Category: <span>Extrinsic Change</span>

Not long ago, an Internet user with a rather provocative and racist nickname wrote a review of a hotpot restaurant on a local food site.

The review stood out because not only was it the single negative review of the eatery, it was peppered with racist comments.

The reviewer showed no understanding of food, not just Chinese food, but any food, and clearly the review was not about food but was a disguised attempt to heap scorn on a certain group of people.

I am not in any way associated with the owner of the hotpot restaurant which is operated by people from China, but felt compelled to email the food site to alert them of my concerns. The offensive review was eventually removed.

Singapore is a melting pot with a large mix of various people originating from lands far and near.

While there are lots of variances between different people one should not feed one’s prejudices and believe the statements being brandished about regarding stereotypes. Very often the conviction that certain people are like this and certain others are like that are just myths or minor incidents blown out of proportion.

This small little melting pot we call home can soon become a steaming hotpot sizzling with resentment and hatred borne out of ignorance and ethocentricity.

Is that what you want?

Imagine yourself in a land as different as it is from the land of your origin – with people who look different, who don’t yet understand your language or your culture. Do you want them to look at you askance and treat you like some strange creature and use derogatory terms to refer to you?

Extrinsic Change

Recently someone I first got to know in a social setting sought a meeting with me.

I invited him for lunch and asked if he has any preferences as to where we should meet.

He said he was flexible and can meet anytime and anywhere.

When the date of the meeting drew near, I WhatsApped him a location.

He responded that the place was too far for him.

I suggested Orchard Road – everyone knows Orchard Road and it’s easy to get to – and he replied that he didn’t like Orchard Road.

We finally settled on an eatery near his home, a place he readily agreed to go to meet with me.

When I got there, I asked if he was ready for lunch.

He suggested that we eat somewhere else instead.

So we moved to another location.

Long story short – he got to meet at a location he wanted, and he got to eat at a place of his choice.

Never mind the fact that he was the one who initiated the invitation and who told me he was flexible and can meet any time and at any place.

I know I am a pushover but I vowed that I will never ever meet this person again.

Your word is your bond.

“I’m flexible, I can meet anywhere.”

“I have to cancel our meeting, I’m not feeling well. I will call you again.”

“I respect you, I’ll do whatever is convenient for you.”

“Let me know what I can get for you and I’ll place the order.”

“Give me your address, I’ll deliver it to your place.”

“I’ve got your requirements, I’ll see to it that you’ll get what you asked for.”

“I wanted to thank you by giving you a gift, but I forgot to bring it. I’ll make sure you get it.”

These are some the lies I have been told recently.

Words are cheap.

They are made cheaper when you don’t have what it takes to honor them.

Eventually they become meaningless.

As meaningless as you are to me.

So hold firmly to your word.

And stop being a pain.

Extrinsic Change

An expatriate in Singapore was recently charged with the murder of his young son. The tragedy has sparked a series of letters and articles in the local press about the expat lifestyle.

Most focused on the “hardships” of being an expat. To many locals the words “expat” and “hardships” do not always go together.

Inhabitants of this ex-colony has seen way too many expats living lavish lifestyles with their noses up in the air, and looking down on the “natives.”

But there are two sides to every story.

Having worked and lived internationally, I admit that being away from one’s own country is not an easy thing. It can be rather stressful.

It is true that uprooting and moving to a foreign land is stressful. Added to that stress is having to face the resentment of locals who harbor the impression that “foreign talents” are robbing them of their jobs and worse, seducing their women. I hear many locals lamenting that they now feel like strangers in their own land.

My 30 over years of working with and providing counsel to expats have also shown me the potential harm an expat posting can do to marriages. I have seen with my own eyes how expat men who are otherwise happily married succumbing to local girlfriends, resulting in “trailing wives” suffering immeasurable pain and anguish. (Truth be told, there are local women who only have eyes for the white men.) Divorces often follow as a result and spouses, having to return dependent passes, are often forced to leave the country. The emotionally-wrought issue of child custody then comes into play.

