime. Don’t do it. Abandon the past! Abandon the future! Don’t abandon the present moment. Live immediately!

Thich Nhat Hahn takes a full hour to drink a cup of tea with other monks every day.

A full hour for a cup of tea! I must try it. He talks to Oprah about it here

Someone visits cemeteries around the world when he travels.

Made me think. I enjoy walking in them. Should make this a habit. Good to think about death. The Stoics encourage it.


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my newsletter – spark joy by marie kondo

I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it.

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Why you want to read this book:

1. You want a decluttered home where things are useful or they bring you joy.

2. You want to transform your relationship with the things you own.

3. You want to transform your life.

In my last newsletter, I wrote about insights – ideas that transform your way of thinking and behaving. The last book I read that transformed me was Kondo’s previous book, the life-changing magic of tidying up. Spark Joy is its follow-up.

A decluttered home

After reading Kondo, I donated/recycled most of the books, comics and clothes I owned. Boxes and boxes. My late father had about 10 boxes of silverware that he bought for this restaurant business and was sitting in my house for 14 years. I always dreamed about someone taking it off my hands for a good sum of money. The book made me realistic. I got my mom to call a Buddhist charity who came to take the boxes away. Now, I can actually walk around my storeroom.

The two most impactful of Kondo’s tips to me are – “tidy by category, not by room” and “spark joy” – discard the thing that is not useful and doesn’t bring you joy.

Tidying by category means you bring all the things in a category to a room to sort them out. Many decluttering books teach you to declutter bit by bit, room by room. She takes the opposite approach. Start with a category (e.g. clothes), bring them to a single location and don’t stop until you get the job done.

“Tidying up means confronting yourself” is so true. Before reading her book, I was very hesitant in getting rid of things, hence things start to accumulate. You think about the value of things and want to avert loss by not discarding them. You think they will be useful to you in the future. You think about their sentimental value.

Kondo teaches you should take hold of every item, consider it carefully and ask if it sparks joy. This may seem silly but it works for me. Go ahead and try it. Starting with an item that truly sparks joy helps. This gives you the proper perspective on value in what is a unfamiliar exercise for most of us.

Using “spark joy” as a principle to keep or discard things makes confronting yourself easier. This is not a easy process. Our tendency to avoid loss works against us but I have found two things that are helpful. When considering an object that I think could be useful in the future, I asked “Have I used this in the last 5 years?”. If the answer is no, it’s discarded. When struggling with an object of sentimental value, Seneca’s words “live immediately” comes to my mind. I would keep one item that reminds me of a certain person, event, phase in life. I don’t need more than one item. Sometimes, I don’t even keep any. Thank you, Seneca.

Transform your relationship with things

Since reading Kondo, I buy less things. This has saved me a ton of money which I spend buying experiences, e.g. travel. I also say no to many freebies. Shortly after reading her, I attended a conference where they gave out a free pair of headphones. Normally, I would have just taken it even though I did not like it. I did not this time and I did not have to struggle.

The great thing about the “spark joy” principle is you will see how other things pale in comparison to the object that brings you joy. It makes me think hard before buying. It also makes me cherish my things more. I remember cleaning my Fuji X-T1 camera and feeling so grateful for its quality and its aesthetic features. Cleaning becomes a “spiritual” act.

Kondo suggests that before you discard an item, say thank you to it. Some of you will find this strange. To me, it’s the attitude of appreciation and gratitude that has immense value. It makes your buying and using of things thoughtful, deliberate and conscious.

Transform your life

Kondo shares examples of how the lives of her clients were transformed after learning her decluttering principles and methods. For me, I have shared how it changed me in the paragraphs above. Recently, I had to make an important decision and I asked if doing it would “spark joy”.

Time in your life is as limited as space in your house. Do the things that spark joy.

What you can focus on is limited. Do the things that empower you and let go of the past. Thank the unpleasant things that happened. They are instructional and serve a purpose if you don’t let them destroy you. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Live immediately.

