Academic Entrepreneur: Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

Academic Entrepreneur: Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

Studying at university provides students with the necessary tools to become an entrepreneur and overcome common startup problems.

There has always been a fierce debate of whether entrepreneurship can be taught or not, and if an entrepreneur is made or simply born.

In the past, being an entrepreneur was not something “cool.” People who became an entrepreneur were usually those without a proper education, struggling to find a decent job. Becoming an entrepreneur was not the first career choice. Educated people would rather become a doctor, engineer, lawyer or accountant instead of heading through the pain of starting a new business.

But over the last decade, an entrepreneurship boom or “startup fever” has emerged. Being an entrepreneur suddenly looks cool, and out of the blue everyone wants to become the next Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg. Dragons’ Den-like competitions have become popular, business contests are everywhere, and a bunch of new startups are born in a flash.

Dealing with this growing public interest, educational institutions responded by including entrepreneurship in their curriculum. Universities designed specific degree programs in an attempt to nurture new entrepreneurs. All of a sudden, business owners, including those who had never attended university, have started to enjoy the privilege of being invited to hold lectures.

But there are questions that arise here. Is an entrepreneurship degree really worth it? Is it helpful or just a useless investment? Can universities produce real entrepreneurs?



As someone who holds a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship, I feel an urge to answer those questions. What do I get out of an entrepreneurship degree? Could I be a more successful entrepreneur with an academic insight? Will these university assignments make my business survive and thrive?

Trying to find those answers is just like getting into a long debate over the correlation between theory and practice. But during my time at university, I learned something important: Theory does make sense if we know how to apply it in the real world.

When working on my final project, I realized that linking theory with practice was pretty hard to do. Diverse problems of the small businesses I interviewed seemed like a tangled mess.

To use an analogy, learning theory before practice is a bit like cooking with half the ingredients. You have the recipe, but you need to choose what to use and how.

But there are frameworks you can use, according to my supervisor. You don’t have to rack your brain to solve a business problem—scholars have already done it for you. They found the root cause and even created a tool to help solve it. It’s true that some theoretical frameworks cannot be directly applied, but with some adjustments, they can help entrepreneurs understand common startup problems such as when to seek external investment.

I remember one of my lecturer’s quotes: “Theory is a tool.” He was an MBA graduate and had a long marketing career at a number of companies. During his practical work, his academic education gave him an advantage as he had adequate tools to deal with business-related problems.

To use an analogy, learning theory before practice is a bit like cooking with half the ingredients. You have the recipe, but you need to choose what to use and how. Likewise, practice without theory means you have to come up with the recipe yourself. And you probably won’t even know what ingredients to use or where to find them.

So, what does this mean for starting your own business?

Learning theory might shorten the time you need to scale your business. You don’t need to experience all the mistakes just to learn lessons. You can learn from other people’s mistakes—that’s why you study theory. It saves you time and energy that you need when starting any company.

Nevertheless, good theory is a base of good practice and a source to improve upon existing material. If business theory and practice are mutually exclusive of each other, you would never see a PhD graduate becoming a corporate boss like Eric Schmidt of Google and Jørgen Knudstorp of Lego. Those who say that theory has nothing to do with successful business practice probably don’t know how to use it properly.

[Repost] Land Mafia Fire Game Lights Up Indonesia

[Repost] Land Mafia Fire Game Lights Up Indonesia

The seriousness of the Indonesian forest fires can no longer be ignored.

As 40 million people gasp for breath and tens of thousands of hectares of forest are on fire in Indonesia, the world continues to revolve like nothing dangerous happens. When more than 500,000 people suffer from acute respiratory infection and wildlife habitat are exposed to damage, people across the globe have barely responded.

For the past two months, the sky of the Borneo and Sumatra islands has been blurred in smoke, just as hazy as the huge capitalism game behind this structured, man-made eco-disaster.

What makes matters worse is that mass media appear to be gradually slipping away even though, as George Monbiot said, it’s almost definitely the 21st century’s greatest environmental disaster to date.

Despite the fact that approximately 40 million people are breathing in noxious smoke day in, day out, the international community seems to care little, if not at all, about the situation. This is indeed surprising, considering that not only is there unspeakable human travail, with a large number of people ill and significant others dead, but the illicit smoke is also a considerable cost to the country’s economy.

Land Mafia Fires

In Indonesia, forests are intentionally inflamed nearly every year during dry season to clear land for commercial plantations, notably palm oil and the pulp industry. Fires are ignited in isolated zones, thus it is frequently hard to pinpoint whose land is burning. So, finding those responsible is a difficult thing to do—sometimes even impossible.

The worst part is that often, the burned area covers flammable peatlands with its ability to snare fire, subsequently festering underground for a long time making it impossible to be quenched.

Though this act of burning land is strictly allowed for up to 2 hectares only, landowners and farmers do not even care. In fact, together with local government and capitalist corporations, they are the ones who make profitable business over this hazardous fire game.

In Indonesia, there is something called “land economic fee.” Meaning, local farmers who sell their land to corporate plantations will get a much higher price if the land is already burned, since it’s considered “ready to be planted.” To put this in perspective, unburned land is worth $640 per hectare, while burned land is valued at $820 per hectare.

In fact, the sales fee is like a fresh pie. Landowners, land marketers, the farmers group and workers each get their own piping hot slice. Local governments even reserve a 10% to 13% stake of the fee to compensate their given authorities. In reality, this seemingly eco-disaster is indeed a man-made fire game. Nothing can stop this deadly haze without switching off the source of flame: the land mafia practice.

The public put the blame partly on increasing market demand for palm and wood commodities from these areas, as well as changing climate patterns that have helped in the worsening of fogs. This has been far worsened by the prolonged dry season, which speeds up blazing and makes it more difficult to turn off the fires once they are ignited. This endangers lives and has made this year’s haze the most destructive ever.

