Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Exercise in Futility

Last period's Negotiations Analysis was a hoot: Horatio proved to be the uber cool nego teacher that previous promotions claimed, and he lived up to his reputation (and unfortunately, only some of our expectations) of delivering an entertaining, high-impact negotiation class.

One of the exercises that I did for that class was the 10 'No's exercise. For the purpose of writing the paper, one is supposed to make requests of people that go beyond what they usually can offer for us: get the bus driver to give a discount on the bus ride; ask for more cockles in the kway teow (truly Singaporean, hehe...). Out of these situations, one is to collect 10 Nos for the purpose of documenting the negotiation process. The purpose was to test one's negotiating ability and to see how one can navigate from a 'No' to a 'Yes'.

The stupid thing was in trying to wrack my head to find the 10 situations to write about.

The even stupider thing was in finding myself in more 'No' situations after the class itself. It is a case of divine providence (or some shit like it): after doing a class about getting people past 'No', I find myself getting more 'No's than before.

Take, for instance, Emirates. I was on a flight out of Paris CDG to Singapore on an Emirates flight with 36kg of baggage, 6 more than the allowed requirement. I asked to check in all 2 pieces of luggage, and was denied. The Emirates staff then said oh-so-nicely something about having the authority to allow an extra 4kg, but the extra 2kg had to be charged at something in the range of 60 euros per kg. That is extreme extortion!

The case is thus: I can bring the 9kg piece on board as hand carry, and the other 27kg piece checked in. BUT I cannot check both in because, together, they exceeded the check-in requirement. However, both pieces EVENTUALLY ended up on the same airplane (Oh... so if I pay, I can expect to carry less and make you more money?). The best was in the explanation of the policy: Emirates won't let me check 36kg in because if that happened, then they open the floodgates to everyone demanding the same treatment.

My cheeky question about whether they indeed have everyone making my apparently 'outrageous' drew heated angry berating from the angry french Emirates lady at the check-in counter - I blew my value creation opportunity right then.

Anyhow, that was back in July. More recently, the last 2 days brought its own drama of 'No's to have permanently scarred my naive self. (Ok, I exaggerate: I am just peeved at not getting them to 'Yes').

Yesterday: the Business Card affair. I needed to make a batch of business cards for schmoozing purposes and went to the INSEAD bookstore (appropriately called FootNote - bottom of the page, small font; INSEAD's bookstore used to be tucked neatly away in some basement) to fill in the application form. The business cards had a section for ONE telephone number. I asked to put in TWO: one for my France mobile, another for my Singapore mobile (I am going back in two months after all).


So, like the diligent nego pugilist that I am supposed to be after Horatio's course, I asked 'Why?'

Because the format is stated as ONE number by the administration and there's no going against it. So they've defered to a higher authority on this matter and refused to do anything about it.

So I looked for other options...

'No.' (I hadn't even fully explained my half-baked suggestions)

The conversation carried on in a similar vein and 'No' was all I got (and I was both courteous and nice in the entire transaction).

The French don't really make it easy: it seems like when their mind is set on a way of doing things, nothing on Earth is going to worm its way out of the set way of doing things.

My most recent 'No' was, for me, an unfortunate one. Having been waitlisted in the PIM course (Psychological Issues in Management) I was hopeful of being able to attend the class. Turnover is usually quite high and being #4 on the waitlist usually means that one can get into the class of choice. But the OB professor was not keen on having more students - he seemed more interesting in whiling the numbers down instead.

So waitlisted students on PIM? No chance.

I asked him about it during the break and yup, 'No.' Albeit in a much nicer tone of voice than the way with which he conducted his expletive laden spiel. His speech may be explicit laden ('Fuck', 'Piece of Shit' - if it were on TV you might as well call it the 'Bleep' show), but what he is teaching has so much relevance to how we relate to one another. Damn I wished I had put in more points into that damn course.

'No' being all that I've heard recently, I'm getting worried about facing the impending job search activities ahead: am I to expect more 'No's?

My feel is that it'll only make the 'Yes' that is to come sound oh-so-sweet. (Yup, I'm still an optimist).

Update: A New Period

The last few days have been one of transition. Physically, I've made the move from Singapore to France again; from the sunny island to the freezing forest. Well, its not all doom and gloom here: its just cloudy and rainy, with nary a ray of sunshine. It didn't help that it showered unrelentingly while I was collecting the car at the airport. It didn't help that I caught a cold today either. Let's hope my mood and that of the weather improves.

Also, it is a transition from the summer break back into school life. I thought I might be able to 'ease' back into P4 with ease; kinda like slipping my fingers into a familiar glove. Unfortunately, 2 months of non-MBA brain activity has rendered me unable to comprehend anything finance-related: WACC is not the sound that a duck makes; RONIC is not a daimyo-less Japanese warrior. And these two things have some funky relationship with growth that determines if your firm is creating or destroying value. Gawd - why am I putting myself through Applied Corporate Finance (ACF) hell?

What's more, P4 (i.e. Sep/Oct) is when the job search kicks into high gear (if it hasn't it should now), i.e. its time to get bloody serious about getting employed for summer sunnies like me. Folks like myself just decided to do summer our own way and thus start P4 with the slight disadvantage of not having done an internship. Two months atrophying away doesn't mean that we've lost the edge - it's just that I think those lucky interned ones who get a job offer might just have an easier time in P4.

Oh I just realised this post has been entirely from a first person perspective so far. It is a lot harder to write personal experiences from another angle, and I guess when my brain is still stunted from the bullet train finance lecture (our ACF faculty just sped through the lesson today), I'm just less inclined to be thoughtful to the reader. :) Sorry, my bad.

In any case, I'll be in France until the end of October, by which point, it'll be too cold for me (I'm a sunnie) and I'll scoot back home to SG. INSEAD is seeing a new batch of fresh-faced P1s and my promotion now finds itself being the senior batch. One year programs are just too fast: six months into it and you're a senior. Four more months and you're out the door a newly minted MBA.

Oh. Two more months and home I'll be.

Guess where I want to be now?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Stringing It All Together - Analogising it

If someone emailed you a notion of hers, and you find it thoughtful, maybe even somewhat meaningful. And after a moment (oh, perhaps something like a month later), you think that it might be something that you want to blog about. Maybe it is an idea, but you want to expand on it, give your own version of it. It's like, taking a song and remixing it - maybe call it the greyscalefuzz blogrot remix (except that it's with a piece of writing). It is essentially your own thing, but with a premise taken from someone else. You know, borrowing, re-doing it... perhaps even giving credit for where it came from.

So, if you did all that, does it count as plagiarism?

I don't know, but if this post gets taken offline for some reason, you know why.


A friend told me in an email (not so long ago) that a relationship is like a piece of thread. When you embark on a new relationship, it is akin to cutting a length of the thread with a pair of scissors. As the relationship progresses along, through all its ups and downs, there might come a point where it breaks into two - perhaps it is an event that prompts a break up, or maybe something like an extended period of being apart. When a thread breaks, it is possible to mend it back together again - perhaps using glue, or maybe some sticky tape.

However, no matter how much the thread gets put together again, it is undeniable that it was separated before - everyone will notice that it has been mended. It's like that patch that one sews onto clothes: the patch covers up a tear or hole, but it is undeniable to one and all that the clothes are ruined and that patch only served to accentuate that. The thread is thus noticeably weaker - everyone around can tell. Why not then cut a new length of thread and start again? Perhaps this new length won't break so easily.

I liked my friend's analogy, but I decided that, like countless analogies I've heard in my life, it bears expanding upon. Think of it as an exercise in helping people make sense of the world: analogies help us manage as if the world was a simpler place to live in. Analogies were the first real and crude (and perhaps even oral) instances of models of the world. Models were built to help people simplify and generalise the world they live in - using analogy is just a way of doing that.

As for the thread analogy, one should think about what the thread is made out of first. Is it nylon thread? Or perhaps just ordinary button sewing string? Or is it layered and thick like a rope? A thick thread made out of a tough material is surely harder to break, or cut, than the ordinary string. It might even bear more weight and can take more strain if anyone tries to pull it apart.

