Friday, August 31, 2007

Recent Thoughts

It's been a long time since I last just wanna write down some recent thoughts...

Taking Risks:

While I've enjoyed my 1st rotation in my job so far (plenty of exposure and given a lot of responsibility), somehow I felt that something is still amiss. At the beginning, I thought it was probably because I was kind of disappointed with my level of creativity at my work. I always pride myself to be the "guy with the ideas" and consider my ability to day-dream aloud as my strength. Although I've recently experienced a rejuvenated rush of ideas (3 new ideas last week :) ), most of the new ideas can't really be applied to my work (though some of them were inspired by my work). Initially, I attributed that to a lack of in-depth knowledge of real estate and a lack of time commitment to continue to read up on a wide variety of topics (I used to subscribe to over 250 RSS feeds that cover media, econ, business, china, japan, design, politics, internet, nanotech etc).

However, lately, I begin to see another dimension of my "frustration". A big part of the fun in generating ideas is the actual execution of these ideas and see if they work at all. In the past I've had my fair share of minor successes and (mostly) failures in trying to make my ideas a reality. I always thought that I owe it to the ideas to at least try them out and see if they deserve a place in reality, and most importantly, I always had fun doing it. But to try out an idea means taking risks, which I'm slowly beginning to see as the reason for a lack of that special spark.

Before I got married and started work, many things that seem low-risk back then are now becoming fairly risky. For instance, when I had that "myschooltube" idea in Berkeley, I just went ahead and did it. I didn't have to worry about how it'd affect my grades because firstly, I always thought grades are a bad gauge of a person's true ability and more importantly, even if I had bad grades I'd be the only one liable. In other words, most of the risks I took are "self-contained". These days it's a different story. If I want to try out an idea, I'd need to think of how it'd affect my performance at work, my wife and family and for ideas associated with my work, I'd need to really justify them from the perspective of the company. Hence, even though I might have a big appetite for risks, because my actions these days would also have a big impact on others, I often need to consider their risk appetite as well.

Case in point: I was trying to push for the use of Google Earth as a new marketing platform for our project and when I finally got a quotation from this consultant, I started having second thoughts and began making direct comparison with the cost of just making a video fly-through animation. Whilst in the past I might have just gone ahead and do it, I'm now taking more time to consider (especially since I know full-well the impact of cost as I'm also the one running the financial model). I'm not saying that having more time to work out the various scenarios is necessary a bad thing, in fact it's probably for the better as it'd allow me to have a more complete picture, but somehow one has to balance it out with the opportunity cost of wasted time, especially if the idea is a fairly new and might constitute substantial first-mover advantage.

Clearly, there has to be a balance between risk and return. Looking back my 6 months in the 1st rotation, while I must say I've learnt a lot and seen a lot, I don't think I'm taking enough risk given the kind of "reward" I have in mind. I don't see the "Just Do It" Michael that I know I am. I think I ought to take more calculated risks moving forward.

Is there such thing as a stupid question?

2 weeks ago I had a pretty good conversation with my colleague on the question above. We were chatting about our experience so far in the company, and while we both had plenty of good things to say, our chat inevitably arrived at a discussion on what's lacking and we both agreed that there's a certain stigma in asking questions in the company. I do think there's a general sense of encouragement to speak up, but somehow reactions to certain questions often serve to counter someone to really speak up.

There is of course the element of being respectful, especially in an Asian setting, while posing questions. I must confess the EQ involved is certainly something I myself also need to improve on, but beyond paying attention to being respectful so that we don't offend anyone unnecessarily while posing questions, I suspect that there's another barrier to asking questions in our work culture. To me, if I pay respect to the person whom I'm asking the question, I'd like the other guy to treat the question seriously, regardless of how irrelevant he/she might think of it.

In reality, it's much harder to practice and hence I make a conscious effort to have this mindset that "there's no such thing as a stupid question". Now I know I'm pretty thick-skin so appearing stupid is not really a show-stopper for me but I could imagine it being a significant barrier for some, and that's a major innovation-killer. If I have to go through all these filters of whether I'm using the most appropriate and respectful tone and then have to worry about whether I'd jeopardize my "reputation" as a "not-so-stupid person", then it's quite likely that I'd just skip the question. There is, of course, a continuous degree of this stifling effect, and while we're probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, we really need to change if we want to achieve the vision of becoming a "world-class" and "entrepreneurial" organization. Indeed, I think it'd really do us a lot of good if all of us start developing the mindset that "there's no such thing as a stupid question".

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Michael, it's rare to find a profession that caters to one's aspirations. This is why some might consider places of labor, such as school and workplaces, to "dumb down" an individual's creative expression.

You'll probably want to find a "third place" that exists outside work or home where you can nurture these thoughts... perhaps form a group or join one where you can contribute and know you made a difference under your own terms, not someone elses.

At the risk of being subversive, this is why there are some who risk it all to start their own venture. Try chatting up Yinghan of He's a nice guy and he'd be willing to share with you the risks he goes through for what he loves. :)