Community Dialogue project: fly-bottle

What I learned about building a community

It all began with a pattern. Knowing my background in philosophy, several people approached me to learn more about the subject because they didn’t know where to start. To them, philosophy was daunting. Yet each conversation was rich and exciting, and they took to philosophical inquiry like fish to water. I found myself wondering,

“What would it be like if we were all able to have a conversation? What would such a community look like?”

The first community conversation I had took place on 31 July, with a small group comprising of some friends who had approached me previously. By 3 August, the first newsletter was released and our Facebook group was created. I’m happy to report that our first community meetup took place on 1 September and the next one is currently in the works!

I am unspeakably excited about project: fly-bottle and have learned so much in the 1+ month since its launch. In retrospect, much of the process has been influenced by aspects of the Lean Startup methodology and Design Thinking — two protocols that I learned while running entrepreneurship modules in my school.

Process: Building the fly-bottle community
Process: Building the fly-bottle community

Stage 1: Observe and Analyse

“Is there need or demand for a community?”

I mentioned earlier that it all began with a pattern: individuals asking about philosophy. Some of these individuals knew each other, but were not engaging in conversations about philosophy with each other because they didn’t know of mutual interest or they believed that they needed guidance from someone who knew the subject.

Over months of observation, mostly due to the ad-hoc nature of conversations with friends and acquaintances, a few questions kept recurring:

  • This is the field that I work in… are there any relevant philosophical insights/concepts that I can learn from?
  • What’s the relevance of philosophy in real life?
  • How do I use philosophy to help me think clearly?
  • Where do I begin?

Evidently, people weren’t interested in becoming experts or philosophy professors. They just wanted something that made philosophy more accessible.

But philosophy’s value doesn’t just lie in concepts you can learn. Dialogue is invaluable in philosophical investigation regardless of expertise as alternative perspectives can really be insightful. How could I share what I knew and scale up the 1:1 conversations I was having?

Moving from 1:1 to a community conversation

Stage 2: Ideation

“Who is my community?”

“What would such a community look like”

“How do I best engage my community?”

Sustainability was a big consideration for me in building the fly-bottle community because

(i) I have a full-time job, and

(ii) building communities is a commitment — you can’t just bow out when you feel like it.

Further, my personal philosophy about education is that it should be learner-centric and progressive.

This narrowed down the suitable platforms significantly. Running classes and workshops were not feasible because I needed to manage this alone (for now). Neither were webinars because the project needed to spark conversations within the community as well as with me. A combination of a blog or newsletter and a social platform seemed best. That way, community members could learn some philosophy and see how it related to real life, and have a platform to engage. I started a group chat and went to the ‘proto-community’ with some ideas:

Checking with the ‘proto-community’
Verifying feasibility! Yes!

The feedback was amazing and very encouraging. This was 31 July.

A bit more reflection lent some direction to this project:

  • The material needed to be accessible, so as little jargon as possible and large chunks of text were to be avoided.
  • Content needed to spark conversation or (at least) reflection, so the project needed to ask more questions than it answered.
  • The community did not need to be restricted to people who wanted to learn. What about the people who have done some philosophy and wanted to just talk about stuff?

Stage 3: Build & Ship

“What’s the best community engagement platform?”

I started with a newsletter because that’s the easiest way to get the information to the community. They didn’t need to change their behaviour. They’d just receive the newsletter when they checked their inbox, which they already do!

The first newsletter was a simple affair. It comprised 3 progressive sections, each increasing in difficulty, and ended with a question of the week. It didn’t need to be fancy or flashy. I just needed to ship it. It was sent out on 3 August.

Unsolicited positive feedback is great encouragement!
Unsolicited positive feedback is great encouragement!

Simultaneously, I approached some friends from my Masters course and they were really keen to revisit the good ol’ conversations. That same day, the Facebook group was set up.  

Stage 4: Engage and Iterate

“What does the community want?”