“Remember that you are not choosing what to discard but rather what to keep. Keep only those things that bring you joy. And when you discard anything that doesn’t, don’t forget to thank it before saying good-bye. By letting go of the things that have been in your life with a feeling of gratitude, you foster appreciation for, and a desire to take better care of, the things in your life.”

Share this with someone if this has been helpful.

I think you might like this by isaiahlim

What I learnt from Seeing what others don’t by Gary Klein

I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it.

Seeing what others don’t by Gary Klein

I think this book is most useful for leaders in organisations who are wondering why insights are hard to come by or unable to be acted upon.

I was hoping to gain insights into the process of getting insights (that are transformational) but I failed.

The most important thing I learnt:

Performance improvements = reduce errors + increase insights. Reducing errors and increasing insights work in opposite directions. Applying insights may lead to uncertainty, unpredictability and errors. This is why many organisations fall at applying insights because managers fear making mistakes and losing control. An efficiency group and an innovation group should be run independently but report to the same manager. An oversight group can be formed as a court of appeals to review insights from employees that were shut out by risk-averse managers.


Some things I learnt:

1. Performance improvements = reduce errors + increase insights

2. Insights aren’t just ideas, they are transformational.
“Our insights transform us in several ways. They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire. They change how we understand. They transform our thinking; our new story gives us a different viewpoint. They change how we act. In some cases insights transform our abilities as well as our understanding”

3. How insights originate: connection, coincidence, curiosity, contradictions, and creative desperation. The books give very good examples of these. Good stories. But few insights. Ideas can come from everywhere, in all sorts of situations, intentionally and accidentally.

4. “Anchors” – a few core beliefs that are fairly stable and anchor the way we interpret the other details. For example, “customers want us to be low-cost”. Can we change the anchor to “we will charge the customer more but at the same time make them more money”?

5. Insights don’t always require an open mind – you can have a skeptical mind and create insights. For example, not believing information that others trust without question.

6. People automatically assume novel ideas will fail.
“In 2012, Jennifer Mueller, Shimul Melwani, and Jack Goncalo published a study of why people have an aversion to creativity even though they claim to want creative ideas. The researchers found that if an idea is novel, people automatically assume it isn’t practical, reliable, or error free. Novel ideas are associated with failures.”

7. Einstellung effect – refers to how we solve problems in a way that worked in the past and never exploring other possibilities. This means “the more experience we have, the harder it is to gain insights.”

8. Something I need to work on:
“In his 2010 book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson recommends ways to increase creative turbulence. According to Johnson, we should find ways to increase the density of ideas to which we are exposed and to increase our contact with creative people. We should foster serendipity—the random collision of ideas. We should increase our intersections with different communities, using real and virtual gathering places such as coffeehouses and social networks. We should encourage group and network collaboration as opposed to individual efforts. We should take on multiple hobbies. Each of these recommendations would strengthen our chances of making unexpected connections.”

9. Very good point. Some organizations keep emphasising on the need to change but the rigidity and routineness that result can be counter-productive.
“Mostly, I worry that the doctrine of continual transformation runs counter to the emergence of insights. Advocating for continual or even periodic transformation makes it into a routine to be performed. In contrast, insights are accidental. An organization that rigidly adheres to a doctrine of continual transformation, following the creative desperation path, is different from one that is sensitive to connections, coincidences, curiosities, and contradictions.”

10. Six Sigma was successful to a point until it was found that “Too much energy was spent cutting defects to 3.4 per million, and not enough energy was expended developing new product ideas.”

11. How an organization can be effective and innovative.
“Charles O’Reilly III and Michael Tushman have advanced the concept of an ambidextrous organization—one that pursues efficiency and reduces errors for mature products while encouraging innovation and creativity in other areas. The trick is to keep the two approaches separate. The efficiency group and the innovation group would report to the same manager but would otherwise run independently of each other, lest the culture of reducing errors and uncertainty spoil the culture of speculating and experimenting.”

12. Checklist to understand why people acted in a certain way: “their knowledge, beliefs and experience, motivation and competing priorities, and their constraints.”

