Meeting Charlie Ang - Business Futurist

Last night, I learned something:

There are no facts about the future because it hasn't happened yet.

What that means is that everything you hear about the future is opinion.

We can, of course, make educated guesses and predictions. We can base them on past experiences and present observations, but they will still be nothing more than guesses.

That said, it doesn't mean that we don't need to prepare for it.

That's why I attended Charlie's event.

Charlie Ang

Charlie shared a great deal of information, backed up by statistics and articles, about what he sees the future will be.

Of note are the following points:

1) The Information Economy will make way for the Intelligence Economy, which will be slow at first but will improve exponentially.

When this happens, we can expect a greater disruption than when the Industrial Economy transitioned into the Information Economy. This is partly due to the fact that information itself is inherently passive. It cannot act on its own but only in tandem with other factors.

As with all fledgling technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is in its stage of infancy. It can do simple tasks now, but will pick up speed in the coming years until it 'suddenly' makes a breakthrough, one that will allow its ascension into the foremost technology of its time.

2) Preparing for the future requires us to IMAGINE the future

If there is one thing we can do that machines cannot, it is the ability to dream, imagine and envision.

If we don't first imagine a future that we want to live in, someone (or something) else will. And when they create it, we no longer get it a say in it.

3) For businesses, disruption can come in two forms: Supply Disruption and Demand Disruption

Supply disruption is the easier one to look out for. For example, instead of hiring an insurance agent, peer-to-peer insurance may develop and take over the market. Personal AI Assistants may also become so proficient at weighing between policies that they can recommend the most cost-effective solution.

Demand disruption, on the other hand, tends to be harder to spot, unless you are adept at joining all the dots. In the same example of insurance, self-driven cars of the future may make the roads so safe and, because they are not owned by any one individual at a time, may need little to no car owner's insurance at all. In the same vein, if disease prevention becomes so powerful that people almost never get any diseases, health insurance policies are going to see a dip as well.

There are so many factors and forces that are at work that it is very difficult to predict what will happen and even more difficult to see what will happen because of what happens.

For now, it is becoming ever more important for businesses to explore new avenues even as they are exploiting the markets of today.

Thank you, Charlie, for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on the subject. It has sparked a lot of thoughts and, I imagine, many future conversations.

Four Point Zero

An Introvert's Impressions of the People and Business Practices in Yangon

Before September, I had never been to Myanmar (Burma).

The only contact I had with the country was through the gemstone sellers I met in the gem fairs here in Singapore (which I will be a part of later this month of October - more on this later).

Sule Pagoda - Yangon

I had read stories and watched documentaries and news reports about Myanmar and I wondered what it was really like. Was it truly what the media had portrayed it to be?

So, when I was presented with an opportunity to be a part of the Professional Development Conference 2017 in Yangon, I jumped on board as soon as I could. Let me say here that it was an excellent decision.

Granted that Yangon is a major commercial centre and a large city and, thus, not an accurate representation of a country with more than 900 times the land area of Singapore and nearly 10 times as many inhabitants, it was still quite an experience to have met and conversed with the locals there.

I found them to be friendly and approachable, welcoming and ever-willing to lend a helping hand. Their culture is one of resourcefulness and I experienced a deep hunger in them to connect and to learn. I hope to be of service to them in the near future and onward.

I decided to expound on some of the observations I had while on this trip. Here they are:

1) Respect for the Buyer is Important

Walking through Bogyoke Market, there were hardly any touts or loud callers. It was nothing like the noisy 'fish markets' my primary school teachers used to compare my class to. The business practice seemed to be one where the buyer approached the seller only when he/she was ready to browse or buy, and only when the buyer was close will the seller start promoting his/her wares.

Many of the sellers I met had also invited me to return even when I was merely browsing. Those that I had bought from made it a point to remind me that I was always welcome to visit them again. There was an open-ness in their invitations and many even offered bottles of water and chairs to sit on while I was at their stalls.

This spoke to me of a respect that the seller had for the buyer, especially in terms of comfort and personal space. It was one of the reasons I so enjoyed the markets and street stalls in Yangon. I didn't feel the pressure of having to repeatedly decline sales-y advances and persistent offers to be of assistance when I didn't want any because there was always a respectful distance between buyer and seller that the seller did not close unless the buyer desires it.

2) Polite and Indirect Speech Works

Before my trip to Myanmar, I had heard that the locals use a lot of word play and indirect allusions to meanings in their conversations. Though I hardly understand the language, I see this 'indirect-ness' in many ways. 

When talking to many of the business owners I met, though they are glad and willing to talk about their business dealings, they rarely speak of their connections, no matter how impressive they may be, unless asked directly or the conversation obviously veers in that direction. 

This reminds me of the very British trait of indirect, polite speech, where the hearer is expected to listen carefully and deduce the meaning of the words spoken. It makes for high formality and a certain amount of rigid-ness (both are still stereotypical traits of the British even today) but it produces a culture of sophisticated social skills and less in-your-face confrontations.

Perhaps, being an ex-British colony, Myanmar has assimilated some of this into her own culture. Though I have to wonder why Singapore, also an ex-British colony, has lost all traces of this subtlety and social grace.

3) Communications Take Time

Being in a fast-paced modern society means that everything needs to happen 2 minutes ago.

In Yangon, though Wi-Fi and Internet services are as commonplace as honking vehicles (quite an annoyance, really), there is still a certain slow-ness of pace.

I found that e-mails aren't read and replied at the feverish pace most of us in Singapore are used to, messages are hardly acknowledged, let alone replied to, and even phone calls take repeated tries to get through.

It gets a little frustrating sometimes but, through prior experience, things eventually fall into place. Not always the way we wanted or expected them to, but they do work out somehow. 

This reflects the inventive-ness of the locals and it highlights their need to come up with unusual solutions in order to survive in a somewhat chaotic environment.

Things really do take time in Myanmar and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If anything, we need to learn to slow down and smell the roses rather than expect everyone else to speed up. It will make for a more interesting life.

Busy Street - Yangon

Meetups On The First Week Of August

The past week, I met up with two individuals whom I met from previous workshops / events.

My meetup on Wednesday first introduced himself as Sia (though that's actually his last name, I believe). He has just started his studies at NUS in Business Admin. He told me about his internet marketing experience (pretty extensive at that) and offered to connect me with a couple of his friends, who run a website for resellers.

He also shared that he has started reading up on investment strategies and other financial information. This makes me sound like a financial planner (I'm not), but I must say that I'm glad to meet someone who takes responsibility for his own financial future at such a young age. I certainly didn't care much about it when I was his age.

I offered my expertise to him and his coursemates - to coach them in public speaking and presentation skills (at no charge, of course). He has thus far found 5 interested parties. Very quick to take action, very enterprising. I look forward to working with him.

My second meetup was with Coen. When I first met him, I pegged him as a rather quiet, and certainly deeply thinking individual. It turns out that my first impression was pretty accurate. We shared thoughts and information about ourselves and what we do.

I learned that he now trains in corporate settings, coaches people and also works closely with his business mentors and partners, purposefully setting time aside to do so. 

What I found remarkable was how aligned our values are when it comes to leadership, teaching and influencing others. His background in personality-based training and his love of psychology and language skills are also similar to mine, though he has certainly had much more formal training in personality assessment than I have.

Some time through our conversation, he told me that he was looking for speakers for a Toastmasters event in November themed 'The Introvert Speaker'. Having heard of my book title, he asked me if I was interested to do a segment for the event. Naturally, I said yes. How could I not? It is so immensely related to what I've written about, it seems almost tailor-made for me. He even mentioned that if my book could be printed by then, I could sell copies of it at the event. Sounds like great motivation for pushing it out!

Finally, he offered his expertise and insight for what I'm working on - my desired entry into the corporate training industry, as well as other aspects of my training career. He mentioned that he would like to pay it forward, because someone once did the same for him. For that, I am truly thankful. Coen, if you're reading this, thank you. I look forward to working alongside you and learning more from you.



My Weekend Gem Hunt

On Thursday, a Sri Lankan gem dealer friend that I knew from last year was in town. Naturally, I went to meet him. This time, he came with another friend who I understand to be the cutter of some of the gems that my dealer friend gets from his mine (yes, he is a co-owner of a mine). 

He was only in Singapore for 3 days so I didn't have much time to get hold of many other interested buyers. Nevertheless, I did introduce people to him. 

Though there is the obvious path of being a middleman or broker for this friend, I figured that I prefer to simply help other people get reasonable prices for gems and help this friend make more sales by introducing potential buyers to him. The more sales he makes, the more likely he will be to come to Singapore, and the better my prices will be when I buy from him. 

I may miss out on the profits by being a broker, but, as a gem buyer, I don't quite trust brokers myself, and would much prefer not to play a role that I am myself suspicious of.

As a gem hunter, my job will be made much easier if they bring in regular supplies of stones while I build my own clientele. I will then be able to give my clients better value for their money.

All in all, I will have happy clients and friends who get good value, a happy seller who gets good business, and a happily colourful vault of gems for myself at good prices.

This round, I bought an exceptionally beautiful royal blue sapphire (I'll take proper pictures soon), a pair of pear-shaped blue sapphires for a client, a really small ruby, and 3 garnets.

While you wait for the picture of my lovely blue sapphire, here's a picture of a lot of small blue sapphires that I contemplated buying: