Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Great Resignation Letter

I cannot believe I stumbled upon this interesting resignation letter. Not that I am really searching for how to write a resignation letter. But I was reading some posts about some crazy bosses.

Here is it....

Frequently, when people in high places resign their positions, we are told, innocuously, they are leaving “to pursue other interests.” But, as people realize, this worn cliché is often nothing more than a thin veil of political correctness draped over irreconcilable differences with a superior. In each case where this is so I’m sure a scathing tell-all could be written, recounting the teeth-gnashing experience and lip-biting toleration of these differences, were it not for a desire to just put it all behind and get on with life. Instead, people in such circumstances will take what solace they can from their faith that the mind’s eye of the public sees through this veil the reality of a superior and subordinate who are not merely poles apart but from different universes. In this spirit, I am writing to advise you of my resignation from the Company, effective two weeks from today, in order to pursue other interests.

My boss told me before 99% of the reason people are leaving are due to their immediate boss. One funny guy said, half of your salary is paying you to do your job. The other half is for you to survive your boss kicking , idiocy and craziness.

I wonder how many people in my team left because of me. :)

When to Quit

The small book start with a quote.

Winner never quit, quitter never win - Vince Lambardi

Not totally right. Winner does quit. All the time. The smartest quitters are those who never begin if they know they are not going to be the best.

It’s time to quit when you secretly realize you’ve been settling for mediocrity all along. It’s time to quit when the things you’re measuring aren’t improving, and you can’t find anything better to measure.

This book is NOT about quitting. It is about how to identify whether you need to quit or to stick. Whether it is a dip where you have chance to move to be the best. Or a dead-end or cliff, where you either are stuck forever or you fall off. Only you can decide for yourself. And this book is the guidelines.

Reasons When to Quit:

  1. Out of Money
    - If you do not have the money to start a business and able to stand hardship (recession, etc.) . Don't do that.

  2. Out of Time
    - You only have 24 hours a day and you need enough sleep and time to relax. This is to maintain your health and for you to go on doing greater things. Do not try to stuff more into your packed schedule if you cannot take on more.

  3. You are getting scared
    - You feel threaten and no secured. Just like your bully husband who came back drunk and hit you once in a while. You live in fear whether you will get hit again. Quit before it is too late.

  4. You are getting not serious
    - When you are fooling around. You can fool everyone but yourself.

  5. Lost interest or enthusiasm and settle for being mediocre
    - If you are not the best, quit! Never settle for mediocrity. Never stick just because of pride.

  6. Focus on short term
    - You cannot envision what is the future. You cannot plan ahead.

  7. Pick up the wrong thing. You absolutely have no talent.
    - You definitely do not have talents for all the things. Pick the one you have talent in. For e.g. if you need to study very hard to get a good mark in Maths, whereas you know a person who did not study but get a good mark too - that is a signal for you not to become a mathematician.

  8. When the dip isn't worth the reward at the end.
  9. When you hit the dead-end (cul-de-sac)- something not going to get better or too high- Just like you are walking over to the cliff. You will fall off if you are not careful.
Reasons to Stick:

1. Never quit a long term potential just because you can't deal with the stress at the moment.
2. Study showed sales person usually quit at the 5th attempt. 80% of the customers buy at 7th attempt.
3. You should quit product/feature/design but you should not quit strategy/niche.
4. Persistent people visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel.
5. Do not quit when it is painful.

3 Questions to ask before quiting:

1. Am I panicking?
2. Who am I trying to influence?
3. What sort of measurable progress I am making?

The author also said - the time to look for new job is when you don't need one. The time to switch job is before it feels comfortable.

More information on the book:

Note: This is just a very small book. You can finish it within 3 hours. So, I recommend you either buy it to lend to friends or you borrow from your friends. :). Or you can do it like me - read in Borders while having a nice coffee.

I think this book lost some of it flows. Like the author is trying to tell us something , but do not know how to organize the information to put all the messages across. Well, I began reading the book, hoping to get an answer few months ago (on whether to quit or stick) . I did NOT get one. But, I always want to come back to this book and ponder more. I also understand more and I will be more careful next time when starting new things so I will not need to ponder whether I need to quit (or not).

But I recently decided to quit and start something new. Never in many years, have I wanted to quit with such certainty and passion that made me dream about it several nights and long for the new things that may be waiting for me. But I am still waiting . Waiting for an answer. The answer will seal my fate. And I am praying hard.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Tips for Better Writing

Today, I was preparing the review forms for the team. I was writing based on the input from them. What they have achieved for the first half year of 2007.

