Log 15-9-13 / The Importance of Networking and the power of face to face conversations

September 15, 2013

The most reliable way to succeed in business is not to sort out the problem who is going to bank roll your plan to El Derado. Or even how water tight is your spit fire excel spread sheet – don’t get me wrong, having those aces in your back pocket definitely comes in handy. But if I had to underscore only ONE strategic precondition for personal and organizational success, it would definitely be the underated habit to leverage on the power of networking and significant conversations.

I use the word ‘habit.” As by nature I am an introvert and someone whose very comfortable with the idea of being alone – so the idea of socializing has always been something that I see as a necessary chore (that could very well explain why I wasn’t a big hit with the girls in my averagely miserable campus days) – hence to associate it with the word ‘habit” reminds me that it’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me and needs to be developed just like probably developing the muscle memory to fire off six arrows in less than 15 seconds flat and to hit the bullseye every time.

The case for getting serious about networking is compelling if the goal is succeed in business. As no man is truly an island. We are all without a single exception relying and depending on others for our well being even if we think we aren’t.

Beside man is a social animal – he was designed by mother nature to fellowship with other human beings. Otherwise why did providence design our faces to have 43 muscles to express every hemisphere of our thoughts and emotions? Why didn’t mother nature just fashion us with a frozen smile like a dolphin or give us the vacant look of a crocodile?

If we were meant to be loners and marooned in our own skulls like solitary creatures. Why did mother nature bless us such an impressive range of vocal cords? Why not just give us the single stanza like a solitary owl in the meadows or the expressionless hiss of a cobra

Even the human hand is designed to socialize thru touch as it can sense temperature, texture, shape and gradations.

When we stand back and take a long look at how we are created. Gradually, we will all come to the realization form follows function. Then we will know it’s natural for us to seek out others who are like us thereby connecting ourselves gainfully to the whole idea of how to live a purpose driven life.

When we are blind to the obvious, then it’s very easy for us to take pride in the false belief – we don’t need anyone, that we can even do everything including move mountains by ourself.

How wrong we are.

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“One day I am going to write a book about the Singapore blogosphere.  Now this is not going to be your run of the mill IPS or cherian George comatose inducing, “why did I decide to be an academic instead of a real journalist.” This will be a blockbuster. It will definitely out sell those sappy love stories I write. 

Somewhere in this book. There has to be a chapter prosaically entitled, “PAP’s ten lost years in Absurdistan.”

That if you must know is my annotated version of what transpired. Or at least how I see it.

For ten long years PAP did not know how to communicate with netizens – they had absolutely no idea what to do –  except sticking to tried and tested yellow brick road they have always ambled along since independence lah. That’s why when you look at their return on investment and energy in how successfully they have been in establishing a beach head presence in the net – it’s a pretty lousy innings –  that is sadly what happens when a hegemony, institution or even a firm doesn’t have a good feel of a thing. That thing which they can’t get a handle on – can only confound them and stress the system to breaking point – from time to time, we see really stupid things like the recent gloss on the broadcast act to fine and put people in jail etc etc etc – that to me is really a symptom of a system that’s reached its designed limits.

Now around the ninth year. And this was sometime back again during the days of the intelligent Singaporean, it dawned on all of us, the PAP had absolutely no idea how to respond intelligently to this emerging social political blogosphere – that’s really a polite way of saying, they couldn’t discover the imagination to prosper online –  so what they probably did was, collated data and statistics.

But all this must have only added to the fog of war instead of beaconing out the murk. It may have even lulled them into a false sense of security that what they were really dealing with here was an inconsequential collection of shrills from the wilderness – like two drunks in an alley fighting over who won the football world series in 1965.

I think that emboldened them to reinforce failure. As statistics so often skewer the picture to such an extent that you can draw all sorts of conclusions to fit whatever theory you have to supply a convincing explanation – that I believe was why the PAP believed they could punch a hole through the wall of noise in blogosphere and still get their message across using their old hat methods – they couldn’t of course. But its doubtful that they even know that.

What disturbs even today is what we are witnessing here is a complete breakdown of the response system in officialdom – not only was there no sense of urgency to understand this thing called the social political blogosphere beyond data collection and very rudimentary analysis – such as character profiling (oh this we know as well lah) – again all this only served to reinforce the PAP’s belief – everything is under control.

But what stupefies is HOW these series of failures to scale the problem accurately and to respond to them effectively was virtually non existent in PAP’s game plan. Some of us were terribly alarmed by all this – and let me share with you why: you see it is very dangerous to play a game, when the other side doesn’t know how to play the game – when the rules of engagement are foggy, it is very problematic – that I think was the point when we realized, it was best to pull the plug from the intelligent Singaporean.

Most people did not know this, but the exit from the Intelligent Singaporean was a well choreographed curtain call.

After that we decided to have a botique presence only in the Singaporean social political blogoland – we made a deliberate effort not to participate actively. We watched as our stat counters dwindled away – hoping that maybe the government would get their act together and project online to fill in the void –  but nothing happened. The PAP for some reason couldn’t find the requisite imagination to reinvent themselves to prosper in the digital age.

Now to me this was a once in a life time opportunity that was squandered.

I think many years from now when our kids have all grow up and when we all finally realize teeth are not supposed to last beyond 60. Many of us will read this chapter called the ten lost years of PAP and laugh out loud – in the way we probably laugh at people who think that lobotomies and radioactive whitening cream was as good as mothers milk. Because the real irony was the PAP did not really have to go through the grief of 10 years of mumbling along with falling over themselves on how best they should deal with the emerging social political blog scene.

All they really had to do when there was a vacuum in blogoland when we left the scene was to project online and set the rules of the game there and then. This is what we all expected them to do – this is what intelligent folk would do, seize the initiative, storm the high ground, run up a mountain when the weather just clears enough to see the summit!