The drawback has been an increase in breathing problems not only throughout Indonesia, but also Southeast Asia, with official predictions hitting detrimental levels. Approximately 150,000 people have endured breathing conditions in different parts of the country. Educational institutions in Indonesia and in nations such as Singapore and Malaysia have been closed. It is estimated that the fires will cost Indonesia $47 billion, and neighboring states will also be affected, thanks to airport and business closures as well as increased health care costs.

Jakarta’s Response

The Indonesian government’s response has been varied and insufficient. Several provinces have declared a state of emergency. More than 20,000 personnel have been sent to assist, and some amounts of cash have been spent to repel the situation. Although Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered the Forestry and Environment Ministry to halt issuance of permits for peatland cultivation and to review all existing permits, his decision to refuse help from Singapore remains questionable.

Not to forget, approximately 200 enterprises and 100 individuals have been under investigation for the fires. But it is important to understand that many of these estates are owned by individuals or entities with strong political links, and it can be said that imposition of law has been desultory at most.

Overall, as Indonesians have argued, the government in Jakarta has been unable to exert strong resolutions over the situation, and many of these efforts have largely been insufficient. As Indonesia-based ecologist Erik Meijaard argues, the main reason behind the government’s limited response is that it still has not acknowledged how serious the situation is.

The best way to solve the issue is by eradicating the “land mafia” practice. This can be started by naming and shaming the individuals and companies liable for the fires. However, it is convoluted by the predicament in pinpointing the owner of particular plots of land; registries are not properly stored and are often out-of-date. The government is reported to have set out to relinquish entities allegedly liable for starting the fires. But neighboring countries must also chastise these companies by outlawing their goods and products.

In this case, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should play a more active role in putting an end to the situation. Unfortunately, it has not been able to help end the worsening situation despite the fact there is an instrument to do so: the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which was signed and ratified by all ASEAN member countries in 2002.

The seriousness of the current situation can no longer be ignored. It must end without delay. It is beyond obvious that many people are in dire need of concrete efforts by both the Indonesian government and the regional community to help alleviate the deteriorating condition.

The most crucial step that needs to be taken is to realize how critical the problem is and the implications it may bring about. Then, it is important to hit liable corporations. Not just by taking them to court, but by banning their products. There is no more point in applying a loose and weak approach to deal with these nature-breaker companies. As the former director of Southeast Asia Greenpeace stated, a “constructive engagement” with those companies is useless as we should take a firm position to fight against them.

In regard to a long-term solution, many scientists have proposed different “safer” methods to clear lands. Both governments and consumers must encourage the use of sustainable methods, especially those that are certified as “green.”

In the end, we can only hope that as the rain season comes and naturally extinguishes the fire, those criminals’ sins will not be washed away and that people will not simply forget about this disaster.

– See more at:

Innovators, Customers and Things Between

Six months ago, in the beginning of Michaelmas term, my housemate once commented when I told him that I study Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Innovation? What are you studying about? Something like—how to innovate?” I just laughed to that sarcasm, though deep down, yes, it got me thinking. He’s studying Finance, something very clear and concrete to understand. But innovation? It is an abstract notion. You can solve finance equation with one clear single answer, but there will never be one single answer to this unpredictable subject called “innovation”.

Now, after two terms studying Innovation in Practice (IIP), apparently my opinion is still pretty much the same. Innovation is somewhat a mystery. Whether or not a new product is going to be successful and whether or not a change in company’s business model will turn it into profitability are still riddles that business executives keep trying to find the answer. If innovation is an exact science, thing that is perfectly controllable and manageable, all companies in the world would have succeeded. All new products launch would be successful and all new business model would become more profitable. The thing is, it never is.

We can, of course, manage the innovation process. Tools like Osterwalder business model canvas, Kesselring evaluation matrix, project management charts, are all managers’ weapon to control innovation process into desirable result. But still, even though a company has painstakingly applied those tools, it doesn’t guarantee 100% successful innovation. As Clayton Christensen described in his phenomenal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997), even giant corporations who applied sophisticated business management style, failed when dealing with something he called disruptive innovation. He bravely stated that “good management was the most powerful reason they failed.”

In IIP 1, we were told the difference between invention and innovation. Invention is new original thing we create, while innovation is the new thing that is succesfully utilised by society, market, or what we call customers. Therefore, there is a single factor distinguish innovation from a mere invention: innovation is accepted by customers; while invention never find its way to the customers—they still silently sit in innovators’ laboratory.

The prominent stakeholders are clear here. Innovators and customers. Invention will become innovation only if the two stakeholders are connected—what innovators create match with what customers need (or want). There is clearly a gap between what innovators perceive and what customers actually think. The question then, how can we fill in the gap?

The same question has been, I believe, asked by entrepreneurs, innovators, and innovation scholars over the world. Through my observation, it seems that there are two approaches used by innovators to answer that. The first group think that innovators should stay close to their customers, ask feedback, listen to what they want, develop product as they request, and become customer-driven company overall. The second group argue that innovators do not need to ask customers, since innovation is inevitable result of technology advancement and customers will eventually adapt to it.

Whether to listen or ignore the customers has been lifetime discussion topic among innovators. Dave Power (2013) wrapped it up by saying; entrepreneurs today debate whether innovation comes from technology breakthroughs or customer needs.

  1. Innovation comes from customer needs

This group is the casual giant corporations who always repeat their slogan “we listen to our customers”, “we are customer-driven company”, and other similar expressions. They are huge corporations with clever managers that apply great business management practice. They keep asking, “what do customers want?” as a base for their next innovation. They have gone through all the pain of marketing research, analysis of customers feedback and review, only to answer this single question.

  1. Innovation comes from technology breakthroughs

Contrastingly, the second group is those who never really listen to their customers. If the question “what do customers want?” is thrown to them, they will rhetorically answer, “Do they even really know what they want?”

Henry Ford, in his legendary quote, simply said, “If I asked customers what they wanted they’d have said faster horses.” In line with Ford, modern genius Steve Jobs stated in 1997 interview with Business Week, ““It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.


Among all the things I’ve learnt in IIP course, I found that this debate about innovators and customers ‘relationship’ is the most interesting topic. I think it is the base of understanding how innovation works. Discussing this matter will cover other concepts too, therefore I will peel it off further in this essay.

Innovator vs Customer

Innovator vs Customer

Perspective 1: Innovators Should Listen to Their Customers

One great example of this kind of innovator is Lego. I still remember the Lego Case Study we’re given for preparation of IIP 1 exam. User-led innovation is something very important in Lego. They have released smart innovation like Lego Mosaic and Lego Factory (Lego Design byME) based heavily on lead customers’ input. They adopt ‘open innovation’ approach, recognise that ‘not all the smart guys work for us’.

Jorgen Knudstorp, the CEO of Lego, even indicated that somehow too many innovations negatively affect his company. In 2003, the disappointing year when Lego failed to perform financially well, there were lots of new products but no profitability. He then decided to take Chris Zook advise that “profits arise when companies focus on core products for clearly defined customer groups.” After that, Lego started implementing “back to basic” strategy, developing products with end user customer orientation. Lego clearly segmented their customers, such as kids, teenagers, AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego), and then using focus groups to each segment in order to test new product ideas during product development process. As John Ashcroft (2014) stated in his Lego case study, close to the customer became a Knudstorp mantra.

In this case, probably listen to customers was the correct thing because Lego was in the state of ‘lost focus’—they somehow look for ‘help’ from customers in effort of deciding what to do. But see what happened with that user-led innovation several years later? After running for 6 years, Lego Design byME was discontinued on 16 January 2012 due to its “struggle to live up to the quality standards for a LEGO service”. Lego quibbled that Design byME was “too complex for children”, but many of Lego fans believed the real reason was, of course, that it wasn’t profitable anymore.

The same thing happened with Lego Universe. It was multiplayer online game that released on 26 October 2010, but shut down on 30 January 2012 due to ‘unsatisfactory revenue’. Lego Universe was also the result of ‘stay-close-listen-to-customers’ approach, but what happened was, it failed.

The failure may be well explained by using Ulwick (2002) study. He stated that there is a danger in the common practice of listening to recommendations of a narrow group of customers called “lead users”—customers who have an advanced understanding of a product and are experts in its use. He argued that lead users can offer product ideas, but since they are not average users, the products that emerge from their recommendations may have limited appeal or too sophisticated for common users. I think this is what exactly happened to Lego Design ByME and Lego Universe. User-led innovation may not be completely right action to take.

This case of ‘listen-to-customers’ but remained fail I think also applied to the case of Dvorak keyboard. It once became discussion topic in IIP 1 class about ‘dominant design’. The current standard QWERTY keyboard that was developed by Remington was in fact inefficient. In effort of accomodating customers’ need, Dvorak then developed keyboard that was specifically designed for increased typing speed and accuracy. This keyboard was made through careful research in customers’ typing behaviour, but still, it couldn’t replace QWERTY keyboard leader position in the market. Again, why?

Of course there are many other examples of succesful customers-led innovation. Other Lego products like Lego Duplo also based on customer needs and they remain succesful. However, some of this failed ‘listen-to-customers’ approach got me thinking that, probably, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs were right—we should not (completely) listen to our customers…

Perspective 2: Innovators Should Not Listen to Their Customers

Once upon a time, a young man with his dark hair and black suit, stood ahead in a hall of audiences. Spoke confidently, he walked on the stage and took out something, apparently a kind of ‘box’, from his bag. When the ‘box’ was turned on, moving letters soon appeared and created the words “insanely great”. Loud applause suddenly filled in the hall. All people were surprisingly amazed. And after that, the world had never been the same again.

That day was 24th January 1984, that man was Steve Jobs, and that ‘box’ was the first Apple Macintosh computer.

Steve Jobs has always been portrayed as a classic example of successful innovator—that didn’t listen to customers. His Apple creatures are for sure one of the world greatest phenomenon in recent decades. And as any other major trends, sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly, how and why that innovation becomes such an epidemic trend.

Honestly, I myself have never been one of those ‘Apple fanboys’. MacBook, iPad, iPod, iPhone, and their fellow Apple siblings for me are imperious ‘aristocratic creatures’ that refuse to connect with ‘common people’ gadget tools. They don’t compatible with certain softwares. They do complicated file transfer via iTunes. They do not have certain input/output ports. Aren’t those facts just making things more complicated? I can’t understand why people keep buying Apple with all those difficulties. For me, I prefer usual Windows laptop and Android phone that much more flexible with the same, sometimes more superior, quality.

Jobs has never listened to his customers. Yet he manage to create phenomenal innovation and bring the world under his feet. If only Jobs asked customers like me, “Do you want a mixture gadget between laptop and mobile phone? It can’t be used to work properly, may be too big to call someone, but you can use it only for playing games and read e-book.” Of course I would say no—and iPad would never been born. But Jobs never asked that kind of question. So iPad was born, and it was huge success that other electronic companies trying to copy.

Similar case happened to Instagram, a social media created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. If people were asked, do you want new social media? They will be more likely to say no. I already have Facebook, Twitter, blog, why should I create another online account? Especially when this social media only allows you to upload no more than pictures (and 15 seconds videos).

However, out of curiosity I created Instagram account in 2012, though I never use it. It was actually a very simple thing. You took a picture, alter it with some effect, and then post it. What’s so special? I just didn’t find anything interesting about Instagram. I can share my pictures on Facebook and get better respond. However, just recently few weeks ago I re-activate my Instagram account and…voila! I found new pleasure. I realised that it’s more comfortable to share my photos on Instagram since it won’t be ‘spamming’ my friends’ timeline—as I may do on Facebook with over posted pictures. Instagram also offer ‘hashtag’ that allows my pictures be discovered by other people looking for the same hashtag. Most importantly, the pictures posted look a lot more sophisticated that you feel like ‘professional photographer’.