However, I was not too excited to see most people are not writing very well for their own reviews. I hope they do not write their resume in the same manner. :)

So, I have to send these tips to them and try to reinforce the importance of good writings. I learned these from different sources and I have seen its effectiveness in communication.

Happy reading.....

1. Use active instead of passive voice.

Old: Expectations for the new module have been achieved.
Improved: Have achieved the expectations for the new module.

2. Use short sentences.
(Break long sentences into shorter one. Usually, a sentence should not have any comma).

Old: We encountered a minor defect in the library, which caused the PO to be rejected by the system.
Improved: We encountered a minor defect in the library. This caused the PO to be rejected by the system.

3. Put the most important point first . NO STORY WRITING (except if you are really writing a story book)

Old: I have a meeting with management last Tuesday. We run through issues that we think have impact on the company cost. The things we can do are to reduce the printing and also make sure we switch off everything when we leave the office. Most importantly, we need to flush the toilet more infrequently to reduce the water bills. (this is fake story, obviously ....hehe)

Improved: We need to start FLUSHING the toilet more infrequently now. We brought up this during the recent management meeting. Objective is to save cost. We also need to reduce the printing and make sure we switch off everything when we leave the office.

4. Focus on your accomplishments in your appraisal form (or even resume). You can include your behaviours that caused it also but put ur accomplishment first.

Old: The challenges of this task is the complexities of the requirements. -> this is not an accomplishments . It is just a statement.:)
Improved: Overcame challenge of the complexities of the requirements.

Old: Have been able to meet deadlines -> You are saying you have been able to meet the deadlines, but may not actually met the deadline..a bit catchy here. Thus is not an accomplishment, more like you are saying you are capable of something. See the next tip.
Improved: Have met the deadlines for this project.

Old: Have worked hard, communicated with different parties, provided updates to management and team to deliver the project on time. -> Focus on the result first and be more specific . Working hard is actually not a specific behavior.
Improved: Have delivered the project on time by working 12 hours a day for the past 3 months, communicated with different parties, provided weekly updates to management and teams.

5. Avoid redundancy

Old: (you are sending an email or letter) I am writing to thank you for your help last weekend. -> Everyone know you are writing, else we wont be able to see it. So it is redundant.
Old: I would like to thank you for your help last weekend -> I would like only, but i am not actually thanking you. !!!!! See that?

Improved: Thank you for your help last weekend.

Old: I am writing to tell you that my cat had died yesterday and I am very sad. -> double redundancy - yes, you are writing and you are telling me something!!!!!
Improved: My cat had died yesterday and I am very sad.

Imagine this, I am calling the candidate up to offer her a job.

Me: I would like to offer you the job.
Candidate: Oh, thank you!! (very happy)

The next day, I call the candidate again.

Me: I think I am not going to offer you the job. I have a better candidate.
Candidate: But you said you offered me the job yesterday.
Me: I said I would like only , but I am not actually offering you a job yesterday.
Candidate: (Speechless)!!!!!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

A manager's dilemma

Dear Managers/Leaders,

You are responsible for a huge project that if implemented well will bring huge profit and great image to the company.

Good news is you have do have all the great people in the company. The bad news is to successful launch the project, you need your people to commit 12 hours each day for the next 3 to 6 months.

What would you choose? Will you take the project, and force your people to work hard or will you say no to the company management that your team are not capable to do that? Of course, for the latter, you either ask for an extension or extra resources but both will have impact on the company bottom line.

You finally choose to tell the company management the bad news. After all, you really care for your people and you know that your people need to balance their life - to spend time with their family, friends and on their own hobbies, studies or even part-time job. So, you ask for extra resources or extension. After all, you think, the top management should be able to understand. The chances are - you are living in your own world. The top management is forced to understand, but they don't. They may wonder in their big brains , 'What so difficult with the projects? Why can't people work harder to commit? Why can't people think for the company and not their own selves only?'
In the end, you may successfully deliver the project with the extra resources or extension and the project bring no profit to the company. At the annual appraisal, you cannot do much to adjust your team salary. Neither you can give them bonus or vacation or great motivation. People is not very happy and they feel the company is not caring enough. After all, they have really delivered the project. It is probably the project scope that is underestimated that cause the project to fail to generate any profit. Who to blame and what are the supposingly right things to do? No one knows the answer.

