It’s the last day of 2019, and a great time to reflect on what happened this year. This year went by in a flash with some key events. At the middle of February, I got staffed to a blockchain project in Malaysia as part of the functional team. It was a great opportunity to work with emerging technology in a real use case. In parallel, I also submitted my MBA application to INSEAD (Read about it here : Why MBA & Application Preparation).

Then I received the admission announcement at the middle of the year, finished the project in around October, and finally left the team in early December. Now I’m traveling around Europe before the MBA program starts.

Throughout the year, there are several practical learnings that I hope to share with you. For learnings related to work and career, I think my reflection on my time in Accenture is a good representative of what I learned and it still holds true (Read about it here)

Having a to-do list is a life saver

Starting in Q3 2019, the number of things I have to prepare for INSEAD keeps on increasing. Starting from visa application, prework, and planning. Add things to do from work and personal life, and it becomes harder and harder to keep track of everything. Using an app to help track all of these are a great way to ensure I don’t miss out on anything. It takes time to build a habit, and I can safely say that I’m getting in the rhythm of continually managing it.

Personally, I recommend Microsoft To-Do. A key reason is the simple user interface and the app experience in Windows & iOS. It also links to your Outlook.com account (This means if you use Outlook app and link it to your outlook.com account, you’ll see the tasks from To Do),

Keeping a diary helps reflect and serves as good rereading in the future

The idea of keeping a diary has been quite attractive for me in the past. But the idea that was stuck in my head was that I should do a daily entry in a diary. Most of the time, I couldn’t follow through after 2-3 days.

This year, what I’m doing is to make an entry twice a week, and it’s rarely more than 2-3 short paragraphs. Most of the entries simply consists of what has happened since the previous entry, how I felt, and any thoughts.

Paying for an online cloud storage is worth it

This year I started subscribing to an online cloud storage and got terabytes of space. It is one of my most useful purchases of the year. It helped me manage my hard drive space, and it saved me from maintaining multiple external hard drives. It’s worth shelling out some cash for the convenience. I have even migrated all my photos to the space, so it’s easy for me to access any of the photos from my past anywhere.

Take vacations, you deserve it

I don’t know who needs to read this, but go take your vacation. No matter what kind of work you’re doing, the company will not explode if you take a vacation for 1-2 weeks. While you’re on your vacation, have the courage to not reply to work related communications and stop saying sorry that you’re on vacation. It’s your right to take a vacation, and you need to stand up for yourself.

Stick to a hotel chain, loyalty programs are worth it

While taking trips (both business and personal), I recommend you to stick to a hotel chain. When you just start out with a hotel chain loyalty program, there’s not a lot of benefit. But it gets better quite quickly. The points will pile up before you know it, and maybe you’ll get enough nights in the year to upgrade your status for the next year. A key benefit I love is the early check in/late check out benefit. Sometimes I even check in at 7 AM and check out at 5 PM. It’s essentially extending the stay for half a day for free!

The 2 biggest hotel chain I recommend would be Accor & Marriott. The key difference between both is the strength of the network. Accor is stronger than Marriott in Europe. While Marriott is stronger in the US. So if you travel to the US more, Marriott makes a more logical choice.

That’s it!

5 practical learnings that I got in 2019 that I think is easily applicable no matter what your walk of life is. Thank you for reading and I wish you a beautiful year end!

Writing this on board of GA821 from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. I’m filled with both sadness and excitement. I’m sad that I left the family I made in KL, but excited to go back to school soon. This writing is also intended to help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully help you in one way or another. In this post, I’m focusing on the career journey and why I opted to do an MBA at INSEAD. In the next post, I’ll share specifically on the INSEAD application process and preparation advices.

P.S: Please feel free to contact me if you are interested to know more or if you have specific questions that I have yet to address here. Here’s the link to my personal website, but you can also contact me through LinkedIn or Instagram.

You can find Part 2 here. It will cover the INSEAD application process and my preparations.

Why MBA?

There are 3 key reasons of why I wanted to do an MBA.

The first is my childhood experience. When I was a kid, I had friends who seems to travel abroad every single holiday. To be frank, I was jealous every time I saw their Disneyland or plane pictures. My family were modest, and we couldn’t afford to travel abroad. In fact, the first time I went abroad was 2010, and that was because my mother had a business trip to China and I could come with her. I was ecstatic to see another country. I still remember that it was a Singapore Airlines flight, CGK-SIN, followed by SIN-Shanghai. I know that this doesn’t look like it relates directly to MBA, but this experience kickstarted my ambition to see the world.

The second is my experience living in Jakarta. The city is well positioned as the center of economic growth of Indonesia. People migrated from villages and small towns to Jakarta in hope of fortune. I daresay it’s the “Jakarta Dream”, much like how the Americans have “American Dream”. A key advantage of being in Jakarta is availability of good jobs. This is further reinforced with the rise of tech startups such as Gojek, Tokopedia, Shopee, Lazada, etc. But living in Jakarta also has some issues that fueled my desire to move. A key issue is the traffic jam and living cost. I lived at the outskirts of the city and I regularly took 1-2 hours for a one way trip (driving) from my home to office. Why not rent a room in the middle of the city? 2 reasons. First, because I work in Services/Consulting. I move around based on where my client is. Second, because rent is expensive and mostly with no facilities. Another key issue is inclusion. I think that we’re moving to a more conservative direction and I’m not comfortable with that. Some politicians are making it worse by utilizing divisive messages based on race or religion to win elections. This experience encouraged me to look beyond Jakarta in hopes of finding another place to call home. What do I need to do to achieve that? I need to build a strong foundation and network to be able to actually move abroad. Without a solid network, I wouldn’t be able to find a job or do business anywhere.

The last is my career journey. I’ve accumulated about 5 years of work experience and I reflected upon where I want to go in the future. My experience in tech, startup, and consulting showed me what kind of work excites me. I’m excited to work with people to create innovation and transformation. I prefer to forge new ways of working instead of just following the old. I believe open discussions with no hard feelings are extremely important. Finally, I dislike it when I don’t have clear goals. So with those in mind, what’s next? I would like to be a business leader that is known for transforming organizations. To go there, I want more experience in strategy development & execution leadership work. Unfortunately, based on my experience, I don’t have a proven track record yet of strategy development work and I don’t have a lot of leadership experience. And thus I want to improve those skills.

Combining all 3 drivers, my experience in Kuala Lumpur is an indicative sign that I’m going to the right direction. I lived in Kuala Lumpur for roughly 9 months, and worked on a blockchain project for a Resources company. I felt like it was a long holiday. I was able to comfortably live outside of Jakarta, and even though the work was tough, the team was awesome and the work was exciting.

So in conclusion, I assessed that an MBA would help me build skills and network quicker to be able to achieve my goals in the future.

Why INSEAD?

First thing I checked to find the right school for me was MBA rankings. Unlike other masters’ degree, MBA has so many published rankings with various methodology. Universities proclaiming “we’re a top business school in the world” is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what other people think about that university and MBA Rankings helps you understand what’s the general view or consensus about the schools. When you check most MBA Rankings, it’s highly dominated by the US schools, think Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogs, Booth, Berkeley. But there are several business schools outside the US that consistently rank great, such as INSEAD, LBS and HEC Paris.

Then the next question was, “In an ideal world, where everything goes according to plan, where do I want to settle down in the long term?” For me, the answer was Europe/Australia/Canada. Thus, the school I picked need to have a strong name in those 3 regions.

And finally, “what industry do I want to go to after MBA?”. As I wanted to go to strategy development and execution leadership, I looked for schools that produces a lot of strategy consultants.

Combining the answer of the 3 questions, INSEAD becomes a natural choice for a few things:

  • It’s a highly regarded business school with alumni all around the world.
  • There’s more than X nationalities in a class, and there’s 3 campuses (Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi). There’s flexibility of where I want to be based on, and it’ll help me experience many cultures quickly. Both will help me understand what kind of culture I’m most comfortable in.
  • It’s basically the “consulting school of the world” where most graduates go to Strategy Consulting.
INSEAD Singapore Campus

Thankfully, INSEAD has a campus in Singapore. I managed to visit the campus and set up a time to talk to Aidan from the MBA recruitment and marketing team to understand more about the school and the admission process.

Aidan shared to me about the school’s diversity, and the admission director’s (Minh Huy Lai) passion on inclusion. That was the first thing that resonated with me. After that we discussed on what INSEAD is looking for, he emphasized the international experience requirement, and open mindedness requirement. When I say open mindedness, the school will pit you with people from very different culture that without being open minded, you’ll struggle. Then we discussed my career journey, and which parts he thought I need to emphasize in the application. Finally he shared the results of the program for current students and the strength of the INSEAD alumni community. This discussion cemented my decision to apply because I identify with the school’s values and directions for students.

