Fantasy Office

My boss humourously pointed out I seem to have an aversion to creating slides. I asked one too many times in a day, how many slides should I do; is one slide enough, etc.

If it were up to me, all bosses will get printed memos on letterheads that require signatures in their approval process. Their secretary will have to keep that signed document. If analytical or investigative reports, they appear on as a word document. Excel charts or tables will form appendices. (Nothing against them but they are workings, not the conclusion.)

Try handing up two pictures instead of a two thousand word essay on the stock market run-up to the great depression, is my thinking. Only words on a wet signature will do, thank you very much.

Against the tide

My mom was determined to be middleclass. She bought a Kawai piano and I was to play it half an hour daily. She bought assessment books and told me the drill. This was at odds with my idea of childhood. I am more or less dutiful, depending on whether you spoke with my doting aunts or my mom. My dad understood the importance of working hard. He disliked homework and never got involved in my mother’s schemes. He also never said, how about a break. Interminable work stoked the fires of revolution.

No worksheets, I said to my husband, when we were picking childcare.

Amongst my few friends, I was the deviant. 回头是岸吧孩子! One of them was as fervent as a Young PAP about it. Children should start homework as young as possible. (Naturally, I ignored her.) I heard the moderates. I moaned about homework as if I was the one doing it. I still ignored them.

The teachers didn’t think the kids had a problem with school work. I concluded that the nightly assault on their spelling lists was good enough. I also thought their problems wasn’t work but behaviour. One was fidgety. They other just started class for 3 months and is a bit of a 管家婆.

Home based learning changed my life view. My son is illiterate in Chinese. My daughter doesn’t understand grammar rules. I started trying flash cards. I bought assessment books. How on earth do people decide what to buy? Luckily, my sister in law who heads English in primary school had passed me a thin booklet and an assessment book. I went to the shops with these books and bought the same thing for my son. I bought a similiar thing for Chinese. I didn’t go off into the deep end and buy exam papers like a friend advised. It would be optimistic to imagine they could take an exam and finish writing it.

Forum: MOE should publish assessment books written by teachers ...

Flowing with the tide made stress levels high. My kids were understandably upset about having mummy’s homework. I planned their school day. My husband, stuck at home, carried out those plans. The kids didn’t like Daddy messing about their homework. He was too strict, they complained. My husband missed his work – he belonged to the 手停口停族. More accurately, he was already stressed about income. Tasked to man the kids, he complained about not having his own time for paper work. Welcome to my world, I said, testily. Your life is so easy, I said at another time. I was being mean because his initial idea of manning the kids is to mess about with his phone and take a nap after.

I think we are getting better at it, the kids, their father and I. The kids yelling now takes on a note of resignation. I am now very open to the idea of tuition and the need for practice. The father is now open to changing their student care. (The 8 year old picked up rude words from older children there and they are not making sure work is done.)

Why is it that flowing with the tide is more stressful than not? It might be the realisation of not being average makes it stressful. Against the tide, there is no such realisation. It is white noise even if you notice there are others who are marching to the beat of their own drum. There is a lot more freedom. It takes more discipline and grit to flow with the tide.

Risk Management In The Time of Covid 19

Risk management in a financial industry is more structured than less – which is a very good thing for the financial industry. When I entered my next job, it was mainly handling X. I got do a bit of the “Hey I did this to figure out that!” but it was not that often. I implemented those things thought up by others. The sort of thinking in risk slants towards what ifs and how do I make something that I totally don’t know about knowable. I felt I was translating risk a lot. That was when everything was norm.

When Covid 19 struck, risk management disappeared. I don’t mean I don’t need to work but that everything was clear, predictable and stable. There was no uncertainty. The government set clear and firm laws about what is to be done. The businesses set about doing it. While it is true we don’t know how the community and the economy will emerge out of this crisis but nobody is thinking about this at the moment. The front of mind is how business can be continued at the present time. Soon, there will be gradual reopening of the business community. The funny thing is that the reopening is more uncertain than the closing – with the fear of a second wave of the virus, there is a lot more uncertainty. The potential flip flop of the ministry’s stand is requires more resources than certainty.

As a means of diversification, services industry might make our GDP earnings less risky than a manufacturing or agrarian focus if there is domestic consumption of these services. As with all decisions, there is a trade off: focus on too much domestic consumption, we won’t earn as much GDP. There is also another trade off because food access a safety concern; a healthy manufacturing sector creates jobs. But I am generalising broadly – risk and impact is relative.

In a daily stand up, my boss would asked for our plans and what we have done for the day. To this end, I have discovered something call a bullet journaling. It is helpful when there are just too many things happening. It helps with recording what was completed and what will need to be done for that day.

It doesn’t really show what I have achieved for the month. I have started recording it in the monthly page. It is interesting to see that many of my jobs requires on and off tinkering.

It also doesn’t help with feeling stressed or overworked. My current boss is really a superb boss. We had a call yesterday that was a weekend wrap up. He was asking us how we felt working at home. Imagine that! And he also remembers the family and circumstances of every team member. Impressed!

Mature teams

Death, for example, is socially disruptive, because it not only removes an individual member from the fabric of society, which potentially creates tension, it is also stressful for those with close emotional ties to the deceased, who may not be able to function efficiently for a period of time.

Religion deals with the problem of death through both belief and ritual: a belief in the afterlife (common in many cultures) denies the fact of death and comforts the bereaved, while the funeral ceremony offers a chance for other members of society to comfort the bereaved with their physical presence and it may also act as a form of catharsis.

The funeral is effectively an expression of social solidarity which serves to reintegrate society following the ‘stress’ caused by a loss of one its members.

Rituals In Death

We had some rites for Grandmother yesterday. I was impressed how smooth the team operated.

The team of priests and musicians were old and they worked efficiently, taking and handing over when the situation fit. There was an assistant to the priest who seemed to require reminders by the team. The musicians, alert, came to his aid by mouthing instructions or gesturing. Set up and removal of the altar tables appeared seamless in their construction and take down. I would not be familiar with the details of their job (the chanting and the rituals). I could see this was a stable team with the leader being the one who supplemented directions (slightly annoyed tone) to the team where required. They were so smooth in their procedures I felt reminded of my job. This is what established departments look like. There is seamless handling by every member of the team. Where there are new staff, the rest of the members sprang into action to advice the new staff, to socialise what needs to be done.

When teams have an elevated number of new persons who need socialising, the resources and effort spent in socialising them increases. It is not an easy task to socialise staff even if the staff is open and receptive. It requires a lot of conversation to calibrate the staff into the existing way the team thinks and works. The level of difficulty increases when the staff is neutral or unreceptive. (Usually, they get labelled as having an attitude problem.) If the head of the team is new, it increases the difficulty of calibration. The calibration is necessary to reduce production problems in a team. When the head of the team is new, problems get magnified. Heads are less receptive of calibration in general and they can create more chaos by issuing directives when they have not been properly calibrated. Now do I mean that everyone should be yes men and do as they are told all the time? If the issues are production driven, yes, we all need to be able to follow those instructions. If change is required, it needs to be managed.

Now I know that makes me sound bureaucratic but in an organisation, where there are processes already built to handle certain aspects of risk, change requires care. Given the fast pace change in the business circumstances, the ability to nimbly handle them requires a well settled team who is familiar with their work. In chaos, there must be order (to support growth). In order, there must be chaos (to drive growth).

On a side note, I think this blanketing of other risks as operational risk by Basel isn’t very helpful to think about risk properly.

It creates a lot of misuse in the word risk. Someone would declare the presence of risk when they mean error or impact. Language is alive and different cultures use the lingo in different ways. I am not pedantic and it’s not difficult to figure out what the meaning from context and conversation. However, I wonder if it drives the conversation and thinking differently. Being error free means less wastage – it’s a production concern. Being able to cushion impact means the ability to recover and resume operations quickly – another production concern. These production concerns are something that has everyday processes and handling to manage them. A break in controls is a production problem, ie, the operational factors. Production problems must be fixed but it is impossible for production problems to be eliminated. You could bring the number to a very small occurrence but zero is impossible. I wonder if conversations are brought awry when we talk about levels of intolerance in operational risk. It’s at most an ambition, at worse a denial.

This leads me to wonder, if this is a fuzzy concept to measure management. If so, the collection of operational risk data is something to reflects the management at the point of measurement. It can never be forward looking and looking back makes no sense if there are upheavals in management.

On The Compassionate Mantra

At my grandmother’s funeral, so not to frighten the guests, I read the scriptures for my grandma when it was just another cousin and I.

It was amazing. I felt happy to read it to my grandma. I felt they were joyful expressions. I wasn’t reading it out of filial piety, I felt it was fantastic to read it aloud for her to enjoy it too. Totally excellent words they are!

The different depictions of risks

The origin of risk was the uncertainty of coming back alive. There is a great article on rituals as controls that I used many years ago in a workshop. (My old office let me run free like a wild child. They are fabulously good sports all the HODs.)

Malinowski found that magic was not used in lagoon fishing, where men could rely solely on their knowledge and skill. But when fishing on the open sea, Trobrianders used a great deal of magical ritual to ensure safety and increase their catch.

In the world where there is physical dangers, risk continues to be conflated with safety. In that article, it was sea fishing. Other industries that think of risk similiarly are mining, construction, armed escorting, heavily bombed or areas where they are frequent gunfires. I also notice that manufacturing plant where the materials or processing is dangerous would think of risk the same way. In these areas, risk is monitored like blood pressure readings.

The mathematics of risk was born out of gambling. It was beneficial to being able to apply knowledge to skew the chances of winning. This would apply to fields where knowledge can skew chances: baseball, football, horses and poker. It would not apply to 4D and and other lottery. The space race is another area where skills and learning skew chances of winning the race. (Astounding book on this by Deborah Cadbury is highly reccomended.) This is also the area where traders operate. A rather well known example is Nissam Taleb applying his knowledge to bet on black swans events. In these areas, risk is described as uncertainty of winning and risk is given a factor.

Where money is promised to be exchanged at the onset of an event, the stranger who shook hands on the deal could be unwilling or unable to pay. For exchanges such as a loan or the benefits of an insurance payment, the unwillingness (ie moral hazard) was eliminated with legalease. In insurance, it meant preventing payments. In loans, that meant exercising the rights to get the collateral/security. If there was no security, it was based almost entirely on the pain of being black marked or harrassed. (AAA rating dropping straight into into D, for example.) The problem of being unable to pay can be hard to figure out. More or less, the risk of default became tied to cashflow or observations of payment patterns for a person, a company, an industry or a country. For instance, your industry sunsetting, there is risk of cuts, you have lost your job, or you missed one more payments. In insurance, missing the premiums cease insurance protection. In loans, missing loan payments brings the debt collector to your door in polite legal letters.

In these traditional areas of risk, the problem that we have been dealing with can broadly be described as uncertainty and its management (ie safety, ability to win or cashflow). With the flourish of risk management, the strenous marketing of basel, GARP FRM and PRM and risk events, there is an infestation of risk workers.

Risk has invaded into every department and its name spread like a contagion.

Compliance risk, legal risk, fraud risk, technology risk, operations risk, business risk, finance risk, people risk, marketing (they were sly and named it reputational risk), tax risk, AML risk, Sanction risk. Risk when inserted in a department’s name, perfumes the original department with an aura of knowingness. Admitting ignorance and uncertainty has become the equivalent of being a sophisticated man about the world. However, these worlds are by and large, the equivalent of the lagoon fishing. If you behave as an ordinary fisherman would you would get fish. Now and then there will be holes in the net that requires mending. One mends the net and continue fishing. One does not need to be frightened and measure the width of the holes, how often the holes are made, etc. For purposes of efficiency, one would prefers noticing the small holes and getting them fixed quickly so to continue fishing activities. There will be most certainly holes as one uses the nets. As an insider working in the company, there is no uncertainty – I have (relatively) full knowledge of policies, procedures and systems. That means I have more certainty than others. An onlooker or investor would consider this a risk because there is no view. So Warren Buffet tries to mitigate the risk of holding equity by visiting the company or talking to the people in there. A minor investor has no such access or perhaps no need for such long term view. He would base his investment decisions on by comparing which company appears more desirable in terms of returns. A beautifully maintained net doesn’t mean the fishermen know how to fish. Eventually, even Basel gave up on letting a thousand flowers bloom in the measurement of operational risk.

