This completely changed the way I communicate

"What would you want on your tombstone?" was flashing on my laptop screen.

I was put on the line with a total stranger, and we each had two minutes to share our thoughts with each other. I was feeling very uncomfortable. Should I say what I want to say, or should I say what I think I should say? 

It was not just another day of training in corporate America.

Let me back up and tell you how I got there. I attended an hour-long "How to establish a successful mentoring relationship" webinar a few weeks ago.

It started out normal enough. I learned some interesting facts. For example, mentors should focus on mentees' long-term career and life goals, and line managers should focus on their direct reports' performance and immediate career next steps. 

The tone changed fifteen minutes in. It was exercise time. The moderator announced that she would pair each of us randomly with another participant on a private line to answer one questions. We will each have 2 minutes to share, and when the time is up, we will be paired with someone else to answer another question.

That was something I had never experienced before. I didn't know what to expect, but I was game.

The earlier questions were easy enough. "What are the proudest achievements of your career?". 

I was unloading my answer to my partner so fast that I was literally out of breath. Seriously, two minutes was enough to tell him all the strategic, transformative initiatives that I had led. My partner felt the same way too.

Then the questions turned tricky. "What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with?"

Hm. I stared at the screen. Was it just another way for the moderator for us to continue to showcase our strengths? Or should I share the trust? That I like to surround myself with artists, chefs, and new-agey people?  

The hustler in me took the microphone back in 0.0005 seconds. There was no time to waste, and it was always time to sell. I was so relieved when my partner also decided to put up her best self. 

 "What would you want on your tombstone?" That was the last question.

I stared at my screen in a state of panic, and my mind was racing a thousand miles a second. If I took the thinking of my inner hustler to its logical extreme, my tombstone will look like this: 

 

But that was not what I want. I was quiet for the first time in this exercise. What should I say?

"This is incredibly difficult" She broke the ice. I was thankful that I was not alone. 

What was going through my mind was that I knew what I wanted on my tombstone. I just wasn't sure if I should share with her.

Why? Because I have been constructing a facade of ambition, and I was not ready to take it down and showed her who I really was. The most important thing in my life is to be there for my friends in good and bad times. I want to be there when they need to talk, they need a place to stay for a while, or when they just want a home-cooked meal. 

I didn't know what took over me. "Hey, actually I have thought about that, and my answer is quite simple: a great friend. There is nothing more important than that to me, and I hope to be remembered this way."

I held my breath as I couldn't see her face. She probably thought I am a loser and am I really ok with it?

She took a deep breath and said, "This is a very emotional question for me. I just moved to this new city last week for this job. It hits me hard that my friends and family are so far away." 

I thought she would cry, but she didn't and we continued to talk until the time was up.  

I felt lost when the line was cut off abruptly and we were put back to the main conference call. I felt this deep connection to her in the short four minutes that we shared our anxiety and fear, and I wanted more. I cannot explain why, but I felt l know her and trust her because she was not afraid to show that she is just human. I would love to get a chance to work with her.

I thought about this for days after the call, and I changed the way I approach people in a professional setting. Less communicate to impress, more communicate to connect. 

Here are the valuable lessons that I have learned. 

1. The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connections. 

2. Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends

3. It feels risky to share the real me first, but it is a risk worth taking. Turning strangers into friends is always good for business. 

 

 

 

  

 

Career secrets from the happiest person I have ever met

Earlier in her work life, Erika tried different careers that seemed logical. However, none of those jobs felt right to her. 

Erika was lucky. She met a great boss, found her calling, and has been in the same line of work for 10 years.

She loves her job. She is a great mother, a loving wife, and all around an awesome human being. She is the happiest person I have ever met.

Erika is my house cleaner. 

She has a passion, with a dash of healthy obsession, for cleaning. Her daughter told me she would find Mom wiping down the tables at their favorite Korean BBQ restaurant on their family night out when no one was watching. 

In theory, I should be happier than Erika. I can afford to hire her to clean the house that is a bit too spacious for me. 

But I am not. I feel restless and discontent. I feel I deserve more, while simultaneously feeling like I am not good enough. 

Turns out I am not alone. The most popular class in the history of Yale is exactly what I need.: Happiness 101 (or PSYC 157: Psychology and Good Life)

Talking to Erica is always a humbling experience. I may have gone to fancier schools, but she seems to have learned so much more about life.  

So, here are a few things I learned from Erica. She taught me that our conventional idea of success does not guarantee happiness and that there is so much more to life.  

1. Be grateful

 

"Mr. Kim was great", Erika told me. "He got me started in the cleaning business. He is a great boss. I don't work for him anymore, but I still visit him from time to time".

I am not sure I would have been as grateful as her. 

I feel guilty I pay Erika and her cleaning partner a grand total of $120 for a five-hour, deep cleaning session. 

I feel guilty that the $120 also includes the commute from her house in Twenty Nine Palms. For those of you who are not familiar with the traffic god of Southern California, it is a three to nineteen hours drive, one way.

But Erika is genuinely grateful, even though I haven't been the most steady client. 

And boy, I used to be totally pissed when I found out there was a 6-month old next to me in seat 5B on my 15-hour flight to Shanghai. And no, the flat-bed seat and champagne brought me no solace.  

2. Be deeply connected to others

 

Growing up in the tradition of tiger mom meant that my teenage years were a battle of mutual silent resentment. I knew my parents loved me, but my 15-year-old self couldn't feel it. The expectation to excel was so high that it eroded our ability to connect deeply. 

One time, Erika's 17-year-old daughter came along to help out. I still remember I was walking by and they were cleaning the his-and-her sinks side-by-side, talking and laughing. I don't speak Spanish, but I could tell they have a great relationship. 

Erika has five children. She told me she wished they would go into the cleaning business with her, but they have their own plan. Her 17-year-old loves to read and wants to go to college after a few years in the military. 

I thought, oh she must be upset that none of her children want to work with her. But she looked at it differently. 

"Oh, it doesn't matter. I just want them to do what makes them happy." I wish my mom said that to me. 

Harvard has been running longitudinal studies of human development since 1938. They have been following 268 men for 75 years and they discovered that the secret to happiness, health, and success is not intelligence. It is having warm relationships and a sense of feeling deep connections to others. 

I have a lot to catch up in this department. 

3. Do what you love

 

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between, he does what he wants to do." - Bob Dylan

Erika was a waitress. Erika was a cashier. Erika was a line cook. None of these feels right to her. 

Once, I told her there was no need to clean the patio table that I planned to throw away. She sneaked out and cleaned it anyway. 

I know that "do what you love" is nothing new, but I never fully believed in it. But Erika made me realized that I have got the meaning all wrong.

Do what you love doesn't need to be grand. 

What we love doesn't need to be something that can change the world. What we love doesn't need to make us feel like we need to drop everything that is mundane to pursue the sublime. 

Doing what you love can be as simple as keeping every surface clean, no matter you got paid for it or not. 

How I conquered stress and let go of my inner perfectionst

3 AM. I was jolted awake, my pillow was wet with sweat.

"It was just a dream", my left brain said trying to act calm. "Your abandoned blog post did not chase you down Wilshire Boulevard asking why me, ok?"

"But...", my right brain replied, still trembling, "I cannot look it in the eyes, I mean, what could I say? Because you are not good enough? It is my fault!"

Ah, the joy of being a perfectionist. I am almost getting used to the merciless interrogations of my sub-parred works.

Now, please tell me you are one too to make me feel better.

Actually, I am quite confident that you are a perfectionist too. According to the World Health Organization, more and more young people worldwide are suffering from depression and anxiety disorder as social media-fueled perfectionism is rising.

So chances are that you are also as stressed out as I used to be. It is was just very tiring to be second guessing what other people might think about the quality of my work (and blog) all the time.

My friends are telling me that WHO is onto something. Somehow, we all believe that ambition, perfectionism, success, and stress arrive at our door as a package. One of my friends works in her empty office till 11 pm every night. Another one complained that all but a few in her team are bone lazy.

I used to be proud to be a perfectionist. I wanted to be just like Hermione Granger. I mean, who doesn't love her? (Voldmort, maybe?)

Then Professor Laura Empson comes along and made me think twice.

Her research on professional firms reveals that star performers in professional organizations all shared a common trait. The big salary doesn't make them feel worthy, and they push themselves to work longer and longer hours to please the clients.

Insecure overachievers. That's how she called the "constructive" perfectionist in a lot of us.

In this blog, I am doing something very hard for this recovering perfectionist. I want to share the 3-step process to reduce the perfectionist tendencies that I haven't perfected.

You see, the perfectionist in me stopped me from blogging.

What I hope, is that this can help the perfectionists among you to be more productive and less stressed.

Step 1: Stop the denial and embrace that I am a perfectionist.

 

"If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself"

Back in my startup days, I partnered with a 100% perfectionist marketing manager.