The interesting part is, after actively engaging on Instagram, I found that somehow it changes myself. It influences my style of taking photos. I would prefer taking photos with my phone rather than (even a DSLR) camera, since it can be instantly uploaded on Instagram. I also tend to take shot of objects in such a way that it will be ‘instagrammable’, fit with the square-crop requirement and prettify it with ‘professional-look’ image editor. Systrom and Krieger didn’t even ask something beforehand about ‘what kind of social media I wanted’. Instead, they just made up things and pushed it on to me—which surprisingly I accept. It even dictates me. It gets me addicted. Seems that it wasn’t because they knew that I liked taking pictures so then they create Instagram. It’s because they create Instagram that I turned to like taking pictures.

Now that the approach of ‘not-listen-to-customers’ happened to be successful with Apple and Instagram, what about something like Segway? It is nevertheless one of the most original invention in history, yet it failed to be successful breakthrough innovation in the market. When I saw Segway failures video in IIP 1 class, I thought that it’s actually a cool product. I mean, I would rather try that than an iPad. But why it didn’t become a huge trend? What makes it different with Apple?

The answer is, I guess, pretty much explained by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller book, The Tipping Point (2000). Gladwell described how ideas, products, messages, and behaviours spread like viruses do. Tipping point, in my understanding, is an event of change when something that previously nothing suddenly become popular trend. In Everett Rogers (1962) Diffusion of Innovations graph, tipping point may be the critical mass or ‘breakeven’ point when an innovation cross the border from ‘early adopters’ category into ‘early majority’.

Gladwell proposed three rules of tipping point, which are the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. From all those three, I think the difference between Apple and Segway lays heavily on the first factor: the law of the few. Gladwell stated that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” He named this kind of people into 3 categories: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors are people who have large numbers of friends and acquaintances. Mavens are people that become main source of information. Salesmen are people with highly persuasive skills.

Apple has Steve Jobs, which apparently, a man with combination of those three powerful personality traits. He’s a connector, a maven, and a salesman all at once. Probably that’s why he can turn all his (or Steve Wozniak’s) inventions into phenomenal innovations. He can make cutting board-shape gadget like iPad looks cool. Unfortunately, those kind of traits may not be possessed by Segway’s inventor Dean Kamen. No matter how brilliant his invention was, apparently it ended up looks ridiculous…

Regarding this exceptional charisma of Steve Jobs, people uniquely called it ‘reality distortion field’ (RDF). This sarcastic term was coined by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe Steve Jobscharisma and its effects on the developers working on the Macintosh project. He said that the term came from Star Trek. Andy Hertzfeld (1981) described it to be Steve Jobs’ ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. RDF was said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible.

In the case of Apple customers, I think this term reflects the ability of Steve Jobs and his fellow Apple warriors to convince (or hypnotise) customers to buy the product they may not need in expect of labeled as ‘fashionable technology trendsetters’. Somehow it creates delusion to its devoted customers that Apple products are the most original, innovative, and high-tech futuristic gadgets one could have now. Anything other than Apple is simply unworthy. Steve Jobs was, probably, in the stage of almost becoming new prophet, with Apple as his bible. I may sound too cynical but that was my reflection through all innovation theories I have learnt until now.


Finally, from those two perspectives of relationship between innovators and customers, I think none of them can serve as single truth—as it will never happen in subject like Innovation. My conclusion would be pretty much similar with what Christensen (1997) said, “there are times at which it is right not to listen to customers.” It means that sometimes you should listen to customers, sometimes you should not.

The first approach of ‘listen-to-customers’ will be applicable in the case of sustained innovation. Customers are of course a great source of information in terms of refining and developing existing products. If an innovator want to conduct incremental innovation toward his/her product, then it is right (and a must) to listen to customers.

However, when it comes to disruptive innovation, it isn’t proper to ask customers about what they want. If an innovator feel that the invention is something completely new, he/she can’t fully trust customers’ feedback since they never knew and experience that new product. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that innovators should completely ignore customers. There is an art for innovators to capture true message from customers.

An article by Anthony Ulwick (2002) in Harvard Business Review perfectly illustrate how innovators can take the essence of customers’ input to create proper innovation. He said that there is significant difference between asking customers about solutions of their problem with asking about outcomes they actually expect. Instead of taking customers’ feedback “I’d like a picture or video phone”, innovators should dig deeper until they get an answer like “I want to feel a closer bond to people when talking on the phone.” Picture or video phone is a solution, while closer bond is an outcome. It is not customers’ job to come up with solutions, it is the innovators’ job. Therefore, as Ulwick perfectly said, “when desired outcomes become the focus of customer research, innovation is no longer a matter of wish fulfillment or serendipity; it is instead a manageable, predictable discipline.”

I believe that the key to understand innovation, to predict whether a mere invention will turn into breakthrough innovation, lies in bridging the gap between customers and innovators. Innovators should master the art of knowing when they should listen to customers, and when they should ignore them.


This article was submitted as reflective essay assignment of Innovation in Practice 1 & 2

23 April 2015

Coffee, Dreams and Global Start-Ups

Coffee, Dreams and Global Start-Ups

I just read an interesting article on last week’s The Economist, and tingled by this idea of how disruptive start-ups like Uber, AirBnB, and Amazon Cloud Drive reinvented not only how the business works, but also how the company made.

Today there is this start up’s privilege: “go global without being big themselves”.

As a small entrepreneur, you don’t need to permanently employ international experts, just hire foreign freelancers on Upwork. You don’t need to list publicly to get FDI, just raise crowdsourcing fund on Kickstarter. You don’t need to roam in trade fairs to get off-shore suppliers, just search on Alibaba. You get basically everything you need to start a global business, just by few clicks under your fingers.

With that kind of privilege, no wonder today’s start-ups made their way above so unbelievably fast. WhatsApp was only 5 years old when Facebook bought it with USD 19 billion deal. AirBnB is just 7 years old and Uber is 6 years old when both companies, respectively, reached USD 25.5 billion and USD 50 billion valuation this year. FYI, as new player in hospitality industry, AirBnB valuation is even nearly the same as Hilton Hotel and four times higher than Hyatt Hotel, which have been on business for decades.

Some people argue that those crazily high-valued tech start-ups might just be ‘bubble’ forming. No one can guarantee the upcoming commensurate reward of such huge investment. But those apps users’ base are proven to be remarkably growing each year. Guess this is how disruptive business works, isn’t it? They always come quick, unexpected, and ruin the whole game rules.

So now if a young man brag about building global company in a flash time, don’t doubt it. He might do. It’s easier now for small entrepreneurs to dream bigger–and realise it faster. As the article put it, today’s start-ups are simply “fuelled by coffee and dreams”, then they are ready to conquer the world…

The Unicorn Club

The Unicorn Club


The Expense of ‘Being Nice’ in the Workplace

The Expense of ‘Being Nice’ in the Workplace

Everybody loves nice people. Nice people won’t hurt you. Nice people will always help you. Nice people can even be the vehicle you use when you need to go further.

Oh and everybody likes to be liked. Even before Facebook invented the ‘Like’ button and utilised this as psychological tool to deepen its users engagement. And it is so understandable that in order to be liked by other people, a person would behave nicely. Yes, you are being nice in expect of being liked. A simple basic rule of social interaction.

But what happen if you’re in a situation that will harm you to be nice? What happen if your expectation to be liked is failed? What happen if your nice behaviour is being used by other people at your expense instead?

Well I’m talking about professional and business environment. I just came across this interesting article about three types of personality in workforce: takers, givers and matchers. As obvious as it sounds, taker is someone who continuously taking advantage for himself and neglect others’ benefit. Giver, on the other hand, is that ‘nice guy’ who care about your need and try to offer help. Matcher is someone who constantly maintain the balance of ‘taking’ and ‘giving’.

People will naturally (well, mostly) be a giver in terms of close relationship like family, friends and lovers. But in workforce, it is normal that you will tend to be a taker. Especially in the business world with ruthless rule: eat or being eaten. Being a total giver certainly won’t benefit you, since it equals to surrender yourself to be a ladder other people can step on. Most people, however, will fall in the category between: a matcher. It’s a basic rule of reciprocity: you get what you give and vice versa. You help people in the hope they will return the favor if someday you need them. As Adam Grant (2013) put it:

“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return.”

That typical nice guy: always smile and ready to help

That typical nice guy: always smile and ready to help

My dad is an example of natural giver. He’d rather walked himself away from a company than having to fire his innocent subordinate. He’d rather suffered himself than having to see other people suffered because of him. He’s a brilliant man–it’s just he helped other people too much that he forgot to care about his own self.

It’s probably not surprising then if research suggested that givers are the least successful people in their careers. Compared to takers, on average they earn 14% less money and 22% less powerful. Being nice in professional workplace is, scientifically proven, not helping you to reach successful career.

If so, then why some people still thrive to be a nice guy in workplace?

It’s because, eventhough some givers succumb to the bottom of career ladder, surprisingly some other givers are also those who occupy the top position. In short, “both the worst performers and the best performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle. Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder.” Being a giver means you can either be exteremely failed or extremely successful.

How could it possibly happen?

Well, a giver is simply generous in sharing time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them. Apparently, every time you help others with your skill, you learn something from it. It’s like that simple philosophy of educator: by teaching you’re learning. The more you help, the more you learn, the more you get expert, the more you make valuable relationship, thus the more likely you are to succeed.

Still, if all givers receive those benefits; then why some of them fail while others succeed? Vicki Helgeson suggested that one of the critical distinctions between self-sacrificing givers and successful ones is the willingness to seek support. They do not hesitant to share the ‘help load’ by asking support from other people, thus expand the ‘helping spirit’ itself. Moreover, succesful givers also help with careful consideration of when, how, and whom to help.

Grant put the conclusion of his theory very well:

“Givers, takers, and matchers all can— and do— achieve success. But there’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when [givers] win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them.”

At the end of the day, it is our right to choose our own reciprocity style in workplace; a taker, a giver, or a matcher. If we identify ourselves as that ‘nice guy’ though, then make sure to be kind in the right way.


UK-Europe and the Job Market

UK-Europe and the Job Market

It’s a common mistaken perception that graduates in developed countries are easier to get job. No, not at all. Finding a (proper) job has always been a struggle for majority of people, wherever we are. In developed countries, the case is probably even worse. Most of the industrial manufacturing plants have off-shored to far away countries as a result of globalised trade–which means less on-site jobs available. Plus, (quite) recent financial crisis still leave its impact on the economy.In France, an ex co-worker told me, it is considered amazing if you’re (still) 25 and have secured a permanent job. So, refer to my previous story, it’s understandable why an ex-client questioned my decision to leave a permanent job for studying again. In fact, during my study in UK, I observed that most of postgraduate students are international students (non UK/EU)–which means that it’s seemingly quite rare for UK/EU students to pursue Master Degree, unless they plan to build an academic career.

Anyway, I just read an interesting story in LUSU (Lancaster University Student Union) newspaper.

LUSU article

As we can see from the title, the writer complained about how it’s getting more difficult to secure full time entry-level job, as most of the companies turn it into apprenticeship program. Even worse, a significant number of these apprenticeships were taken by over-25s people, reducing the chance of fresh graduates to get a job. The excuse for apprenticeship (instead of full-time employment) was, that company need to shape their employee’s skill before fully employing them.

But of course that wasn’t the real case. Once an Indonesian senior, who has stayed in UK for 15 years, told me that difficult economy has forced many companies to avoid paying standard wage for graduates. A standard annual salary for bachelor degree holder is £24,000. However, in apprenticeship, this decent salary can be pressed down up to minimum wage rate, which is £6.50 per hour. If a graduate works for 40 hours a week, then you can imagine how much saving the company makes? However, seems that the graduates have no other options though, since finding a permanent job is getting harder.

In this situation of diminishing job market, the chance for overseas students like me to secure a job in UK is even impossible. It makes sense that government and corporations will of course prioritise their own citizen to get employment. Most of Indonesian LU graduates that I know, ended up go back to Indonesia after some UK job application trials. Freelance jobs are still available, of course, but again, with minimum wage rate to feed highly expensive UK living cost, it’s a lot better to work at home with higher salary value and much lower living cost.

Life is hard, comrades.

Plunge into Job Market Again

Plunge into Job Market Again

As I’m getting closer to the end of Summer Term, and definitely to the deadline of my dissertation’s submission, I feel like another worry start to catch me. Now I wonder where would I be in the next couple of months? Would I go back home and find a dream job? Would I stay here with casual job spending my visa time while thinking about the next step to do? Would I start building my own business and serve the community?

It’s funny that after all this time, somehow I have no clear clue about what’s going on next. These days I feel like I’m going back to the time of 3 years ago, when I was waiting for bachelor graduation, wandering around the library and writing a blog post like this. It’s pathetically funny that I haven’t moved forward from those younger days.

During my time of working in Surabaya, I found that the routines killed my brain. After 2 years drowning in a company business, I knew I had to do something with my life, re-fill it so it won’t be wasted away as a corporate robot. I decided to apply for scholarship, fulfilled my old dream of studying abroad, in the hope of re-fuel my mind and my soul. At that time, one of our clients from France questioned my decision to quit the job. He said that I was very brave to leave the good job position for the sake of going back to study.

In fact, now I feel the fear. Source of image:

Recently I’ve applied some casual job positions to fulfil several gap months until graduation. When I started re-writing my CV, I just realised that I’m getting old. I’m no more a fresh graduate with unlimited opportunity. Probably I won’t be considered as a priority for the role of Management Trainee in reputable companies. And I’ll be 25 by the end of this year. Somehow this reality strikes me. Almost 25 and soon to be unemployed (well unless I find a job before graduation).

I probably took a Master degree in the hope of escaping corporate life for a while, but now I know that inevitably I will have to go back. Income is the main concern. Now that I’ve used to get regular income for the past 3 years and the lifestyle followed, I feel a bit fear of going back to undergraduate life when I had to struggle between freelance jobs and maintain lower lifestyle. Besides, my family does have a high expectation of me. As the eldest of four daughters, I knew the burden is on my shoulder.

The jungle is there, yet to be explored. While many of my friends have settled down; getting married and having kids, I’m still in the middle of adventure. I’m partly worried–yet partly challenged.

Oh, and I’m going to write more about job market in UK. Check it out here.

Death Penalty and ASEAN Sovereignty

Death Penalty and ASEAN Sovereignty

Following execution of eight drugs dealers in Indonesia (29/04/15), the world again put their attention on South East Asia, and how death penalty still prevail in this region. Among ten ASEAN members, only two countries have officially removed capital punishment from their law. Cambodia and Philippines abolished death penalty for all crimes in 1989 and 2006 respectively. Brunei Darussalam, Laos and Myanmar are de facto abolitionists since they haven’t carried out any executions for decades. Still, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand remain retentionists of death penalty with executions method ranged from hanging, firing squad, to lethal injection.

International pressure on ASEAN countries to abolish its so-called barbaric death executions had been consistently occured. Seems like it becomes regular headline every few years when one of ASEAN countries is about to execute their death-accused convicts, notably when it involved foreigners. Nevertheless, death penalty opposition activism also sparked within the region, especially from retentionist ASEAN countries. Thailand activists and experts had called for end to death penalty in regional seminar Thammasat University in Bangkok (12/12/2012). Recently, during ASEAN People’s Forum 2015 in Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia (24/04/2015), civil society organisations from ASEAN countries gathered and urged governments to cease death penalty practice.

It is true that global trend shows positive favor toward capital punishment abolition. South East Asia is, arguably, one of the regions with eminent death execution rate. Singapore is in fact had the second highest per-capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999. In Malaysia, there was an estimated 992 people on death row by the end of 2013. While in Indonesia, there are about ten new death sentences imposed annually.

Even though many other countries still enforce capital punishment, including US and Japan, South East Asia is continually becoming an object of condemnation regarding death sentence. The raised issue is allegedly associated with its adjudgement on drug trafficking crimes, which are seen by the condemning countries as, probably, not that dreadful to deserve life-repealing sentence.

However, ASEAN retentionists do have their own considerations of applying harsh punishment toward drug traffickers. Illicit drug trade is indeed an intensely serious issue in this region. Currently, Golden Triangle between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand remains producer of a quarter of the world’s heroin. Drug gangs, drug-related diseases and drug-influenced violence have harmed the regions’ young generation and overall society. Showing this strong intention to combat narcotic drugs’ abuse, the ASEAN leaders even signed joint declaration for a drug-free ASEAN in 1998.

ASEAN is very serious in tackling drugs problem.

ASEAN is very serious in tackling drugs problem.

This firm attitude toward drug abuse crimes has actually ignited salute expression. U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich once praised Singapore for its ‘very draconian’ rules toward drug crimes. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even stated that U.S. could learn from Singapore’s harsh drug laws.

Nevertheless, pressure to remove death penalty is generally increasing. Some ASEAN countries have responded to this by steadily reduce the scale of death penalty strictness. Vietnam, for instance, have changed the execution method from firing squad into lethal injection in 2011, with consideration of ‘more humane’ approach. In 2013, Singapore has removed the mandatory death penalty for special drug cases.

Despite all the continuing pressure and condemnation, apparently it’s not a prominent agenda for ASEAN countries to fully abolish death penalty. As Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia stated regarding his rejection to Australia clemency petition, his country is in the drugs-emergency state that the government should take assertive move to combat it.

Eventually, every country has its own considerations of applying its current law. There are philosophical and sociological circumstance differences that underlie law enforcement in different countries. ASEAN governments are, of course, possess their own right and sovereignty to enforce law that is considered most effective to their own situation. And this sovereignty, by all means, should be protected and not threatened by any external power.

Written at 30 April 2015 for The Diplomat…but not published I guess :p

7 Nostalgic Websites that Bring Back your Teenage Memories

7 Nostalgic Websites that Bring Back your Teenage Memories

Time flies, so does technology. From the era of Netscape until Chrome, from mIRC until WhatsApp, internet does drastically evolve. Ten years ago we can still find many choices for the same service provided on Internet. However, it’s undeniable that most of Internet service we find now are provided and owned by these two companies: Google and Facebook.

It’s actually unbelievable how Google and Facebook domination has changed the way we use internet. They become such huge empires that control everything you do on Internet. When I was thirteen I searched on Yahoo!, Lycos, MSN, Altavista; had my e-mail on Yahoo! Mail and Plasa; had my blog on Geocities; had Internet Explorer as web browser, had mIRC or Yahoo! Messenger to chat; I had different choices for different purpose. But now? You have Android in a grab of your hand and all you do is basically through Google. Search on Google, e-mail on Gmail, blog on Blogspot (well I use WordPress anyway), browse on Chrome, chat on Hangout, all the possible way you can do on Internet has already served by Google. You may have several social media accounts, but the main one is mostly Facebook. You mentioned WhatsApp and Instagram? Well those two are also owned by Facebook.

The two Internet superpowers

The two Internet superpowers

Now let’s just go back and recall that time in early 2000’s, where Internet was still pretty much free market without dominant players. Well, this post title might only applies for you who were born around 1990s (since I don’t know whether you’re teenageers at the time these following websites became huge trend), but anyway let’s have a break and get on the time machine for a while!


This website is legend. When you hear about Friendster, somehow you recall that tragic story of first-mover market leader that ended up drowning in the bottom of internet swamp. Pathetic. Try to open your old Friendster profile page now and here is what you’ll get:


Voila! My Friendster profile now.

Nevertheless, this website was once a huge phenomenon. Around 2002 – 2007, when the term ‘social media’ hasn’t even been coined, Friendster managed to be one of the biggest influential social networking site (aside of MySpace) before Facebook domination. I remember when friends are giving “testimonial” to each other on their Friendster’s profile (the more you get the more popular you are), changing profile layout with colorful-dazzling background, and of course, see who’s stalking you.

One of Friendster’s distinct feature (compared to Facebook) is “Who’s Viewed My Profile”, that allowed you to see those ‘stalkers’–then maybe send back message to them. When Facebook emerged, many people regretted that it doesn’t have this feature, but I think that’s why Facebook doesn’t use it: to allow people stalking even more frequently without any hesitation >> the profile owner won’t caught you anyway 😛

Now Friendster has completely shut down its social networking sevice, and change to be social gaming platform instead. However it’s still quite succesful. And here’s a picture just to bring back the old time to you.


Old Friendster profile page



When being asked about your first e-mail address, almost likely you will answer Yahoo! as the domain. Well some people had Hotmail as their first mail, but Yahoo! was just the most popular one back then. My very first ID was made at the first year of junior high school,, such a silly username with silly meaning^^”. Then I had new one with more “reasonable” combination–but still childish anyway, that still even exist until now (never check it though).

At that time, when Internet was still expensive privilege, only few people can afford to access internet at home (even they rarely use it since the rate was so damn high). These kind of friends were usually more “technological-savvy” and even had their first e-mail since elementary school. Other average people like me can only access Internet from “warnet” (warung internet a.k.a. internet shop), where you pay hourly rate to rent a computer with Internet access–sometimes a very slowwwwwwwww one.

Okay back to Yahoo! Mail. At that time, due to Internet scarcity (and sluggishness), for me when this ‘scenery’ finally appeared on my screen I felt soooooo happy and relieved:

Yahoo! Mail classic inbox

Yahoo! Mail classic inbox (you can’t believe sometimes it may took forever to get on this screen)

Well what did this e-mail do for junior high school kids? Think now I just wanna laugh recalling those stupid, silly, random things we did with e-mail 😛 Most of us used it for flirting of course (at that time Friendster was not yet happening), approaching your crush(es) while you have no courage to do so in real life. Sometimes it can also lead to more absurd things–like threatening your rival. I remember the one called herself Stephanie Wilcox that kept terroring me by e-mail, telling me to stay away from X (a guy in my class). I had no idea what she talked about since I hate this guy so much that I don’t understand why she should be jealous to me. Few years later I revealed that this guy was actually the one who spammed my inbox with romantic (weird) poems. Until now I still can’t reveal who is the real Stephanie Wilcox (though I had one strong suspect), but anyway now that I think about it again, it’s just such a silly teenagers drama 😛


…and other search engines before Google domination. I remember everytime I searched for school assignment on Internet, one search engine never enough. Yahoo! would be the first I opened, but then if I couldn’t find what I want, then I’ll open Lycos, MSN, and Altavista simultaneously. Now? You simply just “googling” and it’s enough. Other search engines are dead. I couldn’t really recall how we could suddenly switch to Google–it was like a fast dream–when I wake up I already have that colorful Google logo on my screen. I never use Yahoo! and blah blah again since then. I wonder how Sergey Brin had hypnotised us…

altavista msn

Old-school search engines

Old-school search engines

However I think some of Google services like Google Adsense, Google Adwords, etc contributed to its raising popularity. Not so long after that, the term “Search Engine Optimization” started to gain attention. Initially most of SEO service providers had different package for Google SEO and Yahoo! SEO, but now I think SEO will automatically means “how to make your website easily googled”.


This is just another e-mail provider, but local one (Indonesia only). I think now they completely delete their e-mail service, since I can’t access my inbox anymore. At that time many of us had two e-mail accounts (on Yahoo! and Plasa). My ID was (another ‘absurd’ name). Again, e-mail was only something for fun. It was way of sharing information like funny pictures, e-cards, humorous post, etc with school friends. Sometimes it was also the way of telling someone about something that you can’t tell in real life.

