Chinese vs Western learning, in a nutshell.

My Leadership class professor disseminated a very, very interesting and conclusive article about the differences between Chinese and Western learning. Having lived and learned with my French boyfriend for the past 2 years, I came to see the differences between our attitudes and how we approach learning, but I couldn’t quite put it to words. Until now.

The article was written by David Brooks or International NY Times, March 2-3, 2013. It summarizes the findings of Jin Li, a Chinese woman who moved to the US. I couldn’t have said these better:

The Chinese tend to define learning morally while Westerners define it cognitively.

In the Western understanding, students come to school with levels of innate intelligence and curiosity. There’s great emphasis on questioning the authority, critical inquiry, and sharing ideas in classroom discussion.

In the Chinese understanding, …. the idea is to perfect the learning virtues in order to become a sage. The virtues include sincerity, diligence, perseverance, concentration, and respect for teachers.

Going a level deeper, the author argues for the fusion of intellectual and moral impulses in the Chinese culture, which gives rise to the “awesome motivation explosions”. Explosion is the correct word: here in Hong Kong I’ve observed many of my Mainland Chinese peers who spend countless hours studying, be it at the library on a Saturday night at 11PM or in their bedroom right after they wake up at 7 AM.

I, too, am a product of these Confusian culture, where I would work dilligently and slave myself into hours of studying. Having brought up that way for 17 years, I never realised any other way of studying; it’s just how I do it. Spend the hours, get great results in school, and make your parents proud. Diligence and perseverance are the ultimate virtues. Give me the most boring topic to study, and I can still spend hours of trying to master the topic. There’s this endless reservoir of motivation when it comes to studying.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, has always had the better understanding of the topics that we learn in school. He is the model of a critical and inquisitive mind, always going one level deeper than me. He’ll either be deeply passionate about something and soar really high, or very bored at one thing and have no motivation to do anything about it.

The question is, which culture is better? The moral learning or cognitive one? Right now, I would argue that the school system awards the diligent, but the working environment champions the inquisitive. Memorisation can get away with school’s examination, but when it comes to generating innovation to drive companies’ bottom line, I don’t think it’s enough.

The head a Research division in Goldman Sachs once asked the intern class this summer: name one global Chinese brand. I couldn’t answer. No one in the room could answer. Any ideas why?

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2013 in Recap

What’s a success or a mistake, if you don’t learn from it? Experience is the greatest teacher, and truth be told, a lot can happen in 365 days. To borrow the Priest’s words from yesterday’s New Year Eve’s mass :

When you look back at 2013, look not at the frowns and tears, but the smiles and laughters

Positive thoughts and memories is a great cure to any illness, I heard. Here’s my 2013 in recap :

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NOT my desk at BCA – I was simply just taking over one of the empty desks 😛 

January : I was in the middle of my one – month internship in BCA, the largest private bank in Indonesia. I remembered waking up very early in the morning everyday, going to the office with my father at the morning, spending what seemed to be endless days in the office, and then back home with m y dad again. It was the first time that I feel what it’s like to work in the heart of Jakarta, the traffic, the people, the lifestyle. I also went to HK to do my Global Business interview, and MADE it! Felt like I was on top of the world. Met my boyfriend for a few days in HK; they were the best days of the month.

February:  Going back to school as a Global Business major. I remembered welcomed by 40 new friends in the class. And boy that Global Business Case Analysis class was really some class. I was very excited to start school!

March : Projects started, classes getting deeper with mid-terms kicking in. But we were promised a great payback afterwards with Spring break looming…


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That week in Taiwan was lovely and unforgettable

April : And yes, what a great spring break it was! Went to Taipei, Taiwan with my boyfriend and a few friends. It was an amazing 4 days getaway. Taiwan was filled with great people, great food, and great things to see. Oh, and one of my biggest goal came true : the Business Cohort Community that I captained eventually was crowned the champion of cohorts! That was a big personal ambition of mine, and what a relief to achieve just that. 

May : Things started to fall apart – a few student in the GBUS class were disagreeing when it comes to having a non-gbus student in class. I was sad as it was about someone that I cared about and I remember I just wished it would die off soon. But May was always a great month as it marked the end of yet another semester!