“How can I better serve them?”

Conversations happened rather organically in the Facebook group, but were dominated by those more familiar with philosophy at first. This is not to say that those who were unfamiliar weren’t engaged. Quick checks with them revealed that they were listening and learning, but uncomfortable with sharing their ideas at first. So, some conversations occurred simultaneously in smaller chats.

Along the way, I checked in with individuals for feedback and implemented suggestions by the next newsletter.

For example, one community member said she enjoyed the use of fun images, like comics, and suggested incorporating more questions instead of having just one big question. (See Issue #3 for reference)




By the next issue, more guiding questions were added and GIFs were incorporated too!

Also, while I didn’t think that the community was large enough for a meetup, some members were very keen on the idea. So, a small group of us met up on 1 September. In the spirit of a community-driven initiative, the discussion topic was also proposed by a member 🙂 We didn’t finish the conversations, by the way, and will be continuing in the next meetup.

Lessons Learned

1. Listen, listen, listen.

Find out what your community wants and needs. It’s about them, after all. Do so passively, by observing what’s happening. And do so actively, by asking for feedback and insights and listening to it.

Through this, I learned that some members were uncomfortable with the level of expertise of other members, and felt daunted. My bad! So I stepped in to form a middle ground. Listening also led to the discovery that some people weren’t receiving the newsletter. A quick check showed that the emails were being redirected to the spam folder. The matter has since been rectified, as far as I can tell, but I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t check.

2. Empathise.

Remember what it was like to be a community member. Who is your community member? What is it like to be in that position? The meetup was intentionally kept small as I wanted the opportunity to give members a chance to speak (in addition to the Facebook group). And boy, did they engage! Conversation flowed organically and one of them even messaged me after to thank me for the opportunity to share their views.

Post-meetup text from a community member
Post-meetup text from a community member. (P.S. It was related!!)

3. Iterate and do so quickly.

The product or content or strategy does not have to be perfect. I’ve learned that it’s good to have a plan and a direction, and changes to that plan are not necessarily bad. It’s not about you, so don’t feel insulted that your work has room for improvement. It is about the community, after all. And don’t you learn through the process? Do what’s best for them and do it quickly. Then try again the next time. Why spend a month thinking about a massive overhaul when you can start making changes tomorrow? The goal is still to benefit the community.

4. Work within your own means.

Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Community engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. If you burn out quickly, it’s the community that suffers, isn’t it?

5. Want to do a meetup? Do it!

If you have a passionate and engaged community, chances are, they’ll be really excited to find kindred spirits and like minded folk. Start small if you must, but do it. Conversation between community members has picked up after the meetup, and I think it’s because excitement is infectious!

Looking forward

Building the fly-bottle community has been such an enriching experience for me, that I’d love to share more lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some ideas for posts are: the twin roles of analysis and synthesis in community management, and how to select tools and platforms for community engagement and content management. All of these will be filed under ‘Community’ so do check back if you are interested!

Finally, if any of this has piqued your curiosity about the fly-bottle community and project: fly-bottle newsletter, you can check out past issues here or subscribe here 🙂

Hope you found this useful! I’d love to hear your thoughts/comments 🙂 Drop me a message at the project: fly-bottle blog or tweet at me (@stephe_lee)!

*Names of community members have been redacted in screenshots at their request 🙂


I have these gems delivered straight into my mailbox!

Inbox zero is a fantasy for me. But I don’t really mind it because my massive inbox load is partly due to the collection of great newsletters I’m subscribed to. I used to do freelance copywriting for edms (email direct mailers) and thought I knew it all. I thought email was just sales and marketing, and personal letters and that the public sharing of great insight takes place on blogs.

Not anymore.

Now there’s a lovely in-between. Mass emails sent to lists of subscribers, much like marketing mails, only they don’t want you to buy anything. In fact, they’re giving you stuff. They’re giving you knowledge and understanding through a package of wit and creativity. It’s like personal heartfelt emails and wonderful recommendations, writ large.