Let's now consider you choose the other option. You either force your team to commit the 12 hours or you talk nicely to them and get them to commit by their own choices. You do have great people, after all. So, project get started, everyone dive in and work like a monkey (yeah, monkey, jumping up and down!!!!). They almost seems to "lose their live" and they begin to feel frustrated and helpless. Their families and loved ones worry about them. The office becomes a pressure cooker, ready to explode. Finally, the project get done, but suffers in quality because of the bare resources. Customers are not too happy, although they know there are no other better company that can do these for them. After the project, the team still get stuck to do support, maintenance and bug fixing which are a lot due to the poor quality. Company is able to reap some early profit out of the project. But the morale of the people drop. People taking more times off to be with their family and friends because of the previous sacrifices. Company are going through a stagnant stage, where everyone is dried up and need times to pick up their momentum. Finally , at the annual appraisal, the company management cannot give a very good adjustment because of the "poor quality" or "lot of times wasted in bug fixing" or "people not working hard enough anymore" even though there are still some profit gained. After all, the company need to save some money for the future since now the people is like taking a break and not really going beyond expectation. Again, people is not happy and they do not get what they want even though they are working really hard.

This is the dilemma of a manager. You need to manage both the result and the people. You need to produce high quality deliverables in a short time and you need to take care of your people feelings. And you are not allocated enough times to do both.

If you are spending a lot of times talking to your people, you are not really directly creating the result. There are no tangible deliverables from the talking and people assume you do that because it is easy to do.

If you are spending a lot of times trying to help your people get the result, you ignore your other responsibilities, especially the capabilities to see the bigger and further picture.

If you are spending a lot of times following up with other people and managing the result, it seems your people is dependent on you and not matured enough to manage their own results.

If you are spending a lot of times creating tasks and tracking the tasks, you give no encouragement for people to contribute outside the box or be creative. If you give too high-level objectives, people do not understand what you want them to achieve and some will get their priorities wrong.

If you are spending a lot of times trying to see the bigger and further picture, supporting the top management, you might have a great vision , but may not be able to execute. But without the vision or the great plan, people will lose direction.

If you spend your time helping others, your own performance suffers but at the same time, the company promotes teamwork and culture of sharing.

So, is this Apple or Orange?

What is your choice?

Can you strike a balance and be a great leader?

Will you go more to the people side and sacrifice on the result?

Will you go more to the result side and be dominant and heartless to your people?

With greater power come with greater responsibilities. You need to manage up and manage down, even manage 360 degree. No one actually will tell you what to do now. You need to be on your own journey. Well, I am sure you hear the stories where great leaders bring the company from good to great together with a bunch of great people, where in the end, everyone gain from it. Great salary, great freedom, great bonus and great environment. Yeah, the Google story, the hedgehog concept, the winning attitude.

I wish you the very best luck.

Yours sincerely,
A struggling manager.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Working with Others - the unofficial guidelines

I once heard this from a very wise man. If you want to have a good career, you need to learn on how to work with PEOPLE because all the jobs working with dogs or trees are already taken.

In essence, relationship and building networks are very important to our career. This is more important when one goes higher in the career ladder.

Coming from technical background, it is actually very challenging for me to understand and put this in practice. So, I get started by being more observant these days. Thus, I cannot resist coming up with the following guidelines , although I am no expert on these fields :

1. Do not Kiss Up, Kick Down

How cool is this? Peter was having an one-on-one talk with his direct, Jolin. His boss called on his office phone to request to talk to him. Peter replied, "I am sorry but I am having one-on-one session now. Can this wait?". The boss said sure and Peter had show to Jolin that he has put her as his priority, over his boss.

Or how about this? Janice was discussing an urgent problem with her team. The phone rang and Janice picked up the phone . She listened a bit and said "OK", then turned to the team of 3 people and said "I need to go. We will continue this later." Then, she walked out and into her boss room to discuss something that may be trivial compared to the problems that she had just put on hold. Instead of working on the urgent problems with her team, Janice had chosen to put her boss as her priority, never even asking her boss how urgent her boss need to talk to her or maybe it can wait. Maybe Janice knew the what her boss asked is very important and thus require her immediate attention. But, anyhow, it may be better if Janice can explain to her team that she has some urgent things to do, maybe some big clients are waiting for her.

It is hard to respect a person that show only his support for his boss , but bully and leave his team to survive the cold war on their own. But, actually, all of us have that nature . If not, we probably be "the people person" but never would be recognized by any of our bosses and get promoted.