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Showing my boyfriend around the mystique yet beautiful Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta

June : This was an exciting month! Coco went with me to Jakarta and meet my family. It was nervewracking- I had no idea how my parents are gonna react and treat Coco, but it all went well. They were very welcoming and took that opportunity to bring the whole family on a vacation trip alongside Coco. Me and Coco also went on a trip to Semarang and Yogyakarta!


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An unforgettable Summer in Shanghai

July : After spending 2 weeks apart from Coco, we were reunited, this time in Shanghai! Woot woot. We spent the next 1 month together, learning Chinese at Fudan University. Apart from meeting some really great people, the biggest takeaway from Shanghai was not my improved Chinese, but this amazing partner at a consulting company who became our friend, and my inspiration. We had some really good memories in Shanghai, a month that I will not forget.

August : Spent the last 1 month of my summer holiday chilling with my family and friends. Caught up with old friends, roamed the malls in Jakarta as usual, finished off a great book (Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell). Cut my hair short! 

September : It’s back to school time! Came back early to see my boyfriend Coco and boy did we miss each other a lot. Excited to see the new exchange students and went hiking with them.

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October: The fun kicked in when you know people pretty well to start having fun with them. The highlight of this month was I guess kayaking with the exchange students and Ellery. The month was filled with numerous deadlines for Summer Internship. I remembered having my fair share of confusion, discouragement when I still didn’t know where I want to apply for my summer internship.

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Delivered the most presentations I have in one semester

November : Everything went by so fast that we entered the last month of study. It was also the month of hell – deadlines all came endlessly, especially for a student with a lot of projects and no final exams like me. Did I manage it alright? Well, let’s say I could have managed my time so much better. Oh, Coco and I hit our 1st anniversary!

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Attended the TEDxHongKong seminar with my darling

December : Busy with my visa application for my exchange program, but luckily I was done with school already! Time to relax a bit, while doing other projects as well : A Lowe’s Journal project kicked off and I received my first interview invitation for the internship! Spent the rest of my days with Coco and a few close friends, then off to Jakarta to see my fam and friends again. Died my hair outrageously, spent the NYE at a friend’s house.

That’s it folks! Phew. I skipped a huge part through out the year; so many things happened and boy did they go by real fast! My overall feeling about 2013 is that I think I’ve grown more mature, intellectually, spiritually. I become increasingly sure about myself and is now in a state where I don’t necessarily care about what others think about me. This year, I’ve met some amazing and accomplished people along the way that I really admired, and  I think they happened for a reason. They are meant to encourage me to work harder and achieve greater things. I’m very thankful with all the amazing moments, opportunities, friends, people.

Bring on 2014!

First post in 2014

It’s been long! 

As I’ve confessed in my first post, I do have the tendency to leave off “doing something”, and once I left, I have a greater tendency to just avoid it once for all. The reason why I’m back here is one thing : this is not just another thing that I do. It’s not just Tumbling, playing golf, tennis, or knitting – the list of activities that I simply left, it is writing. And I actually saw the HUGE benefit derived from it. I gained much more knowledge about what’s happening around me. In particular, I have OPINIONS about it. It gave me topics to talk about and made myself filled, full of ideas and opinionated. When I met with people, I can casually talk about topics that I’ve researched on, built opinions on, and wrote on this blog, which is exactly what I was aiming for. So folks, this blog is a keeper. 

To start off 2014, I would like to write something that I think is very important: 2013 in recap. Sure, it’s not something new and you’ve probably seen thousands of these on the TV, websites, even on Facebook. But I’d like to share with you why I think it’s important. Robin S Sharma, in his book “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” spoke a great length about reflecting. 

Select, Reflect and Correct. Reflection is one of the most powerful yet underused business skills. The French scientist Blaise Pascal mused that “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” The habit of going to a quiet place on a regular basis and reflecting on the causes, solutions and ultimate benefits of a problem you might be experiencing is one that will profoundly improve the level of your personal and professional effectiveness. Thinking deeply about the way you are doing the things you do increases self-awareness which, in turn, prevents future mistakes. Let your past failures serve you. Transform your stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Unless you reflect – then correct – the mistakes of your past, you are doomed to repeat them.

