Had another conversation with Mum during another one of those long driving. It was sad to hear that little stall we painstakingly built up for 8 years had been, at least from what I gathered, ran down to the ground by the owner to took over the business. In 1-2 years, the stall went from the most to the least popular stall in the canteen.

I was curious why things turned out that way. Mum actually spent a few good months showing the new owner the ropes before leaving for good. It was a little heartbreaking for me to impact all the know-hows Mum, Jen and I learnt the hard way to another person but we decided to do to the best ability. So Mum taught everything she could, not just the procedures of running the stall but the philosophies behind the success as well.

For a close observer and PT helper of the little stall from its inception, I always thought our success was due to the mechanics of the business that I designed. One basic principle was to order stuff in bulk for price discount, as far as we could since we had limited storage space. Another simple one would be taking advantage of whatever economy of scale we could find in our workflow. On top of that, a creative ever-changing menu to freshen up the feel of the stall. Of course, these wouldn't be enough without great customer service, which had to be attributed solely to Mum and her assistant, who ran the front end of the business daily. I thought that was that - the secrets of our little success.

Only after hearing the stall wasn't doing well at all, I realised that these were not enough. The workflow was only the heart of the business but the philosophy behind it was the soul. Without the soul, any workable solutions or model could be ran to its knees, as it seemed. So years after shamelessly taking credit for success just because I designed every mechanic of the workflow, I realised I didn't deserve a single ounce of it because Mum's philosophy of running the stall was the soul that bound everything else together. Without that, everything simply broke apart, shattered into bits of useless entities of their own.

Mum probably did not even know she was business-wise. To her, success came from hard work for everyone who played a part. In fact, she repeated that again when she was lamenting sadly what it could have been for the new owner. "Lai chiong boh tyun ma," she went. It was a simple concept, yet extremely powerful. A direct translation would be to cut off from the long to support the deficiency of the short or 拉长补短 in Chinese. Despite it's simplicity, the concept could be profound because of the difficulty of defining what is 'long' and 'short' when running a business. When I did a reflection and recollection, I realised this principle was applied in every aspect of the business and not just pertaining to the end product only.

The essence of this idea was that it served as a balance between the strengths and the shortcomings of your business, be it the aptitude of staff, logistic limitation, product and price restriction .... everything. It is like life or health in general, only by balancing the yin and the yang, things works smoothly as we preferred it to. To apply this principle to employment or even migration, it is useful to know we cannot win every battle, all the time. I must take back my words against Emeritus Goh Chok Tong, who coined the term, "Net happiness," which received plenty of ridicule from the public, myself included. I am willing to give the Emeritus the benefit of doubt that he didn't literally mean Singaporeans should be happy because the balance sheet said. To be fair to him, the balance sheet, if it existed, probably showed a surplus back then. I'm not too sure about today. It could look like SMRT's last quarter's balance sheet.

Finally people here who come for migration related reads, if you are thinking moving to Australia (or any other country) you may want to use this approach to manage your expectations of migration. There is paradise in this world. Your property agent will tell you to pick two from the three categories:- 1) Cheap 2) Good location 3) but a house with all these factors doesn't exist. Even the pimp in Geylang will ask you to pick two out of the three catagories:- 1) Young and pretty 2) Cheap 3) Big boobs. Migration isn't as simple as picking two options out of three or be prepared to pay for it. Though many people found their happiness in their adopted home, they were prepared and probably went through their share of hardships. Most importantly, they took their losses with their gains well. If you can keep to this mentality, you'll be able to replicate the paths of your predecessors.

1 comment:

  1. Very very well said. 100% agree. There is no paradise on earth, and it all depends on what you seek for in life. I've seen all too many Singaporeans who sacrifice their family and friendships to gun for every deal, go for every dollar, and work their staff to the ground in the process. I am, unfortunately, one of those being worked to the ground.

    I could recall, not too far back, that one of my firm's partners (a sinkie) was pitching for a job. The paycheck was shit, and we didn't really have the capacity to take it on. During one of our telephone discussions with our Australian senior partner who had the power to approve or reject this proposal, he questioned the merit of the proposal in that we appear to be doing too much for too little. Being a sinkie my local partner refused to completely walk away from the deal. He dressed up the time-cost by throwing in two junior associates. Being junior their time cost was half that of mine and we will remarkably able to bring down the expected cost of production to almost half of which was originally envisaged. Bells were ringing in my head then as I knew these two associates could not possibly have the technical competence to complete the job. It would tantamount to asking a single Terran soldier to defeat a Siege tank (if you played Starcraft you know what I mean) - not impossible, but what are the odds?. It will ultimately fall back on my shoulders to complete it. My mind conjured up images of yet another few weeks of 70-80 hour work weeks. And it didn't just stop there. We went on to pitch for another few jobs, with the partner fully aware that we only had 2 people (including myself) who really had the technical know-how.

    I'm about to lodge my EOI after 6 months of preparation, and my fingers are crossed. The new migration year is coming and the rules will change. Please wish me luck.