Likewise with a relationship: if the relationship was built on more solid ground, then it is perhaps more able to stand most stress and strain put onto it. A relationship built on common goals, principles, faith, and background has more 'fibre' than one based on lust, money, companionship and availability. When it is important attributes (principles, faith etc) that connect two people, it is less likely that one can find these attributes in other people (probably because it takes too much out of one to dig out such gems).

On another point in the thread analogy, the bit about mending a thread seemed kind of odd. People don't usually mend thread - they just throw it away and use a new one. It should be kind of hard sticking two separate pieces of thread and expecting it will function like a new one, right? Perhaps, instead of a relationship being like a piece of thread, I think everyone is like a thread of their own. When one thread finds another thread, they may want to get together and form a bend knot (something like... tying the knot, but not in the marriage sense). Note: Bend knots are knots formed when two pieces of rope are tied together at the end.

It is the kind of knot tied that determines the strength of the relationship. Oh, and whether the two threads were compatible in the first place (try knotting together sewing thread and nylon). It is not impossible for two incompatible pieces of thread to be knotted together. It depends on what kind of knot is being used to bring the two together. A well-tied knot ensures that the two separate threads stay together under pressure - they don't come apart easily.


Being home now, I sometimes tune into NewsRadio FM93.8 while driving (this being in Singapore). This is largely because it supposedly has more informational content (it does make for less mind numbing fare than the typical morning show tripe). One of the items I do enjoy are the interviews they put on the air, and there was one which I heard three times already (well, they can't do THAT many interviews, so some of them get substantially more airtime).

This interview was with a Singaporean ex-priest with an education in public policy and an MBA to boot. He is now running some sort of leadership coaching program for Singaporean undergraduates. Unfortunately for me, I didn't manage to catch his name (despite 3 hearings of the show), otherwise I would have googled him.

The interviewee witnessed an interesting coaching session using a familiar analogical exercise: a jar is provided to the participants along with the following items: some fist-sized rocks, pebbles, sand and stones of varying sizes. The objective was to fill the jar with as much of the rocks, pebbles and sand as is possible to fit within the jar. As is the case, if one had filled the jar with the sand first, it would have been impossible to put in any of the rocks or pebbles since the sand would have packed the jar tight.

When asked what the exercise had meant, the textbook answer was that the items represented priorities in life, and the rocks and pebbles, being the biggest, were the biggest priorities in life. If they were sorted out first (i.e. placed in the jar) then any space leftover may be filled with the sand (the small things in life). If the small things were to be done first, then there would have been no space for the big items, since the sand would have filled the jar without leaving any room for other stones.

The interviewee then mentioned one particular response he heard which struck as being somewhat very incisive. One participant's view was that the rocks and pebbles, the big things, were one's dreams, while the sand was but the itty-bitty stuff of life. If one were to fill his life living out the itty-bitty stuff, fussing over the mundane and unimaginative, then there would have been no space for the dreams. The dreams, according to this participant at least, are the most important things to address in one's life.


I am wondering, and am still wondering to no end, whether or not I am achieving my dreams: I still don't know what they are, and I still don't know whether the path I am walking down leads unto it. There is no analogy or model that can help direct my life: there is only analogy or model to help me understand how best to live it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Break Up - My Side

This is going to sound like one of those blog entries where the blogger goes out of his/her way to do something outrageous with his/her life. All in the name of having something to blog about that is not so mundane and can actually pull in the eyeballs.

But... that wasn't why I did this.


Ever wondered what it's like to watch this movie with your recent ex?

The Break-Up

For me, it was somewhat surreal. It's like all the bad behaviour you ever displayed in a relationship is magnified and played back to you. For a guy like me, I get to see how insensitive I could have been, even if my proxy was Vince Vaughn. I could have cared a little more, showed some appreciation, yet at times, I just want to do my thing and forget the (perceived by me to be) superficial stuff, the unsubstantial feely things that the woman only hinted at and 'fuzzed' about.

For the ex, perhaps it was a little of a revelation - she came out of the theatre with questions. She came out requiring some answers and perhaps sought to see things from a different perspective (at least, that was what I hoped I saw...) In so doing, she made the inner me smile a little contented smile. It was what I was hoping for - closure. :)


Oh go watch this movie if you like - describing it as a romantic comedy is, in my opinion at least, incorrect.