I’ve discovered some wonderful newsletters along the way, and I’d like to share 5 with you.

Further by Brian Clark

This weekly newsletter receives a ‘star’ in my gmail inbox every single time. Further is a deeply intelligent and carefully crafted newsletter about health, wealth, and wisdom. Each newsletter has a ‘Feature’ in addition to the three areas and there’s a certain gravity to Brian Clark’s writing. Each feature is thought-provoking and I have personally enjoyed this one several times. It is difficult to communicate the sheer value of having this newsletter in my inbox, so I shall let the work speak for itself.

Subscribe to Further here.

Sketchplanations by Jono Hey

A hand-drawn weekly newsletter that is always a nice surprise in my inbox. Each issue is a surprise because you don’t know what idea Jono Hey has decided to sketch for the week! Also, the name is incredibly clever. I wish I’d thought of it. The latest issue introduced me to Koomey’s Law. Haven’t heard of it? Think it’s a complex concept to communicate? Clearly you need to subscribe to Sketchplanations too!

Subscribe to Sketchplanations here.

Think Clearly by Mathias Jakobsen

This is another hand-drawn newsletter that I enjoy. This one is all about creativity, reflection, and growth. Mathias Jakobsen’s emails communicate a positivity that is shown, not told, and I really like that. Check out this cute one and this helpful one.

Subscribe to Think Clearly here.

Next Draft by Dave Pell

Want something clever and ridiculously timely? This daily newsletter may be right up your alley. Dave Pell was christened The Internet’s Most Fascinating Newsletter Writer by TechCrunch, which is a really specific accolade, so you know that you have to check this newsletter out. Every day, Dave finds interesting news, says something witty about them, and send them out into the interwebs. Here’s an example for you. People love it. Maybe you would too!

Subscribe to Next Draft here.

Think Smarter by Penguin

This newsletter by Penguin is a little more heavy going than the others but it only comes once a month so you have ample time to digest it. Meant to challenge the mind, each issue of Think Smarter is packed with big questions and deep ideas. Here’s an example and another for you to have a taste.

Subscribe to Think Smarter here.


project: fly-bottle by Stephanie Lee

I started this little newsletter with the strange name because I wanted to make philosophy more accessible. (You can read about it more here.) Expect a new issue every Wednesday with bite-sized philosophy for the uninitiated. From human nature to the mind-body problem, there’s nothing under the sun that we cannot investigate. There is also a dedicated attempt to link the concepts back everyday life. Past issues have referenced Calvin & Hobbes, Sherlock Holmes (yes, the Cumberbatch one), Stewart Butterfield (CEO of Slack), and The Matrix (of course). Visit the archives for an idea!

Subscribe here.


Reinventing Organisations – Frederic Laloux

Reading Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations has taken longer than I expected thanks to the other reading I have to do for my day job. Thank goodness for these audio and video files!

I’ve compiled a Soundcloud playlist for anyone else interested in these audio gems — the podcasts sure helped me understand and appreciate his approach to organisational development very quickly! Below is also a YouTube video for you 🙂 Enjoy!


Addendum on Positive Psychology

Earlier in the week, I published a post on positivity in which Positive Psychology was mentioned extensively. Here’s a great introduction to the discipline by the man himself, Martin Seligman:

Musings Technology

3 reasons to be more positive on social media

Positivity is like the childhood best friend that we all take for granted: always there to catch us, always overlooked. It is interesting that most people easily extol the virtues of staying optimistic and upbeat, yet so much of social media is dominated by complaints and negativity. A recent article published in the MIT Technology Review sparked a reflection on this, and I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone, especially social media influencers, needs to be more proactive in promoting more positive engagement on social media. Here’s why…

1. Negative emotions stay with us for a longer time.

I took a course in Positive Psychology a while back and another on Coursera earlier this year, and one of the key concepts that struck me was ‘negativity bias’. Negativity bias is the notion that negative encounters have a greater impact on us than positive encounters. If you were to have one positive experience and one negative experience in one day, for instance, the negative one tends to ‘stick’ with you longer. Recall the times when one bad encounter just made the day suck overall — that’s what the positive psychologists are talking about.