13. What to tell organizations who want insights:
“If we want to help organizations increase insights, we must first diagnose what is going wrong. In many cases, organizations are preventing insights by imposing too many controls and procedures in order to reduce or eliminate errors. Organizations value predictability and abhor mistakes. That’s why they impose management controls that stifle insights. If organizations truly want to foster innovation and increase discoveries, their best strategy is to cut back on the practices that interfere with insights, but that will be very difficult for them to do. Organizations are afraid of the unpredictable and disruptive properties of insights and are afraid to loosen their grip on the control strategies. Never mind that these strategies work best in well-ordered, rather than complex, settings. Organizations may need to keep their desires for predictability and perfection in check.”



What I learnt from The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer is about freedom.

Freedom from a terrible master.


This was my favorite book of 2015. I have read it again.

What I learnt:

1. Be aware of the mental dialogue that never stops in our heads
2. Understand almost all of it is useless and harmful
3. By training ourselves to make awareness the object of our thoughts, we prevent emotions and thoughts from harming us. Awareness is the goal.
4. We build awareness by separating ourselves from those emotions and thoughts through the silent act of observing. By seeing them as things outside ourselves, we can discard them more easily.
5. Why is awareness a worthy goal? “Awareness does not fight; awareness releases.” Awareness releases me to accept reality, confront pain and be open to all life has to offer, good and bad.

Some other insights:

“It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.”

There are real problems with serious consequences. Often, our minds make them worse. The word commotion is apt.

“The bottom line is, you’ll never be free of problems until you are free from the part within that has so many problems.”

That sounds like death but it doesn’t have to be. We have to train our minds to be aware of the unceasing mental dialogue that causes imaginary problems.

“You will come to see that the mind talks all the time because you gave it a job to do. You use it as a protection mechanism, a form of defense. Ultimately, it makes you feel more secure. As long as that’s what you want, you will be forced to constantly use your mind to buffer yourself from life, instead of living it.”

When something I have done goes wrong, my mental dialogue becomes very active and starts looking for something or someone to blame. And it’s unconscious, I don’t even have to order my brain to do it. This is something it does to protect me.

“When you are an aware being, you no longer become completely immersed in the events around you. Instead, you remain inwardly aware that you are the one who is experiencing both the events and the corresponding thoughts and emotions. When a thought is created in this state of awareness, instead of getting lost in it, you remain aware that you are the one who is thinking the thought. You are lucid.”

I am not my thoughts or emotions. I can let them go. I want to be aware. I want to be lucid.

“You have to break the habit of thinking that the solution to your problems is to rearrange things outside. The only permanent solution to your problems is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have so many problems with reality. Once you do that, you’ll be clear enough to deal with what’s left.”

Our problems are not outside, but inside. See the world as it is, not how you want it to be.

“People don’t understand that fear is a thing. It’s just another object in the universe that you are capable of experiencing. You can do one of two things with fear: you can recognize that you have it and work to release it, or you can keep it and try to hide from it. Because people don’t deal with fear objectively, they don’t understand it. They end up keeping their fear and trying to prevent things from happening that would stimulate it. They go through life attempting to create safety and control by defining how they need life to be in order to be okay. This is how the world becomes frightening.”

This is useful – see fear as a THING. A thing that is not you and can be discarded.

“When you are comfortable with pain passing through you, you will be free.”

It’s painful to know I did a bad job, I wasn’t perfect, no one likes me, I’m ugly, I have bad habits. It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok. Let these pass. Free at last. Free at last.

“The key is to just relax and release, and deal only with what’s left in front of you.”

Be aware of the endless mindless dialogue, release them. Relax and be open to all life can offer me. Don’t judge.

“To see, to experience, and to honor is to participate in life instead of standing back and judging it.”

This I must learn.

Quotes from The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

#5 – have you seen them?

tonight with words unspoken

filed under: couldhavebeenacontender

there is a book out now, whose concept is similar to one i had years ago.

the book is titled, “don’t eat the yellow snow” and offers the titles and lyrics of famous songs as advice. for example, “enjoy the silence” (depeche mode); “fight for your right” (beastie boys) and “you can’t always get what you want” (the rolling stones).

my concept was using the lyrics of songs in everyday conversation as quips or comebacks. it was inspired by an incident when a teacher phoned me by mistake and asked if i were the father of one of the students. at that time, i said “wrong number” but after putting down the phone, i thought i should have said something clever and came out with:

“she says i am the one but the kid is not my son.” (billie jean, michael jackson)

last week, a friend wrote a cryptic message on her Facebook wall, “Tsk. I told you not to. Now look what you’ve done.” so in response, i wrote:

“But I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby.”

we had a long exchange of different lines from songs and it was fun.

years ago when i had this idea, i compiled lines from songs on different index cards but i can’t find them now.

here’s a flavor though:

“are you going to drop the bomb or not?” (used when someone announces he’s going to fart, Alphaville)

“welcome to your life. there’s no turning back.” (Tears for Fears)

“it’s a world gone crazy, keeps woman in chains.” (Tears for Fears)

“i feel stupid and contagious.” (Nirvana)

“each morning i get up i die a little.” (Queen)

“I was never satisfied with casual encounters.” (Madonna)

“oh mother dear, we’re not the fortunate ones.” (Cyndi Lauper)

“you put the boom-boom into my heart.” (Wham)

“i’ll pretend my ship’s not sinking.” (Go West)

“someone’s always playing corporation games.” (Starship)

if i had written/ were to write this book, it would be called “Don’t put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band”.

this morning

filed under: mindfulness

this morning, i saw an old lady who nearly tripped over some uneven tiles on the ground.

she nearly lost her balance but managed to recover. she stood still for about 10 seconds after that, as if to calm herself and to ingrain the experience.

then she went to the tiles and used her feet to even out the tiles so that others won’t slip.

that’s mindfulness and compassion. if i had those, i would have snapped a picture of the tiles and send it to the town council.

what an interesting job

filed under: dreams

i would love Brad Grossman’s job.

“Grossman meets with each of his dozen clients on a weekly or monthly basis to discuss a subject they want to learn more about. He then has his researchers at Grossman & Partners dive into the area and deliver a report. But he also schedules long conversations with his clients–and will even arrange dinners with experts on specific topics.”

before this, brad was oscar-winning Brian Grazer’s cultural attaché and the job description was supposedly this:

This person would be responsible for keeping Brian abreast of everything that’s going on in the world; politically, culturally, musically. . . . They’re also responsible for finding an interesting person for Brian to meet with every week . . . an astronaut, a journalist, a philosopher, a buddhist monk. . . . There is LOTS of reading for this position! Grazer may ask you to read any book he’s interested in. You’ll probably get to read about 4 or 5 books a week and you may be required to travel with him on his private plane to Hawaii, New York, Europe—teaching him anything he asks you about along the way. . . . You will also be provided with an assistant. . . . Salary is around $150,000 a year. . . . You will be to Grazer what Karl Rove was to Bush.

Brad created this job for himself. i would love to do the same but i need to find my balls first.

have you seen them?

what is hidden from us

filed under: howtolive, films

one of my favorite movies in 2013 is Frances Ha. in it, the protagonist says she probably has to read Proust before going to Paris.

i have always wanted to read Proust but it’s a long read (“The entirety of “In Search of Lost Time” is said to be about 4,300 pages, depending on the translation”) and i’m lazy.

in this context, what better rebuke is there than to quote Proust himself:

“I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it–our life–hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

in the film, the protagonist visits Paris for the first time and is unable to enjoy herself because she has been unhappy for a long time. in one shot, we see her miserable and walking away to reveal a resplendent Eiffel Tower glowing in the dark of the night. she is indifferent to its magic.

Proust suggests they are many beautiful Eiffel Towers in our lives but they are invisible to us because we keep delaying our happiness thinking it will come in the future.

what are the eiffel towers that are hidden in our lives?

“goodbye everybody, i gotta go.”

anyway the wind blows.