While there is no easy solution, expats themselves can minimize the strain that an expat posting can bring. I suggest making a preliminary trip as a family before deciding on a posting. Residing for a month or two before deciding on a more permanent stay also helps tremendously. There is a big difference between being a tourist and being a resident – when a shoe becomes unglued, when you need a luggage repaired, or a tooth fixed, is when you discover that difference and your own ability and propensity to change, adapt and adopt.

Once re-located here, hanging out in expat “enclaves” is the worst thing to do, locals are friends you haven’t met, so integration is key. Misery loves company so rather than gathering and socializing with your own kind in your expat-only clubs and grumbling about the inconveniences of local living (such as disappearing taxis when you need them – a problem not unique only to expats but a blight inflicted on all of us who live here) or about the “restless natives” who stare in awe at you, do make an effort to befriend locals. Most Singaporeans are more than happy to show you the way, take you to good food places hitherto “unknown” even to other locals (we love boasting about such knowledge don’t we?) and even open the doors of their homes to you.

The expat who fits in well and enjoys his tenure here is the happy and well-settled person – you can tell when he loves our laksa and chicken rice, eats mooncakes and durians, shops at wet markets, speaks Singlish and chills out by cycling or shooting the breeze with us at our void decks instead of ensconcing themselves with other expats in the American or Tanglin Club. Those who visit such expat “ghettos” only do so to keep in touch with news from home, and to mingle with their own – but even that is a poor excuse to visit such enclaves of exclusivity. For bliss and happiness and peace of mind and comfort, the expats who do well here mostly socialize with locals and are blended into local life. Some like it so much and fit in so well, they are reluctant to leave when their posting is over. Many have even opted for local employment terms or even work for local firms and have chosen to become permanent residents. Hospitable Singaporeans welcome them all but it is the expats themselves who must make the first move.

Extrinsic Change

Some people are really good at launching projects.

They quote the latest buzz words, read the latest theories, and drop the appropriate names and they insist that the flavor of the month is what the company needs.

So they push their way through. They push their way through, armed with very little in-depth knowledge of what they are plugging will entail.

They make a name for themselves as mavericks who start mind-blowing initiatives. They want to be known as innovators and trailblazers. In actuality, they are nothing more than victims of the latest fads.

How many of the initiatives they start die pre-mature deaths?

Most, if not all.


These initiatives vanish for the simple reason that starting something is so easy but seeing an idea to fruition takes commitment, time, effort and real hard work.

I mean, words are cheap right? Who can’t talk?

By opening one’s mouth and expecting others to carry the burden – that can hardly be considered leadership.

Engaging someone to deliver a lecture about a company-wide corporate culture change?

Launching an organization-wide climate survey?

Perhaps the starting point should be a thought given to the ultimate outcome – what is it that you are trying to achieve at the end of the day?

Starting something – even a survey – raises expectations.

If you are not serious about seeing any project through to its logical conclusion, then don’t even start in the first place.

If you hire someone to give a lecture about corporate culture change, you had better be prepared to start an initiative – meaning you drive it and lead it yourself –  that will ultimately change the culture of your organization, that is, if it has already been determined by the right people that this is what your organization need.

If you conduct a climate study to determine if people are satisfied with working conditions, or their compensation, etc, then you better be prepared to address the findings of the survey and change the working conditions and adjust people’s salaries.

If not, don’t even get started. Otherwise people’s hearts will grow cold.

The corporate landscape is littered with dead projects all started by people with nothing but big mouths.

Extrinsic Change

Lawyers have quit lawyering to become entrepreneurs.

Dental surgeons have quit dental surgery to become suppliers of dental equipment.

Policemen have quit to become lawyers.

Odd but nothing earth-shaking.

People are entitled to try something different.

People have second careers.