As Jacob Burak discusses in this Aeon article, this bias has evolutionary origins but doesn’t serve us as well now that we no longer encounter the threats we used to:

“Of all the cognitive biases, the negative bias might have the most influence over our lives. Yet times have changed. No longer are we roaming the savannah, braving the harsh retribution of nature and a life on the move. The instinct that protected us through most of the years of our evolution is now often a drag – threatening our intimate relationships and destabilising our teams at work.”

If we’re always adopting a fight-or-flight response to the experiences that we have, and if we focus so greatly on negative encounters, we can often be paralysed by them or behave reactively instead of proactively. This defensive stance can hardly be conducive for our personal growth and the growth of our relationships.

While it is clear that negativity has a role to play in ensuring a realistic and grounded approach to the problems that we face (as Burak discusses in the last few paragraphs of his article), I hardly think that we need to actively seek it out, given our default inclination towards it. In other words: Yes, we need to confront the negatives in our lives to ensure that we’re not blindly optimistic, but our nature takes care of that for us anyway. Let’s not be shackled by them, but practice the practical wisdom to balance negative and positive consciously.

2. Positive emotions support individual growth and development, and resilience.

One of the first readings that students of Dr Barbara L. Fredrickson’s Positive Psychology course on Coursera encounter is her article entitled, ‘The Value of Positive Emotions’. (I strongly recommend it to everyone.) It’s an eye-opening piece that sheds light on how positive emotions are basically life-giving.

“Instead of solving problems of immediate survival, positive emotions solve problems concerning personal growth and development. Experiencing a positive emotion leads to states of mind and to modes of behavior that indirectly prepare an individual for later hard times.” (p. 332)

Dr Fredrickson coined the ‘Broaden and Build Theory’, which basically states that positive emotions broaden a person’s mindset (and attitude) and build a person’s internal resources for future challenges (see also The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions by Dr Barbara L. Fredrickson). While focusing on negative emotions promotes convergent perspectives that lead to myopic worldviews (I’m sure we know of some complainers who are completely resistant to seeing the silver lining, and we’ve all been there at some point!), positive emotions allow us to appreciate possibilities, exercise creativity, and take a more integrative perspective. When you’re in that zone, you’ll be able to see more than one way out of a bad situation and, interestingly enough, your positive experiences may be amplified.

3. Our social networks can amplify the impact of messages. This is especially so for influencers.

The MIT Technology Review article that sparked this reflection discussed a concept called the ‘Majority Illusion’ that was discovered by Kristina Lerman and her peers from the University of Southern California (original article here). The theory basically states that our networks can give the illusion that a certain phenomenon or attribute is more common than it actually is thanks to the influence of certain better-connected peers in our networks. Since some people are more well-connected than others, any information these people disseminate will have greater reach. This greater reach translates into greater transference of the information they share and hence can “skew the view from the ground”.* Just think of how some Twitter influencers’ tweets go viral through RTs and MTs thanks to the sheer number of followers they have.

“For a start, it shows how some content can spread globally while other similar content does not—the key is to start with a small number of well-connected early adopters fooling the rest of the network into thinking it is common.”

In turn, this means that if you have a certain degree of influence, what you choose to share can have greater ramifications than you intend. As the authors of the MIT Review article wrote:

“That might seem harmless when it comes to memes on Reddit or videos on YouTube. But it can have more insidious effects too. “Under some conditions, even a minority opinion can appear to be extremely popular locally,” say Lerman and co. That might explain how extreme views can sometimes spread so easily.”

Why even bother?

