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Staying Relevant with your Business

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We live in a knowledge economy, an economy where we aim to stay relevant by leveraging the the internet of things and the internet of everything to answer our every question as fast as our little, sometimes sausage-like, fingers can touch a tiny screen.

In today’s hyper-connected, digitized world there are three challenges that every business leader must face in order for his or her company to stay relevant:

1) The speed of technological advancement

2) Information overload

3) Human disposition toward change

More specifically with information accessibility is information literacy—the ability to navigate and interpretmassive amounts of information and pare it down into something not only manageable, but comprehensible and applicable for the masses.

However, it doesn’t stop there. 

The problem between the above three challenges is aligning the current systems, processes and behaviors within an organization to fit them all. Namely, you need to not only keep up with the times in terms of technological relevance but also be poised to acquire the right information you need through such technology, interpret it and disseminate it.

Welcome to the challenge of how to stay relevant.

How To Stay Relevant

The problem, of course, is this: the means by which organizations share and interpret information are outdated. In many of the companies I’ve consulted, their way of operating is based off an outdated operating model: hierarchy.

Hierarchy is a product of yesteryear. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for linear-processing and rank-and-file management (the conventional military comes to mind), but in today’s day and age where companies compete at the speed of adaptability but adapt at the speed of learning, hierarchy poses another, albeit indirect, threat: an organization’s ability and capacity—the skill and will—to adapt to change.

Companies compete at the speed of adaptability but adapt at the speed of learning. 

I say indirect because more often than not, how you see a problem typically is the problem.

It’s not so easy to attribute hierarchy to a company’s failings because chances are that company has been successful over the years. It’s been profitable, it’s navigated uncertainty, so how they’ve operated in the past must be right, right?

Wrong.

The complacency of success is a very real yet indirect threat to any organization’s relevance. Just look at Kodak, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, even HP who were completely competent in how they operated for a very long time. However, times changed, and these companies never took the time to question whether how they operated was right.

No, hierarchy is outdated. Command and control worked in the 20th century where the goal was to become more efficient, to save cost by eliminating wasted efforts and duplicative processes. But in today’s day and age of “pivoting” (a term as annoying as that mosquito in your ear) and the IoT/IoE, speed is the name of the game, and one thing hierarchy is not known for is a fast “read and react” time.

So, the question becomes, what is your organization doing to adapt to the times? What is your organization doing to align the growing trend of technology and the relevant information it affords with the current behaviors in your organization that determine how work gets accomplished?

Here’s an example of what I mean.

The first company I consulted for was a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley. They were in the tech space and were facing an industry shift of having to move from hard drives to the cloud and they needed to figure out how they were going to stay relevant amidst this inevitable change (and change is inevitable, which is why the complacency of success kills).

Anyway, the challenge they faced was the same challenge that every other company has faced that I’ve consulted for since: relying upon the behaviors of yesterday to carry you through tomorrow.

By behaviors I’m referring to how tasks get identified, assigned, executed, and adapted; the frequency at which groups and teams assemble and how they assemble; the cadence of meetings and the deconfliction between multiple meeting agendas; and the metrics that define right (not gonna lie, there’s a lot more to this list).

If, for instance, there are unclear job descriptions, ambiguous roles, unclear responsibilities or simply non-existent expectations, then “winning” isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. What is likely to occur is a lot of tail-chasing and a lot of turf wars because, without clearly defined boundaries, people will define their own.

If how your model for success today is how successful you were yesterday then congratulations, you’re one step closer to irrelevance.

If how your model for success today is how successful you were yesterday then congratulations, you’re… 

If you’re asking the same questions as yesterday or—and equally non-impactful—not questioning the status quo, you’re on a losing path.

And I don’t care what anybody says. Losing sucks.

To “win” in today’s day and age requires the self-awareness to recognize your blind spots, the social awareness to recognize and interpret how you mesh with others, and the situational awareness to align these two “awarenesses” into a context greater than yourself such as the organization’s mission, and the only way to weaponize yourself in these regards, is through curiosity.

Nothing begins without a question. Questions incite greater awareness because they cause the mind to wander, to explore, and to (potentially) discover something anew. Without curiosity, there would be no breakthrough ideas, no new products or services, and no mobile banking (that’s a joke because I consider mobile banking to be one of the most ingenious and convenient apps on my smartphone).

Anyway, back to behaviors.

The “behaviors” that define how work is achieved are based upon one thing and one thing only: clarity.

Clarity in purpose.

Clarity in value.

Clarity in roles, responsibilities and expectations.

Clarity in time, resources and requirements available.

All the above leads to clarity in execution and without execution, you’re dead in the water. Period.

Without execution, you’re dead in the water. Period. 

So, if you want to leverage curiosity and find clarity amidst the ever-changing chaotic landscape of business amidst technology and information overload, start by defining what winning looks like.

Prior to every meeting, any discussion and any project, for example, clarify what success will be.

If you’re an organizational leader, clarify what winning looks like for the organization as a whole and then share this definition with each functional leader so they have not only clear direction but a definition to work with that will inform how and what they execute.

A sales department will likely have different objectives than marketing or HR, for example, which is why it’s so critical for the organizational leader to take the time to clarify his or her vision for 1) what success looks like and 2) what he or she values as the vehicles for success if that leader espouses to stay relevant–as a leader and as an organization.

“Become a $100 million dollar company” or “Be the number one place to work” are too ambiguous and don’t inform anybody, since $100M could be misinterpreted between the sales and product departments to be eitherprofit or revenue.

Without a clear definition, they’re likely to pursue both, which means you’ve just undercut your winning efforts by 50 percent as well as your ability to stay relevant. Not ideal.

It’s a very simple concept, but not so simply executed. But then again, if doing so were easy, then I’d be out of a job.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Chaos Advantage. Chaos Advantage is a blog dedicated to the vision of defeating complacency and eliminating the epidemic of poor leadership within organizations today. see more.

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

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:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

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

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(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 (www.jupiterchain.tech), 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: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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