Recently in Recommended reading Category

Currently I’m reading ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence’, which is Daniel Goleman’s follow-up to his hugely successful book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’.

Here’s an excerpt which is relevant to the work I’m currently handling. As we endeavour to improve information flow, we must remember it’s not just having a knowledge repository (systems/infrastructure) but building a sharing culture (people):

When it comes to technical skill and the core competencies that make a company competitive, the ability to outperform others depends on the relationships of the people involved. In [John Seely] Brown’s words, “You can’t divorce competencies from the social fabric that supports them.”

Just as maximising the IQ of a small working group depends on the effective knitting together of the people within the group, so with organizations as a whole: Emotional, social, and political realities can enhance or degrade what the organization potentially can do. If the people in the organization cannot work well together, if they lack initiative, connection, or any of the other emotional competencies, the collective intelligence suffers as a result.

This need for smooth coordination of widely distributed knowledge and technical expertise has led some corporations to create a new role: that of “chief learning officer,” or CLO, whose job it is to direct knowledge and information within an organization. But it’s all too easy to reduce an organization’s “intelligence” to its databases and technical expertise. Despite the ever greater reliance on information technology in organizations, it’s put to use by people. Organizations that have such learning officers might do well to expand the CLO’s (or someone’s) duties to include maximizing the collective emotional intelligence.

The Undercover Economist - uncovered

February 19, 2008 11:51 PM

Tim Harford 3

Tim Harford, otherwise known as the Undercover Economist and author of the same-titled bestselling book, was speaking about how he came to write his latest book, The Logic Of Life. He has a Financial Times column and appears on the BBC.

Each Citigold member was given a copy of the book. Alas, as a guest I didn’t get any :(

Tim drew inspiration from professor Gary Becker whose standing in social economics won him a Nobel Prize. Another person he mentioned was Steve Levitt, author of Freakonomics. If I recall correctly, Levitt wrote a less-publicised paper on how criminal behaviour changed in some states which had lenient juvenile laws but tough adult laws, once the offenders became adults themselves.

Tim also entertained us with his personal anecdotes. He described how a family outing to buy ice-cream was marred by a violent attack by a madman on a woman on a nearby street. Was it really irrational? People have a split-second to react and quite often, we apparently have a logic behind it. When he got to this point, I thought of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. I’m sure there’s a correlation somewhere.

Another point was how, in various experiments, most people would choose a chocolate bar over fruit as a reward, if they were told they’d get it immediately. However, if they were told it would be sent to them next week, more opted for the fruit. Likewise, if they were told they could get movie tickets to watch a lighthearted show as opposed to a serious one, most would choose the former if they were watching it immediately, but the latter if it was in a few weeks’ time. However, if the same people showed up on movie night a few weeks later and were told they could switch back to the lighthearted movie, many would do so.

In short, people tend to choose something that they find more palatable for them in the short term, while they may aspire to something more challenging in the long term. This theory could supposedly be extended to convince people to stop smoking (!). If governments said they’d raise the price next year, cost-conscious smokers would start quitting now because they need time to be smoke-free. That is an interesting theory although I am not so sure if it’s been tried and tested.

He also touched on Game Theory and how people were more likely to form relationships when they know they have to meet often with other parties for transactions - as opposed to those who knew they’d only meet once. As I’m typing this, it’s occurring to me that this could be why we have terrible road manners - we don’t know (or care for) most of the people beside us on the street and don’t think we’ll see them again. Yet when I bump into a friend or relative in another car, we usually give way to each other.

It was an entertaining soliloquy until the Q&A session, where the audience, mostly Singaporean/Asian and presumably rich and smart enough to qualify for Citigold status, asked pretty profound and relevant questions, some drawing comparisons with his first book and other works. This talk was certainly of a different calibre.

The time came for us to get his autograph. I brought a copy of his first book. I had planned to finish reading the book before his talk, so I could engage in some intelligent conversation with him. However, my persistent business and a short attention span prevented me from doing so.

All I could say to Tim, honestly, was “Hi. I’m halfway through your first book”.

Tim smiled and said this was the American edition. Oops. I recalled him poking fun at Americans and their edition of his books at the beginning of his talk. Even the Logic of Life books that were distributed to us were the UK edition. So I cheekily apologised for bringing the American copy. He responded, with a smile, that I didn’t have to apologise. He called out, as I moved away from the table, that I was the first person to bring along his first book.