In Summary

Based on my childhood experience, Jakarta experience and career journey, an MBA is a great way to achieve my goals. Then based on school reputation, geographic location and industry focus, INSEAD is the school of choice for me.

Read the part 2 of this post for the application process and preparation advice!

The hardest part of New Year Resolutions is actually reviewing them and seeing how I fared. You can find my 2018 New Year Resolutions here.

2018 New Year Resolution Achievement

For the first one, 2018 is the year where I’m more honest with myself and I opened up to more people than the past 10 years combined. In addition, I became more vocal about causes that I care about, and I stopped caring too much about what other people thinks.

The second one is easy to review due to the quantitative nature, in 2018 I read:

  • 6 CFA Level 3 books – Slightly cheating, but these still counted as books!
  • 12 Monocle magazines
  • 6 HBR magazines
  • Dear Founder
  • The Happiness Project
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
  • Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality
  • Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI
  • The Corruption of Capitalism
  • Nonviolent Communication

From my reading last year, unfortunately there’s none that resonated with me as much as Carol Dweck’s Mindset and Clayton Christensen’s Competing Against Luck. But as election is coming for Indonesia in 2019 and for the US in 2020, I feel that Truth by Hector Macdonald is a worthy read.

I totally bombed the 3rd one. I was doing fine until the middle of the year, but I flaked from July onwards. This is a good lesson regarding continuity and I hope to be more consistent this year.

The fourth one I think I’m doing just fine. And for the last one, I became a CFA charterholder in September 2018 and I took the GMAT test, so I followed through on the goals I had! Additionally, I also studied Python for Finance: Investment Fundamentals & Data Analytics and Python for Financial Analysis and Algorithmic Trading from Udemy.

Overall, although there are room for improvement, I’m happy with what I achieved. 2018 has been a precious year of personal growth where I refocused and learned more about myself. I have great hopes for 2019 and I will share a more concrete set of goals soon.

In this final part of the narrative, I will focus on the external factor, the supporting media in which you communicate with. The media formats that we typically use includes:

  • Paper to write on
  • Handouts (slides, graphs, data, etc)
  • Slide decks

The general value of supporting media is to reinforce/clarify the message you want your audience to get. To review whether you should use the media or not, ask yourselves:

  • Is my media distracting my audience’s attention away from me? – Don’t let your media be the main actor.
  • Can the media help me illustrate my point? – Don’t use media for the sake of using it. Have a clear goal on why you’re using it.

And don’t forget to also review what kind of media can be used in the venue of the presentation/discussion. For example, you won’t use a slide deck with videos for a discussion at Starbucks due to the noise around the area and lack of space to project.

Unless your goal is for that media to stand on its own, there’s no reason for you to have word-for-word explanations inside the media.

Paper & Handouts

Imagine if you’re illustrating an idea to your boss over coffee with a paper. You will not write everything you’re saying, but you will definitely write your calculations, graphs, keywords, design ideas, maybe flowcharts.

Handouts should also do the same thing. If your handouts includes research reports / long essays, you might as well give it to your counterparty beforehand and ask them to read it first. If you give it to them during your time with them, there’s a good chance they’ll just read it there and then. It’s a waste of time that could’ve been used to discuss the matter together.

The acceptable form of handouts should be graphs, charts, or tables that’s not chock full of writing.

Slide Decks

The same logic can also be applied to slide decks. On my first project with Accenture, the slide deck that we used was full of words and was intended to be able to stand on its’ own. Word-for-word quote from the client:

You are competing for my attention with your own slide deck.

This is the same thing that goes through my mind if I see a slide with 1,000 words in it, written like an essay. I don’t have enough mental capacity to both read and listen. So rather than focusing on the presenter, I focus on reading the slide.

You can see a lot of these slide deck issues in the Death by Powerpoint slideshare by Alexei Kapterev.

Some general guidelines that I use to develop a deck:

  • It has to be aesthetically pleasing, no compromises – if you can use image/graph/chart to illustrate, then do so. Don’t depend on written format. A slide just of 1 image in the background and 1 sentence in the foreground is much stronger than a slide of 4 bullet points with white background
  • 1 slide should have no more than 3 images (not counting logos or icons). If you mention company names, consider whether it makes sense to include their logo inside the slide
  • Use the highest possible resolution that you have for images, and use transparent background for logos
  • Maximum 4 sentences (or 50 words) in a slide
  • The presentation should finish within 20 minutes. To extend your audience’s attention span, consider this article from Forbes.
  • Only 1 point to be made per slide
  • Colours that are not too in your face, with contrasting colours between fonts and background/images
  • Have at maximum 3 key takeaways and reiterate it at the end of the presentation. Your audience is unlikely to remember anything else.
  • Practice delivering the presentation and time it before actually presenting it for real. Don’t be overconfident.

