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You are poor because you have no ambition.

Jack Ma: Before I founded Alibaba, I invited 24 friends to my house to discuss the business opportunity. After discussing for a full two hours, they were still confused — I have to say that I may not have put myself across in a clear manner manner then. The verdict: 23 out of the 24 people in the room told me to drop the idea, for a multitude of reasons, such as: ‘you do not know anything about the internet, and more prominently, you do not have the start-up capital for this’ etc etc.

There was only one friend (who was working in a bank then) who told me, “If you want to do it, just try it. If things don’t work out the way you expected it to, you can always revert back to what you were doing before.” I pondered upon this for one night, and by the next morning, I decided I would do it anyway, even if all of the 24 people opposed the idea.

Jack Ma founding members

When I first started Alibaba, I was immediately met with strong opposition from family and friends. Looking back, I realised that the biggest driving force for me then was not my confidence in the Internet and the potential it held, but more of this: “No matter what one does, regardless of failure or success, the experience is a form of success in itself.” You have got to keep trying, and if it doesn’t work, you always can revert back to what you were doing before.

As with this quote by T.E. Lawrence – “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream in the dark recesses of the night awake in the day to find all was vanity. But the dreamers of day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make it possible.”

jack ma serious

Jack Ma: People lose out in life because of these 4 reasons:

Being myopic to opportunity
Looking down on opportunities
Lacking understanding
Failing to act quickly enough
You are poor, because you have no ambition.

Ambition is living a life of great ideals; a magnificent goal in life that must be realised.

In this world, there are things that are deemed unfathomable, but there is nothing in this world that cannot be done. The depth of one’s ambition determines the potential of one’ future.

The Story of Juliet Wu Shihong – one of China’s first-generation professional managers, who gained success by working her way up the ranks from a cleaner, a nurse, a marketing executive, through self-education and learning on the job.

Juliet Wu Shihong

She had been the general manager for the world’s most famous multinational IT groups’ Chinese branches (Microsoft 1985-1998; IBM 1998-1999). She is also China’s first successful international corporate executive to join the executive team of a domestic private firm. Wu was seen as a symbol of the new generation of business executives that China has produced in its economic reform and opening-up.

When Wu started off in a big company working from the lowest ranks, her daily job was to pour tea and sweep floors. Once, because she forgot her staff pass, the company’s guard stopped her at the door and denied her entry. She explained to the guard that she was indeed one of the company’s employees, and that she had merely left the building for a short while to purchase office supplies.

Despite her pleas, the guard still did not allow to enter. As she stood at the gate, she watched as those of similar age to her, but smartly dressed in business attire walking through without having to show their passes.

She asked the guard, “Why are these people allowed through without producing a pass?” The guard dismissed her coldly nonetheless.

That was the turning point for Wu – she felt great shame, her self-esteem trampled on.

She looked at herself, dressed in shabby clothes and pushing a dirty push cart. Looking back at those dressed in smart attire, her heart felt a deep ache from the sudden realization of the sorrow and grief from being discriminated. From that moment, she vowed never to allow herself to be shamed like this again, and to become world-famous.

Since then, she used every opportunity to enrich herself. Every day, she was the first to arrive at work, and the last one to leave. She made every second count, spending her time learning the ropes. Her efforts soon paid off; she was made a sales representative, and quickly progressed to being the regional general manager of this multinational company in China. Wu did not possess strong academic qualifications, and was revered as the ‘Queen of Part-timers’. Subsequently, she assumed the position of GM of IBM China. This is the Wu Shihong, the heroine in China’s business circle.

Juliet Wu Shihong
If not for the incident, Wu Shihong would not have had the ambition to become rich, and her life would have taken a very different path then.

You are poor because you do not have the desire to become successful.
You are poor because you lack foresight.
You are poor because you cannot overcome your cowardice.
You are poor because you lack the courage and determination.
With ambition you can overcome all inferiority and maximise your potential!
With ambition you can persevere, continuously learn new things and strive for perfection.
With ambition you can defy all odds, and create miracles when others daren’t.
No matter how poor your family is, do not doubt your own abilities and lose sight of your ambition.

When your family deems you worthless, no one will pity you.
When your parents do not have money to pay the medical bills, no one will pity you.
When you are beaten by your competitors, no one will pity you.
When your loved ones abandon you, no one will pity you.
When you have not accomplished anything by the time you are 35, no one will pity you.
Go big, or go home. Otherwise, you’re wasting your youth.


St Mary’s Church, San Francisco

Minimalism is not that you should own nothing. But that nothing should own you.

The overall keynote of Eights is expansiveness. The psyche of the Eight is “volcanic,” as if a massive force were constantly moving outward to impact or dominate the environment. The primary force is aggression that is directed toward the external world by the Eight’s formidably strong ego.

Actor–observer asymmetry (also actor–observer bias) explains the errors that one makes when forming attributions about the behavior of others (Jones & Nisbett, 1971). When people judge their own behavior, and they are the actor, they are more likely to attribute their actions to the particular situation than to a generalization about their personality. Yet when an observer is explaining the behavior of another person (the actor), they are more likely to attribute this behavior to the actors’s overall disposition rather than to situational factors. This frequent error shows the bias that people hold in their evaluations of behavior (Miller & Norman, 1975). Because people are better acquainted with the situational (external) factors affecting their own decisions, they are more likely to see their own behavior as affected by the social situation they are in. However, because the situational effects of anothers’ behavior are less accessible to the observer, observers see the actor’s behavior as influenced more by the actor’s overall personality. The actor-observer asymmetry is a component of the ultimate attribution error.