If we consider the implications of the 3 reasons together, it becomes clear that it’s good to stop and think before we post on social media. I often think about how a sour encounter with someone can put a downer on my day and amplify this on social media where (i) the encounter reaches more people, and (ii) the encounter lives for a much much longer time.

Since we all are predisposed with a negativity bias, yet positive emotions tend to be more conducive for our growth, and the majority illusion implies that our social networks can skew the gravity of certain ideas, isn’t it important for us to exercise more intention when we post? This is especially so if we have influence in our circles. Let us be more proactive in shaping the content that we and our peers encounter, and promote that which is life-giving.

In the words of dear Uncle Ben:

With great power, comes great responsibility.


Further reads:

Everything You Need to Know About Facebook’s Controversial Emotion Experiment — Wired

The Science of Positivity in Social Media — Buffer

Image Credits:

‘Sunrise’ by Susanne Nilson (Flickr)

Curated Dialogue

Pinterest: Another Tool In Your Social Media Arsenal

I am a big Pinterest fan. So much so that I signed up for a Buffer Awesome plan trial just to try out scheduling for Pinterest (I always feel bad spamming my fellow pinners with a barrage of pins). If that doesn’t convince you of the extent of my fangirling, let it be known that my partner has once remarked to me that “life isn’t a pinterest board.”

During a recent #bufferchat, I was excited to discuss this platform’s potential for promoting Hangouts on Air with some twitter friends (Hi, @jacobhenenberg & @JoelRRenner). Yes, it’s a little unconventional, but Pinterest’s particular strength in promoting the longevity of its pins makes it a valuable ally to your other social media efforts. While many of the engagements with my posts occur within a day of two of (re)pinning, I’ve found that many of the pins are liked and repinned weeks and months (sometimes a year!) after I’ve posted them up on my boards. Kevan of Buffer shares some insight into this in this recent article.

The longevity of pinned material makes Pinterest a great complement to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, which have a more immediate effect on engagement and conversion. A great marketing strategy that incorporates these platforms could drive interest and early engagement via the more timely platforms like the abovementioned Big 3 — articles, tweets, influencer endorsement, flashy pictures galore! — then ensure that interest doesn’t wane too much by pinning great relevant images (a little on this later), retweeting and resharing older articles, and posting images via Instagram.

Besides the longevity of pins, Pinterest is also great because:
  • It has an excellent UI that is beautiful and engaging
  • All pins and repins lead back to their sources, so credit’s (usually) given where credit’s due and you can drive traffic to your site even through repins
  • There’s a discovery-centric ethos that runs through the site, from clicking on repins to see the boards that an image has been pinned to (great for discovering likeminded folk) as well as the Related Pins and Also on These Boards features that direct you to similar boards/pins.
  • The Pinterest algorithm suggests boards that users may be interested in based on their pins and likes (look out for ‘Picked For You’ pins on the homepage)
What does this mean for you?
  • Pins (e.g. rich pins) can drive traffic and conversion if they are posted strategically. Pinterest’s considerable conversion rate means that it’s worth exploring it if you’ve already got your Facebook strategy down pat. (Read this HubSpot article for some impressive factoids.)
  • Consider pinning several engaging images that lead back to the same source. This gives a richer dimension to the content and ensures that more people can stumble upon your site through Pinterest’s wonderful discovery algorithm
  • An engaging pin can drive traffic to your site months after your article has been published!
  • A well-curated collection of boards can really set the visual tone for your brand. You can also leverage on Pinterest’s algorithm to reach out to users who are fans of similar brands
  • You can focus more on content (pins) and less on follower count since even non-followers can find your pins.

But what if you’re not trying to drive sales up for a product? As I suggested during the #bufferchat, it’s entirely possible to use this great platform for even something as unexpected as a Hangout on Air!