A sample of presentation that I made : 2016 Fintech Presentation

Takeways

These are what I hope you get from this series of writing:

  1. There are multiple factors that makes a great communicator/presenter, focusing on one and neglecting the others are not enough:
    1. Your story needs to be concise, clear, compelling, and convincing
    2. Be mindful of the meaning that can be inferred from your body language
    3. Your media must be the supporting character in your communication, not the main actor
  2. Practice is key and repetition helps you be better

This article is the introduction and will be part of a 4 article series on engaging communication.

Have you ever compared the interactions you have on weekends or night out with friends with the interactions you have with clients/coworkers? For me, the discussions, the interaction, the communication with friends are much more engaging. I believe the same goes for you, or everyone really. When I look at people’s eyes during the weekdays, I often see dead fish eyes, unenthusiastic and bored.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can start improving our communication skills, our quality of interactions throughout the day, that we can bring our whole selves, that typically appear only on leisure time, to even business meetings and work!

That is the premise of this series, to be able to communicate effectively and engagingly. To bring your A-game, regardless of the circumstance.

We need to be reminded that as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, there are more and more distractions available to take us away from being in the moment. Why does this matter in this series? Because with more distractions, people have more ways to ignore you.

Imagine 100 years ago, if you want to ignore someone talking, at most you have a book/paper or just leave the premise. Now? Whip out your phone ladies and gentlemen, because you have an imaginary text that you absolutely have to respond right this instant!

An interesting article by the Independent on British attention span lists these as the fastest ways to get people bored:

  • Listening to people moaning / gossiping about a stranger leads us to tune out after 6 minutes
  • In calls with clients/customers, employees gets bored after 7 minutes
  • While watching TV, an average adult loses concentration after 7 minutes
  • Listening to chatty colleagues gets boring after 9 minutes
  • Phone calls with family and loved ones gets boring after 9 minutes
  • Motorists loses focus and goes on ‘auto-pilot’ after 10 minutes
  • Finance related meetings or conversations loses people after 10 minutes
  • In meetings, people lose focus after 13 minutes

This paints a dire picture on how much time you have before you lose that person in front of you. But it’s not all bad, the article also mentioned that attention spans are longer in situations which involve friends or hobbies, such as:

  • 15 minutes for a good book
  • 24 minutes for a movie
  • 29 minutes for a social engagement such as going out with friends

As you can see from the list above, most of the things that makes people lose focus easily is related to work/office, while going out with friends tops the list on the things that makes people focused for a longer time. This relates back to the key point of this series mentioned in the beginning of this article, that there’s a great difference of result & quality of interaction between work related stuff and hobby/friends related stuff.

Therefore, we need to start improving our communication skills in order to improve our quality of interactions everyday.

I believe there are 3 key points in interactions, all equally powerful when properly used.

  • Message/Story Packaging
  • Body Gestures
  • Supporting Media

Each of these points warrants a following article and will be the next 3 parts of this series. Look out for the next parts!

 

Moving into 2018, I reflect back on what happened in the previous year. 2017 was a thrilling roller coaster! A lot of things happened, both good and bad. The good, I started a new role in Accenture as a Management Consultant, elected to be a committee member for YEC (Young Enterpreneur Club), elected to be the vice chair for economy and trade for INTI, passed the CFA Level 2 exam, had a brief stint in TaniFund to lead the investment process, and I even went traveling to a lot of places (Sapporo, Tokyo, Balikpapan, Cilacap, Surabaya, San Francisco, Malaysia, Singapore, Taipei). The bad, had to cut loss on the startup I worked on in 2016, and 2017 marked a huge increase in racial and religion based tension in Jakarta (no thanks to the governor election).

My 5 Resolutions for 2018

1. Honest with myself

My number one resolution for the year is to be more honest with myself. Too often, I focus on how others will perceive me when I do anything instead of focusing on what makes me happy. I’m breaking this habit and I vow to care less about what people think. Honest with myself also means being honest to my feelings. I believe actively reflecting on how I feel and being aware of my emotions will help in managing my emotions, and making a good impact to people around me.

