Friday, November 23, 2007

Recent Thoughts 1

It's been a long time since I last blogged, so here're some recent thoughts related to my work...

Last week I attended this 2-day management program facilitated by our CEO. It actually reminded me of the sessions that I used to attend when I was still serving in the army, where my commander COL Yeo also shares very similar management methodology and chairs this sort of "brain-washing" sessions every now and then.

First of all I think it's really admirable for a man of his position to actually spend 2 full days with the staff to discuss about management concepts and the values of the company. Many of the topics he covered seemed to be direct reiterations from the concepts from "Built to Last", one of my personal favorites, except that he backed them up with a rich library of real-life stories that are fitting for a Hong Kong serial drama, which made the discussion much more engaging.

Out of the 2-days discussion, there were 2 particular points that really stood out for me. One was his point that "...a person's value system will be his lifelong limitation..". As usual, he went on to illustrate his point with a blockbuster-worthy story of how one of his ex colleagues (labeled the "black tiger"), though an extremely intelligent man, went through a few cycles of rising then hitting the "ceiling" because of a fundamental lack of integrity. I think this is the greatest advice he can give to a young man starting out like me. In a way, I think I'm in safer ground as money or most materialistic satisfactions (which seem to be a common cause for the downfall for many great men) don't really motivate me. Having said that, I'd be the first to admit that I'm an ambitious person who really want to have an impact in the world, but I must only pursue my dream without jeopardizing my integrity. Somehow, the notion of "对得起天地" that I picked up from watching all the "武侠片" since young has taken deep roots in me.

Another point that made me think hard was his graph on career development. It's essentially a S-curve that depicts how a young executive must start out building up a strong technical skillset in his/her own field of expertise, before moving on to a more managerial role where one has to balance the expectations from the subordinates and the bosses; and finally a leadership role where the ability to convince others to buy into the vision and people skills become paramount. He also has a corresponding timeline/age associated with each stage and states that each person will have a natural plateau point (ie. "Peter Principle"). I was actually asked by him to give some comments on the discussion and I mentioned that I did not fully agree with that particular slide on his take on career development. While I agree that building up one's core technical expertise is important and that there's certainly some truths to the "Peter Principle", I'm quite hesitant to accept that a career development needs to adhere strictly to that S-curve.

Firstly I'm not sure if I should just blankly accept the timescale presented and while he pointed out that it could a different timeline for everyone, I don't necessarily agree that things has to proceed in that order. Lee Kuan Yew became the leader of a nation at 36, Steve Jobs (one of my idols) was 25 when Apple went on IPO. Of course there is always the danger of putting a person in an influential position when he/she is not ready; it's bad for the person and worse for the organization. Having said that, conventional methods yield conventional returns. If I really want to have an impact in the world and do great things in my life, then I think accepting the S-curve is almost equivalent to automatically setting a lower target for myself. Some of my colleagues (who meant well) pointed that I must be patient, but I think it's not a matter of being patient or not. It's about a fundamental belief in oneself that you can "rise to the occasion" regardless of the scale of the task given to you. It is the typical Hong Konger belief of "gaodim". Indeed it might appear that I'm being over-ambitious and "not knowing my place", but I think it's just a state of mind where I'm comfortable with having a high "Creative Tension" (coined by Peter Senge of "Fifth Discipline") of having a larger-than-life vision, but grounded in a realistic knowledge of where I stand now. So if I were to re-draw that "career development" graph, I would draw it as a rectangle throughout the time-scale (instead of a S-curve), where all the different level of skillsets can and should be enhanced or practiced at all stages of a career.

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