Here are some ways I can think of:
  • Complement the pre-Hangout promotion by pinning great images on both Instagram & Pinterest
  • Maintain post-Hangout engagement by pinning multiple relevant images that could capture the interest of audiences who didn’t manage to catch the ‘live’ Hangout on Air (direct them to the youtube video or your site)
  • Leverage on Pinterest’s collaborative feature on boards and get your Hangout guests to pin relevant material on a board. Each Hangout could have its own board!
  • Compile key insights from the Hangout on Air into an infographic. (Make it vertical for extra oomph!)
  • Share pins on your Facebook page to reach out to your Facebook fans who may not have known about your Pinterest page. Who knows, they may even click through to some older sites.

In any case, cross-check the demographics of your desired audience with these demographics from Pew Research Centre. Is your audience a little older, mostly female, and into arts and crafts? If so, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t spend a little time pinning! Also, I wouldn’t worry about Pinterest being a more female-centric platform — male users are increasing by the year, and some of the best curators of pins that I’ve come across are men.

Want more?

Here’s an interesting interview with Pinterest’s ex-Partnerships Chief, Joanne Bradford, and Twitter’s President of Global Revenue & Partnerships, Adam Bain, on the Re/code Replay podcast.

Some great articles:

The 4 Biggest Pinterest Marketing Mistakes We Made (And How You Can Learn From Them)

17 Tips, Tools and Tricks To Improve Your Pinterest Marketing Strategy

12 Most Strategic Ways To Use Pinterest For Marketing

How To Use Pinterest For Business: The Definitive Guide

Pinterest For Business: Everything You Need To Know

5 Ways To Automate Your Pinterest Marketing Strategy

Pinterest’s Evan Sharp: Guys Are On Here, Too

Community Musings

Empathy first, empathy always.

An amusing exchange happened in one of my lessons the other day and it made me think about communication, sincerity, and how to go about creating and maintaining relationships with others.

You see, I had spent most of the lesson reviewing my student’s external correspondences and was somewhat horrified that the correspondences, while well-crafted and polite, were mostly utilitarian and mechanical. It is one thing to write that you are requesting a favour but quite another to communicate your gratitude in having that person take the time to consider your request. After all, no one owed them anything. Any response was time spent giving them feedback and an opportunity for reflection, and people should be thanked for their time! So I tried guiding my students to understand that sincerity and gratitude were essential in their correspondences especially if they were asking for a favour. To my surprise, when I later dismissed them early so that they wouldn’t be late for their next lesson, some students thanked me for my kind understanding. In those terms. Yes, it was probably some cheekiness on their part and we laughed it off, but that episode made me wonder about how to encourage sincerity. After all, it’s not something you can simply tell someone to do and false sincerity is the surest way to be patronizing.

In the multiple roles I play, as a mediator, event planner, community builder, sports team manager, I’ve often find myself having to work with others. Those experiences provided wonderful springboards for this reflection.

What has gone right in those experiences and what went wrong?

When was I sincere and when did I feel that someone was being sincere towards me?

How did I react?

I realised that the sincere exchanges that I was enriched by left an impact because I felt like someone actually made the effort to think about me as a person. Not as a means to his end and not as a favour. And the ones that I know left an impact on people were able to do so because I thought about things from the other person’s perspective.

The key to sincerity is empathy. Empathy first, empathy always.

Yes, we may never truly know what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and it’s another brand of condescension to assume that we do know. However, the empathy I refer to is an attitude and a mindset. To want to think from the other person’s perspective instead of ours. To remove ourselves from the center of the universe and think about others instead.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

It’s a matter of thinking about how we may have inconvenienced others, about what they could be preoccupied with, about what they may be happy or upset about at that point in time… or even to think about how much a quick note of thanks could brighten their day and taking a few minutes to convey that thanks. Why not expend a little more effort to make someone’s day a bit better? (Or at least not make it worse?)

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Leo Buscaglia

A recent New York Times article recently discussed how empathy is actually a matter of choice, and I encourage everyone to read it!

So, reflection completed, I went back to class and discussed empathy instead of sincerity with my students. The heart and effort that went into subsequent correspondences were palpable. I sure do hope that their recipients felt the same way.