 

I can not agree more to this practice. Do you know how I came to write this blog? It was one afternoon where I had to sit down and write a once- a- semester reflection assignment from my program director. While writing, I myself came up with the answer to all my problems, which is blogging. Had I not reflected upon myself, the answer wouldn’t have been clear and I wouldn’t have gotten myself doing this very rewarding activity. 

So folks, I hope this piece of mind can inspire you to do the same. Have a wonderful reflection time and I hope that you will be invigorated and motivated to start this year anew. 

Why Ask?

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Questioning led Newton to his numerous wondrous discoveries

One day, a young man named Isaac Newton was laying on the grass underneath an apple tree, when suddenly an apple fell to the ground next to him.  Looking at the apple, his mind wondered: why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground? Why should it not go sideways, or upwards, but directly to the center of the earth?

But how many of us, given that same condition, would question the way the apple falls towards the ground? How many of us question the way things are in our daily lives and wonder if the same things can be done better?

Asking questions is an underrated skill: we think that if we ask a lot of questions, we are not intelligent and do not understand enough. I have experienced myself when somebody asked a question in the middle of a lecture and I secretly deemed those people as weak and not capable enough to think on their own.  A professor in my operation management class last semester however, made me realize something else. He persistently encouraged us to ask questions in the beginning of every class about anything that we were unclear of or anything about the subject we were learning, to the extent that he would punish us with a “pop quiz” if we didn’t come up with a question to ask him. At first I was annoyed by my professor because we simply didn’t have any questions to ask, which implied we had already understood most of the things being taught in the class. Wasn’t that supposed to be good news for my professor?

ImageWell… You have no questions? At all? 

At the same time, the absence of questions in the class also made me wonder why wasn’t anyone asking a question? Why has it become so difficult to produce one? As I got more used to the habit of asking questions in the class, my perception towards questioning changed: asking a question does not merely imply a lack of understanding, rather it shows our intelligence, as it requires critical thinking and curiosity to know more. I began to analyze the materials taught with a critical mind and produce questions for my professor. His explanation in turns helped me to gain a deeper understanding about the subject and discover more insights. I finally realized that asking a question is a step towards understanding and improving the things around us.

Questioning can help us understand what’s happening around us.  Take Sir Isaac Newton, for example. By asking why the apple falls towards the ground, he was set to discover and look deeply into why things are the way they are. This eventually led him to discover the law of gravity, which led him and the world to numerous further findings and breakthroughs. (Although we didn’t really know whether or not the apple incident actually happened like it was told, the falling apple did lead the notion of gravitation into Newton’s mind.) Whether we are given new theories and concepts in school, working with a certain process in the office, or adjusting to a new culture, we can all benefit from asking why things are the way they are. ,After investigating for the answer, we might gain a deeper understanding and more insights, allowing us to perform better at school, office, or at anything that we are working on right now.

When I first learned how to cook, I always follow what my mom does: preheat the pan before adding oil, but I never asked and knew what it was for. The result? My dish was never great, they cooked unevenly, and sometimes they still stuck to the pan. I finally did a research on the internet myself and found out that I didn’t preheat the pan long enough. From that explanation, I also understand why preheating the pan prevents food from sticking and found a better method of doing it, allowing me to produce better dishes. Had I not asked why preheating prevents food from sticking to the pan, I wouldn’t have discovered a better method of preheating the pan and cooked a better dish.

As I’ve experienced above myself, getting the answer to our questions is not just about finding the missing pieces of our understanding, it’s also about improving . Questions are critical towards improvement because they make us challenge the current assumption and think of new ways of doing things. When we ask if our method is good enough or if there’s any way we can better our work, we are setting ourselves on the path towards improvements, even when things are deemed acceptable.

A noteworthy example is Toyota, one of the world’s biggest carmakers, earning top marks from experts and customers alike for quality and innovation. Their success can be attributed to one of its philosophy called “Kaizen”, which means continuous improvement. Kaizen requires all team members in all parts of the organization to continuously look for ways to improve operations. And their number one tool to do that is questioning – what other better methods they can use, how to implement changes, why things don’t work as expected. Questioning prompts them to analyze what they need to improve and enables them to identify problems — the real cause of problems that hinder them from improving. Finding the real cause of a problem will help them to develop methods that can tackle that problem and improve operations.

In fact, Toyota employees are encouraged to use a method of questioning called the ‘5 Whys’ which is a famous technique for problem analysis, enabling people to get to the root of a problem quickly. For example, in my cooking problem, I would first ask “why is my food sticking to the pan?”. After getting the answer that I didn’t preheat the pan enough, then I would ask “why didn’t I preheat the pan?”, which would lead to the next question “why didn’t I know that I have to preheat the pan?” (because I did not pay attention to preparing my utensils before cooking).

The “5 Whys” method had helped me to find the real cause of my problem: I didn’t understand how my utensils work and overlook the small, but important details. Problems often arise with a ‘hidden’ cause, which makes a lot of people fail to analyze the causes of a problem and arrive at the wrong corrective action. By repeatedly asking “why”, we can separate the symptoms from the causes of a problem and arrive at the root-cause of the problem.

Clearly questions can benefit us a lot by helping us to identify the cause of a problem and resolve it. So, how do we start to ask questions again? First, we have to stop thinking that we know enough, or at least assuming that what we know is right. We often take action according to our assumptions but when those mislead us, we end up looking foolish instead of smart. We can start with confirming our knowledge first to avoid making further mistakes, then asking other questions.  Only when we admit that we don’t have the answers to everything, then we can start asking questions.

For some of us, the real difficulty lies in the fear that asking questions makes us look stupid and that’s why we need to let go the fear of looking unsure. In fact, other people might have the same questions but lack the courage to express them. Don’t be afraid to go against the crowd – if no one asks because of the general silence, everyone will remain uncertain and in doubt. So when you don’t understand something, ask questions and be the minority who chose to understand more.  

Of course, those steps are easier said than done. Borrowing my professor’s words: “It is painful, but very fruitful.” Letting go of our ego, fear, and wish to blend into the crowd requires a change in personality. But it is an attitude that we can always train and hone, and when we do, we will contribute not just to our personal success but also to society.

So, you might want to ask yourself: have you been cooking your omelet properly? Or, is there any other way you can make it better?

 Note : I wrote this article for Youngandbright.net, republished. The photo above is not mine. 

 

Underpricing Twitter's IPO: Smart move?

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Just one month ago, Wall Street helped yet another member of Silicon Valley to raise capital. Twitter Inc, the innovative, ground-breaking social media phenomenon decided to issue shares to the public in a form of an IPO (Initial Public Offering) as to raise capital for its yet – to – profit business. Wall Street’s big names such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan all helped to underwrite their offering, with the first being the “left lead”, taking the prime role in the IPO. 

The result? USA Today called the IPO a “huge success” and the Times mentioned that Twitter had “managed to avoid the missteps that marred Facebook’s initial public offering last year“. Anthony Noto, the Goldman Sachs banker who led the IPO tweeted “Phew!”, revealing just the huge relief off his shoulders after managing a successful IPO. TWTR opened with a price of $26 a share, and ended the first day at $45, which is a 70% surge in price, making it the sixth highest surge in the IPO history. 

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A roller coaster ride for our darling chirpie

If we look at the price tag, we can say that Twitter underpriced itself. The micro-blogging company could have bagged $45 x 70 million = 3.1 billion instead of $26 x 70 million = 1.82 billion. We know that the aim of an IPO is to gather as large capital as possible from the larger public, so that the company can reinvest in itself and develop technologies that can improve its business. The huge surge did nothing to achieve this as Twitter obtained its money (that is $1.82 billion) the night before the trade, when they sold their shares at $26 each to the underwriters. 

The big question here is who’s the biggest winner from Twitter’s IPO? While we know that it’s probably not Twitter, the answer might not be so surprising: the people at Goldman Sachs. Let’s look at this case from the point of view of the world’s arguably most prestigious investment bank. Goldman Sachs, like many other companies, prides itself in putting their clients first. In the IPO, Goldman Sachs clients are two fold : Twitter and their individual investors. 