Before I launch into why, I need to first recall an International Political Analysis (IPA) class that I had back in May, where the professor described Singapore's government as that of a 'Benevolent Dictatorship'. That, of course, drew an objection from a particular Singaporean (take a guess as to who). Said professor then asked to which part the objection was regarding, that Singapore is 'benevolent', or that it is a 'dictatorship'? His implication being that by themselves, the individual words do not describe what the phrase as a whole encompass, and that was what uniquely identified Singapore (a compliment, in less oblique terms).

And this is where my issue regarding 'The Break-Up' resides. The Break-Up is NOT romantic. It is a break-up and even most die hard romantics will be pressed hard to see anything mushy in the proceedings. The break-up is painful for both parties, and at that juncture, it isn't about the romance anymore, but about the practicality (or lack of) in living with another human being. Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) broke up because Gary's (Vince Vaughn) insenstivity went overboard (when Gary's maths failed him in a lemon test and he couldn't care less). What is so romantic about that?

The Break-Up is NOT a comedy - it is extremely painful to see two people go out of their way to hurt each other, and to induce ill-calculated reactions from the significant other. It doesn't make one laugh much (well, it has its moments, but the whole 'comedic' theme of a couple slugging out for a condo gets shafted by the emoting of the leads). Comedies have a nice neat way of wrapping things up, with the typical happy endings and with messy situations tidily resolved. The Break-Up stayed that way: they broke up.

So does it qualify as a romantic comedy? Not strictly. Most rom-coms end the other way - with boy meeting girl and hooking up. Meet, swoon, kiss, smiles, roll credits. The Break-Up started when things get messy: when 12 lemons became 3 and the lady of the house didn't get her talking point of a table centrepiece. Romantic comedies are like Sleepless in Seattle, where despite the odds, the leads end up together. The Break-Up is where, despite all odds (ok, when a girl walks around your apartment naked, it is NOT because she wants you to wank off in the bathroom later), the leads split up.

So what kind of a movie is it?

Definition and categorisation notwithstanding, it is a movie to watch for those times when you wonder why a relationship ever broke up. For a partner to watch it with, there is none better to recommend than with a recent ex: I think that it is a good way to invite a closer examination into the workings of a concluded relationship. No matter the circumstances of your break-up, seeing a break-up rom-com is a good way to seek closure.

Having closure, after all, is the most healthy way that people should part: leaving with a better understanding of themselves, the lessons learnt, and why things can be done better.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Google-Addled and Familiar Sights from London

A couple of weeks back, I decided to make this website contribute a little to the greyscalefuzz get-rich-and-retire fund by adding Google ads. Making this blog a somewhat more commercially viable enterprise was just an exercise in seeing what that new-fangled Google tool could do. And I ended up being more interested in what ads they pulled out with the words written on my entries.

One thing that caught on immediately was my brief reference to the D_a Vin_ci Co_de - lots of links to Christian websites debunking Mr Brown's wild theories. Another one that was more recent gave me a link to a site that had a detailed theological explanation of Jo_hn chapter 1. Interesting stuff - I think it is good to know that a true reading of the bible need also involve some understanding of the context, and the language it was originally written in.

(Oh, in case you're wondering what explains those underscores... '_', I'm trying to see if they fool GoogleAds - I don't really want the same results returned again, like a broken record... that annoying thing)



I kind of liked and disliked London all at the same time. I've always liked old cities with a lot of history and culture behind it. Everything is in English - the signs, the announcements on the Tube, the maps. Everything is immediately understandable and not too much of a cultural shock. I can actually order a quarter pounder, fries and coke light without tongue twisting in excruciating French, or getting all signy-pointy with Spanish counter staff.

What I hated though was the whole hustle and bustle of a big city - I think any city with a population in excess of 2 million, and owning a subway system qualifies as a big city. And cities having subways are annoying in the way that they swallow individuals up and spew them out in mass quantities at precise locations within them. The crowding makes people short on temper and short on courtesy at times - I've never felt more small and insignificant. I've never felt more swallowed up than in London (perhaps I might feel the same in Tokyo; I've certainly felt that in New York)


London Eye (clouds are all this eye sees) - Img2006-07-13-0147-1 (Southwest England & London)
The London Eye when your eye cannot see the whole of it from the bottom up.

Everything London (the Ben, the Eye, and the Double Decker) - Img2006-07-13-0125-1 (Southwest England & London)
A small pic to show you everything London: the double decker, Big Ben, part of the London Eye, and the unholy mating of the London Cab and Hello Kitty (pink cab, bottom right)

London Eye - Img2006-07-14-0029-1 (Southwest England & London)
Squinty-eyed me 'flying' on the London Eye. Didn't help that I seldom trusted strangers with my camera, so I held it by myself.

Tower Bridge - Img2006-07-14-0100 (Southwest England & London)
Kids, this is the Tower Bridge. NOT the London Bridge of that nursery rhyme fame.

Holding Hands - Img2006-07-14-0131-1 (Southwest England & London)
My favourite pic from London does not show anything Londony at all. :) A couple holding hands and walking away. Ahhh....

Double Decker, London - Img2006-07-13-0092-1 (Southwest England & London)
Picadilly Circus (did I get that right?) Busy junction et al.

Tube, London - Img2006-07-13-0101 (Southwest England & London)
Scene from one of those ubiquitous Tube stations. Someday, I got to go back and get a better shot at these places - damn hard with people walking all over the place and shoving you towards the tracks.

See other pics of London here

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Word

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." John 1:1-5
One of the most abstract ideas that came from the bible was concerning the Word. The Word from the above passage obviously refers to Jesus. But just as simply, I think the passage is trying to hint at the power of the spoken word - Jesus, being God's son, came to the World to spread His Word, and it was with such a notion that the writer of the Gospel of John regarded Jesus.

(Oh, on a side note, theologians will actually use this phrase to expound on a whole load of information, such as that this phrase explicitly mentions Jesus as God, and not as a being created by God. As such, he isn't man, but God in the flesh.)

Anyhow, I just wanted to start with something that brings me to my real topic: words are powerful things, whether they be written or spoken. Words have the power to change or even to stymie change, and the first instance of such a thing happening (and again I quote from the bible) was when God created the world: Let there be light, and there was light. Amazing how something spoken (albeit by a omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent being like God) can have the power to create and to bring forth something new.

But that's just the bible... or is it? How is it that we, as mere human beings, have allowed words to affect how we act or how we feel? How is it that we have afforded mere words that much power?


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I disagree - I think words can hurt. I know - I've experienced it so personally before. When you love someone and he/she doesn't love you back, gentle words to decline may soothe the pain. But when someone prefers a quick and dirty way out of a sticky situation, the nastier words the better.

Words can hurt, but I hear it is only because we let them. Can one really be that insensitive to another's utterance or opinion? The answer as I have learnt to say it: It depends.

But I shall not elaborate. :)


My favourite comic book author (so far) is Alan Moore, the original creator of works such as V for Vendetta, A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Watchmen. Look out for the movies, but don't bother looking for any credits to Mr Moore though - only a genius dissociates from the bastardization of his own work.

In any case, one of his less well known comics was Top Ten. A not so major character (but important to the plot) from the story was called Harry Lovelace, the hostage negotiator otherwise known as 'The Word'. The Word's power (it is a comic book and he is a super hero amidst a book filled with them) comes from his ability to compel people who hear him speak obey him. He is very, in a word, persuasive.

See, all he has to say is 'Put your hands up!' and you're compelled to do just that, without any rhyme or reason to. I think it is an especially useful ability to have: need cash? Just compel people on the street to hand the money in their wallets to you. Want sex? Just ask for it.

But the Word is really a metaphor more than a real character - the Word is like that character you have to obey in real life. The boss, your sergeant, the missus. Anyone with the power to say something to make you do an action, or to feel an emotion. Like an order issued for you to quickly get an assignment done. Or a guilt trip to emotionally blackmail you for not buying her flowers for her birthday.

(Sidenote: I think that being the Word in the comic book isn't all it is cut out to be though. Suppose you can't turn that ability off, and whatever you say is going to be taken literally. You can't really joke around much, like when someone tells some really kick-ass joke, and you're laughing your hardest, and you happen to utter "Ah you're killing me". Imagine what the consequences would be.)

So, in a way, having the power of the Word - whether it means that you're the one with the power to order someone, or to create specific emotions in someone else - you are responsible for the words you speak, so speak them with care.


In a recent episode of the anime xxxHoLiC, a character, one of a pair of twins, has an inferiority complex. She lets whatever she hears about herself influence her person, and much of what she had heard were negative comments from her twin sister. In and of itself, the words that she had heard were not meant to limit her abilities - the fact is that she herself acts as an amplifier for the words spoken, and they become a limiting mechanism.

Simply put, if you keep hearing someone say that you're clumsy, and you believe it to be true, then you will be clumsy.

Perhaps it comes down to 2 factors... no 3 factors: the issuer, the receiver and the amplifier. The issuer speaks, the receiver listens, but it's the amplifier that makes either something sound trivial, or makes it the most compelling thought-provoking message ever heard. (And here I start getting reminded of my uni days as an electrical engineering undergrad - hard to imagine now, but those amplifiers we were all made to build have such enormous philosophical relevance, and yet, we were so caught up in the capacitors, resistors and general circuitry of it all that we fail to see the amplifier as nothing more than a goddamn hindrance to graduation)

The amplifier comes in many forms but I believe the one most important is that amplifier inside of oneself. Some people I know manage to tune that amplifier to only hear what they want to - like a low-pass filter of sorts, they filter off all the high frequencies and hear the good parts (the bass). Some others are unable to hear the good parts, and tune in only to negative comments, on which they remind themselves of their fragility.

I can't offer a way to tune that amplifier to hear the whole message though, and it is only human to tune in or tune out as we see fit. Perhaps it is important to realise that we inherently tune the messages we hear, and that should be sufficient to know. I have always heard that it is important to analyse what you hear in the context of what the issuer is saying - perhaps that is where I shall start now.

I shall start listening - without tuning.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fuzzy Logic

A famous song goes this way:

"Feelings... nothing more than feelings... Trying to forget... my feelings of love"


It is so hard to answer that simple question "How are you?" without either feeling like I'm not being entirely truthful, or not being entirely succinct. How do you sum up a whole baggage worth of roller-coaster emotions into a supple little paragraph? How do you say the right words, without saying too much, and not sounding like you're copping out of a simple question?

"Fine, I guess."

Wrong answer. It invites more questions.

"You guess? What do you mean? You're fine but not exactly?"

Perhaps "Fine" would have done it. But when your heart is worn on your sleeve, when your face is the reason for your failure in poker tournaments, you know you aren't getting away with a simple answer.

Which is where I face my biggest problem: explaining. No words can fully capture absolutely the emotions that I've felt, or the stupid thoughts that I have thought about. Something can be both true and untrue, much like in fuzzy logic.

I am both happy and unhappy. Happy that things turned out well. Unhappy that things didn't turn out the way I wanted them to.

I am both sad and not sad. Sad that more than 2 years is taken to finally see the inevitability of a disintegration. I'm not sad that it finally dawned on the more courageous one to take the penultimate step towards separation.

I am both surprised and not surprised. Surprised that it had to come during a period of time when nothing registered on the 'danger' radar, that the seas looked calm and winds didn't deliver torrential rain. I am not surprised; we have been living in the eye of the storm for too long, calmly cruising along in the centre of the maelstrom that is a malformed union.

I am both frustrated and not frustrated. Frustrated that my efforts towards keeping the flames alive for the past 2 months were wasted, that it seemed like nothing I did over that period created any impression at all. I am not frustrated with you; the issue had to be dealt with sooner or later - it was just the timing of it all.

I am both resigned and not resigned. Resigned that I'm just not the one right now; resigned to the notion that the attraction isn't there anymore. Not resigned to the fact that someone might be better out there, for no one is a perfect match, ever.

We are friends but not really friends. Friends we were when we first met and friends we return to. But that special moniker known as 'ex' is tagged forever, unless unlikely circumstances alter that hard-to-accept reality.

We forge on - friends.