Empathy, like all other virtues, isn’t an end point that we can arrive at. It is too easy to slip into complacence. But it certainly is something we can continually hone and work towards 🙂


Image source: Path by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

Carnegie Chronicles Musings

Carnegie Chronicles: What are we doing to spread positivity?

The key lesson in Chapter 2 is one that I learned some time back — the impact of appreciation and gratitude. Carnegie includes several anecdotes about instances where being appreciative resulted in positive outcomes for the appreciator, but is insistent that his recommendation is not to flatter.

He juxtaposes flattery with appreciation and points out the fundamental difference between the two: Sincerity. What Carnegie seems to advocate in this chapter is a change in mindset and how we interact with people. It takes the lessons in Chapter 1 (recap: don’t criticize) further. I see Chapter 1 as a simpler, behavioural change — how to act — whereas Chapter 2 begins advocating a deeper, psychological change — how to think.

Indeed, he is most adamant about this:

“No! No! No! I am not suggesting flattery! Far from it. I’m talking about a new way of life. Let me repeat. I am talking about a new way of life.

“Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips.”

I’ve witnessed how powerful appreciation can be, and how the lack of it can demoralize. It’s one thing to go through life without spreading negativity and sourness, and this alone can take effort if we are used to complaining and criticizing. However, once we have that down, we need to ask ourselves:

What am I doing to spread positivity?

What have I done to show my gratitude?

It’s easy to assume that people know they’re doing a good job, but have we expressed our thanks for that? I had a mini-wakeup call in the form of a casual remark by a student who joked that I didn’t praise my students enough. I thought I did! I have made it a point to be encouraging, made provisions for them, said kind words to them… but as I wrote in my previous Carnegie Chronicles post:

“If you truly want to help the other person grow, you need to help them hear your message too.”

My student’s casual remark made me realise two things:

  1. Be sensitive to the different ways people communicate. Some people need to be told, “I appreciate you” because they are receptive to Words of Affirmation. It simply isn’t enough appropriate to perform an Act of Service for them, for instance.
  2. Be precise in your appreciation

Consider the difference between the two:


“Thanks for doing _____! It has helped me in ____ way 🙂

Which of these would you feel more encouraged by? Which of these would inspire you do better? I noticed this in a deeper way when a manager recently took the second route with me. I don’t think it was deliberate on her part, but her precision in identifying exactly what I was doing right encouraged further reflection on my part and made me feel like she wasn’t just being nice. (Although just being nice is a great starting point!)

It’s a matter of becoming ‘softer’, to some extent, in an otherwise hard and competitive world. The quote that Carnegie cites at the end of the chapter was particularly powerful:


How often has someone else’s kindness towards us spurred us to be kinder to others? What if we could make the world better (even if by just a tiny margin) just by being kinder and more appreciative? Let’s strive for that. It’s possible!

Be Well

5 ways to kickstart your fitness routine & survive zombies

1. Maximise your time (HIIT it)

Not everyone can afford 2-hour gym workouts, which may not even be as effective! Aim instead of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that alternates between work and rest to jump start your metabolism. HIIT workouts are typically really short and I’ve never done one that exceeded 30 minutes. 30 minutes workout + 30 minutes shower (that’s a luxury!) = super efficient!

Bonus: HIIT workouts also have an afterburn effect, so you continue to burn fat the day after your workout.

2. Optimise your workout (Form and function)

A lot of people currently exercise to attain a certain aesthetic, and that’s cool. But what if you could attain an aesthetic and improve your daily movement? I like functional training for this reason. Use compound, natural, functional movement like squats and deadlifts and you’ll find that carrying everyday weight like groceries and suitcases becomes easier. (You’ll also be less likely to injure yourself moving that bedframe around if you’ve learned proper lifting form!) If you really don’t have time, skip the isolation exercises like bicep curls, and bust out some rows or push-ups instead.

Bonus: If you can do a pull-up or a muscle-up, you can probably scale that wall to escape the zombie horde. Conditioning your body to be an optimal functional machine means you’re more likely to survive!

3. Minimise the effort (pre-pack everything)

When I first started on my fitness journey (and sometimes even now), one of my favorite excuses for skipping a workout was because I didn’t pack my gym bag. If you’re like me, help yourself out by pre-packing everything instead of scrambling in the morning. I always carry a set of toiletries and sets of fresh underwear (hey, super important!) in small travel cases with hooks so I don’t have to think about it in the morning.

Bonus: This is also super helpful if you find yourself having to stay over somewhere at the last minute, or if you just want a mid-day shower somewhere. Or you can also stay fresh about a week into the zombie apocalypse… in case that matters to you.

4. Be part of a community

My best fitness experiences have come from the support of a larger community that bonds over the gruelling burpees that we had to bust out. It’s always fun to work out with friends, and the encouragement and friendly badgering to do one more push-up makes the process a little less painful.

Bonus: You automatically know a bunch of people who are also more likely to survive a zombie apocalypse and you can band together a la The Walking Dead.

5. Take a hike! (Ok, a walk.)

This is the ultimate no-frills baby-steps fitness-related change you can make. It doesn’t cost anything and may even save you money. There’s no need for special attire, except maybe leaving those stilettos at the desk or at home. Taking a walk also boosts creativity. My MA supervisor advised me to take walks when I was writing my thesis and shared how he used to take these long long walks when he was a graduate student. I didn’t take his advice back then. Now I wonder how much easier the thesis-writing process could have been if I had taken his advice!

You may be busy, but how about walking just a little bit more every day?

Bonus: Mark’s Daily Apple gives you 17 reasons to start walking more. 17?!

Image credits: Finding Balance by woodleywonderworks

Curated Listen Technology

5 podcasts to get you started

Getting into podcasts can have a pretty steep curve and I never thought to listen to them to fill the long drives that make up a regular day in my life. Back in 2013, a good friend of mine recommended RadioLab and I was hooked. Podcasts are now a staple in my daily drives and I cannot get over how amazing they can be. If you love listening to stories, just as I do, then podcasts may be just what the doctor ordered for your commutes.

Real-Life Stories

RadioLab | Antibodies Part 1: CRISPR

This episode is a great example of what podcast producers can creatively use the medium. You may not think that a podcast episode on genetic modification would be interesting, but RadioLab shows that they’re veterans at this game because some of the audial illustrations of DNA is really amazing. It happens within the first 3 minutes of the podcast — super interesting.

Serial | Episode 1: The Alibi

Serial took the podcasting world by storm by being innovative both in its format and its storytelling techniques. The narrative (a true story, by the way) is so immersive that you’re taken on the investigative journey alongside host, Sarah Koenig. If you haven’t heard of this podcast that inspired a really enthusiastic reddit community, you need to listen to this episode now.

Contemporary Issues

Reply All | #18: Silence and Respect

Reply All covers pretty much anything to do with the Internet, which is… digital-anything! This episode is about how some things that are posted on social media go viral — and the after-effects of that. If you’ve heard about the Lindsay Stone situation, this is the podcast for you.

Radio Dramas

The Truth | The One About the Dead Dog

The Truth | Don’t Touch a Thing

Radio dramas have enjoyed a special place in my heart since I wrote and co-produced one in school. There’s something powerful and immersive about relying completely on sounds to tell a story. These 2 radio dramas were particularly memorable for me, especially Don’t Touch a Thing, which is reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s short stories.


Good Life Project | Brain Hacking: How to turbocharge your noggin

Podcasts with talkshow-formats are pretty common and Jonathan Fields’ podcast is one of the best I’ve come across on life, in general. There’s a huge variety of topics to choose from by a common thread runs through them — they’re all meant to help you enrich your life in some way or other.