Twitter 

Even though Twitter did not bag as much capital as they could have and left so much money on the table, monetary benefit is not the only benefit out there. We also have to take into consideration the long-term benefit of a successful IPO and the goodwill to its shareholders.

Learning from Morgan Stanley’s struggle in keeping Facebook’s share price at the offering (they themselves had to buy the shares to keep the price floating above $38!), the guys at Goldman Sachs kept the Twitter’s price at a modest tag. It’s like satisfaction management: if you keep the expectation low enough, you will capitalize higher satisfaction at the end. Whether or not they saw the huge surge coming, their tactic worked. The price surge and high valuation made the headlines of almost all leading newspapers, positively contributing to Twitter’s image. As the stock market based its valuation on information, gaining a positive information is paramount. 

When asked about the underpriced shares and the fact that it left much money on the table, Twitter and its advisers “judged that the additional money wasn’t worth what could have been sacrificed had they priced it higher, namely good will with long-term investors who they hope will buy more shares in future offerings.” Indeed, the folks in Twitter are not just modest but also forward looking. 

Investors 

The direct beneficiaries of this offering is of course the investors, the happy clients of the bank. They are the ones who will be basking in the price surge, buying the shares at $26 on Wednesday and selling them at $45 the next day. 

Goldman Sachs

Both Twitter and the happy investors are direct clients of Goldman Sachs. By benefitting them (one way or another) the investment banks is benefitting itself. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs, told Vauhini Vara from The New Yorker, “Our sales teams naturally make an effort to understand how client trading strategies perform over time. That’s an essential part of good client service, and clients, of course, consider their investment results when deciding whether to do more business with Goldman Sachs or any other firm.” Yes, they said it themselves! Satisfied clients means more business. For corporations who are looking to do an IPO, Goldman Sachs has closed the deal for Twitter in a fashionable way. For individual investors looking to gain from their investment, Goldman Sachs has benefitted the Twitter’s investors millions of dollars. The firm has built a strong reason for clients to use their service in the future. 

Besides the stated benefit above, the banks also reaped revenues in the form of fees, which in this case is 3.25% out of the total $1.82 billion (this pool is later on divided amongst Goldman, Morgan Stanley, and JP, with Goldman claiming the highest share). While it is the smallest fee rates among US IPO in 2013, again, the banks were still willing to undertake the high-profile project in the hope of generating future businesses. 

Another win for Goldman Sachs is its come back in the IPO war with competitors such as Morgan Stanley. Goldman has rebalanced itself as a serious leader and competing against Morgan Stanley, who dominated the tech IPOs. According to Bloomberg, Twitter’s IPO is the largest that Goldman Sachs has led for a U.S. technology or Internet company, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Taking the prime spot in Twitter’s offering has helped the investment bank to bounce back after losing the spot on social-media IPOs from LinkedIn to Facebook. 

While it is still too early to predict whether the underpricing is beneficial towards Twitter, I think everybody agrees that Goldman Sachs emerges as the clear winner. 

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Applause, Applause, Applause 

Note : all photos are not mine. Sources are recognized through hyperlink. 

 

The secret of happiness?

Not my favorite video, but I feel that I’m obligated to share or credit my inspiration for the approach of my blog.

What’s the secret of happiness? Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, spoke in front of the TED audience and suggested that happiness is born from gratitude. His key message for us is to be grateful at every moment, as they have been given to us. At his best, he left us with a catchy approach : stop. look. go.

The soothing tunes of the lovebirds…

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Steamy pictures of the couple included in the promo! (Vanity Fair)

Go to this LINK to listen 

Just wanna share with you guys a track from one of my favorite artist, John Mayer, featuring his on – and – off again girlfriend, Katy Perry. 

Although it’s very obvious that the lyrics are meant for both of them, the artist insisted that it’s meant for anybody out there in love… You can’t run away from Who You Love! (JM + KP both finally realize this…) 

 

Stop. THINK. Do.