His father's dreams

November 19, 2007 8:47 PM

I picked up Barack Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father, and started reading it this evening. The story of how a smart Kenyan man met a shy American girl in the University of Hawaii is in itself remarkable, considering it was not the most tolerant of times. I came to a section where Obama, as a child, returned from Indonesia (where his stepfather lived) and had trouble fitting in at his new American school. Here is an excerpt to share with you.

While waiting outside school on his first day, Barack met a Chinese boy called Frederick. Up to this point, he calls himself ‘Barry’…

We sat at a table with four other children, and Miss Hefty, an energetic middle-aged woman with short gray hair, took attendance. When she read my full name, I heard titters break across the room. Frederick leaned over to me.

“I thought your name was Barry.”

“Would you prefer if we called you Barry?” Miss Hefty asked. “Barack is such a beautiful name. Your grandfather tells me your father is Kenyan. I used to live in Kenya, you know. Teaching children just your age. It’s such a magnificent country. Do you know what tribe your father is from?”

Her question brought on more giggles, and I remained speechless for a moment. When I finally said “Luo”, a sandy-haired boy behind me repeated the word in a loud hoot, like the sound of a monkey. The children could no longer contain themselves, and it took a stern reprimand from Miss Hefty before the class would settle down and we could mercifully move on to the next person in the list.

I spent the rest of the day in a daze. A redheaded girl asked to touch my hair and seemed hurt whe I refused. A ruddy-faced boy asked me if my father ate people. When I got home, Gramps was in the middle of preparing dinner.

“So how was it? Isn’t it terrific that Miss Hefty used to live in Kenya? Makes the first day a little easier, I’ll bet.”

I went into my room and closed the door.

Masterful storytelling that makes me want to read on.

This chapter has a happy ending. Later on, his Kenyan father visits him and turns the situation around by showing up in class and telling all the students about the history of Kenya and how its people longed to break free from colonial rule. After that, the kids who used to tease Barack treat him with more respect.

I'm sure some of us felt it was a pity that the National Library Board (NLB) was closing down its popular Orchard branch on 30 Nov 2007. Having said that, I like how NLB launched its Orchard blog and openly discussed it. The last time I borrowed books, it was from that branch. Having a library in town, near where I live, was very convenient.

I first heard the news of the closure on the radio, and almost couldn't believe it. But considering the soaring property prices, I can understand how a commercial landlord would want to raise its rates. Thus, the lease is not being renewed (correct me if my assumption is mistaken). At least there's a chance it may relocate to another part of town. An NLB-MCYS alliance sounds quite powerful.

Looking at the summary slides (using Slideshare, no less), the Orchard branch did fulfil one its objectives for me - "To woo back the inactive young adult library user into the public library system". I was a very inactive member, not having borrowed books since I was probably in Secondary school. The key was convenience and having another bookworm friend take me the library.

However, most of the time, if I want to read a book, I buy it. The pressure of completing a book within an allocated time usually puts me off from borrowing them. I have lots of half-read books lying around. It's a bit like leaving newly-opened bottles of wine to air. I blame it on the Internet, which gave us bite-sized information, making longer text more intolerable for me to consume in one sitting.

Still, I digress. It was good while it lasted. All I can say now is, thank you for being there.


The End of Poverty
The End of Poverty was a book I picked up last year. Its optimistic title caught my eye, intriguing me to attempt reading it, despite sucking at economics in Junior College.

What makes someone brilliant is not just his depth of knowledge but his ability to explain complex issues in simple terms for a layperson to understand. Jeffrey Sachs has managed to do that for me.

I was amused by Bono's foreword. Can a rock star write? The answer is yes, and poetically. However, Bono is quick to play down his celebrity status, and assert that in years to come, Sachs' autograph will be worth more than his.

The key points in Sachs' book are that while the world is slowly moving out of extreme poverty, there are some who are still stuck in the 'poverty trap'. An impoverished household has no savings, thus there is no capital investment. With depreciation, it results in negative economic growth. However, with the right assistance, there will be enough for household savings, leading to investment (e.g. in farming equipment) that will then lead to economic growth, offsetting depreciation and population growth.

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