What is earth-shaking is the prostitution of their ethics and training by medical doctors who abandon medicine for quick cash.

Armed with a medical qualification these avaricious doctors set up shop all over the place practicing aesthetic medicine.

The old uncles who want skin tags removed, the auntie who wants varicose veins eliminated, the ladies who lunch who need their Botox jabs, the Karaoke hostesses with new-found boyfriends who demand vaginal reconstruction.

Some of these aesthetic clinics are packed like sardines and are as noisy as fish markets.

It’s assembly line style – patients come in, get a nip and tuck or a blast of laser – and are ushered out of the door while a long line waits to come in.

I have nothing against those who need reconstruction and I have no quarrels with doctors who are called to do that, but the way some of these merchants operate? It’s puke-worthy.

Don’t people know that beauty is only skin deep?

Is money everything?

You may own that 15-room villa and fly via private jets, but money made by blasting pigmentation spots and administering Botox jabs or creating new vaginas for hookers when there are people out there who need real medical care from real doctors?

What image are you sending to the rest of the world, aesthetic doctors?

Extrinsic Change

Participating in Hair for Hope has given me a bald head.

It has also given me odd looks from strangers, as well as a couple of bizarre encounters.

One of the strangest happened when an elderly lady walked up to me, placed her hand on my shoulder and said “I will pray for God to heal you.”

I was a bit puzzled over her behavior until someone explained to me that the woman, a cancer survivor had probably thought that I was undergoing chemotherapy.

The kind lady had assumed that I had lost all my hair due to cancer treatment.

We all make assumptions about things.

Some assumptions are based on facts, some on our prior experiences, and some on our perception about stuff that have touched us in one way or another.

We assume that Donald Trump won’t go far in his campaign for US presidency – well, Trump, the crass demagogue, surprised everyone by being the leading candidate among the Republicans.

We assume that children will be filial – well, the multitudes of old and aged parents being ignored while their children live it up in fancy restaurants sure shatters that assumption.

We assume that people who have experienced forgiveness – recipients of grace – would forgive others – well, many of these lucky losers aren’t willing to even give others the time of day.

We assume that “brand name” and overpriced consulting firms like McKinsey will be operating on high moral grounds – well, an ex-McKinsey CEO went to jail for insider training!

We assume that presidents will possess a sense of propriety and know how to behave – well, look at Bill Clinton and what he did with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office.

We assume that if 500,000 people rally in the streets for two days, screaming for you to step down, you would do the honorable thing and resign – well, despite being the most hated man in Malaysia, Najib is still clinging on to shreds of power.

We assume that those with a punishing work-related travel schedule would want to spend time with their spouses and kids when they are back in their home country – well, we assume wrongly, some of these road warriors still behave as if they are not married.

We assume that aid will pour out to prevent children from dying (30,000 kids die from hunger daily) and countries will not turn away boatloads of refugees fleeing Syria (where 10,000 children have already died from the conflicts there) – well, the world would rather mourn for a lion, until children’s dead bodies started washing up on beaches.

We assume that people in academia are civilized – well, universities and colleges house some of the most back-biting, political, bitchy and rude people in the world.

We assume that Buddhists are peace loving – well, in Myanmar, Buddhist monks are leading the charge in the killing of Muslims and Buddhist clergy has convinced the government to legalize discrimination against women and minorities.

We assume that police will do their job – well, in Thailand, the cops rewarded themselves three million bahts for nabbing a bombing suspect. (Since when do cops need extra incentives just to do what is their job anyway?)

We assume that police chiefs aren’t paid much – well, Thai police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung said “One million baht (of the three million) comes from me.”

(Before his appointment as police chief after last year’s coup Somyot declared his assets at US$11.5 million including income from advising companies as well as property holdings and investments.) We assume that police chiefs don’t, won’t and can’t freelance as private advisors or property investors – well, obviously our assumptions are erroneous.

