Remember Me

This story didn’t quite go to plan. I didn’t get the reactions I was expecting. I underestimated the awkwardness of the subject. The self-deprecating parts elicited pity, when I had been going for laughter. My mind blanked and I fumbled in quite a few important places. There was applause in a part that I totally wasn’t expecting. I even had a heckle (which, to make matters worse, was entirely justified).

But I’m still happy that I did it. And I’m sharing it in case it’s a story someone out there needs to hear this Christmas.

Thanks go to Clara and the team at Unravel Shanghai, for the amazing community they have built around their monthly storytelling series. Thanks to Lisa, Fred, Shaun, and all the friends (and strangers) in the audience. And thanks to Denny, to Jennifer, and to my family for all their love and support.

How Diverse Is Your Daily News Intake?

In order to truly understand different world perspectives, I regularly dip into various daily news sources. These are my Top 9 news apps, listed alphabetically and selected on the basis of diversity of opinion.

It’s like attending an advanced course in comparative media studies every day; to experience how different audiences are being presented with the same story (or, on many days, entirely different stories) is both fascinating and discomforting.

But how else to navigate today’s balkanised media landscape? How else to maintain empathy (and create foundations for meaningful debate) with others? And how else to challenge one’s own unconscious political biases?

The Magnificent Power of “I Don’t Know”

 

Where Knowing Everything Means Knowing Nothing

In my early days as a consultant, it was always tempting to come up with an answer to any question a client would ask me. The classic Fake-It-‘Til-You-Make-It Strategy. Or there was the Deflection Strategy, where you can politely dodge a question with phrases such as “I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that…” or “Here’s what I can tell you…”.  I’ve seen plenty of other panicky nonsense too. The Give-An-Answer-To-An-Entirely-Different-Question Strategy works surprisingly well, especially if the client isn’t really listening properly in the first place. And then there’s the Buy-Time-With-A-Long-Winded-Answer-So-That-Everyone-Forgets-The-Original-Question Strategy. Sorry, where were we?

I am grateful to have been surrounded by mentors who demonstrated how to avoid these traps. And these days, I really enjoy saying ‘I don’t know’. When you confess to not knowing the answer to one question, it accentuates the credibility of all your other answers. So while there’s certainly a skill in being able to concoct intelligent answers to every single question, be careful not to bury your bright diamonds of knowledge under a thick layer of coal.

Maybe This Time I Should Shut Up and Listen

You’re a thoughtful, worldly, professional human being, and you have every right to express your opinion on any topic you choose. But there are times when saying “I don’t know” is a matter of deference to others who have more depth of personal knowledge or experience. There’s something powerful about admitting that you still need to learn from others on a particular topic rather than professing to know all the answers yourself.

Personally, I have loved sharing details from the fifteen years I have lived and worked in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. But when I’m asked questions such as “What do they think of this in Japan?” or “What do they do about that in China?”, I’m very wary to give an answer unless I’m sure that I can make an accurate generalisation. In this regard, saying ‘I don’t know’ can be a sign of humility, rather than a sign of ignorance. I wish that more news commentators would at least preface their opinions with similar disclaimers. Or indeed more privileged white males when asked their opinion of the #MeToo movement…

Authenticity, Vulnerability and Curiosity

In business as in personal life, we need to be our authentic selves. It’s just too tiring trying to be anyone else. So if you’re in a situation where you don’t know, admitting so can be a great way of breaking down walls and building trust. There’s a time for confidence and assertiveness, and then there’s a time for refreshing honesty.

The world is bewilderingly complex, and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if we can’t speak intelligently on the geopolitics of Syria, the effects of climate change, and the workings of Blockchain for a combined ten minutes. But there’s a difference between perpetual curiosity and willful ignorance. We need to be continual learners and embrace each ‘I don’t know’ not as a badge of pride, but as a prelude to discovering more.