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#4 – “we’re just all too selfish”

bringing value

filed under: howtolive

“…the thing I’m realising is, at the end of the day, we’re just all too selfish… If you look at 99 percent of speakers, their tweets are promoting their shit and no-one’s listening. We need to bring value.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

the tool that i am using to write this newsletter is its motto is “email for people with something to say”. it doesn’t say anything about whether others would want to listen and why.

selfie is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. some see this as proof that people are getting more narcissistic. i am not too sure. maybe we have always been narcissistic and now we have more tools to express that.

as someone who blogs (infrequently), facebook (very often), post photos on flickr and now writes a newsletter (weekly), i find myself asking “why” when doing these activities, especially on facebook. do my posts have a “look at me, look at me” quality? i think some of them do, especially the photos, but generally i try to make people laugh on facebook. we live in a cruel and unjust world, after all.  that’s the value i try to bring on facebook.

i think “are we bringing value” is an important question that applies not only to social media but work and life. how are we bringing value to our colleagues, friends and families? is what you perceive as value, valuable for others? when it comes to work, it’s especially important to be able to articulate the value that you bring. if you like to discuss this, i am available. i am not an expert but two heads is better than one.

i hope this newsletter is bringing you value. what i mean by that is that i hope it makes you think and makes you aware of the decisions you have made.

keep saying hello

filed under: howtolive

“Keep saying hello to people. They will be the differentiator for you for the rest of your life.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

a lot of interactions in the world feel very transactional. some months ago, i was at a restaurant opening and one woman at the next table was especially friendly and started talking to us. this is not a common occurrence in singapore and i was at first pleasantly surprised.

she gave us her name card, started talking about her food business and asking us to visit.

i was really turned off. i left her namecard at the table.

some of us may not be so direct. but often in our busy lives, we tend to be rather transactional. because connecting with people requires effort and time. and it’s certainly not easy, as people are also complex (which is another word for difficult).

maybe we should be considering, as part of a regular ritual, a random act of kindness for people we know. for it to be random, we should not do this because of a reason (e.g. birthday, a special occasion, etc.). but we do it for fun and for the heck of it. and we do it for ourselves because when we give to others, we give to ourselves.

let’s connect. let’s say hello to people. let’s have fun while doing it.

guides to japan

filed under: useful

a japanese friend asked me how i knew about Mt. Takao in Tokyo. I have found Japan Guide to be useful when traveling in Japan. During the sakura season, it provided a list of places to visit and gave an accurate forecast of the blossoms when i was booking my trip.

time out tokyo is also very useful, especially their “Things to do this week in Tokyo” section.

i enjoy reading metropolis. a free pdf of their magazine is available at their website.

part 2 of where i left off from last week’s newsletter would continue next week. as always, thanks for reading.

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#3 – mistakes, I had a few

A readers of this newsletter asked me to write beyond the work environment.

I shall pleasure her.

This week I will write about the mistakes I have made in life and I expect to be done in 500 words or so.

But first, a detour.

This week, someone on the plane I was on had a seizure. I did not see this person which was worse because it made me wonder how bad it was. When I was a Christian, I could pray for this person. Now I could not. I thought of sending my positive thoughts toward this person but then I realized this was not something I believe in. How did it land in my head, I wonder? I wished this person well and felt powerless. “But powerless is ok,” I said to no one in particular. In a random and messy world, we are often powerless.

I need to understand this but not let it destroy me.

Back to normal programming.

What is a mistake? I don’t see mistakes and errors the same way. Both refer to wrong acts committed but a mistake is something you would not care to repeat while some errors are hard to avoid and need to be made for the sake of progress. For example, if a reliable friend told you about a good restaurant which turned out to be a dud, you would not have made a mistake going there but an error. A reliable friend is not always right and it would still be more optimal in the overall scheme of things if you follow his/her advice the next time.

A mistake however is to think that a reliable friend is always right.

At a basic level, some mistakes are easily identifiable. For example, my favorite breakfast in Tokyo is an onigiri and a coffee jelly. I once had 2 onigiri and a coffee jelly. Clearly, that was a mistake.