Jerry Belson said that his teacher in a typewriter repair class once told him “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.”

I’ve known for years that Belson’s teacher was spot on!

Extrinsic Change

During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Lin Maoke, a pretty nine-year-old girl appeared on stage and sang “Ode to the Motherland” to the applause of the world.

The only problem was that she was lip-synching. The song was actually sang by seven-year-old Yang Peiyi but because she was still getting her front teeth in, officials decided that she didn’t look pretty enough.

So they had Lin pretending to sing Yang’s song. “Yang has a better voice, but Lin is a fantastic actress,” said the officials.

Once more the myth that if you look good – and act the part – then you must be really good, has been perpetuated.

On LinkedIn, many embellish their credentials and make themselves out to be more than what they are: JD came from our US office to be an intern with me. Years later she lied on her LinkedIn profile that she founded the practice I was running when she came to intern with me. Total and absolute fabrication.

GC was a chronic washout with a grandiose perception of her true worth. (Fishnet stockings, anyone?) This peacock – or should I say peahen? –  in love with her own feathers joined us after our firm acquired hers. At that time I was running the firm’s think-tank. Later, in her bio, she claimed that she started the think-tank.

Just because you deploy hyperbolic overstatements in your profile doesn’t make it the truth.

A pig can wear lipstick but it’s still a pig.

You may know some tricks of a trade but that doesn’t make you the master of that trade.

Truly great leaders recognize self-induced traps and take steps to contain or regulate them by balancing narcissism with truthful behavior.

Extrinsic Change

In 2008, CNN’s Richard Quest was found in a public park with drugs on him. And worse, there was a rope round his neck with the other end tied to his genitals. Today, he’s still bellowing at CNN.

In 2012, Fareed Zakaria admitted to plagiarism and has been accused of more plagiarism since, but he’s still with CNN.

After the recent earthquake in Nepal, CNN crew filmed Sanjay Gupta, on-site in his role as chief medical correspondent, as he performed brain surgery on an eight-year-old girl and resuscitated another victim of the quake using a cardiac thump.

This was not the first time Gupta practiced medicine on a patient in front of the camera.

In doing so, he violated both medical and journalism ethics. As a doctor, he is obligated to protect client confidentiality. He may not show the procedures being performed on them without their informed consent, and in a foreign setting under emergency conditions, informed consent by patients is impossible. In the US, doing what Gupta did in Nepal on camera would be against the law. As a journalist, meanwhile, he is required not to interfere with the story he is covering. Performing medical procedures on camera makes him part of the story. Worse, it exploits injured victim for drama, sensationalism and ratings. Gupta’s behavior was self-aggrandizing and narcissistic.

Wait, there’s more – there is now a dispute over who exactly Gupta operated on – an eight-year-old girl or a 14-year-old one.

It was painful watching him and CNN trying to wrangle out of that one.

Despite all that, Gupta is still with CNN.

Desmond Quek, CEO of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit continues to stay employed – and gets to keep his extraordinarily obscenely huge salary – despite an increase in train disruptions since he took over from “empress dowager” Saw Phaik Hwa. The latest disruption on July 7th during peak hours inconvenienced 250,000 commuters and was the worst traffic disruption in the history of Singapore. (Trains on two major lines broke down at about 7:00pm and service only resumed at 10:30pm.) Just hours before, on the same day, at the company’s AGM, the ex-general was bragging about how much train services have improved. The fact of the matter is that since he has taken over, Desmond Kuek has presided over 60 SMRT incidents, yet not only is he still employed, his salary actually went up to S$2.2m.

In some cultures those subpar performers I named above would have gone down on their knees, apologize in public and resign.

But some companies obviously have a different understanding of the word “accountability.”

Apologies are empty words when no change takes place after the apologies. Words cost nothing. I can say sorry a million times for an act of commission or omission, but if I continue to behave as per normal, what’s the use?