"Hi Grace, can you ask the printer to make the (19th) correction? This "a" is just off (0.01mm) and the noodle should be 5% brighter."

I hated that. The third revision looked darned perfect to me. It was not like we had plenty of time. "I am not a perfectionist like him". I comforted myself

Until I saw the test result of "Are you a perfectionist?" and this is the result:

"You feel pressured to live up to societal standards of perfection."

Yup. Ok. That's me. I realized that the person I hated was actually the perfectionist in me.

Step 2: Admit that perfectionist attitude makes me less productive and anxious

 

Michelle, a successful marketing executive, told me the story about the cabinet sitting in her trendy 11th arrondissement apartment's living room.

"For five years, this living room was a mess. Paul's toys were everywhere while I searched for the perfect cabinet. Isn't it funny I will give up one form of perfection for another? We finally bought a good enough cabinet, but I am still unhappy. I still want the perfect one that I cannot afford".

I wanted to laugh, but I caught myself quickly.

Didn't I make the same choice day in day out at work?

I know the countless time I freaked out over the font size, color, and margin of my powerpoint presentation deck. I know the countless times I stared at the prompt of Microsoft Word unable to type a word for the upcoming report.

Result? I forgot to go to the restroom. I ate lunch at my desk. I worked on the weekend. I woke up at 3 am pondering if the formula in cell B24 was correct.

I decided this has to change or I will go crazy.

Step 3: Replace "Perfect" with a new goal: "Done"

 

“Healthy striving is self-focused: "How can I improve?" Perfectionism is other-focused: "What will they think?” -- Brene Brown

I was afraid to fire my inner perfectionist.

There was a voice in my head, "if you fired me, you will be lying in bed, binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and you will be fired and everyone will think that you are a loser".

I love Brene Brown. I learned that I am confusing healthy striving and perfectionism in her book, "The Gift of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are".

Healthy striving means that I will do my best at work without constantly answering these questions from my inner critics:

"Let's find another picture for this slide. This 10th version is still not good enough."

"Oh no, I missed an "s" in this 5th bullet point down at the bottom of the page that nobody can even read on the screen."

And this is exceptionally freeing.

And that is why I managed to write this blog this week.

 

I bring my whole self to work (scary!), and this is what I learned.

"Professor Banaji", I ran up to the podium right after her lecture on Unconscious Bias in 2010. 

"I always feel that I do not fit into other's mental picture of a leader, as a woman, an Asian, and a foreigner. Thank you for showing me that I am not crazy. So here is a thought: does it mean I need to work 6 times harder - 2 times for each deviation I have - to overcome the bias and get that promotion?" I was eager to know. 

"Yes, it's true," she said in a matter-of-fact manner. I was crushed. I wanted her to commiserate with me how unfair the world is but she was not giving me any of that. 

I went back to my room and cried. America had failed me. The reality that my skin color, accent, and ability to bear children colors others' perception was too harsh.  

Can I just be like everyone else? 

Now what?

And then, a thought came to me. 

What if I stopped acting to fit in and started bringing my whole self to work?  

It felt risky. I was told that I need to leave my true self at the front door, right before I said hi to the receptionist.

But then I did not feel like working 6 times harder. I had nothing to lose by giving this crazy idea a shot.  

 What I found out surprised me. I couldn't have known that bringing myself made me happier at work. I would have never guessed that it is becoming a critical leadership skill.  

I hope I can convince you to take a risk and try to be more yourself at work starting today?

1. Fitting in doesn't make me stand out. My quirky part is what made me valuable.

 

'Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken" - Mike Robbins

The first 10 years working in the US felt hard. I wanted to fit in.

I took accent reduction classes, became fluent in Netflix, and tried to get myself into Super Bowl. Still trying.

I joked that I am the diversity jackpot, but it was not a joke. I hate that when the first question people asked me was "Where are you from?". I wanted to feel belong.

A 2015 McKinsey report found that ethnically and gender diverse companies are 15-35% more likely to have a financial return that is above their industry mean. Smart companies promote diversity. It is good for business.  

But day-to-day reality feels different to me. I did not want to be typecast to "Asian" or "women" projects or roles, so I downplayed my difference. 

And then I had an epiphany. All of us are different in some way. Mark Zuckerberg grew up as a white man in New York, but he is a bit nerdy. So, he double-downed on his nerdiness and created Facebook rather than trying to be a football star.  

For me, I stopped trying to be an all-rounded supply chain professional and double-downed on my true passion: the role of technology and how it is changing the way we do our business. And I never looked back.  

2. Knowing how to express deeply personal value is a new leadership skill.

 

I have a confession. I am a coffee snob. I will go to World Barista Championship events (Yes, I do know Charles) to support my inked up barista friends and I did not want my coworkers to know.  

Why? No idea. I guess it did not fit into the "leader" image that I wanted to have. 

One day, Mark, a co-worker that I was close to, ran into the lunch room and yelled, "Grace, hey, this reminds me so much of you".

He showed a laptop size picture of a very serious looking, fully mustached barista pulling a shot.

I was mortified. Oh no. I was scanning my co-worker's faces looking for signs of disapproval.

And you know what? Nothing happened.

I forgot that most people are too busy to obsess over my idiosyncrasies or urban hipster status. In fact, a few of them told me later it was super cool. 

This was a silly episode, but it made me realize something. 

It is ok to share more, even political and religious view. 

In fact, some of the best working relationships are those who took the risk and share their very different political and religious view. We do not agree with each other, but we felt much closer as a result of sharing a piece of our true self.  

Then I noticed that times are a-changing.

Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, started to advocate for LGBTQ rights, while Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A's CEO, was not shy to share that he is against gay marriage.

The old playbook that politics and religion are taboo topics in business is being pushed out by tweets and likes.

Consumers, powered social media, now demand their beloved brand to behave like a regular person with their own value and guide their action. 

I really love Harvard Business Review January 2018 article the "The New CEO Activitist". We are all CEOs of ourselves, and there is much to learn about how and when to share our personal value with the public.

One question from my father that changed my career

It was supposed to the best day of my life. But that was not how I felt that day.

I got the acceptance letter to the Economics undergraduate program at the London School of Economics. "Yes! I am going to London!", I told all my friends.  

There was just one obstacle standing between me and my dream: money. Student loan or working part-time was not an option. 

I gingerly approached my dad, who was absorbed by the morning paper. I did the math. The school fees will just be a drop in his retirement bucket.

"Well, have you considered going to the University of Hong Kong? It is a pretty good school too."

That was not I imagined. In my alternate universe, he would have tears in his eyes, he would tell me how proud he is, and he would transfer the funds to my account that day.  

I was furious. I ran into my room and slammed the door shut.

Little did I know, this one simple question has done more to set me on a path to career success than I could ever imagine on that fateful day. 

Stay with me if you want to the secrets in getting a promotion, being a better leader, and winning a negotiation. 

1. Success will not be served on a silver platter. You got to work for it with others.

 

Chances are that life has been treating you fairly well. I am 99.99% sure that you are not making T-shirts in a crumbling factory in Bangladesh. 

Food. Shelter. Vacation. I took everything my parents gave me for granted. 

I felt that I worked hard and did well in school. As a result, I am absolutely entitled to an all-expense-paid-for undergraduate experience in London. 

My dad taught me that is surely not the logic of working life. Our boss won't offer us a promotion just because we work hard.

Marshall Goldsmith, the world's #1 Executive Coach, reminds us that goal obsession is one of the biggest obstacles that is holding us back from career success in his best-seller What Gets You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful,

Being empathetic, respectful, and not feeling entitled are the keys to having a successful and fulfilling career. 

2. Too much pride stops other from helping you

 

I told my mother this conversation a few months ago.

"You never told me this." She said, "I would have helped you". 

That's right. She could have. But I never ask for help.,

I had too much pride and couldn't ask for help. There is another word for that.

Hubris.  

Research conducted by Heidrick & Struggles, a leading HR consulting firm, found out that one in five CEOs said they never doubt themselves. A 2013 study found that overconfident CEOs tend to make risky decisions about merger and acquisition that end up costing the company a fortune.  

I am glad I learned that lesson when I was still very far away from the corner office. I learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

I learned that asking for help from the right person with respect and without expectation often deepens the relationship.  

3. Anger can elevate you or destroy you. Your choice. 

 

I did not like that feeling of anger searing inside that day. Or actually any day. I have a difficult relationship with my anger. I want it to go away.

Anger feels like this red-faced demon, holding a trident, standing in hell, and looking at me with an intense focus. He is ready to burst if I let him.

Luckily, I did not initiate a shouting match with my dad that day. Research by Keith Allred, a former faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, shows that anger often harms the negotiation process by escalating conflict, biasing perceptions, and making impasses more likely. 

Phew. 

But over the years, I start to see this demon has been a blessing in disguise.  