This term falls under “attribution” or “attribution theory”. The specific hypothesis of an actor-observer asymmetry in attribution (explanations of behavior) was originally proposed by Jones and Nisbett (1971), when they claimed that “actors tend to attribute the causes of their behavior to stimuli inherent in the situation, while observers tend to attribute behavior to stable dispositions of the actor” (p. 93). Supported by initial evidence, the hypothesis was long held as firmly established, describing a robust and pervasive phenomenon of social cognition.

The art of living … is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.


Virtually all acts of greatness are the work of an ensemble.

Keith Yamashita

Myth of Reality

August 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

But the myth is in fact a myth. “Reality” is not fixed—it’s a phenomenon that arises in language. The world does not speak, only we do. Each moment’s meaning “occurs” against a background of understanding, and how the world “occurs” to us lives in language—it’s there that access to restoring our power lies. From there, we can reveal and dismantle old assumptions about the way things have been or the way we thought they had to be. Reality is declarative, interpretive, and actionable—we have dominion in the world of saying. Recognizing that shifts our relationship to the world. It doesn’t just lead to a different view, it gives us hands-on access to a world that’s malleable and open to being invented. It’s where transformation lives.

Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.
~ Jean-Paul Sartre

My son recently entered college, so I’ve thought often lately about my own undergraduate days at the University of California at Santa Cruz and what remains of them in my world view. If I had to pick just one thing I took away from those four years it would be existentialism. 

The word “existentialism” is much misused and for many people calls to mind gloomy film noirs, smoky cafes on the Boulevard St. Germain and impenetrable texts, but at its heart is a really simple precept. We are born free; we make our own choices; and we are responsible. Or as Jean-Paul Sartre, who created the term, put it: Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

Sartre also coined the slogan “existence precedes essence,” which contains the core of the philosophy in just those three words. No generic account of what it means to be human can be given, since that meaning is decided in and through existing itself. In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind of entities they are, what is essential to a human being—what makes you who you are—is not fixed by your type but by what you make of yourself, what you become.

The relevance to free agency is clear. Outside organizational life, you are on your own, the possibilities are unlimited, and you are responsible for your own successful outcomes based on the choices you make and the actions you take. Whether you find that prospect liberating or terrifying says a great deal about your fitness for the freelance life. 

I can’t claim any degree of existential scholarship, and to be honest, when I picked up Sartre’s seminal work Being and Nothingness for the first time in 30 years, I found it pretty tough sledding. Fortunately, people more clever than I have reduced his knotty prose to an actionable rationale. Jay Ogilvy, a co-founder of the Global Business Network, devised this list:

Five Principles of Existential Strategy

1. Finitude. You can’t be all things to all people. If you’re not saying “no” to some possibilities, then you’re not acting strategically.
2. Being-Toward-Death. No one is too big to fail, to die, to go bankrupt. Gliding on momentum can lead to a crash.
3. Care. Define your interests more precisely than ROI or return to shareholders. If you don’t know where you stand, you’ll fall for anything.
4. Thrownness. You have a past; you have experiences and core competencies. Know them, use them, and don’t forget them.
5. Authenticity. Don’t be bound by your past. Feel free to reinvent yourself and your company for an uncertain future.

Ogilvy created the list for companies, so let me offer a little tweaking for solo practitioners. Finitude is the core concept because it is all about making the tough choices between multiple possibilities. The first temptation free agents face is to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes their way. We do this because we worry about passing up the revenue, but also because we don’t want to miss out on something cool. But you can’t do everything, you have to choose. 

Being-toward-death sounds dreadful, but it’s really about understanding that since we are not immortal, we have to make choices and act upon them–right here, right now. As Ogilvy puts it, by acknowledging the finite number of them you’re granted, each day of your life gains both preciousness and a sense of existential urgency. Don’t dawdle, and don’t waste time on jobs that don’t engage you on some meaningful level. 

Martin Heidegger, whose book Being and Time is considered by some to be the culminating work of existential philosophy, focused on care as a feature that differentiates human beings from purely cognitive, Cartesian creatures. Ogilvy defines it as the understanding of what you’re good for, but also what you desire, what you care about, what gives meaning to your life. Successful free agency often means reinventing yourself over and over again, and care provides a grounding that can save you from losing track of who you are and why you went down this path in the first place.

Thrownness is the characteristic that connects you to your past and defines its place in your present. We all started somewhere other than where we are now and it’s best to use that history rather than to try to escape it. Much of what I do these days has nothing to do with daily journalism, but I’m always using the basic toolkit I acquired through reporting: getting people to open up; taking careful notes, rapid analysis and synthesis. I can reinvent myself as a strategy consultant and use all of these competencies; I cannot reinvent myself in a role that requires an entirely different set of skills. 

I like Ogilvy’s definition of authenticity so much that I’ll just paste it here: Authenticity is a way of being true to yourself, but the concept is tricky because, for the existentialist, being true to yourself can’t be defined as being true to your essence. Nor can it be reduced to fulfilling a function. Authenticity demands fidelity to your past, but also openness to possibilities in the future — not just one possibility (that would be a necessity), but several possibilities. Authenticity is being true to both your thrownness and your freedom. It’s making choices among possibilities and taking responsibility for your decisions.

One’s decisions and actions have consequences in organizational life, but they are often blunted or hidden by structural constraints. The free agent is always going beyond what simply is toward what can be: the factual always emerges in light of the possible, where the possible is not a function of anonymous forces but a function of your choices and decisions. You are free and you are responsible. Get used to it. 

[Note: I found a great layperson’s review of existentialism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ]