The quest for inner growth


WORKABLE TIPS By PAUL KAM

The desire to learn and bring about improvements within, is what makes a young job-seeker employable.

THE QUEST for self- improvement is a quality that needs to be nurtured long before one embarks on a task. Every other day I receive resumès in my e-mail asking for a chance at an interesting career. After opening the mail, I usually scroll down to look for anything, that makes me want to read further and usually it would be the section on hobbies and other activities.

I must admit that I am particularly drawn to those who have excelled in sports and activities that are not work related. Besides this, conferences, meets or expeditions be it a scout jamboree or leadership training programme will help the resumè stand out too.

During one team-building programme I conducted for young executives of a company, I had an interesting conversation with a participant who talked about his college days and how he and his friends used the great outdoors to their benefit while living on a tight budget.

“We would go camping, trekking and fishing during college break. We wanted to go to Sabah but had no money, so we took up part time work in a fabric shop and even set up a roadside stall selling fruits we bought from the wholesale market!

Up in the air: The group unable to contain their joy and excitement as they wave their hands.

“Finally, we raised enough money to get to Sepilok, Sabah. We also managed to climb Gunung Kinabalu,” he said adding that he and his friends would try to make a yearly trip just to be together.

When I left, I was thinking of how I could fit him into my company. Although he did not have the relevant experience, I was willing to train him as a trainee facilitator because I was encouraged by his attitude.

A quick assessment told me he was creative (from the way he went about raising the money for his trip) and curious in his quest to seek information. He also had self-motivation (the limited funds did not deter him from being adventurous) and was a team player (he made a collective effort in raising funds and wanted to keep in touch with his friends).

There is one quality that is immediately obvious from a resumè that includes a list of extra-curricular activities and that is the writer’s quest for knowledge and self improvement. There are also some things that will never change with time, regardless of which day and age we are in, and that is the desire for growth

If we dwell further into this topic we will also find that it is not about the conferences or the number of training programmes that one has attended. In fact, it is about the attitude towards learning. The desire to question and the keeness to know about whatever that’s happening around him. It is about wanting to be better. Despite the rapid changes in the training milieu, employers still want and need the same thing — an individual who takes it upon himself to grow and does it with a great attitude.

My corporate contemporaries have complained about sales employees who would not go any further to reach out to a bigger market because they cannot speak a different dialect or language as a reason for not venturing out. My contemporaries are disturbed that their employees are not taking the initiative to learn a language or dialect on their own and instead expect their employers to formally hire speicalists to teach languages.

Employees cannot demand to get training as training is not a right. An employee is expected to constantly improve himself and keep up with trends in the market place because being paid a salary would mean they are expected to add value to the company.

On my first job, that was exactly what I was told. Being young and fresh, I was naive to think that I would be given the opportunity to learn and be an asset to the company.

How shocked I was when my boss took me into his room and told me that he was cutting my pay because I was learning too much at the firm! “If I pay you to learn then you are gaining more than me, so I should not pay you so much.”

He highlighted the reality that organisations pay for talent. The more talented you are and add value to the business, the more you will be paid. You are not paid to learn in the company. You are paid to apply what you have learnt. So, before one can apply his knowledge he must first acquire it even before he sends out his resumès.

This takes the discussion back to extra-curricular activities while in school and colleges.

To make these activities work for you during the interviews, always relate it to how it can help you perform better. For instance, tell them you were a King Scout in school and that has taught you to lead and keep a group of people with different personalities together. Talk about the challenges that you have learnt from all your activities that were not course-related and how you have learnt to network with others.

Also remember not to overdo the focus on extra-curricular activities. This may lead the employer to think that you will be distracted and that you will not put the job as priority.

Extra-curricular activities are meant to help you at the interview, so chart it carefully for a winning number.

Paul Kam is a lawyer by training. He has worked with private and public sector leaders and has designed and led several transformation, alignment and strategic change initiatives. With his understanding of market conditions in various industries, he is passionate about shifting and aligning mindsets and behaviours of leaders and employees. He is a member of the Malaysian Institute of Management and is also a certified team profiler and a life and wealth coach.

War for Talent! How to win it for Malaysia?


Winning the war for talent

By LIM WEY WEN wwen@thestar.com.my

Are hefty paychecks and good career prospects the only aspects talents look for in a base country? The answers may be the key to a country’s success in bringing its best brains home.

THERE is a global war being waged as companies and countries struggle to keep their best within their borders while they try to woo the world’s brightest.

And if salary perks and benefits offered by countries like Qatar, China, Singapore and Malaysia for returning experts and expatriates are anything to go by, the “War for Talent”, a term coined by research giant McKinsey & Company in 1997, is still going strong despite the global economic slowdown.

But 13 years after the term was coined, the landscape of the war has greatly changed. Most notably, the “weapons” used to attract talents have changed.

While salary packages and fringe benefits used to be one of the most powerful magnets for talent, it may not be enough in the current human resource climate.

Dr Tan: ‘When you have the brains or energy, you want to go to the best place to learn from the best’

David Lee, author of the Insights: The Journal of the Northeast HR Association article titled “Becoming a Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Retain Great Employees”, says that competitive pay and a good benefits package although important are not enough to attract and retain “the best of the best”.

Quoting a study by another US consulting firm Kepner-Tregoe of Princeton, Lee, an executive coach and founder of US consulting and training firm HumanNature@Work, points out that 40% of the employees surveyed felt that increased salaries and financial rewards were ineffective in reducing turnover.

Hence, the vital question for most human resource managers and national talent development organisations is “What are the world’s best looking for?”

Lee says the proverbial carrot lies in the intangible, such as pride in where they work and what they do, appreciation from their managers, opportunities to learn and grow as well as respect.

Interviews with Malaysian diasporas and experts who have returned seem to support the trend.

Although many of them acknowledge that salary packages and career prospects matter, it is often not a deal breaker when it comes to their decision to remain abroad or return home.

Wong: ‘If Malaysia wants to attract talents, it must be able to provide a conducive environment’

One of the main attractions for talents is the environment for them to develop and excel in their fields of interest.

When Kuala Lumpur-born consultant psychiatrist and analytic psychotherapist Dr Tan Eng-Kong left for a sabbatical in Australia in 1976, he knew he would get to work with some of the best psychiatrists in the world.

“At that time, Australia invited the best of American and British psychiatrists to its country, and I was lucky to be able to take a sabbatical from lecturing in Sydney,” says Dr Tan, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently.

As he found greater opportunities to practise his field of interest psychotherapy in Australia, he chose to stay there and build his career.

“In those days, the field of psychotherapy was not developed yet in Malaysia. So, I had to stay back in Australia just to practise,” says Dr Tan, who has now spent over 30 years building a successful career in Sydney.

While psychotherapy is currently gaining popularity among local mental health professionals, Dr Tan still feels it is more popular and better received in the West.

“When you have the brains or energy, you want to go to the best place to learn from the best,” says Dr Tan, who still visits Malaysia regularly to share his expertise with local mental health professionals.

Dr Lam Wei-Haur, who has just come back under the returning experts programme (REP) after spending six years in Britain and two years in China doing research in ocean renewable energy, shares a similar experience.

“Funding for research at a post-graduate level was limited when I finished my undergraduate studies in 2001. I was lucky to obtain a scholarship to further my studies in the UK,” says Lam, who is now an associate professor in Universiti Malaya’s department of civil engineering.

Although the tax cuts and benefits made the transition back to Malaysia easier, I came back because I felt I could contribute more to my field of research back home. – DR LAM WEI-HAUR

“However, after six years of research in the UK, I wanted to learn about the system of research and development in China,” he adds.

Lam, who is in his 30s, says he came back because he felt he would be able to contribute more to the field of ocean energy in Malaysia.

“Although the tax cuts and benefits such as a permanent residentship offer for my spouse made the transition back to Malaysia easier, the reason I came back is because I felt that I could contribute more to my field of research here, back home,” he explains.

There may be more established research institutions and teams overseas but having the opportunity to work with researchers in a developing nation such as Malaysia is like “sketching on a white piece of paper” for him.

On worries that Malaysia may not have sufficient funding and infrastructure for research, Dr Lam says researchers have to look for opportunities themselves.

“Our Government is now very supportive of scientific research and there are a number of sources researchers can go to for grants. We must understand that opportunities do not come to us if we do not make an effort to ask or look for it,” he stresses.

While Dr Hood Azlan Mohd Thabit, 35, is determined to return to Malaysia to continue his research in endocrinology (specifically in diabetes) after his post-graduate research in Cambridge, he agrees that the base country of a scientist or researcher is of marginally less importance compared to the research network and collaborations he could forge with other researchers around the world.

“It is very difficult for an individual or group to do research on its own, not just because the world is more globalised now, but because it is so easy to collaborate through the Internet, they have no excuse not to,” he says.

While certain countries have established infrastructure for research, others have the human resource and expertise, he adds.

“Personally, it is really for the satisfaction of doing what you do. And coming home, for most people, is about whether they can continue their work in a meaningful way,” says Dr Hood.

For corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant Wong Lai Yong, who hails from Penang, the location of her base country does not matter as long as she is able to contribute to society from where she is.

Since she first volunteered to read to the blind in primary school, community service has been in her blood. Today, she continues to serve the people around her by spreading her knowledge on childcare development and social entrepreneurship based on her experiences in Japan.

“I’ve always realised that education is the best way to bring people out of poverty, so I think about the ways I can help bring education to people who have no access to primary education. That is why I have never confined my contributions to Malaysia alone,” says the cheerful 39-year-old.

She does not plan to return to Malaysia in the near future but even so, she visits regularly to share her knowledge.

“If Malaysia wants to attract talents, it must be able to provide a supportive and conducive environment for these talents to perform and contribute,” she says.

“We might not be able to compete with many developed nations in terms of salary and benefits, but we can offer Malaysian diasporas the comfort of home and the company of their family members.”

Malaysian transplant

Carol Lamb calls herself a transplanted Malaysian, having settled down in the United States in the 1980s. Lamb, who now runs communication firm Fantastic International Inc in Atlanta, says she is often asked in social circles where she is from.

“How do I convey that I am from a country surrounded by glistening islands with white sandy beaches, tropical rainforests with unique animal and plant life, cool mountain ranges with quaint villages, tall skyscrapers with world-class shopping, a fusion of Asia and British rule? I decided to build my own website and affiliate with one of the biggest online travel booking engines on the Internet, Hotels.com,” she tells.

With the help of Tourism Malaysia and its New York office, she travelled back to Malaysia and wrote about exciting tourist attractions and sites. The concept of medical tourism caught her attention and she is now helping to promote Malaysia as a health tourism destination among Americans.

“The number of Americans going to Malaysia is small. This is the reason why I created the Global Marketing Network’. I promote medical facilities that are in Malaysia at exhibitions around the US.

“Malaysian medical facilities need to be seen. Malaysia also needs to be on the lips and minds of people thinking about having surgery abroad. What better way to do this than participating in exhibitions?

“Additionally, most Americans do not know that Malaysia used to be a British colony. They are also unaware that English is widely spoken, the country has great infrastructure, fantastic beaches, awesome hotels, scrumptious food and is multi-racial and multi-cultural.

“Who better to explain all this face-to-face than a Malaysian who knows the country well?”

 Weaving a win-win web

BUILDING a global Malaysian diaspora network might seem like a colossal task but after the encouraging response entrepreneur Winston Choe received for the first diaspora meetup he planned in Silicon Valley, he is convinced that it may not be as difficult as it seems.

He had put out the word on the meetup he planned to link Malaysian technology companies with professionals and investors in the US in December, and was pleasantly surprised when he found over 80 Malaysians in the San Fransisco Bay Area, many of whom he had not met during the years he lived there.

“What I did was send the word out over the Internet through Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and e-mail lists about the meetup. Within two weeks, we had to increase our initial cap of 30 people to 50,” said Choe, a Petaling-Jaya born CEO of his own business networking software company in Silicon Valley.

In fact, the meetup sponsored by Talent Corporation Malaysia (TalentCorp) that features the topic “Malaysian Tech Sector Opportunities” has attracted 80 interested participants, but Choe had to limit his audience to ensure quality interaction.

“I am greatly encouraged by the initial feedback and am confident that the next one will easily attract at least 100 people,” he said via Skype.

The idea of a meetup in Silicon Valley came up when Choe was in Malaysia in October for a workshop organised by TalentCorp.

“This meetup is a follow-up to the workshop we did in Kuala Lumpur in October,” said Choe, who is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs build their businesses.

“My goal is to allow professionals (in Silicon Valley) to explore cross border opportunities between the United States and Asia,” he added.

Before the meetup, held at the Intel Santa Clara campus, Choe had selected four MSC companies and coached them to make a 15-minute business presentation to Silicon Valley professionals and investors. At the meetup, he also presented a win-win model for Malaysian diasporas to contribute to various sectors in Malaysia.

“After the workshop in Kuala Lumpur, we realised that what Malaysian start-ups need most are funding, market access and global partners,” said Choe.

The win-win model he suggested is focused on enhancing these three aspects for Malaysian companies as well as professionals and investors abroad.

In terms of funding, Malaysian diaspora with successful business ventures can introduce Malaysian companies to investors in the West, and Malaysian companies can reciprocate by introducing them to investors in Asia.

“While Malaysian diaspora can help Malaysian companies access the US market, Malaysian companies can serve as a gateway for them to access the Asian market.

“What we are trying to do now is to build a global (Malaysian) diaspora network with physical meetups, workshops and also online social tools, and our objective is to accelerate various sectors in Malaysia, starting with infotech,” he said.

As a result of the meetup, Choe made eight qualified introductions between professionals at the workshop and three MSC companies that presented that day.

A LinkedIn group has also been set up to connect participants of the workshop.

“A few participants have expressed interest in helping me organise more of such meetups,” said Choe.

With their help, Choe’s goal in 2012 is to organise similar meetups across the world in cities such as New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Melbourne and even Singapore.

“This represents about 80% of the Malaysian diaspora population, and we hope that they can take this platform and replicate it,” said Choe.

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I Recognise You! But How Did I Do It? How local Chinese see faces?


ScienceDaily: Your source for the latest research news  and science breakthroughs -- updated dailyScienceDaily (Jan. 13, 2012) — Are you someone who easily recognises everyone you’ve ever met? Or maybe you struggle, even with familiar faces? It is already known that we are better at recognising faces from our own race but researchers have only recently questioned how we assimilate the information we use to recognise people.

New research by the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus has shown that when it comes to recognising people the Malaysian Chinese have adapted their facial recognition techniques to cope with living in a multicultural environment.

The study ‘You Look Familiar: How Malaysian Chinese Recognise Faces’ was led by Chrystalle B.Y. Tan, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. The results have been published online in the scientific journal PLoS One, This research is the first PhD student publication for Nottingham’s School of Psychology in Malaysia.

Chrystalle Tan said: “Our research has shown that Malaysian Chinese adopt a unique looking pattern which differed from both Westerners and Mainland Chinese, possibly due to the multicultural nature of the country.”

The ability to recognise different faces may have social and evolutionary advantages. Human faces provide vital information about a person’s identity and characteristics such as gender, age, health and attractiveness. Although we all have the same basic features we have our own distinguishing features and there is evidence that the brain has a specialised mental module dedicated to face processing.

Recognition techniques

Previous research by a group at Glasgow University in Scotland showed that Asians from mainland China use more holistic recognition techniques to recognise faces than Westerners.

  • Chinese focus on the centre of the face in the nose area
  • Westerners focus on a triangular area between the eyes and mouth
  • British born Chinese use both techniques fixating predominantly around either the eyes and mouth, or the nose

Chrystalle said: “The traditional view is that people recognise faces by looking in turn at each eye and then the mouth. This previous research showed us that some Asian groups actually focus on the centre of the face, in the nose area. While Westerners are learning what each separate part of the face looks like — a strategy that could be useful in populations where hair and eye colour vary dramatically, mainland Chinese use a more global strategy, using information about how the features are arranged. Meanwhile British born Chinese use a mixture of both techniques suggesting an increased familiarity with other-race faces which enhances their recognition abilities.”

Eye tracking technology

The study by the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus set out to investigate whether exposure and familiarity with other cultures affects our recognition accuracy and eye movement strategies.

The team used specialised eye tracking technology to investigate the visual strategies used to recognise photographs of faces. They recruited 22 Malaysian Chinese student volunteers from across Nottingham’s Malaysia campus. The results showed that Malaysian Chinese used a unique mixed strategy by focusing on the eyes and nose more than the mouth.

Chrystalle said: “We have shown that Malaysian Chinese adopt a unique looking pattern which differed from both Westerners and mainland Chinese. This combination of Eastern and Western looking patterns proved advantageous for Malaysian Chinese to accurately recognise Chinese and Caucasian faces.”

The study was supervised by Dr Ian Stephen, an expert on face processing and Dr Elizabeth Sheppard, an expert in eye tracking. Dr Stephen said: “We think that people learn how to recognise faces from the faces that they encounter. Although Malaysia is an East Asian country its ethnic composition is highly diverse. The intermediate looking strategy that Malaysian Chinese use allows them to recognise Western faces just as well as Asians.”

How local Chinese see faces?

A study shows that Malaysian Chinese have their own distinct way of identifying faces compared to Caucasians and those from mainland China.

NEW research by the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus has shown that when it comes to recognising people, the Malaysian Chinese have adapted their facial recognition techniques to cope with living in a multicultural environment.

The study was led by Chrystalle B.Y. Tan, a PhD student at the Nottingham Malaysia campus.

The results have been published online in the scientific journal PloS One. This research is the first PhD student publication for Nottingham’s School of Psychology in Malaysia.

The study had established that we were already better at recognising faces from our own race. However, researchers had only recently questioned how we assimilated such information to recognise people.

The images (from left) show locations where Malaysian Chinese participants focus on when recognising faces; in contrast the Caucasians focus on the eyes and mouth, while the emphasis for Mainland Chinese and Japanese is around the nose.

“Our research has shown that Malaysian Chinese adopt a unique looking pattern which differed from both Westerners and Mainland Chinese, possibly due to the multicultural nature of the country,” says Tan.

The ability to recognise different faces may have social and evolutionary advantages.

Human faces provide vital information about a person’s identity and characteristics such as gender, age, health and attractiveness. Although we all have the same basic features we also have other distinguishing features, and there is evidence that the brain has a specialised mental module dedicated to face processing.

Previous research by a group at Glasgow University in Scotland showed that Asians from mainland China use more holistic recognition techniques to recognise faces compared to Westerners.

“The traditional view is that people recognise faces by looking at each eye and then the mouth. This previous research showed us that some Asian groups actually focus on the centre of the face, around the nose area.

“While Westerners are learning what each separate part of the face looks like — a strategy that could be useful in populations where hair and eye colour vary dramatically, mainland Chinese use a more global strategy, using information about how the features are arranged.

“Meanwhile British-born Chinese use a mixture of both techniques suggesting an increased familiarity with the faces of other races which in turn enhances their recognition abilities,” Tan explains.

The study by the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus sets out to investigate whether exposure and familiarity with other cultures affect our recognition accuracy and eye movement strategies.

The team adopted specialised eye-tracking technology to investigate the visual strategies used to recognise photographs of faces.

They recruited 22 Malaysian Chinese student volunteers from across the Nottingham Malaysia campus. The results showed that Malaysian Chinese used a unique mixed strategy by focusing on the eyes and nose more than the mouth.

“We have shown that Malaysian Chinese adopt a unique looking pattern which differed from both Westerners and mainland Chinese. This combination of Eastern and Western looking patterns proved advantageous for Malaysian Chinese to accurately recognise Chinese and Caucasian faces,” Tan adds.

The study was supervised by Dr. Ian Stephen, an expert on face processing and Dr. Elizabeth Sheppard, an expert in eye-tracking. They are both Assistant Professors at the School of Psychology at the university. “We think that people learn how to recognise faces from the faces that they usually encounter. Although Malaysia is an East Asian country its ethnic composition is highly diverse. The intermediate looking strategy that Malaysian Chinese use allows them to recognise Western faces just as well as Asians,” says Dr. Stephen.

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Chinese, and truly Malaysian?

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