If You Can’t Afford To Learn From Your Own Mistakes, It’s Cheaper To Learn From Others’

mistakes

I’m a firm believer that it is alright to make mistakes in the workplace. It’s the best form of education – as long as you’re willing and able to afford the tuition.

The tuition comes in many forms: a financial cost, a negative impact to your career or reputation… well, you get the idea.

So, if you can’t afford to learn from your own mistakes, it could be cheaper (and safer) to learn from the mistakes of others.

The Sound Of Empowerment

leighuberbeethovenlaunch

This week was one of my more awesome weeks on the job at Uber: publicly launching app update features for hearing-impaired driver-partners in Singapore and Malaysia!

This is the kind of technology-changing-the-world awesomeness that I signed up for!

Internally codenamed “Beethoven” – after the master-composer who was deaf himself – these app features are designed to help hearing-impaired driver-partners earn an income to support themselves and their loved ones on the Uber platform. To develop these features, Uber’s research team invited hearing-impaired partners to participate in feedback sessions to learn what we could build that would improve their experience.

You can find out more about how the app works here.

In the course of preparing for this event, I really had my paradigm changed and many misconceptions broken – especially when I went through the research on road safety in the case of hearing-impaired drivers. Did you know, there was no evidence indicating a higher risk for deaf and hard of hearing drivers? The majority of the relevant information we receive to drive is visual, and there is no evidence to suggest that deaf drivers are at an increased risk for a crash.

  • “Deafness does not in any way limit a person’s ability to drive a car or other vehicles. Consequently, a deaf driver does not constitute a risk for safe traffic. There is no evidence that deaf drivers are involved in more car accidents, or are at any more risk on the road than those with normal hearing.” – World Federation of the Deaf
  • Almost 100 countries around the world – in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas – allow deaf people to obtain driver’s licenses. – World Federation of the Deaf survey reports
  • “Evidence from the private driver’s license holder population does not support the contention that individuals with hearing impairments are at an increased risk for a crash.” – 2008 ECRI Report
  • In October 2014, the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that deaf truck drivers were allowed to obtain commercial drivers licenses (CDL) and attend CDL training schools. – FMCSA

The greatest highlight for me (and others in the team) was the stories of the driver-partners themselves! In Singapore, I got a chance to hear Andrew’s story and meet a really bubbly guy called Roland, who has conducted almost 3,000 trips and even runs a WhatsApp group to support other deaf Uber driver-partners (check out this video of being driven around by Roland here)! In Malaysia, I was introduced to James, a 3D designer in Petaling Jaya who decided to earn some extra income by becoming an Uber driver at night.

All of them were great examples of resilience and character, who overcome their “different-abledness” to become providers for themselves, their loved ones, and to be a productive member of society. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want to have an opportunity to do?

To our hearing-impaired driver-partners, thank you for being part of the Uber experience. This week has really been a blessing to me to be learn from and be inspired by all of you!

More pics from the events in SG and MY available here.

Obsolescence Makes VCR Manufacturers Press Stop

The news that the world’s last manufacturer of Videocassette Recorders (“VCR”) will manufacture its last VCR has gone around the world. 40 years after the first VHS video cassette recorder was manufactured, Japanese consumer electronics company Funai Electric – the last known company making the devices – is ceasing production of its VCR products. The company cited declining sales and difficulty in obtaining the necessary parts as reasons to cease production. At its peak, the company sold 15 million VCRs per year, which has since dwindled down to 750,000 units in 2015 (Frankly, still an astonishing number! Who knew that three-quarters of a million people still bought brand new VCRs?!).

The news caught my attention for a couple of reasons.

Recorded Nostalgia

First of all, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. When I was growing up, we had limited screen time (television, not tablet). My mother would record our TV shows during the week and we’d watch them during the weekend; after homework and revision, of course. Or that time when my friends discussed the first time they saw what was on the tapes dad had hidden away. 😉

I also remembered the “accessories” industry that sprouted around the VCR and VHS tapes. Who didn’t have some sort of VHS tape rewinder placed near their TV stand?

Remember these?!

Fast Forward To The End

Secondly, I was impacted by the fact that obsolescence has claimed yet another victim. Very specifically, it reminded me about the following clip from the movie, Other People’s Money, starring Danny Devito.

The bit when “Larry the Liquidator”, talked about obsolescence with the example of “the last company around […] that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw” is especially powerful for me.

This company is dead.

I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me.

It was dead when I got here. […]

You know why?

Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence.

We’re dead, all right. We’re just not broke.

And do you know the surest way to go broke?

Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw.

I turn to this scene time and time again whenever I think about my career or the brands I am working with (see: “Brands Will Last Forever… Right?” and “A truly innovative agenda and prepping for jobs that do not yet exist“).

Sometimes, it’s not just about product excellence or an endearing (even enduring) brand. Or, if you think about it from a career perspective – it’s not about your productivity or your personality.

It’s about whether you can successfully adapt to defend your place in this world.

Or, as General Eric Shinseki, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff puts it: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

News sources:

Thriving Amidst Disruption – What I’ve Learned Since Joining The Oil & Gas Industry

When I joined Shell, I came in amidst some of the most disruptive times in the industry.

Global oil prices were in free-fall: on my first day of work, I learned that the price of oil had tumbled by 50% – from US$110 per barrel to about US$55 per barrel. Today, as I write this, it is hovering at about $30 per barrel – a dip of over 70%.

Imagine having your bank account shrink by more than two-thirds, without having any ability to mitigate or effect change. And now, “the experts” are talking about prices remaining “lower for longer”, with this potentially being the new normal. For the industry, this has been a seismic shift.

And yet, there has been no better time to be in the industry. Amidst every crisis, there’s an opportunity.

Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to have front-row seats for transformation.

When I was in banking and finance – I led branding and communications amidst one of the longest-drawn, contentious mergers in corporate Malaysia’s history. When I was at Microsoft, the company was going through a transformation from its previous business model of selling enterprise licenses to selling devices and cloud services. Now at Shell, here I am again, finding a way forward to thrive amidst disruption yet again.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Be agile

This means being able to learn quickly, pivot strategically, and execute effectively amidst a constantly changing environment. It means being able to quickly identify and understand the industry, the forces of change, what’s happening, what makes your business viable, and more. Then taking all of that, to formulate a strategy that may involve dramatically and creatively pivoting from familiar terrain into a completely new scenario that becomes “the new normal”. Finally, mustering forward by executing against your strategy effectively (execution is everything, IMHO).

At Shell, this took the form of exploring new forms of energy beyond the traditional “oil and gas” model, which included exploring new frontiers in deepwater and integrated gas. It meant pursuing new and creative engineering solutions to extract more value more efficiently. It has even meant taking what some perceive to be gamble in order to preserve our place in the future of energy.

2) Prioritize ruthlessly

When things are being disrupted, you often don’t have the luxury of time or options – massive change is happening to you, whether you like it or not. Consequently, you need to prioritize ruthlessly – figure out what’s really important to propel things forward. This may mean taking a sober look and making hard choices regarding your budget, people, and even strategic priorities. It might even mean sacrificing your sacred cows.

At the same time, prioritizing ruthlessly means not getting distracted by the noise of everything that is happening. Think about it this way: during an earthquake, even if your valuables or sentimental possessions are crashing down around you, your priority is to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe.

For Shell, this has meant revisiting initial investment opportunities and even enacting divestments. I’ve even been challenged to consider, “What if we did nothing?” – which, admittedly, is an intriguing challenge for someone whose job function requires him to be proactive in “doing something”. And yet, that is the hallmark of prioritising ruthlessly: being laser-focused on what must be done and foregoing anything else that could distract and detract you from your objectives.

3) Stay Positive

When the world as you know it is tumbling down all around you, it can be difficult to remain positive. I hesitate to refer to pop psychology tropes, but I really do think that “tough times never last, but tough people do.” Having a positive outlook – call it hope or even being “cautiously optimistic” (as is the corporate-speak) – is strategically essential for survival.

Having a positive attitude can be underrated or overlooked, amidst all the other more business-like strategies. However, your “invisible” internal resources (whether it’s your own energy and state of mind or whether it’s the company’s morale) is often what fuels your “visible” external achievements.

If you’re going to navigate your way (your business, your organisation, your team, etc.) through disruptive times, you need to see be able to see the world that exists once you’ve been through the disruption and emerged successful at the other end of this journey. In doing so, you keep up the morale and energy to execute effectively.

This was where I was truly grateful for the leaders at Shell. Folks like my immediate supervisor, the Country Chairman, as well as other leaders throughout the organisation (locally, regionally and even globally) were great examples of how to remain positive during tough times. For some of them, they were the final decision maker when it came to making tough calls for the business – which included impacting thousands of jobs. It was tough and sobering, and I was humbled to see that they were indeed affected by the choices they had to make. Even so, they could still see the end-game and kept us all inspired for a world when all of this had passed and we emerged as a stronger organisation that was fit for the future.