I was so eager to prove my dad wrong. 

I was eager to show him that a global education is important.

I was eager to show him that women can have a great career and not be just confined to be a good wife and mother. 

And so I worked, really really hard, to get a good job and help other women to attain career success on their own terms. 

Somehow, I sneaked behind the devil, stole the fire, put that underneath my little rocket and poofed I go. 

My dad taught me that anger can be my best friend or my worst enemy. 

It was, and always will be, my choice to mak.

Three Career Lessons I Wish to Share with my 35-year-old Self

The start-up I worked in had a successful exit. I moved on to a great job, got married, and settled into a new home.

That was me at 35. Life was clicking along. I got the Director title, the six-figure salary, and the platinum frequent flyer status that I didn't even know that I wanted.

I felt more secure, but I was restless. When will I get that corner office? Or that Santa Monica mansion with the perfect sunset view?

Little did I know this path of success was leading me to a divorce a few years on.

By making work my core identity, I forgot to cultivate other parts of life. I learned a lot from my divorce and sometimes I wonder how different life would be if I knew then what I know now.

With that, I hope my mistakes can help you figure your life and career out a little easier.

1. We can have it all - but not all at once

 

"Our life comes in segments, and we can have it all if we're not trying to do it all at once" - Madeleine Albright

A young woman approached me at a networking event, wanting to know how to make it in corporate America.

"Oh, I don't have children", I said half-jokingly.

"Great tips!", she responded enthusiastically.

I panicked and went into damage control mode. I was joking.

Or, was I?

When I moved from Asia to the States, I thought that working mothers in the US are either super-women or insane. Where I come from, mothers have an army of help. Parents, relatives, maids from the Philippines.

Here? You are expected to travel frequently, take up overseas assignments -- all with little help. It baffles me. How do people have a two high-flying career family?

Well, they don't, not without a lot of struggles, or some secret sauce.

A husband who stays home. A husband who takes a "lesser" career track. Never have time to take a long shower or volunteer. Or if they do, they feel immensely guilty or extremely sleep deprived.

I did not want to accept that we cannot have it all, and maybe I just need to work harder. Career, family, community, self-development, and self-care -- I want all of it.

We can have it all, just not at the same time. Or we risk losing some along the way.

2. The world will change. You will change . Make space for that.

 

When I was 35, I thought, well, this is the Grace that I am going to be until the day I die.

That thought is comforting, very scary, and very, very untrue.

In Hit Reset: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about the day his oldest son, Zain, was born.

Zain suffered asphyxiation in utero, and he cannot see, communicate, or move his limbs forever.

When I moved beyond 35, I noticed that everyone around me had something "bad" happen to them. Business Failure. Problematic kids. Being fired. Divorce. Cancer.

I thought that money and status can shield me from sufferings in life. I was wrong, and I was grateful for that. Suffering reveals important life lessons. I learned that I have to stop being a control freak and think that I am always right.

Satya is grateful to Zain too. He learned to be deeply emphatic to others, and that helped him to get to the corner office.

I no longer pretend to know what life will bring to me. I learn to make space for that in my heart and in my mind.

3. It is never too late to reinvent yourself

 

"Every Day, you reinvent yourself. But you decide every day: forward or backward" -- James Altucher

I was managing a team of thirteen when I was 35. I loved my team, but it didn't bring me joy.

I struggled. Leading an ever larger team and moving up the ladder. Isn't it what I always wanted?

It was annual performance time, and my boss asked me: "So what do you want to do?"

"I don't want your job. I enjoy working in a highly ambiguous situation, especially at the intersection of supply chain and technology. I want to create a role that will allow me to bring the biggest value to the company".

I was relieved. I was not what I wanted to hear, but it is the truth.

Shortly after that, I moved into an individual contributor role in strategy. Sometimes I do wonder, will my life be different if I took a chance and make a bigger change?

I don't know. What I learn is that reinvention is possible and I will be less timid next time.

Three Career Lessons I Wish to Share with my 25-year-old Self

Eager to change the world and wonder why everyone around me couldn't see what I see? Why is my boss so stupid?

That was me at 25. I was a bag of contradictions: confident and insecure. Being an adult was less cool than I thought it would be. 

Yes, I had a well-paid job, good friends and opportunities to travel. But I felt miserable inside. I could only see people who get a faster promotion, a bigger paycheck, and had nicer handbags than I do.

My mentor confided in me:

"We are just winging it even at this stage of our career. Nobody has it all figured out."

With that, I hope my mistakes can help you figure your life and career out a little easier.

1. Call her. She wants to be your mentor, stupid.

 

Get a mentor. Everyone told me to do that, and I was desperate and confused.

Is it like dating? 

Should I ask someone I like to be my mentor? Or will it happen when I meet the right person? 

Where is that Mentor Tinder?? 

Years ago, there was a VP that everyone admired. She is smart, down to earth and passionate about helping other women. After 5 weeks of internal struggle, I asked if she can give me 15 minutes of career advice. 

She wrote back immediately. The next day, during her 30-minute transit at Atlanta Airport, she shared her career secret is being part of a close-knitted industry group. She even linked me up with the lady who leads the Southern California Chapter.

She asked me to call her anytime. 

And what did I do?

Nothing. 

She must be just so busy managing a $1.5B business. She must treasure spending more time with her young family. 

Excuses I made up because I was afraid.

Lesson learned. If a potential mentor asked me to reach out, they genuinely want to help. 

They are too busy to just want to be polite.  

2. Follow your passion. Sometimes.

 

Follow your heart. I heard this all the time when I moved to the US. 

Wow, that is so refreshing. My parents told me I should be a banker, not a baker.  

I latched on to the first bank who hired me out of a college and discovered it was a colossal mistake by month six. 

I was miserable. I kept myself sane backpacking across South America, trying out new restaurants, and day-trading to fund these hobbies at night. 

My dream? Writing for Lonely Planet. But then my mom's voice woke me up and I went to graduate school instead. 

And I'm glad I did. 

My 25-year old self couldn't see that what makes me feel alive is not travel and food. It is the exploration, the learning, and the creativity needed to thrive in unexpected situations that makes me feel alive. 

And I found a job in Corporate America that allows me to do that.

 

3. Define what success means to you, or it will be defined for you.

 

Let's play a game. Register the first answer that comes to your heart. Don't resist or argue with yourself. 

Ready?

What does success mean to you?

My answer?

Money. 

I was shocked. I thought I want a fulfilling job that allows me to connect deeply with others.

Don't take me wrong. Money. Fame. Status. These are all worthy definition of success. The problem is what my heart's desire doesn't match to what I was taught success means growing up. 

Money was an all-consuming family focus growing up poor. It didn't matter that I was not poor as a young banker, but I was trapped in the tyranny of my childhood experience. 

So, where to go from here?

I love the Happiness Framework proposed in the book Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life by Harvard Business School Professors Howard Stevenson and Laura Nash. 

Happiness = Feeling pleasure about your life, enjoy the daily act of living

Achievement = Accomplished a goal others are striving for

Significance = Impact people that you care about positively

Legacy = Establish ways to help others find their success

I love this model and hope it is useful for you too. 

7 Ways to Boost your Networking Skill

My friend, let's call him P, moved from Asia to San Francisco in 2012 with just a few things. A suitcase, a few phone numbers, and an ability to make friends while walking down the street.

Fast forward to 2018, and he seems to know everyone. He can pull business deals out of thin air. He is always eager to connect me with just the right people when we catch up.

He is the object of my envy.

I have been desperate to get networking right ever since I moved to the US. I have been spending hours nursing warm beers at events, chasing LinkedIn connections, and typing away in industry discussion groups.

Then I notice something. All my super-connector friends are active, but not obsessively so on Facebook or Linkedin.

Wow. Social Media hasn't changed the basics of networking.

Super-connector Secret = Stop Networking + Start Making Friends

You may ask, so practically, what can I do differently starting today?

As a card-carrying introvert, I have come accept that networking will always feel scary. But with some trial-and-error, I found six tactics that helped me feel calm, positive, and ready to say hi when I am there.

I learn that genuine connections can be made at an event, a lecture, or a local coffee shop when my mind is at the right place.

Are you ready to go make some friends?

Tactic 1: Target to meet three people only

 

Ah, who is that person on my Linkedin contact list? Really, where did I meet her?

 Many people chuckle when I share the result of years of collecting business cards, fast and furious, wherever I go.

 

Now, I told myself, I just need to get three cards. I used to have this habit of darting my eyes across the room to find my next targets. Now? I have time to share something more personal than how bad traffic is, and always have been in LA.

 

Tactic 2: No elevator pitch

 

Years ago, I had the elevator pitch of my lifetime of achievements ready to go to anyone who said hi.

Oh boy, I must have been so annoying. Really, who cares?

It took me a while to realize that what most people want is to be heard. Now, I make sure I listen more than I talk. "What is the most exciting thing that is happening in your life right now?" is always a great question to ask.

 

Tactic 3: Find your tribe. And keep showing up

 

Super-connectors told me they get their job, their mentor, and their business deals by consistently showing up to events organized by a group that they feel connected with. It can be an alumni association, an industry group, a book club, or a meetup group.

Go where people are interested in building relationships.

Which probably excludes any "Business Card Exchange for xxx" event.

 

Tactic 4: Be a giver

 

Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton School of Business, said we all fall into three categories.

Givers, who give and never ask for anything in return.

Takers, who will take any help without giving back.

Matcher, who try to balance the two.

Successful super-connectors are all givers. I saw that in real life and Adam Grant's research showed that I am right. It feels good to be right.

 

Tactic 5: Escape the networking small talk trap

 

"Where are you from?"

Boy, I dragged that question. People love talking about China but China is not me.

I was trapped in the networking small talk trap. The "So, what do you do?" bantering hell.

This is how I answer those questions now that usually leads to more interesting conversations.

"I am still trying to figure out how to answer this question without telling you where I work, as work is important but not the only thing I do. What about you?"

 

Tactic 6: Create your own networking events

 

I invite people I feel connected to over to my house for coffee or dinner. Even people whom I have only met once.

That is not a conventional approach, but it works for me. I also heard the following networking strategies works:

- Have monthly 12-people group dinner and ask friends to bring a friend.

- Set up a meetup group for your passion.

- Organize events for a cause that you care about. It doesn't matter if it is about cryptocurrency, coffee, or community gardening.

Be creative. There is no rule in networking as long as it works for you.

Best 2017 Business Books to Future-Proof your Career

Reading every day can add make you live longer.

Not a joke. A new report by Yale University found that people who read books -- not magazine or newspapers -- lived for two years longer.

So here is my contribution to your health!

What is your favorite book? Please share and let me know what you think!

Category: Management

The Hard Thing About Hard Things - Ben Horowitz

 

My startup friends lauded that it is a must-read for entrepreneurs. While you may not be founding a company anytime soon, the hand-to-hand combat leadership experiences Ben shared in this book makes it a must-read for all managers.

Imagine:

What should you do if you have to fire someone?

What if that person is also your best friend?

Most management books are eager to offer best practices and their 5-step process to help you get through that day in hell. What they never talk about is how to deal with the fear, guilt, and sadness when you push the severance packet across the conference room table to the unsuspecting victim.  

Ben does not shy away from sharing he struggled emotionally when he has to let his best friend go. Will we still be friends? I know it is the right decision, but will my team think that I am a jerk? How am I going to tell my wife about this?

Most management books give you a "this is all going to be ok" reassurance, but we really need more people like Ben who never pretends to have the right answers. He is funny, open, and vulnerable in sharing his success and near-death experiences in the day-to-day grind of managing a team and a business. 

He just wants to share his experience on how he built a billion-dollar business without losing his soul or his sanity. 

A must-read for every manager and leader. 

Category: Diversity

Reset - Ellen Pao

 

You may have heard of the #METOO movement. 

But before #METOO there was Ellen Pao. The David who dared to take on the Goliath, her employer, the most powerful VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to court for gender discrimination. 

Pao's story of how gender bias actually happened day-to-day basis really resonates with me. Her story reveals the other side of the shiny, "make-the-world-a-better-place" world of Silicon Valley. 

There is only so much you can "lean in" when the conversation around the corporate jet table is on the relative merit of porn stars

When I was reading through the first few chapters, I had a feeling that Ellen was almost naive in expecting true workplace meritocracy. If you are a woman working a corporate job, you will see a much tamer version of her stories playing out in your work life.  

We just got used to it.

We just thought that is what life is.  

I am grateful that Ellen decided to put her personal and professional life on the line to challenge the status quo. 

She lost in court, but she lays herself down as the kindling, quietly waiting for the spark to arrive. 

And I would like to think that without her, #METOO would not shine as brightly today.  

Category: Future of our Digitial Life

Who Can You Trust? - Rachel Botsmann

 

Call me paranoid. I unplug my Alexa at night, cover the camera on my laptop, and I leave my cell phone at home if I do not want to be tracked. The convenience of getting a Lyft home in post-Hollywood Bowl concert traffic meltdown is enticing.

But deep inside, I am not sure if I trust Facebook, Google, and much more with my data. As someone said, if something is free, you are the product.  

Rachel's book reassured me that my gut is right. Ah, it feels good to be right, but then I quickly realize...

The world will be better off if I am diagnosed with DSM-5 Paranoid Personality Disorder Syndrom.

Check out her WIRED UK article on China's plan to launch its Citizen Social Score in 2020 if you want to get a taste of the book.  

Want to know how the Citizen Social Score system works? Imagine this. 

Remember that high-school friend John that you reluctantly connected on WeChat? Well, 5 points off your score today as he posted a "negative" comment somewhere. Oh, and by the way, they may bar you from flying to go home for the holidays if your score is too low.  

Wow. THAT sent chills down my spine. 

"Minority Report" is here now. Read this book if you care.  

How to use design thinking to robot-proof your career

I came across a book called Design Your Life. Design thinking is extremely influential in the Silicon Valley. Authors of the book, Bill Burnett, and Dave Evans, are both professors of the famous Stanford d.school. They asked this question:

How to apply design thinking to build a joyful, fulfilled life?

What is Design Thinking? If you have heard about iterating, prototyping, failing fast and failing often, then you got a fairly good idea of what design thinking means. Startups use this methodology to make sure they design products that customers want to buy in real life. They talk to potential customers to understand their needs; quickly redesigning products and getting customers' feedback. They keep going until they hit on a version that resonates with their potential customers.

This is all great, but I can't help thinking. How can Design Thinking help us robot-proof our career?

There are many junctions in our life where we have to figure out what kind of career we want to be in. It happens when we graduate from college, but it doesn't stop there. We get laid off. We want to do something we are passionate about. We want time with our family.

While we know our talent and passion, we are not exactly sure who will be interested in us. The result? We keep doing what we did in the past, even though it doesn't feel exactly right.

That is where Design Thinking can help.

Design Thinking helps you visualize various possibilities for your life and career.

Design Thinking gives you guidance on how to take small and meaningful steps to test out your career idea by talking to people in the real world.

Design Thinking helps us dream big AND 100% grounded in reality.

Design Thinking is about changing our mindset and the way we view our career as a journey. Here are a few ideas for us to get started today!

1. Stop believing there is one perfect career for our whole life

My father and my uncle both quitted their high paying jobs to start new careers in their 40s.

Aren't we suppose to choose and stay in one career for our whole life? I thought my family was weird.

Bill Burnett points out a (depressing) point in this book. As we live longer, we also work longer. In our 40-50 year career span, we will have at least 2-3 radically different careers.

President Reagan was a famous actor before he became President of the United States. Bill Gates was a CEO before he ran the largest Foundation to give back to the community. Martha Stewart was a stockbroker before she started her beauty-home media empire.

My family history turned out to be the norm, not the exception.

2. Not all your dreams can come true. And it's ok.

 

Happiness Expert Dan Gilbert, who also happens to be a Professor of psychology at Harvard, found a surprising result on our ability to predict what makes us happy.

The result? We are fairly lousy, and our assumptions about what will make us happy in the future are often wrong. It seems counter-intuitive, especially in our culture where we encourage everyone to dream big and conquer the world.

What he found out is that we always misjudge how we will feel in the future because we forget that the "us" in 2022 is different from the "us" in 2017. If there's no one perfect career, that also means not all our dreams could or should come true.

A couple of weeks ago, I somehow got the idea that eating three croissants in a row will make me very happy, and I went ahead and did that. Needless to say, I felt sick on the train ride home that evening.

Dan is right. I am terrible in predicting what makes me happy.

3. Think big and take small steps

 

Positive thinking has been huge in the past few years. We were told that by visualizing our success - getting that dream job, dating that dream girl - will motivate us to move closer to our goal.

Professor Gabriela Oettingen at the NYU took this idea for a test, and her research was surprising.

She found out that dreaming about the awesome future often makes us paralyzed with fear and unable to move. Luckily, she has an antidote: we should WOOP our life.

WOOP?

To put it simply, on top of dreaming big, we should also plan some concrete steps that we can take within the next 2-3 weeks to move us closer to the dream. We should also continue to learn, change and plan every 2-3 weeks. That sounds like iterating our life to me!

Lesson 3: While I cannot predict how to compete with robots of the future, yet, I can use design thinking and WOOP my career continuously to get ahead of the curve.

3 Founder's Secrets to robot-proof your career

Chris Zook and his colleagues at Bain took 5-years to uncover the secret of companies that maintain high growth rates over a 10-year period. These companies share the same attitude - The Founder's Mentality - that direct them to be energetic and innovative over the long term.

I want "sustainable growth" in my life too! How to apply the secrets behind "Founder's Mentality" to our career? I took the liberty of translating Chris's points into a personal context. I hope he doesn't mind!

Research: Only 10% of the companies sustained growth over a 10-year period. Translation: If we don't define what growth means in our lives, we will fail.

In 2010, I was in a lecture hall with Professor Clayton Christensen. Professional Christensen was famous for the coining the terms "Disruptive innovation." He went on stage, and asked this question:

How do you measure your life?

I was stunned. I never thought about it.

As much as I pride myself on maintaining a good work/life balance in my career, there were moments I have doubts. A few years ago, I was looking out at the gorgeous view of Manhattan from the 34th floor of a luxurious condo in Williamsburg, the home of my Wall Street friends.

But I was not happy. I felt a pull in my heart. What have I done? Why can't I afford a house like this?

I realized my ego was making me unhappy for wanting things that I do not even want.

I realized I will always feel like a failure I measure my success with my mental default - money.

I realized articulating my life goal correctly will bring me halfway to success.

Research: Failure to grow is due to internal, controllable factors. Translation: We are the one who inflicted harm to our career. Don't blame others.

Chris and his team found out that a stunning 85% of a company's failure to maintain sustainable growth was due to internal problems. Not competitions or technological disruptions.

Kodak is a great example. They patented digital photography technology in 1978, but internal forces suppressed it because the profit from film sales was great. Until it was not.

Lately, I'm surprised by how many of my friends are unhappy with their well-paid jobs. They told me, "I have to take a deep breath just to step out of the house each morning." "I'm just doing it for the money."

I realized our fear and complacency is the main obstacle in moving us towards the robot-proof career path of learning and taking risk.

Research: Companies that maintain Frontline's Obsession generate 3x return. Translation: In touch with people and their daily reality helps us adapt to new career realities.

I was a buyer early on in my career. At that time, suppliers were real people who endured triumphs and tribulations in the daily supply chain life. As I moved up the organization, suppliers became abstract categories like "strategic suppliers".

One day, I was sitting through one of those "How to capture millennial consumers" presentations and saw this stock-photo.

I realized: seriously, do our millennial customers really look like this? Have I talked to them and really get to know who they are and what they want?

Have you?

I realized we are all very in tune with our customers, suppliers, partners and team members early on in their career. Our ability to keep doing that instead of solely rely on data and presentations will give us an edge.

Robots cannot empathize with people yet. Maybe an opportunity for us human?

Lesson 2: Adopting Founder's Mentality can help us keep our career evergreen.

5 simple tricks to improve your body language and hack your mind

Social media has a curious impact on our relationship. We gain the skill to make friends online, but at the same time, we are losing the art of building relationships in real life. We all judge others by their body language. Research showed that we could predict how likely a doctor will get sued by watching a 30-second video of their bedside manner. 

What about us? Do we judge ourselves by our own body language? Can we improve the way we feel about ourselves and robot-proof our career in the process? 

I tried these power poses for 2 minutes. It feels great, but the effect eventually fades throughout the day. I want to feel great all day, and it's not possible to hide in the bathroom and do this every couple of hours. 

The search to robot-proof my career by improving my body language was on. A few months ago, I found myself sitting on a special chair in the studio of my very patient Alexander Technique Teacher Leah as one of her few non-actor clients.

Leah moved my head a bit and asked, "You have neck pain?"

Me:  Totally. 

Leah: Well, your head is tilting upwards on your left side, compressing your neck.

Me:  Oh......people probably think that I'm an insufferable know-it-all...

I spent a few months with Leah and I relearned how to sit, walk and go down the stairs. I feel myself changing slowly -- calmer, happier, more confident, and friends who haven't seen me for a while notice that I am friendlier and more alive. As an introvert, I have mastered the art of pretending to be comfortable in a networking event, and to my surprise, now I am trying to feel easy in my own skin standing there with a cocktail glass. 

The challenge of power poses is that they convey a sense of aggression that doesn't sit well when they are used by women on a regular basis. Research has shown that women need to balance warmth and power in the professional environment, and those who displayed an excessive amount of power are not well liked by others. 

These are the few tips I have learned along the way. 

1. Breathe

When you're in an intense discussion today, take one second to check on yourself: are you breathing? 

When Leah gave me this homework, I thought she was crazy. Days went by, and I was surprised by how much I held my breath when I'm in a situation that requires full attention - working on a powerpoint deck towards a 15 min deadline, being grilled at a meeting. 

Just remind yourself to breathe and keep breathing, just like Christina Legarde, Managing Director of IMF did so gracefully, and you will be ok.

2. Pose for Power, not Dominance

Many power poses make us look like an Alpha Gorilla, who is trying to scare others to step back into line. There is a time and place for "taking up as much space as possible" power postures, but if we use it regularly, I'm fairly sure people will think that we are arrogant jerks. 

Pose for Power is taking up the space that is yours, not less, and not more. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, embodies both grace and power.

3. Pull back your shoulder, relax your arms, hands, and legs

Try this: how do you feel when you cross your arm? Subconsciously, you are probably feeling unsafe, and want to protect yourself. 

What if you pull your shoulder forward and let your own body collapse? I feel like I'm hunkering down for a nuclear holocaust. 

There is one trick that makes me feel -- and look -- all the time, and you can do it anywhere. Pull your shoulders back and relax, just like Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook showed in the picture. It is as simple as that. 

4. Power poses re-wire my brain for good

I was never someone who come across as lacking confidence, but I always notice that outward exuberance is partly overcompensating a level of insecurity in me. 

So did the power poses make me feel authentically confident? Have I faked it until I become it? I find it so much easier to connect with new friends, as I'm not too pre-occupied checking to see if my shoulder is pulled back and relax than judging myself in the interaction. 

And just like Nooyi Indra, CEO of PepsiCo demonstrated, a genuine smile is always the best body language you can start practicing today.

5. Smile

Smile to make yourself happy and not to please others. It is scientifically proven that smile releases oxytocin from your brain that makes you feel good.

Lesson 1: Improve my body language makes me feel confident, powerful, and connected to others. A great first step to robot proof my career.

Have you tried the 2-minute exercise to notice your posture and make yourself more open? How do you feel?

Robot-proof your career with this New Year Resolution

A Stop-Do List.

The future looks cloudy. Will robot eat our jobs? I have to admit that I'm a bit scared. What will all this mean for our children and our society? 

I am curious. I've been spending quite some time figuring out what we can do to secure our future. It is my sincere hope that by sharing my adventure, we can figure a path forward together. 

Starting next week, I will publish a weekly blog series "Robot-Proof My Job." I am really excited about it, but before I step forward, I realize I need to step back to make space for this new venture. 

When I started to put together my usual new year goals, I felt my shoulders getting tighter and my breathing shallower. My brain was yelling:

NO MORE NEW GOALS!! CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

I pushed myself back from the computer and stared at it for a long time. I am already overwhelmed, exhausted and tired. Then I heard the voice of my Ikebana teacher.

More, Less Is

Ah sorry, she's not Yoda, but I got the point. My first step to robot proofing my career is to do less. A Stop-Do List is born. 

1. A Stop-Do List makes space for a To-Do List

Camilla (not her real name) is a rising star in an entertainment company with boys under the age of 5. She told me she has focused her energy at work and got to where she wanted to be career-wise, but there is a problem. Her memory of how her kids were growing up was blurry. It bothers her. 

Most of us will expect a guilty mom to say "I'll spend more time with my kids from now on", and then really struggle to make it happen. Instead, she did something different and very smart.

She ran a little experiment at work. She decided to focus on two critical programs only, and move all other "Hey can you do this?" to her stop-do list. The perfectionist streak in her was afraid that sky is going to fall, but with the smile of her boys in her mind, she held her nose and dived in.

The result? Nothing. Nothing blew up, no one notice. And then something magical happened. She is no longer exhausted after work and can be fully present for her kids.

She said, "I have to remind myself, at the end of the day, it is just a cartoon." 

2. Believe that we will stop doing something without writing it down is a pipe dream

When was the last time your CEO celebrated "saving $100M by not going headlong into a bad M&A deal"?

Like, never?

Let's face it. Research showed that the act of doing something feels great. The sense of accomplishment gave us a momentary high (double chocolate chip cookie? Spending 30 minutes that you don't have on Facebook) before it dawned on us that it is something we really shouldn't do. Not explicitly committing to writing something you will not do and think that you will do it? 

3. Steve Job did it. So did Howard Schultz.

When Steve Job returned to Apple in 1997, he made it a mantra that what Apple removed from products was just as important as what it added. Floppy disk drives, computer mice with two buttons - they were all gone in the new iMac. 

When Howard Schultz returned to run Starbucks in 2008, he removed heated breakfast sandwiches to accentuate the aroma of coffee and closed and scaled back the CDs and books that were crowding the store. 