But they did nothing! Why did they do nothing? Well my theory is there wasn’t even a super duper internet brigade or even a group of people who were even tasked to seek out those sort of opportunities online – you see, we all wrongly made the assumption that there had to be such a brigade. I remember this really clearly – we were all sitting beneath a tree in Changi Village after a really hard ride and all us were discussing the various permutations of how this pull out is going to be exploited by them – but guess what, no one could forsee that there was no such task force! Now can you imagine how ridicolous this is given that the internet is such a wonder weapon in the whole game of politics and power! It literally beggars the imagination today when you think about it – my theory is they probably had such a team, but most of them were probably just playing Soduku online or chatting with suspected to terrorist who were out to blow themselves up in the kitchen.

My point is if the PAP had projected then and there and they came in at that point in time- one one master stroke, they could have established the rules of engagement where perhaps face to face interaction would have featured as only means of communication. I mean this whole idea of online anonymity is really a overated bogeyman in my view – as when some decides to remain anonymous, its never really a permanent state as it is probably just a phase in their life, like when teenagers were turtle necks as they’re probably experimenting with love bitting – so this whole idea of the PAP making a mountain of the molehill of online anonymity was really in opinion a great diffusion of energy that all added up to a big nothing!

As no one can really stay anonymous online – it’s at best an illusion. Beside, at some point in the life cycle of every blogger, he’s bound to step out into the light – I mean, I hung out with farmers anonymously in the Internet long before I was actually farming . As whenever they saw the Singapore flag beside my moniker I was sick and tired of everyone in forum asking, “how many big is your field?” But when I finally decided to visit their plantations and won a tractor as the best farmer in my virtual farming Olympics – I had to step out and reveal my hump back self. 

My point is, there is only so far you can go in the Internet to foster anything meaningful, if you want to keep your mask on. Even those who elect to remain anonymous online realize the limits of having a meaningful discussion under those conditions. They know it only too well for very obvious reasons.

But let’s go off on a tangent here and ask ourselves: how do you defeat online anonymity? Do you treat it like a character flaw like perpetual masturbation in the way the PAP did towards anonymous voices that regularly criticized them in blogosphere?

Now if you do that, then in my book, you’re not giving the conversation a chance. Perhaps a wiser thing to do is to start by respecting the idea of privacy and personhood and to create enough trust to even pitch the idea “Hi, I want to be your friend.” I think Facebook did certainly ease PAP’s labored transition into the digital realm – it’s a very congenial platform that brought a lot of netizens face to face with each other for the very first time. And when that idea took off, many of us were quite relieved. As I said in the very beginning, it’s very dangerous when the otherside doesn’t know the rules of engagement – but even then,  I don’t believe the PAP had to wait for Facebook to knock on their door before responding to the challenges of the social political scene – they could have responded much earlier – and I really don’t believe the decision makers fully appreciate what the cost of that omission might have have been or even what it will extract from them today and in the foreseeable future – as what we are really witnessing is a hegemony falling back 4 or maybe 6 years behind the game. Now the cost for Singapore, has been monumental no matter how you decide to cut it.

The only reason why it doesn’t seem expensive to them is probably because their planners are so accustomed to seeing a gain or loss in terms of measurable metrics such as GDP and GNP. But when you consider the cost of how slow the PAP were at getting up to spend with managing the new media; and how that has led them haemoraghe good will, confidence, trust along with other invisibles that may not be trackable and reductible into a tabula data.

Then it is easy to understand why this will come back to bite the PAP – as Internet years are very much like space years, one year is an eternity, one year on earth is just 365 year, but in space time that period of time could well be 59 years or life time depending on how close or far you are from a black hole. So Internet years should be seen in those terms to truly appreciate what PAP lost in those ten years in Absurdistan.

The take away from this lesson is even if the PAP didn’t know how to project into the digital realm – they could have gone off line and just picked up the phone and said, “I am throwing a BBQ, do you want to come?” They could have done this through a friendly liaison officer like when we project into distant and faraway galaxies in our own game – where we create a congenial –  I get to know you and you get to know me better platform where there is a big sign outside that says, “put your plasma guns here!” – and through that platform PAP – I think PAP could have made meaningful connections.

I think many years from now, another generation of Singaporeans will have to do a better job of how to grab opportunities from this ‘ lost ten years of PAP in Absurdistan in our nations history.’ The take away lessons will be powerful and instructive – as what it proposes is the idea, doing something is better than doing absolutely nothing, except reinforcing failure – and even if they revert back to pre-internet old fashioned face to face interaction, that would still be progress.

I happen to be a great believer in networking – sit down for a meal if possible, don’t make it official. You don’t even have to talk about politics, it could cars, football or whether it might be a good idea to turn the AYE into a giant canal – talking is so important – either that or we are just stuck on first gear playing police and thief. I sue the shit out of you et al – surely, there must be more to this! I mean this doesn’t even make sense – as when you take all the narratives in blogoland and square them off – all we are doing is working towards a better tomorrow in Singapore. Yet why is there so much grief and strife? Regrettably these thought provoking questions could only have transpired in a face to face conversation. A conversation that never took place for ten years. Now another conversation seems to be going on in earnest. But it’s hardly a conversation at all is it. And that has to be sad, as I can’t help asking them – do you want to waste another ten years?

To me a conversation is always a plus no matter how you decide to see it. Whether there are any measurables to be gained from having a conversation is not important – the most important thing is connecting first. The rest will come after that. Of that I am very sure. But you’ve to be the one making the effort to connect first. As no matter what you say – there’s always a chance that the otherside will see the world slightly differently after that conversation – to me it’s a opportunity that only a fool would pass up!”

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