2. Help each others, do not just think only about yourself or your team.

If you find yourself saying "This is not my job. The other team should do that" or "Other teams is not doing their jobs", then you need to seriously evaluate yourself. This is not a good attitude to promote teamwork. Teamwork is not only important in your own team but with other teams and other departments.

However, I need to add, it is terribly normal to THINK like that. But , my point here is - don't sound like that. We are no saint and thus, definitely we will have some sort of negative thinking - we will think some of the jobs need to be done by others. The solution - find a democratic way to delegate the work or to let the other team or department understand that they need to do that. And, of course, offer to help out. If you know more than they do, offer for a knowledge transfer session.

3. When there is problem, cover for others or help others cover themselves.

If you ever send an email to your colleague about him making a serious mistake which can be avoided if he is more careful and cc to his boss, you are making yourself an enemy. If others are making mistakes and it does not affect you, let them decide whether they want to tell their boss. If it affects you, you have to evaluate whether telling your boss will help improve the situation.

Sometimes you need to give others some chances. On other times, you need to be strict and let your or his boss know about the mistakes also. There is no golden rules for this, but one really need to be careful on what to cover and what to tell. But, remember this - no one want to be stripped naked. If they are naked, offer them some clothes. That will kinda warm them up . :)

4. Trust others and sometimes you just have to bend the rules a bit.

I recently have this experience of asking a colleague to help me to bend the rule a bit. I was doing some planning and need to access to a server to gather information. I had the login to the server before but was removed due to some audit clean-up. I have requested the access through the formal procedure. But I felt I do not want to wait, so I asked one of my colleague to help me login to the machine through LAN connection for me to access some files through the network. I explained what I need to do, which was just to access some files.

Me: Can you help me with this? blah blah blah....(explaining what I need to do and what objectives I want to achieve)
A: Can you ask this other person to help to gather the information? He knows that, right?
Me: I was halfway doing that. I finished gathering information on the other machines. It is not hard . So, I just want to get this done with and do not want to pass it around and delay it.
A: There are many things running there, you know which one to look for?
Me: Oh, it is quite clear. I just want some initial study. Details still need further exploring later and need help from other team.
A: I can give you the list of the filenames. (assuming that is what I want, but in fact, it is not)
Me: (a little bit frustrated and felt the resistance) Never mind, then. It is ok. I will settle it myself.

My devil self concluded this:
There is no trust from this person on me (maybe I have to seriously evaluate myself). Just sort of let you know, I actually have the authority to approve access to the servers. In this case, I can approve anyone to access that particular server. I felt a bit idiotic when I cannot be trusted to access to the server. Also, the questions A asked, make me feel like I do not know what I am doing or I am one of those people who will probably accidentally delete or move out some files and cause major havoc.

I shouldn't blame A, right? After all, he is just following policy. But, his non-trusting and too cautious nature made me realize that I maybe cannot understand and mix with him much.

At that moment, I told myself this - if this person need my personal help one day (not work related) , I probably will say NO. If you want to have a nice growing plant, you need to nurture it.

Just my devil self- maybe I need to improve my thinking.

Anyhow, why some of us are so cautious about things? Like other people will hurt us if we let them have too much information about us? For e.g. if some people do not dare to tell their colleagues which company they are going to even when asked point blank (my other friends encounter same things also so it is not my problem, really). I think they scared that someone will call up their new companies and talk bad about them. I wonder who would really do that?

I also learnt from a great manager that sometimes we need to bend the rules a bit - especially to help the people and getting things done. For e.g. if company policy forbid you to lend money to your people in your company, you do not need to lend. Give them money if you find that they are skipping lunches. If company policy dictates that HR should be the one who should call up the candidate for job offer, as an effective manager, you still need to call up the candidates to offer them the jobs yourself. But you can let HR call again after you have done that (since there is such policy) . If you need to bend the policy a little to be more effective and not causing any harms, do it. Period.

5. Lastly, Seek first to understand , then to be understood

Try to understand other people problems' before saying that something are easy to do or anyone can do that. Things may seem easy to you, but in fact it may not. If you do not start to understand the difficulties others are facing and asking like "Why it is so difficult?", then you better really find a job that work with the trees or dogs. Or you can always get all the things done by yourself. Is that possible? Haha, maybe.

Hope I am having all these right. I definitely behave like the fat devil sometimes. Please feel free to drop me comments. :)

Saturday, 4 August 2007

My First House

This is the layout of my first house. Finally, I have the key to it.

These days, I should be busy changing my empty unit to home-sweet-home. But, I do not know why I keep on procrastinating.

Maybe I lack the vision? Maybe I scared the end result is not even a close match to my dream house? Maybe I sacred of commitments (house is a liability if you are living in it)?

Anyway, I always believe the journey is as important as the destination. So, I have to enjoy this process. In fact, it brings good feeling to bring my family, relatives and friends to see my empty house. :)

I keep on having plans to invite a lot of people to my house, especially children - nieces, nephews, cousins. Keep on having this picture in mind to prepare them banana boat ice-cream and giving them lots of food to eat.

Love at First Sight

Came across this beautiful poem from a movie........

They both thought
that a sudden feeling had united them
This certainty is beautiful,
Even more beautiful than uncertainty.

They thought they didn't know each other,
nothing had ever happened between them,
These streets, these stairs, this corridors,
Where they could have met so long ago?

I would like to ask them,
if they can remember -
perhaps in a revolving door
face to face one day?
A "sorry" in the crowd?
"Wrong number" on the 'phone?
- but I know the answer.
No, they don't remember.

How surprised they would be
For such a long time already
Fate has been playing with them.

Not quite yet ready
to change into destiny,
which brings them nearer and yet further,
cutting their path
and stifling a laugh,
escaping ever further;
There were sings, indications,
undecipherable, what does in matter.
Three years ago, perhaps
or even last Tuesday,
this leaf flying
from one shoulder to another?
Something lost and gathered.
Who knows, perhaps a ball already
in the bushes, in childhood?

There were handles, door bells,
where, on the trace of a hand,
another hand was placed;
suitcases next to one another in the
left luggage.
And maybe one night the same dream
forgotten on walking;

But every beginning
is only a continuation
and the book of fate is
always open in the middle.

by Wislawa Szymborska
Translation from Polish by Roman Gren
Translation from French by Sarah Hardenberg

Friday, 3 August 2007


Do you often cry in the movies?
If you accidentally found out a colleague is crying, will you approach her and ask her what happens and whether you can help?
When you talk or do things to others, will you always think what the other person will react or feel first?
Will you stop by and offer your help when you notice someone looks kind of lost even though you rushing off to somewhere, maybe to work?
Will you make yourself a fool just to make other person feel better (or brilliant)?

Each one of us has different sensitivities to things due to different upbringing, habit and experiences in life. But being able to stand from other people point of view, able to empathize will definitely make this world a better place to live in.

Here are some principles from a fantastic book "How to Win Friends and Influence People". I think I have bought more copies of this book as gifts more than any other books ever.

Don't criticise, condemn or complain.
Give honest and sincere appreciation.
Become genuinely interested in other people.
Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
Talk in terms of other person's interest.
Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.
Show respect for the other person's opinions . Never say, 'You're wrong'.
If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
Try honestly to see things from the other's point of view.
Be sympathetic with other person's idea and desires.
Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
Let the other person save face.
Give the other person a fine reputation to live up with.


This is something that we all need to learn and I found a lot of people including myself are still poor at this.

Mimosa Pudica is a very sensitive plant.

Here are some real life bad examples (some mistakes was mine) and how we should act differently: (I may change the conversation a bit to protect privacy or I just merely forgotten exactly what were being said)

I hope to declare this. I am no expert in this field, and I am slowly learning. So my observations and suggestions may not be correct. Any comments or corrections are very welcomed.

Discussing about a colleague…..

Boss A: Well, this person does not know the product well and is a bit slow on learning. I had to explain more than twice to her at one time on something.

Employee B: Oh, I learnt something on this. Sometimes, in this situation, it may be the way we communicate our message to others which is not effective, rather than the person receiving the message are the one who has problem.

B hit right on the point. Plus A should not have made such conclusions and talk bad about a person. Totally not right. In this case, we found that, at many times, the younger or less experienced has more to teach to the older and more experienced person.

Employee A: I do not think we should do this. (Feel that what his boss did is wrong)

Boss B: (in anger, with voice slightly raise). This is supposed to be your job. I am doing it because you are not doing it.

A had made the mistake to challenge openly what his boss did to him. B, on the other hand, reacted negatively by openly and directly criticized A. Both need to improve. What if the same thing can be said in different ways?

Employee A:
(in a non-challenging tone) Will there be a better way to do this?
Boss B: (is a calm voice) Currently, this is the only way I can think of. If you can think of a better way, we can switch to that. Also, I will be happy to let you take control of this when you are ready. This is actually part of your responsibilities. But I understand that you are overloaded, so I am just helping out.

Friend A: You have read my blog?
Friend B: Oh, your blog. You said something like one of the book is the greatest business book ever. How can you say something like that? You read all the business books?
Friend A: (instantly felt the splash of cold water, and started to get defensive) What I wrote is what I felt. Maybe I did not say it clearly - it is just what I felt and may not be a fact. Anyway, I got the same opinion from some people also. Also, it is best in a particular year, not the lifetime.

Why would B want to start his comment with criticism? A may be wrong, but isn't it what blog is - a place for one to write out one's thought. What B brought out is a valid point, although he should have said it differently. Perhaps he should say something good first before he said that. Of course, not meaning to flatter A. B has to mean what he says. It just that if B really feel what he said is a piece of good advice, he should deliver it in a non-criticizing way so that A see his points and did not get hurt also. That is the objectives, right? Give advice without splashing cold water to people face. On the other hand, A should be less defensive and keep the communication open.

Friend B:
Oh, your blog. I like the part where you talk about the . But, I found one small thing that I would like to just share with you. You talk about a book that is like the best business book ever. Hard to agree with you on that, cause I do find other great business books that may be better than that book.

Friend A: Oh, that is what I felt only. You are right though. I should not have say something like that in the blog, may be a bit misleading. (grinning). Oh, what are the other books that you find is better? I am definitely interested to read that. Maybe after that we can debate which is the best? (still grinning ) (keep the communication flowing and opportunities to continue to share things)

Employee A: We do not know what caused the slowness yet. We are still finding out and at the same time, we are fine-tuning the application.

Boss B: There is no use to continue to fine-tune the application because it just cause the performance to improve slightly only. By right, we need to change the architecture by making the changes XXX like what we discussed last time.

First, there is absolutely no proof that changing XXX can make a huge difference also. And there are absolutely many good reasons why change XXX cannot be done last time until now.
Why would B dismiss all other possibilities and make a conclusion that is not really supported by any data. It is like seeing a crack on the wall and straight away said the wall structure is not good because that is the only thing we see – the wall. There are many other things supporting the wall or behind the wall that we may not see but can be the root problem.
When someone says to you, there is no use to do something, but you know you need to still do it – will it be demotivating? Like you are doing something so useless you might as well go and clean the toilets or do nothing at all. Small improvements do make some differences.

Boss B:
Yes, we should continue to fine-tune the application. Little improvements count. Anyhow, we also cannot forget to find out the real culprit to this slowness. This may be a huge improvement. But I know this is hard, so we just need to work on this more often. We have made good progress so far. Oh, there is also a change I remember that can potentially bring improvement but we hit some problems last time – XXX. You may need to explore this. If changing this make huge difference in performance, I think it is logical to do that.

It seems like the reviewed conversation are much more longer. I guess, I think I have a lot to learn how to simplify things. Maybe that's why a lot of people will say something short but misleading or hurting to others - because it is shorter and easy to just blurt out without thinking.

But the point is to explain ourselves clearly so that our messages is understood and will not to hurt others.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Are You a Hedgehog or a Fox?

An interesting concept..........

The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog's den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty-the fox looks like the sure winner. The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. "Aha, I've got you now!" thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, "Here we go again. Will he ever learn?" Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

Berlin extrapolated from this little parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are "scattered or diffused, moving on many levels," says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple-indeed almost simplistic-hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

Princeton professor Marvin Bressler pointed out the power of the hedgehog during one of our long conversations: "You want to know what separates those who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart? They're hedgehogs." Freud and the unconscious, Darwin and natural selection, Marx and class struggle, Einstein and relativity, Adam Smith and division of labor-they were all hedgehogs. They took a complex world and simplified it. "Those who leave the biggest footprints," said Bressler, "have thousands calling after them, 'Good idea, but you went too far!' "

To be clear, hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity. What could be more simple than e = mc2? What could be simpler than the idea of the unconscious, organized into an id, ego, and superego? What could be more elegant than Adam Smith's pin factory and "invisible hand?" No, the hedgehogs aren't simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.

What does all this talk about hedgehogs and foxes have to do with good to great? Everything.

Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we came to call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.

Excerpts from Good to Great, by Jim Collins

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