With this infestation of risk persons, with banks appointing CROs and declaring their risk management in annual reports, uncertainty didn’t get any clearer.

This is an interesting take on controls for risk management folks by Will Smith

Simmering Dramatics

The day before my first day at work, I was in Jakarta. The last time I went away for work, Mr TCM hasn’t started his practice. The plan was to stay in Jakarta for a week. My mom was to watch the children. I came back unexpectedly in two days. The protests had made important people nervous.

My mom came over and the kids practiced getting use to her. It was great to have her around to help. It started the week before I moved to my new department. I was cramming as much as I could before I moved on. I had imagined I would cry at work. Such dramatics did not happen. I had a lovely afternoon tea and everyone wished me well. That night, at 11pm, I brought back two huge bags of personal things. On Sunday, I flew to Jakarta. Also unexpectedly, the kids did their homework with her. There was no need for threats and drama. I had prepared them and they displayed self control.

The protests did not escalate while I was there. Indonesians hardly grumbled even though they were stuck in 4 hour traffic jams. Singaporeans would have rioted over the jam. I was very far from the protests area and had moved only between the hotel and the office. I agreed with the director who headed the trip that it felt safe. I personally thought that trying to get to the airport might be riskier than staying in the hotel. Half an hour into the second day, we said our goodbyes to colleagues. I didn’t manage to take picture with the COO who was going to retire end of this year.

Going there and rushing back gave me a strange anxiety. I had some anxiety about leaving my old firm and going into a new place. The thing was, I was leaving my old firm, joining the new firm to support the oversight of a sub-section of my old firm. I was going to Jakarta, meeting familiar friends and colleagues in a different capacity. Yet in that visit, I was launched into the new universe, meeting new people who are extremely kind and friendly.

Still, I carried the anxiety back to the office. The sense of anxiety carried through the conversations I had with my old colleagues. I had been there for a long time, they were there for a month tops. They were anxious about the work. I was anxious about my new work and in that anxiety I felt that I moved a little out of step, out of beat with the rest of my new colleagues.

Over this feeling of anxiety, there was happiness. I had been with my old firm for 12 years but I never laughed so often with them. I did laugh but mainly when the bigwigs were around, telling jokes and stories. That was not often. I laughed more times in my first week than in a year. Today, my direct supervisor came back from lunch and showed us the pastel he did over lunch. It was really impressive! Art! I really like them and hoped they like me too.

Exuberent enthusiasm

I was 7 when I met this older child who was then 11 years old. She was a prefect. She was soft spoken but had a quiet authority about her. I wanted to be like her. Everyday, I would save a space for her next to me on the bus. I don’t think I had ever spoken with her. There was just an understanding that the seat was only saved for her. She did speak with me twice – once to signal to me I shouldn’t be rolling up my skirt. The other was the last day of school – she was already in Primary 6. I was first puzzled then crestfallen. I thought school went on forever.

In my career, I have met a few ladies whom I totally idolise. I do speak with them in doing my job. (I have become less introverted.) I never had a chance to totally gush like a tap. There was once, I accidentally blurted out, bewildered, “How can that be? You are so beautiful!” to her saying that her husband finds her look boring. Or some such nonsense husbands are wont to say. She was a totally with it General Manager who, like the older prefect, is soft spoken with quiet authority. There were other idols I have but most of them I never gushed because I noticed women don’t take to flattery the same way.

It is common to hear that most bosses like brown nosing. However, it is my experience that sincere appreciation creates a feeling of suspicion. There is an automatic response that this is poor brown nosing. I wonder why that is. Perhaps in the work place, one does not want real feelings of friendship or happiness. It makes things very difficult when difficult jobs have to occur.


For many years, I have wanted to know how a particular team in my organisation organises totally brilliant tests. Recently, I was given this chance to apply for this learning event and and I got it. A fist pumping moment if ever. It is happening tomorrow. OMG. Incredible. I can’t believe my luck. I might accidentally display exuberant enthusiasm and gush like a burst pipe.