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How to Change Faster than the Competition



“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organisation’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”

But how do we do this? How does an organisation gear itself to being able to not only learn, but learn quickly? There is a strong relationship between a learning organization and an organization which has a culture of continuous improvement. This holy alliance between a learning organisation and continuous improvement can be logically explained. After all, to improve something, one first needs to learn something new and have the willingness to experiment with it. Without learning, continuous improvement will remain ad-hoc, fortuitous and unsustainable.

But this culture doesn’t just happen. It’s not a tool or an app which we can install, go for orientation on and be handed a booklet titled ‘How to do continuous improvement’. It is a culture that is engrained in every level and every facet of your organisation. It is a culture which embraces change, rather than shy away from it.

We build on our previous post on new ways of working by providing ways in which an organisation could welcome change which leads to a culture shift towards continuous improvement and ultimately become a learning organisation.

New Ways of Working v1.8_Learning

Why a Learning organisation?

Moore’s Law, described in 1965 by Gordon E. Moore the co-founder of Intel, still holds true today. Technological enhancements are doubling approximately every two years. These enhancements are being realized in areas such as processing speeds, memory and connectivity bandwidth. This fact, accompanied with lower than proportionate increase in cost results in a consumer’s ability to access services / information quicker, cheaper, anytime and without sacrificing convenience or quality.
Not only does this result in our customers’ needs changing, but also our actual customers are changing as well. To keep up with these external changes, organisations need to learn and fast. Organisations need to learn what the customers want (the first principle of Lean is ‘The customer defines the value’) and we need to learn a new way of doing things and ultimately adapt the way we work. Therein lies the problem. Adapting implies change and inherently people resist change. Or more accurately according to Peter Senge “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed”.
But to improve, we need to apply our new learnings which results in changes in the way we acted before. Simply put, Improvements are applied learning.

Learning + Change = Improvement

The fear of being changed

Consciously we fear change because it introduces uncertainty. Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking fast and slowsays that human beings would rather be wrong than uncertain. He in fact goes on to say that our hierarchy of outcomes is to be right (based on our own set of views and paradigms) then to be wrong and lastly to be uncertain.
I’ve seen this fear of uncertainty play out first hand while facilitating a workshop a few years back. I was to change to the flow of work in a delivery team and while running the workshop, the team lead kept on interrupting me with an apparent dire need for me to take into account the work that she needed to do daily on a Work In Progress Report. Eventually I asked her to give me some information about this report that she had been doing since taking over the team lead role eight months earlier. I went on to do some investigation and found that the report wasn’t needed, in fact was a waste and that she should please stop sending it. When I gave her this feedback I was expecting to see relief or even frustration. Instead, what I observed was fear. By telling her that something which she had identified with and gave her a sense of control was about to change, what I did was I had introduced uncertainty. Uncertainty for what was she going to do now, was her role still important, will she be able to do whatever else this change introduces?
There are also other conscious factors such as loss of control, lack of motivation and fatigue or “we’ve tried something like this before, they all failed and so will this”.

Subconsciously we fear change because that’s physiologically how our brains are wired. We trick ourselves into believing that if something’s been the way it is for a while (or decades in some examples) and we’re still alive or perceive ourselves to be delivering value then it must be good enough. The old adage of ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ sits right at the core of this perception. A study in 2010 performed at the University of Kansas found a bias towards things that have been around for longer. One experiment involving acupuncture showed that participants favored it more when they were told it existed for 2000 years as opposed to the group who were told it existed for 250 years. The same bias was seen when a group of participants was given the same chocolate wrapped in different colored wrapping. They were described as one being sold from 73 years ago and the other from just 3. The chocolate that supposedly sold 73 years ago tasted richer and creamier according to the participants!

All forms of change invokes some form of stress (even the good changes, like upgrading your car or going on holiday) and this stress triggers one of three reactions.

Fight – Because if it’s something different, I might need to fight it to maintain my safety or maintain my ability to exist. Like a wild cat when we were cavemen or in today’s age to resist new methodologies or technologies.

Flight – Run or hide from a wild cat or delay adopting new technologies, denying any enhancements and backing off into a silo.

Freeze – Just stand really really still, hopefully the wild cat won’t notice me or in today’s organisations pretend not to be aware of changes in technologies and way of working.

These forms of reactions are hardwired into our DNA.

Changing Legacy Systems

Our paradigms are made up of experiences and beliefs that we’ve gained over an extended period of time. The longer we’ve experienced them this way, the more engrained the paradigm is. The same can be said of the cultural paradigm of an organisation. Let’s call these cultural paradigms ‘Legacy Systems’.
The reason why startups encounter less resistance to change is exactly because of this fact. They have smaller and less engrained Legacy Systems. But this is by no means implying that big organisations with their deeply engrained legacy systems cannot change. Big organisations can and have started to change these legacy systems. They do so by adopting evolutionary change rather revolutionary change.

Evolutionary change – This type of change is small, continuous, and gradual and is reliant on the people to perform the change. As a result, it is well adopted by large organisations and becomes the make-up of the new cultural paradigm. In Toyota culture of Kaizen (Kai = Change, Zen = Good). Kaizen is a culture of continuous improvement, in small, sustainable, self-driven iterations using Deming’s scientific method. Kaizen requires empowered employees to firstly identify opportunities for improvement and then have the resources to institute the change. The author Imai (in ‘Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success) defines kaizen as “organized activities involving everyone in a company- managers and workers, in a totally integrated effort toward improving performance at every level”

Revolutionary change – This is a bigger more radical change and is reliant on the leader to describe and give mandate. These types of changes are often reactionary, i.e. a decline in market share or a department failing an audit. Revolutionary changes seldom, if ever become part of the culture of an organisation. In Toyota this form of change is called Kaikaku.

Change to Learn

Changing the way people think in large organisations is a daunting task yet remains absolutely necessary if we are to stay relevant. Dan Pink says that ‘Management is an invention, much like the television’. Perhaps, what’s happened is that management, the invention has not kept up with the evolution of change in our work and as a result now needs to be revolutionised? Below are some suggestions on how to enable change and learning:

  1. Create the case for change. What is the desire for this change? Answer the question of “what are the possibilities on the other side of uncertainty?”
  2. Empower the people. Give people the skills, tools and endorsement to make changes.
  3. Leaders should be visible and available. Make yourself available for questions, concerns and ideas (Hiroyuku Hiranu said: ‘Ten person’s ideas are better than one person’s knowledge’)
  4. Create the environment. Create a safe environment for experimentation and even failure without victimization. Favor intrinsic over extrinsic motivators.
  5. Make the change personal. Understand the individual aversion to this specific change and ask the question “what would you like to see / do differently?”
  6. Involve the entire organisation, from ‘C level’ execs to junior staff. People want to be heard. This also breaks the notion of ‘Us and them’ or ‘This change is being done to us’.
  7. Make time for honest reflection or ‘Hansei’ in Japanese. “Hansei is really much deeper than reflection. It is really being honest about your own weaknesses. If you are talking about only your strengths, you are bragging. If you are recognizing your weaknesses with sincerity, it is a high level of strength.” Jeffery Liker, The Toyota Way. Hansei helps you to recognize the problem, take ownership and responsibility of the problem and drives the individual towards a plan of action to improve.

Organisation leaders should understand that there will be resistance to change but resistance should not spell the end for change. Ultimately a realisation that through learning, better ways of work can be achieved.

About the Author

This article was written by Adrian Ryan, a Lean-Agile coach at Standard Bank South Africa. He has a passion for organisational change and is a Six Sigma Ninja.


Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (, which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.

If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures



Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website:

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here:

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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