 

Communications Is Here To Stay, In Good & Bad Times

My friend Gabey recently wrote a helpful article in PR Week featuring the kind of validation every communications professional seeks after: No matter the economic outlook, there will always be a place for the communications function in an organisation.

This was according to Wendy Heng, associate director for sales & marketing at Robert Walters Singapore, a specialist recruitment firm. She said, “In good times or bad, you’re still going to need a communications practitioner in-house,” adding, “It is a necessary and stable function in most companies and I’ve never seen a huge rise or fall in the number of positions.”

She observed that comms staff tend to escape restructuring or cost-cutting measures because they are viewed as a necessity. She added that if a company does undergo cost-cutting measures, communications roles are typically shielded, as it is one of those functions recognised as a necessity rather than a luxury.

“There is always going to be need for it because how you could not have someone look after external outreach or crisis communications?” she said.

However, while the comms sector is quite stable, it is also a double-edged sword as in-house teams are not big to begin with. “They’re always stretched too thin with a limit to how much external agencies can do. So while its stable, it is also not seen as revenue-generating function so it’s hard to justify additions to the head count – In contrast, the sales function is easier to justify.”

In the same article, Robert Walters’ also shared the findings from their latest annual Global Salary Survey last week. Data published suggested that salaries are expected to remain relatively flat in 2016, though candidates with in-demand skills can anticipate an average salary increment of 10 to 20 percent when switching jobs.

The following are some excerpted salaries from around Asia, from the Robert Walters Global Salary Survey. Salaries are listed in USD per annum, converted from local currencies.

Position Industry sector Salary range (USD)
2015 2016
Sydney, Australia
Communications Manager Banking & Financial Services 77,000 – 91,000 84,000 – 98,000
Senior Brand Manager Sales, Marketing & Communications, Consumer goods 87,000 – 98,000 87,000 – 105,000
Brand Manager Sales, Marketing & Communications, Consumer Goods 66,000 – 84,000 66,000 – 91,000
Shanghai, China
PR manager Sales & Marketing, Cosmetics 30,000 – 76,000 45,000 – 76,000
PR manager Sales & Marketing, Professional Services 45,000 – 84,000 45,000 – 90,000
PR manager Sales & Marketing, Retail & Luxury – National/Regional 45,000 – 90,000 45,000 – 76,000
PR & Events Manager Sales & Marketing, Retail & Luxury – National/Regional 60,000 – 90,000 53,000 – 68,000
Hong Kong, Greater China
Head of Corporate Communications Sales & Marketing, Financial Services 193,000 – 257,000 193,000 – 282,000
Head of Internal Communications Sales & Marketing, Financial Services 167,000 – 205,000 167,000 – 218,000
Corporate Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, Financial Services 77,000 – 116,000 77,000 – 128,000
PR Manager Sales & Marketing, Retail 58,000 – 83,000 64,000 – 90,000
Jakarta, Indonesia
Marketing Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, Marketing 28,000 – 33,000+ 28,000 – 42,000+
PR Manager Sales & Marketing, Marketing 23,000 – 33,000+ 23,000 – 36,000+
Tokyo, Japan
Communications Manager / Director Sales & Marketing, Retail & Hospitality 59,000 – 110,000 59,000 – 110,000
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Communications Director Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (consumer) 42,000 – 62,000 42,000 – 65,000
Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (consumer) 25,000 – 37,000 25,000 – 37,000
Communications Director Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (IT&T / Industrial) 42,000 – 62,000 42,000 – 62,000
Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (IT&T / Industrial) 20,000 – 28,000 20,000 – 34,000
Singapore
Corporate Affairs Director Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 98,000 – 125,000+ 98,000 – 140,000+
Public Relations Director Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 84,000 – 125,000+ 84,000 – 125,000+
Corporate Communications Manager Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 56,000 – 84,000+ 56,000 – 84,000+
Public Relations Manager Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 49,000 – 84,000 49,000 – 84,000
Corporate Communications Director Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 105,000 – 175,000 105,000 – 175,000
Public Relations Director Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 84,000 – 140,000+ 84,000 – 140,000+
Corporate Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 56,000 – 105,000 56,000 – 105,000
Public Relations Manager Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 56,000 – 84,000 56,000 – 84,000
Bangkok, Thailand
Public Relations Director Sales & Marketing, Consumer & B2B 42,000 – 55,000 44,000 – 61,000
PR Manager Sales & Marketing, Consumer & B2B 24,000 – 42,000 27,000 – 44,000
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Corporate Affairs Director Sales & Marketing, Marketing 90,000 – 105,000 84,000 – 105,000

Full article here.