2. Read more

This resolution is on my list since 2015. For the past 3 years, the resolution is as simple as reading at least 1 book per month. This year, I’m increasing that to at least 5 books/magazines per quarter. The books that I’m reading are mostly nonfictions, relating to business, self improvement, or management. And for the magazines, I only read 2, Monocle and Harvard Business Review.

To start off the year, in the first quarter, I’m reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (Thank you to Andhika for gifting it to me during our secret santa last month), and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

3. Write more and refocus

I’m refocusing this blog and the classification of topics around to make it easier for me and for you to read. The new classification will be divided to 2 core parts, Learning and Hobbies. Learning will include topics such as Finance, Book Review, Bite Sized Wisdom, and Personal Improvement. While Hobbies will include topics such as Travel and Watches.

In 2017, I shared 18 blog posts in total. For 2018, I’m hoping to increase this to at least 24 blog post, with the stretch goal of 30 blog posts.

4. Build and maintain relationships

By being more active in organizations, I’m hoping to be able to build more relationships, while maintaining my previous ones. Pretty self explanatory, but I emphasize human relations. Asia is a continent where people do business based on relationship instead of purely numbers / logical factors, and it’s crucial to have links around.

5. Study more

Last but not the least, there are 3 core things I would like to study in 2018. First is finance, I’m going to take the CFA Level 3 exam this June and I need to study hard for this. The essay for the level 3 exam is nerve wrecking and I can only hope for the best. Next is GMAT study, as I’m planning to take MBA sometime soon in the future, I need to have a proper GMAT score to support university applications. And lastly, as a hobby, I’d like to study more on photography. In 2017, I bought a Sony A6000 with a kit lens, and added an 35mm f1.8 lens for bokeh and everyday shot. This year I’m not sure whether I’ll be buying new lens, but I’ll definitely be studying and posting my photo results such as this one below in my blog and Instagram.

Afterword

I wish you all a great year, and may 2018 be a blessing for all of us!

I just finished reading Presence, by Amy Cuddy, 2012 TED Talk Speaker. In this book, she plays with the concept of presence, bringing your whole self into the room, how your body language influences your own mind, and the social experiment around it.

“Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves. … When we feel present, our speech, facial expressions, postures, and movements align. They synchronize and focus. .. It’s what makes us compelling.”

It’s a concept that we have definitely feel in our lives. The time when we felt an adrenaline rush before an interview, the time we presented to our class, the time we were being who we are. We know what it’s like, but it’s hard to recreate that moment. How often do you feel you are not bringing your whole self to the challenge? How often do you feel you could’ve done better? These are the moments where we are not present.

Here’s 3 key takeaways on what I learned from this book:

Present is being genuine and in the moment

If we are present, no matter what the result is, we can be confident that we did our best. To be present, we need to fully believe what we are doing, and to be honest with ourselves. The good news is, this is not something that happens overnight, it’s an incremental process, a continuous improvement to ourselves that happens over a long period of time.

Body language matters

To start with, looking at your own body language helps. How often do you slouch? How often do you shrink yourself when you’re sitting in a meeting room? These poses conveys to our mind that we feel powerless. And when we feel powerless, it’s hard to be present, we’re too busy protecting ourselves.

To feel more powerful, it is good to practice expanding your body posture, take up more space. For example, stand up straight, don’t stick your hand close to your body, don’t shrink away. These poses convey to our mind, and to our peers that we are confident in ourselves and we know what we’re doing.

Looking at your phone continuously can also be harmful as it impacts your posture. Imagine yourself looking and reading on your phone, most likely you’re hunched over, looking downwards, focusing on a little screen in your hand. Being in that pose for too long will make you uncomfortable, and if you don’t actively fix it, it can become a habit.

One way you can prevent this is to ask a trusted friend to remind you of your posture, of your body language. For example, you can ask to remind you whenever you slouch you can straighten up.

You’re not alone

In the past, I’ve often felt that I’m a fraud, that I don’t belong there, that one day someone will look through my facade and see that I’m not worth it. This is called Impostor Syndrome, and you’re not alone. Millions of people experience this, and this can happen even to people in socially powerful positions. It helps to talk about it, and to open up to people, but do not discount yourself short.

Last Words

It also needs to be noted that this is not a magic trick that will make your problems disappear in a night, this is a path to enable yourself to be more present, and as Amy said “Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges.

P.S : If you want to read the stories and the social experiment, I suggest you to read the book. If you only want the essence and the key takeaways, you can visit Amy’s 2012 TED Talk.