The most obvious mistake I have made in life is being cruel and making people feel bad about themselves. When I was about 18, I was very irritated with two people in front of me talking in a Christian meeting. So when it was time to pray, I prayed with them and in my prayer, I chastised them for talking. It was incredibly cruel and manipulative. In my relationship, I was withdrawn and refused to talk whenever I was hurt and confused. This makes the other party feel bad.

Nowadays, my solitary life allows less opportunities for me to be cruel. But sometimes, all it takes is a single word to transgress. If I have been cruel and careless, please please let me know.

Another obvious mistake is hypocrisy. Telling people to do things I myself did not do. So a few years ago, I told myself to stop preaching and giving advice. I sometimes still lapse into it, especially when I am frustrated and impatient. When I am having difficulty running my own life, why should I be telling others how to live theirs?

I have tried to play it safe. I should risk more. Fail more. It’s a mistake not to fail enough. This newsletter is an experiment to try more things and do more. But it isn’t enough.

Experimenting is sometimes like traveling. You end up taking the wrong road, visiting the wrong attraction, eating the wrong food. You could play to safe by doing tons of research and doing tried and tested things but it will be a different kind of experience. In traveling and in life, “not going to plan” can be a very rewarding experience.

Next week I will continue to write about my mistakes where it’s a lot more ambiguous. These will be errors but whether they were mistakes, I am not so sure. Even as I would have know the outcome, I would possibly repeat some of these errors. Life should not be always sweet and straightforward.

Thank you for reading.

#2 – where i repeat what montaigne says is the greatest thing in the world (and it’s not jagabee)

i have just started my weekly personal newsletter. you can subscribe here if you like:

change your questions, change your life. maybe.
filed under: work

for those of us in a support function, this is a common question to ask a business partner: how can we help you accomplish your most important business goals?

this week, i read a blog entry from the communications leadership executive council which argued that this was a bad question as most answers would center around tactical delivery limited to your field of expertise (for example, if you are in Marketing, you could be asked to produce a video to promote internal awareness of a product for cross-selling).

people like to put us in a box.

so do we.

so what is a better question?

“What number (that you’re responsible for hitting) are you most concerned about trying to reach this year?”

this switches the focus from tactics to value and broadens the discussion. it’s also a much easier question for your business partner to answer since it’s measurable.

on my blog, i have stopped asking readers for feedback and if they have questions for me. these never worked. maybe i should change my question and ask what problems of the day readers were trying to solve.

still, i am not optimistic. i don’t have generous readers. maybe i don’t have generous readers because i am not generous. which brings me to my next question.

what can i give to to others instead of taking away from them?

i had been bored at work for a while. my manager knew this. i have a relatively new role but i still felt something was missing. so i am trying a new strategy.

i work a lot on presentations. a lot of business presentations suck. so i am going to offer to teach 20 colleagues how to make good presentations.

when things aren’t working, maybe it’s time to change to a new question.

what can i give to to others instead of taking away from them is my new question.

what’s yours?

give, don’t take. subtract, don’t add.
filed under: life

farnam street is my favourite blog.

it is very generous.

a colleague and i have been talking about innovation. it’s sometimes a big word but we were referring to the “attitude of constant improvement” while laughing at some of the people who like to bandy the word around like it’s the greatest thing since jagabee.

according to farnam street, we can become more innovative by doing more or getting rid of the barriers to innovation (innovation by subtraction). we tend to focus on the former and not on the latter.

subtraction is counterintuitive. we think of improvement as “more”, not “less”. how can we subtract to help solve our problems? can we become happier by getting rid of things that make us miserable? can we stop doing the things at work that make us want to scream?

less choices, more happiness?

it’s not easy. but it’s worth trying.

montaigne says this is the greatest thing in the world
filed under: wisdom

“I did not flee from men, but from affairs. We have lived long enough for others: let us live the rest for ourselves; let us disentangle ourselves from the clutch of things which hold us elsewhere and keep us from ourselves. The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to yourself.”

thank you

thank you everyone who has written to me about the newsletter. your generosity makes me happy.

Tokyo, April 2012

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