Many of my friends who’d later be a couple (or almost couple) were also doing their initial flirting through e-mail (aside of home telephone). In later school reunion, some friends confessed that they actually had intense e-mail conversations with certain guy/girl, that either we never expected before, or we did have a clue that there’s something between them. Oh well it’s just so funny to recall those teenagers flirting moments 🙂

Nah here’s a screenshot from Plasa inbox just to bring back your memories.

Plasa inbox--that nostalgic green layout :)

Plasa inbox–that nostalgic green layout 🙂

5. mIRC

It wasn’t really a website, but chat room desktop application that was once widely popular. Most of ‘internet shop’ provided the shortcut on Desktop so you can easily connect with those random people in chat room. The appearance was not even actually user-friendly, but I don’t know why at that time it was very popular. If you’re tired of crowded conversations in the main chat room then you can just pick one random ID on the right side to chat privately. The conversation usually began with:

“Hi, asl pls” (asl = age sex location)

And my typical answer would be “15 f mlg” (I marked up my age…)


As far as I remember, mIRC let you log in with different ID (unlike Yahoo! Messenger) so you will not be able to chat with the same person again the next time you login, unless he/she maintain the same ID. Many people exhanged e-mail address so they can keep contact. It was really random people you met, a bit freaky and nasty sometimes, so we mostly used it only out of curiosity and stopped using it after a while.


I loved this website! They provide huge variety of electronic cards that you can customize and send to your friends in many special occasions. Even until now this website still exists. At that time sending e-cards became a trend among my friends (even without any special occasion, sometimes just for prank). We used to use Yahoo! Greetings but then found that 123Greetings were a lot more attractive with animated figures and everything.




This website was one of the first blog provider. One of my genius friend introduced me to this website, and it was the very first time I started blogging (eventhough I just revealed few years later that those activities called “blogging”). The template was very simple, it wasn’t variety of choices we easily find in today’s Blogspot and WordPress. You can’t even create your own blog URL link because it has to be the same with your Yahoo! Mail user ID. That was one of reason to change my Yahoo! Mail address to be, so I can create new Geocities blog with this URL:

One of geocities blog

One of geocities blog

Another way of customising your Geocities blog was by using Microsoft Frontpage, windows application to create website. I enjoyed using Frontpage out of curiosity, and can still even picture my very first blog design that has image drawn manually by Paint application 😛 However somehow I didn’t find a way to completely import blog template from Frontpage to Geocities–or maybe another thing, I forgot. I soon got bored and leave it.  Now this is what I get when trying to access my Geocities blog:

Geocities shut down

Geocities shut down

Well I think that’s all I can recall from our teenagers era 🙂 Feel free to add and comment if you have anything in mind! 😉



That Marriage Between Business and Society

That Marriage Between Business and Society

What comes to your mind when you hear those words of ‘social business’, ‘corporate social responsibility’, or any other noble things that seem too idealistic to do? The middle line between business and social charity?The marriage between capitalism and socialism?

Since CSR term coined years ago, it suddenly became such a ‘happening trend’. Corporations started to engage CSR projects into their annual strategic plan and realise that somehow it can boost their reputation among community–and target market of course.

However, business is business. They suppose to make money, they are not charity foundation. They will not do something without any cost/benefit analysis behind. It’s a common argument I’ve used to hear about people who are skeptic about CSR. Corporation’s bosses might say, “Just let the government and NGOs take care of society. Our job is to make money. And this is the way we contribute to society. By making money, we provide employment, we create living for our workers.”

Well, somehow that’s not entirely wrong–yet not completely true.

CSR Reports

When I was still an idealistic fresher college student, this idea of CSR was so ‘sparkling’ that I feel mad to those irresponsible companies ruining their environment and communities. However, as I worked in a commercial corporation for 2 years and get to know how the business is actually run, I began to understand businesspeople point of view.

It’s not that I’m at the side of Freeport with their Papua nature devastation, or Nike with their ruthless labor condition. They still do unforgivable things. However, CSR projects somehow draw a border line between business and society–which make it even worse. By thinking that CSR is a marriage between business and society, we are deliberately considering that the two parties are exactly different. And why should we differ business from society? Why can’t we think of it as the whole entity?

It’s like business is ‘evil’, and society is ‘good’. Business can do anything to earn profit as long as they share (tiny) portion of the profit to community. Nike can continue enslave their workers as long as the owner donate to education charity. Danone Aqua can keep exploiting East Java springs as long as they build a kindergarten for local people near the factory. Those giants can still do all the evils–as long as they commit those CSR projects to ‘erase their sins’.

The truth is, society is the part of business, and vice versa.

I once read about The Five Capitals. It is the concept invented by British NGO, Forum for the Future,  as the framework for understanding and achieving sustainable development of organisation. Basically it says that all organisation (corporations) can do sustainable business as long as they maintain their five capitals in balance: natural capital (environment, climate, resources etc), human capital, social capital, financial capital, and manufactured capital. As long as company carefully source and manage those five capitals, they can run sustainable business.

For example, you can source as much financial capital, but you can’t harm another capital (such as natural capital & human capital) in doing so–because in long term it will negatively affect your own company. Your business can’t run without healthy climate condition–for instance. Your business can’t run without satisfied suppliers and workers. This way we think business and society as a blending entity. As long as they do business in this sustainable way, I think companies do not need to compensate their ‘sin’ by doing CSR charity merit.

In a last week seminar, the Head of CSR in Innocent Drinks, UK’s leading smoothies company, frankly said that she didn’t like the term ‘CSR’. She prefers to do a community program that directly impact their business. For instance, they set up mango plantation improvement project in India to enhance their productivity and quality. They did it because, aside of benefiting community farmers, they knew they will get quality raw material (fruit) for their end product (smoothie).

In the end, CSR has no point if it’s just used as a mask to cover your unfair business practice. As long as company behave well and fair in their business process, they don’t need to spend additional budget for ‘charity’. They already did the charity.