So, here is my To-Stop List. Any advice on how to help me stick to my new year resolution? 

Watch these 3 movies this summer to boost your A.I. I.Q.

I discovered a new class of sleep aids that can cure the worst form of insomnia: books on Artifical Intelligence. While chatting with Siri or watching Robot Deathmatch is  a lot of fun, understanding the implication of the technology behind them is not. At that time my friends were working on Big Hero 6 and that got me thinking.

Hollywood can teach us a thing or two about Artificial Intelligence. 

Hollywood produced a barrage of movies and T.V. shows that featured robots and artificial intelligence in the past few years. Most of them play on an age-old A.I. movie theme: While humans instinctively form emotional bonds with A.I., will A.I. reciprocate or betray us for self-preservation?

While the three chosen movies play on this same theme, they really stood out in their ability to explain esoteric A.I. concepts in an entertaining bite-sized format. I'll start off with my favorite out of the three:

1. Her (2013) - the Arc of Exponential Growth 

Her is a boy-meets-girl story about a recently-divorced man, Theodore, who falls in love with the voice of his operating system, Samantha. Samantha is sort of a super-smart, self-aware Siri that is capable of human emotion. Out of the three movies, this optimistic approach to AI is also the most likely scenario that we will experience Strong AI in the near future -- as a harmless consumer product that promises to improve our day-to-day life by anticipating our needs.

While the story starts off in a romantic tone, it ends with a twist that elegantly illustrates the concept of exponential growth and Law of Accelerating Returns proposed by Ray Kurzweil, an American inventor and futurist. 

Theodore: Are you in love with anybody else? 
Samantha: Why do you ask that? 
Theodore: I do not know. Are you? 
Samantha: I've been thinking about how to talk to you about this. 
Theodore: How many others? 
Samantha: 641

Ray argued that technology - such as A.I. - doubles its capability every year, thanks to Moore's Law, and generates exponential growth once it passes a certain threshold, and this sudden accelerated growth will catch us all by surprise. We have all experienced exponential growth: when iPhone came out in 2007, it was the plaything for a small group of Apple fanatics. In less than 10 years, smartphones have elevated from a plaything of a few to the status water and air of everyone.

 

Some would argue that A.I. is where the iPhone was at 2007. Want to know what will happen when it follows the exponential growth pathway? This movie will provide you with a glimpse of the future.

2. Ex Machina (2015) - the Allure of Technologist to Play God

Imagine a modern Tony Stark -- an eccentric technologist-entrepreneur who builds a self-aware robot and recruits one of his employees to perform the Turing Test, only to find out that his creation not only possessed beauty and intelligence, but also deception, violence, and desire for self-preservation at all costs.

If Her is a fairytale with a harmless ending, Ex Machina is a thought-provoking dark tale of how the hubris of technologist can endanger humanity.

Stephan Hawking seems to agree. He said, the exponential growth of AI, left unchecked, could spell the end of the human race. Bill Gates and Elon Mask also concur, and they sponsored the creation of Future of Life, a non-profit organization to ensure that A.I. development will be beneficial to humanity. 

3. Chappie (2015) - the Meaning of being Transhuman

Chappie is the weakest and least realistic of the three in terms of AI vision. Human-like robots are clumsy and cannot even fold laundry properly. However, it is the only movie that attempts to explain that ultimate rewards of A.I. - immortality by expanding the meaning of being human.

The story is set in Johannesburg in some future date, where a robotic police force is deployed to reduce crime. One of these robots, Chappie, becomes self-conscious through an experimental upgrade from Deon, the computer genius. Chappie grows from a baby to a kick-ass programmer in three days and saves dying Deon in a very unconventional way - by transferring Deon's consciousness into a new robotic body.

The Transhuman movement proposes fundamentally transforming death or humanity as we know it by technology. If the idea of being human can mean living without the flesh-and-bone body is controversial or plain bizarre for you, I urge you to watch this movie. You may decide that it's not such an outlandish idea after all.

Enjoy the summer and learn more about A.I. with these three movies

"STAND OUT": The Ultimate Form of Career Insurance with Dorie Clark

I have read many personal branding books, and none of them resonates as much to me as Dorie Clark's Reinventing You. I'm so excited to get a chance to speak to Dorie on her new book Stand Out, a "how-to" guide to become a thought leader in your field.

Grace : I love Reinventing You, an instant classics in personal branding. Why did you decide to write Stand Out as a follow-up?

Dorie: Ther reason is because once you have successfully reinvented yourself and transition to a career that you are excited about, the next logical question is how do you become recognized as being competent, and even excellence, in your new field. Many people may be skeptical, and it is important to show that you have something different and meaningful to offer.

I want to write Stand Out because I want to understand what make someone a recognized expert in their field : what do their ideas look like, how did they get recognized, and I then reverse-engineered it so that regular professionals can apply the same technique and have their true talent recognized.

Grace: In Stand Out, you interviewed a numbers of people to understand how they become thought leaders in their field - from business, technology to bicycle advocacy. How do you select these experts?

Dorie: Some of them are experts in their field that I'm eager to learn from and want to connect directly with and learn from, like David Allen, a productivity expert. Others are people that I met in the normal course of life that I thought are doing something very interesting. I found it important to create a diverse network and have acquaintances from a diverse set of fields to learn from.

Grace: Any "ah-ha" moment during the interview process?

Dorie: I was really struck with Seth Godin, a marketing expert. He's clearly not driven by money. He could make a lot of money consulting, but chose not to because he doesn't like it. People would pay a lot of money to be him, but he pays interns to spend time with him instead. I was really impressed. It's less about maximizing revenue, and more about doing something interesting and meaningful. Ultimately that's the condition that you can create your best work.

Grace: There are critics out there who said that there's nothing a regular person - let's say a clerk at Walmart, can learn from this book. What do you think?

DorieStand Out seeks to help people to become global thought leaders. Certainly only a small number of people will be. What is important is that you can, and you should, become a thought leader locally - in your company, in your community. Even for our clerk in Walmart, if he or she can demonstrate that they have ideas worth listening to - new ways to improve customer service - they will be recognized as someone who adds greater value. If there are layoffs, they are going to be protected far more than those who are doing the bare minimal. Your brand as a thoughtful professional is the ultimate form of career insurance.

Grace: Many young people asked me if they should go to graduate school. What's your advice?

Dorie: No one should go to graduate school because you are out of ideas. It's far too expensive. It can saddle you with debt and force you to take jobs that you won't want to pay the debt -- hardly a recipe for happiness. There are cheaper ways to educate yourself: internship, MOOC, read a book.

Grace: Should they try to be a thought leader instead?

Dorie: We don't want to oversell ourselves and claim to be experts in things that we don't know. But you can establish yourself as a thought leader throughout the learning process itself. This is an example: George Kauffman didn't want to spend money on an MBA, and he decided to read all the classics MBA literature. His blog The Personal MBA was so popular that he turned that into a book.

Grace: The other comment that I hear a lot is from people who are close to retirement but not quite there yet. They feel that it's too late for them to reinvent themselves. What do you think?

Dorie: I got ask this question a lot too. One of my most popular HBR blog is How to Reinvent Yourself after 50. I just released a short online course with the Economist on How to Reinventing Yourself Mid-career. You can reinvent yourself at all the time and at all stages. It's easier for people to hold back because of self-image. I know someone who got his Ph.D. at age 66 -- he wanted to do it, he did it, and he moved on to a new chapter that is interesting for him.

You can find out more about Dorie by visiting her website and follow her on Twitter.

4 Questions you should ask yourself before apply graduate school

"Grace, I've worked for a few years and ready to take my career to next level", a voice filled with equal part of anxiety and anticipation on the other end of the line. "Should I go to graduate school?"

Over the years, I have had the honor to connect with many women who've asked me this question. I'm the beneficiary of various graduate programs and they expect my ringing endorsement. Not so fast.

I want to propose something bold here: if you want to have a fulfilling, successful career, you need to be a trailblazer. Create your own career path.

I've put together 4 questions for anyone who's thinking about going to graduate school to think through, with stories of women who asked themselves that question and come out with their own answers.

1. Why do you want to graduate school?
"I don't know, it just seems like the next logical thing to do." That's the typical answer. If that your reason, I can guarantee that it's the most expensive and wasteful way to spend two years of your life.

Many of us believe that a graduate degree can help you rise above your competitors, and give you a bit more assurance to life-long career success. Unfortunately, we don't live in China in the 5th century anymore. I have seen many graduates from top MBA school settled into so-so careers.

I asked an award-winning movie producer - who never went to graduate school - the secret of her success. She joined the movie industry at the dawn of the computer-generated special effects, and this digital technology created new creative possibilities. The most logical career progression for a Creative-Writing major like her was to join the Story Department. However, she noticed she had a unique talent: she can get creative and technical types to work together and create critically-acclaimed and commercially successful movies. She moved into the role of a producer and quickly got promoted.

The secret of her success is having a deep understanding of how her unique talent fit in the shifting industry landscape. Technological changes create opportunities for prepared minds.

2. Is there something you are passionate about?
I'm not a huge fan of telling pre-college kids to follow their dream. We need maturity and experience to discover that sweet spot where our passion and career opportunity collides. If you have worked for a few years and you find it extremely hard to roll out of bed to go to work every day because your job has zero redeeming quality, it's time to think about your passion.

Nina has been working as a computer programmer at a government agency for several years, and she was itching to make a move -- going to a startup seemed like a logical next step. After spending 6 months talking to friends and her network family, she told me: "I really want to bring new technology into government agencies to improve efficiency. That's what I want to do".

Bureaucracy and Innovation? They shouldn't exist in the same sentence!

She explained that Obama's Open Data initiative is changing the culture at work, and she senses a small opening to new ideas. She worked hard in the past 6 months. She immersed herself in the local Open Data community movement in the weekends. She rallied other software developers in her agency around her Open Data vision. She successfully petitioned her chain of command and gained approval to create a volunteer hacker group for Open Data pilot projects.

The secret of her success was spending the time to figure out where her passion met new work opportunities and brought everyone around her along the path she created for herself.

3. Do you find yourself looking at joining the tech sector?
Everyone whom I've talked to regrets that they didn't go into "tech" while in college. Silicon Valley is just so hot these days. Being tech savvy will be important for any of us to thrive in the future of work - but it can be done in a very different way.

Helen reluctantly becomes a stay-at-home mom after a brief stint in the financial industry. I visited her back in 2010 and was sad to find her visibly depressed and easily irritated. She felt isolated, and her only solace was making ornamented hair clips when the kids were asleep. I encouraged her to turn it into a business - the next logical step for someone in her situation who was doing absolutely nothing.

To my surprise, she went right to work. She used Facebook and Pinterest to get product design feedback, to sell products, and was even featured in the Christmas Fair of a local school. Her business rebuilt her own sense of worth, and I was thrilled to see her smiling again after 5 years.

Helen will never be a featured in *Forbes* magazine, but she finds her balance of work, family, and self through the help of technology. For me, Helen is extremely successful in her own way.

4. Have you talked to your friends about this decision?
We value expert opinions on the all-important graduate school decision, and I would argue that you should first speak to your friends who know you well. Your elementary school best friend may know nothing about your industry and your work style, but they know your strengths and weaknesses.

You need to know who you are and how others perceive you before you think about passion, career opportunities, and whether graduate school is the right choice for you. It's your first step if you want to blaze your own trail.

Do thisAsk 10 friends and family members to list your top 3 strengths and weakness. I did this exercise a few years back, and was shocked to discover a consistent pattern of my strength and weakness emerging from these interviews.

Get to know your strengths and weakness. Find your passion. See where these intersect with the changing environment. Test, learn, and blaze your own career path.

 

8 lessons I learned from my Asian trip - Technology & Business edition

What is the impact of technology on business in Asia? Is it more dynamic than what we experience in the US? Mainstream business and technology news reporting rarely touch this topic, and I conducted a mini-research on this topic while I was in China and South East Asia in the past three weeks. I'm surprised to conclude that the US is still the leader in innovation globally as scale matters. Here are the 8 lessons that I learned:


1. US is 2-3 years ahead in the application of technology to business
"You are working on Big Data? I thought you are working in a food company? That's so strange! What has data got to do with businesses anyway?"

That's the response I got when I told my friends and professional contacts - many US-educated - what I'm doing at work. With the exception of e-commerce, many of the emerging technologies that we are leveraging in US business environment are relatively unheard of out there.

2. Uber is taking over the world
China is set to be Uber's largest market. Chengdu in China has a higher daily Uber ridership than New York City by a factor of 500. While Uber faces fierce regional competitors such as Didi Kuaidi in China and GrubTaxi in South East Asia, it's the only app other than Facebook that is used in most Asian markets.

3. Fate of other Social and Sharing apps are less certain
We may be tempted to presume that Twitter, Instacart, and Airbnb will follow Uber's footsteps and gain traction in Asia - that was simply not the case. Many of them are crowded out by regional clones that are designed to thrive in local markets: instead of Twitter, Weixin, Whatsapp and Line are all the rage. Others are addressing problems that simply do not exist: instead of Instacart, many well-off Asian households continue to send their maids to grocery shop in wet markets and local convenience stores.

4. Newspapers and bookstores are still well and alive
I'm amazed by the number of people reading newspaper in public spaces and the popularity of bookstores. Disruptions we experienced in the US are coming at a much slower pace in Asia. My friend, who is a senior executive at Bangkok Post, explained the mystery. While readership has been in slow decline, advertising dollars are holding strong for local newspapers as digital marketing infrastructure is less mature.

5. Women fare better in Asian workplaces
According to a 2015 survey by Grant Thorton, women make up of 32% of Corporate China's leadership role.

Wonder what the percentage is for US and UK? 20%.

Asia has a strong childcare infrastructure through a combination of help from family members and domestic helpers. In fact, I was shocked by the lack of help that most U.S. parents faced when I moved to the US 15 years ago - how could anyone put in hours at work, be a good parent, and still keep their sanity? I'm still baffled after all these years.

6. However, it's still not easier to be a woman entrepreneur 
Only 14 out of the 100 Hong Kong-based startups surveyed has a woman co-founder. Leona Wong, the Executive Director of an industry group that conducted the survey, was equally dismayed and surprised to find out this reality is not too different from what we observed in the US startup scene. If you can read Chinese, this is an article that captured our conversation on the state of women in the workplace and startups on both sides of the Pacific

7. US is still admired and copied by business leaders 
In US, people are concerned that China is taking over our dominance in the business and technology world. In Asia, China is more feared than admired. While cell phone makers like Xiao Mi is gaining traction in Asia, many considered Chinese technology firms as imitators of American ingenuity. US, especially Silicon Valley, is still revered as the global engine of innovation.

8. Scale Matters
Scale Matters - this is the big ah-ha moment of this trip. I take scale for granted -- in the US, the biggest question that all startups faces is how to scale up quickly to capture the market of 300 million people. In smaller markets like Hong Kong or Singapore with populations under 10 million, startups have to curtail their ambition as the size of their native market is inherently small and regional expansion is challenging due to vast differences in language and business practices. From the perspective of a venture capitalist, it's safer to put bold bets in US, China and India than in smaller markets.

3 lessons on how consumer product startups are disrupting industry giants

Hello from China! I'm spending the week in Wuhan, and I'm fighting over the last piece of toast at the hotel breakfast buffet with representatives of Toyota, General Motors, and Citroen. There's no question that China is the reigning champion of manufacturing in the world, but U.S. is seeing the rise of a new generation of innovators who are dedicated in the making of actual physical stuff -- not codes and apps. If you are in the business of making consumer products, the Maker's Movement and crowdfunding options are bringing in a new wave of competitions and innovations into the marketplace. 

Maker's Movement + New Financing Option = Renaissance of industries that make physical products for consumers.

Even Obama and G.E. will agree with that. The White House has declared June 12-18 as the "Week of Makers" to celebrate the folks who are tinkers in their garages. G.E. just sold their finance arm, GE Capital, so that they can focus on advanced manufacturing.

Still not convinced? Introducing the Coolest Cooler & Just Mayo. Makers Movement and new financing options such as crowdfunding and venture capital are making it easier for entrepreneurs to deal a blow to manufacturing behemoths from the middle of nowhere.

Lesson 1: Kickstarter sent $13M of love to Coolest Cooler

Have no idea who is a "maker"? Meet Ryan Grepper. Ryan has been frustrated with the chest coolers that keep our food and drink cool while we on the road. The coolers we all have in our garages have barely changed since the 1950s.

Most of us will wish in secret that our coolers can be cooler, but Ryan is not like most of us. He spent 14 years designing and prototyping a new cooler in his garage while we are watching TV or surfing the internet.

Why can't a cooler have separate compartments so that beverages stay cold, and food stays dry? Why is it so clumsy to drag the cooler on the road? Why can't a cooler have a blender to make iced tea on the fly? Why can't a cooler blast our favorite tunes from our iPhone? Why?

Last year, Ryan took to final design Coolest Cooler to Kickstarter, and got a whopping $13M of pre-orders to turn his idea into a real business.

Lesson Two: Unilever sued Just Mayo as their best defense to arrest declining sales

 

In 2013, I went to Bay Area's Maker's Faire. For those of you not in the DIY culture, Maker's Faire is a place where thousands showed up to check out the latest drones, 3D printers, and home-made R2D2.

I wandered into the Food Pavilion -- it was was filled with hipster chicken coops, artisanal pickles, two goats, and a small table where you can taste-test Just Mayo, a mayonnaise that was made with no eggs. Cool, I thought, and I moved on to see the fire-breathing metal octopus.

Eighteen months later, Unilever sued Hampton Creek, the maker of Just Mayo because "Just Mayo already is stealing market share from Hellmann’s,” and that, “Unilever will continue to suffer irreparable harm in the marketplace.” Just Mayo is not just gaining consumers' heart by being all natural and tasty; with the $120M venture money raised in their 3 years of existence, and a lower price point than traditional mayonnaise, they are on the shelve of Whole Foods, Costco, and 99 cents store. 

Lesson Three: Startup can grow 10x faster than the time when I was in one

Back in the day when I was in a food startup, we grew very slowly as it was damned hard to raised money. I still remembered the time when I pressed the controller to get overdue invoices paid, and he said, either the supplier or you got paid this Friday. Your choice, no pressure. There was no Kickstarter, and VCs was not interested in the food business. Large companies had plenty of time to compete or acquire smaller brands before they became a real threat.

Once upon a time, you are pretty safe if you are in the manufacturing business. It's difficult and risky for startups to borrow money to produce your prototype in a real factory, and wondering if anyone will buy one of the 1 million units you just ordered to meet the factory's minimum rum. But that fairy-tale is starting to fade.

No matter you are an entrepreneur or an executive of a manufacturing company, the Makers Movement, and new fundraising options are already unleashing a wave of innovation, disruption, and change. It has never been a better time to be a consumer. 

Will robot eat your job?

Will robots one day eat us? Maybe, in the next blockbuster movie. Will robots one day eat our jobs? Possible, in real life. I've been fascinated by the latter for quite some time. As of late, fascinations have morphed into fear: Watson, the IBM supercomputer that won Jeopardy in 2012, is going to Medical School.

How could a computer practice medicine? While a machine can certainly act 'brainy,' the idea of having a robot perform a triple bypass seems to me like something out of a horror movie.

None of us are surprised that robots are replacing simple, repetitive tasks. Robotic arms in automobile manufacturing and self-checkout machines in supermarkets have been replacing the low-skill blue and white collar jobs for the past 20 years. However, most of us continue to believe is that complex decision making, a skill that is polished through years of education and on-the-job experience, is safe and irreplaceable.

Our friend Watson would respectfully disagree. Watson has been proved to be more adept than humans at diagnosing cancer

Understand how we measure up to the machines

We can raise against or race with the machines, the choice is ours to make. No matter which route you decide to take, it is useful to understand where you stand compared to them. Daron Acemoglu and David Autor of MIT have come up with a useful framework to help us figure this out. It's a matrix, dividing cognitive work versus manual work, and routine versus non-routine... ok, let's try something more fun. Let us apply this framework in the context of a restaurant.

a. If you are the chef

Chef: Chopping. Sauteing. Plating. If you are a famous chef, imaging new dishes that create desires and demands is also part of the skill set. Besides the occasional mono-tasking, noodle-making robot, robots have poor eye-hand coordination skill and cannot compete with humans. And while our friend Watson has been dreaming up new recipes with the Culinary Institue of American, I'll definitely want a human chef to do a test-drive before it's served.

Verdict: Chefs, you are safe. Also, a robot chef will be much less entertaining than Gordon Ramsey at Kitchen Nightmares.

B. If you are the maître d' 

Once upon a time, if you wanted to make a restaurant reservation, you called the maître d' to reserve a table; if you wanted to buy take-out, you call. Nowadays, we make reservations through Yelp or Opentable; we order take-out food by Grubhub. The routine job of registering information can be easily replaced by a computer program.

Verdict: Sorry maître d', robot is already half way through your job.

C. If you are an Accountant

Training, CPA exam - that is the ticket to a solid white collar job called the accountant. Let me ask you a question: Who use Turbo Tax to file tax? I see many hands in this imaginary room. While accountants need to be smart, arcane tax rules can easily be codified into a computer program.

Accountants, you want to make a career transition into the field of financial planning? There are robot financial advisors too. Sorry.

Verdict: Sorry, the robot is already and well on its way.

D. If you are a graphic designer

A graphic designer creates great logos and websites that fit with the mood and style of the restaurants that enhance the dining experience. Design is part art, part science, reading all the design rulebooks will not make you, or a computer, come up with the logo of Apple Computer.

Verdict: You are safe. Robots cannot yet dream of something with no rules to guide them. Not yet. You may be replaced by an awesome designer from Eastern Europe, but that's another story.

Whether robot will eat its way to your job has little to do with whether you use muscle power or brain power at work. Any task that can be easily described as a set of rules has the potential to be replaced. With the advancement of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, computers can soon be better in complex decision-making, in everything from medicine, supply chain, loan approval, and marketing. Figuring out how you can be a complement to the machine will be the key to success in the future workplace.

Do you think robot will eat your job in the next 5 years? 

I may stop using Airbnb, and the reason is not what you expected

Are you planning your summer vacation? I will be flying out to Asia tomorrow and like many of you, I'll be staying in some stranger's house in Bangkok that we booked through Airbnb. You can book a room, a house or even a chateau for anywhere from a couple of days to months from their owners. I relish the experience of having a home away from home and posing as a local in places like Chengdu, London and Portland.

Most people that I have talked to either love the idea behind Airbnb, or are baffled by this thought--why anyone would want to stay in some stranger's house? That same feeling is extended to many startups in the so-called Sharing Economy: Uber, TaskRabbit, Grubhub and their global counterparts such as Delivery Hero or Food Panda. We all love to have our needs and desires fulfilled, on-demand, by a simple click on our phone.

Airbnb, Uber: Who doesn't love the Sharing Economy?

But when I look past my own satisfaction, I'm starting to ponder if the Sharing Economy is really such a good thing. I did a thought experiment: what if I booked a house via Airbnb instead of staying at the Hilton on my business travels? I'd have a kitchen and could eat healthier. I will not fanatically searching for my water bottle after housekeeper tidied up the room. I won't even need to say hi to the friendly receptionist when I'm dead tired by the end of the day and just want to rest.

I took my thought experiment to the next level: what if everyone ditched the Hilton and went Airbnb? Then I think about the receptionist, the pool guy and the housekeeping lady. What do we share with them by pushing them into the on-demand, gig-by-gig sharing economy?

1. Sharing Economy creates less stable jobs
Corporate jobs may seem rigid and soul-crushing, but we cannot deny that it comes with a stable, predictable salary, opportunities for promotion, and maybe even benefits.

Contrast to that the Sharing Economy. Airbnb has no need for a hotel receptionist. Guests connect directly with the hosts on the Airbnb platform, and our host is usually there to greet us when we arrive.

Sure, the receptionist can, hypothetically, start a new career as a Uber driver. Uber claim that drivers--who are not employees but independent contractors--can make $90,000 a year. The Washington Post did the math and found out that most Uber drivers take home a mere $30,000 a year, just a touch above the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, Uber gets a 20% commission every time we ride.

Uber--and consumers--are emerging as winners in this new game. They raised a whopping $2.8M in their Series E, and is leading the exclusive Unicorn Club that is made up of startups with a valuation in excess of $1Billion.

2. Sharing Economy provides less predictable income
When the pool guy from the Hilton gets off his shift, he may still wonder if he'll earn enough money to put food on the table, but at least he knows just how much more he'll need.

Contrast that to the life of an Instacart shopper. Full disclosure: I love the folks at Instacart, wonderful people. The idea of Instacart is that you order groceries from stores such as Whole Foods through from your mobile phone. An Instacart shopper will go to the store, pick up your tomatoes and yogurt, and deliver everything to your house within 2 hours for $7.99. Instacart shoppers are also independent contractors, and while they could make up to $20/hour with tips, Huffington Post reported that uneven workloads create huge anxiety for Instacard shoppers as they don't know how long they may sit idle without making any money.

3. Sharing Economy disproportionately affect job prospect of the least educated
Some of us may think, everyone should be able to find a better job in our new economy.

While the hotel general manager may be able to transition to a new career, I'm not sure my housekeeping lady, who can barely speak English or afford a fancy phone, could transform herself into a rock-star programmer.

During the Industrial Revolution, technology evolved at a pace where a father could no longer expect his son to be doing the same thing to make a living. The Digital Revolution is accelerating this rate of change, and it is hard to imagine that any of our skill sets will be in high demand for the next 40 years, the average number of years most of us will spend working. I'm not sure if our education system is adequately preparing us for the need for constant reinvention.

Tomorrow, I'll be hanging out in our Airbnb apartment in Bangkok. I'm not asking any of us to stop using Uber, Airbnb or Instacart, because I'd be a hypocrite if I did. If you can just pause for a few second and think about what the sharing economy will mean to the less fortunate members in our society every time you fire up one of these apps, it'd be a great start.

Do you agree that Sharing Economy can be not so great for some?