It’s time we take a cold hard look at the word “accountability” and decide what we really mean.

Extrinsic Change

For years now, in addition to the local papers, I subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune (now renamed International New York Times) and Financial Times.

These are delivered to my residence every morning.

TODAY is a local tabloid given free of charge but residents of only certain locales receive it. Since I wanted another view (as opposed to the staid Straits Times) I actually pay for TODAY to be delivered as well.

The people behind TODAY tells me that what I pay goes to the delivery person.

But the delivery person sure behaves as if someone has put a gun to his head and forced him to deliver the paper to me grudgingly.

Let me explain.

All the papers I receive every morning, other than TODAY, are delivered with meticulous care – the delivery personnel either puts them at the grills of my gate or on a shelf next to my door. They take care delivering these papers.

On the contrary the TODAY delivery person simply carelessly dumps TODAY on the floor outside my house, often with the pages of the papers strewn askew.

Not a big deal but it reminded me of an old story about two bricklayers.

When asked what they were doing, one said he’s building “just another church” while the other announced with pride “I’m building a house of God.”

It’s all about attitudes isn’t it?

Though it is said that work defines a person – since so much time is spent at work – you’ll be surprised at the way some people go about doing their work.

There are those who put in more than they should but far too many exhibit poor work ethics.

They do the barest minimum to get by. They take advantage of their employers’ kindness whenever possible. They have no passion for what they do. They will not go the extra mile, or put in extra effort. The output of a person’s work is a testament of a person’s character but these people don’t seem to know this, and if they do, they don’t seem to care.

Yet they gripe about others taking over their jobs, or getting bypassed for promotions, or complain that they are not getting a bonus at year end.

These slackers are audacious enough to think that they deserve promotions and bonuses when a simple no-brainer act like delivering a newspaper cannot be done well.

The fruits of your labor give a glimpse into the type of person you are.

I always ask the people who work with me three questions:

  1. Have you done your best?
  2. Is this the best you can do?
  3. How can you do better than this?

It’s high time some people change their attitude towards work.

You will be judged by the fruits of your labor.

Extrinsic Change

We often coax children by promising them things.

We hope they forget what we promised. Those promises were made in the belief that they will behave in a manner in which we had wanted them to behave.

Indeed, adults often promise kids something just to shoo them away. These are empty promises. Those who make them have no intention to keep them.

I often feel that adults do that too – to other adults.

A local publisher summoned me to her office to discuss book ideas and ended the meeting with “I’ll send you a proposal form.”

That was at least a year ago.

Nothing heard since the last meeting.

As an author of seven books – and the subject of a book – I don’t think I’m such a lousy writer that a publisher had to shoo me off with a promise she had no intention to keep, but that’s the way I felt about her.

“Let me send you a link to the site” or “I’ll send you the news clipping” or “I’ll send you a copy of the book” or “I don’t have my calling card with me but I’ll email you my details” or “We’re doing our planning now, once we’re done, we’ll contact you to schedule a series of training workshops” – very often such promises are never kept. Either people forget, or have no intention whatsoever to do what they promised or take their promises lightly.

I’m a simple man, if you say you will do something, please do it.

If you have no intention to dealing with me, just say it – you don’t even need to provide a reason, just say “At this moment, we won’t be doing this” and I’ll be happy rather than being kept in the dark, afraid to go to the toilet in case you call.

It’s all about integrity isn’t it?

But the word is lost on some.

They either don’t have the courage to tell you what the problem is in your face – they behave like nothing is wrong – or they just beat a hasty retreat and make themselves scarce in your life.

Worse, behind your back, they assassinate your character or go online to attack you while cloaking their real identities or while hiding behind some façade. Most are stupid enough not to realize that it is so easy to track them down.

But I bet these gutless, spineless wimps and space wasters will not hesitate to bang down your door at 3am in the morning if they should ever need help.

I know, I’ve met a few of them in my life.

Extrinsic Change