The Games that WE Play: A reflection on the Upcoming SEA Games and what they do to us.

As anyone could imagine Singapore is now bracing itself for the upcoming 28th Southeast Asian Games this coming June 05 – 16, 2015. The multi-day event will host 7000 athletes from 11 countries in the region. The number does not account for the expected spectators and perhaps many more who are affected by the logistics and economic impact of the event. While the event could be seen as a mini version of the Olympics, the impact of the games we play deserves a deeper understanding into how it affects all of us and our mindsets way past the event.

The history of the original Olympics goes as far back as ancient Greece in 8th Century B.C.. The games were supposedly played in Olympia in homage to Zeus but was later banned in 393 A.D. by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius. It was not until the 1896 when the first “modern” Olympics was held again in Athens with 280 participants from 13 nations and was later held in different host countries every four years. The last one being held in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

The SEA games or what was known back in 1958 as the Southeast Asian Peninsula (SEAP) games came as an offshoot of the Asian Games in Japan when then Vice-President of the Thailand Olympic Committee Luang Sukhum Nayaoradit conceptualised an event that would help promote cooperation, understanding and relations among Southeast Asian countries.

I had once qualified for the Youth SEA games for Swimming when I was twelve after having won 2 Silvers (Butterfly and Freestyle) and 1 Gold (Breaststroke) at a local cup. Before then I had been standing on podiums on numerous sprint events as well as being part of the La Salle swim team for years. What ensued after qualifying however were days upon days of swimming 4 kilometres per day! My eyes were bloodshot from chlorine and I found myself absolutely sick of smelling the pool. I eventually quit halfway in training and never made it to the games but the experience is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life! It takes a lot of grit; and apparently I had not enough of it in that point in my life. But because of that, I do know for sure what it takes. It requires dedication, focus, financial and family support. Some of which I did not have at the time. The bottomline is that winning and competing takes commitment from all sides of the game.

But with all the grandness and scale of these events, what do all of these games mean to us at an individual scale? What do these games have to do with our own games in life? Well, it seems like science say the games we watch have a direct impact on us and tell us a lot about ourselves and our needs.

In a scientific study, it was found that watching a game increases endocrine activity such as the production of testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol as much as actually being in a game. Some sports psychologist are still trying to get to the root of crowd behaviour which sometimes lead to riots in football games. Truly there is more about sports than we take in for amusement. In 1994, Brazil won the World-Cup and whilst in New York back then, The City was taken aback when Brazilians rallied to the streets in an ad-hoc parade around town. New Yorkers who were new to Football (Soccer) were shocked to know what all the fuzz was about.

Sports and Games promoters play upon our primal and emotional needs with our champions, as we attribute the best of what we could be upon our athletes. Some of the narratives that we often play are as extreme as Good vs. Evil as we saw in the Pacquiao and Mayweather fight, to a battle between East and West. With the SEA games it is a friendly and fair battle among our ASEAN nations. The good thing is that the SEA games contextualises its events to accommodate games we usually play that are not found in the regular Olympics. This includes Muay, Silat and Arnis.

In the Philippines, the nation came to a grinding halt as the entire nation was glued to the screen in watching what supposedly was to be the “Fight of the Century” between the Philippines’ National Fist Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather! While the event was somewhat of a disappointment, I had to reflect upon the reason why a game such as this, seemed all too important to all of us that we almost declared the day to be an official holiday. Here are some of the reasons I found within my quest for understanding:

  • National Pride: Games of this scale (international in magnitude) tend to inspire nationalist sentiments as our athletes carry the flag for our nation. In these moments we are able to compete on a level playing field in equal footing with some of our neighbours who at times might seem to have been better endowed.
  • Self Projection: Watching a sport seems to have a way of engaging its audience into projecting themselves upon the athlete. In some cases especially in a close match such as boxing or fencing, we might even find ourselves swinging at an invisible opponent in a sports equivalent to the air guitar. We project some of our own challenges upon these athletes in a brief moment escape. In the moments where they win or lose, we also feel their sentiments in real time.
  • Personification of Values: For the most part athletes are role-models. They personify qualities that we want to see from ourselves. They reflect an improved version of ourselves with admirable virtues such as: Courage, Dedication, Focus, Endurance and Performance.

The takeaway in all of these is perhaps the character we all need to incorporate from the athletes and the process of sports itself. We need to ensure an atmosphere of fairness, sports mindedness and grit and take them into our own games of life. We all have our fields and battles but we also need to have the heart of a real champion to win in the game of life.


How to Stop Worrying


Apple’s Jeff Williams made your iPhone and Watch, and now he’s ready to talk about it


You Go Save Yourself!

In a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey conducted in 2015 called “Align costs with business strategy”, 71% of CEOs globally plan to initiate a cost-reduction initiative in 2015.

Well, this does not come as a surprise as we have all been feeling a pinch here and there though not as hard as the last round of delayering and restructuring we have seen since the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2008. Is there any new value to be created in this day and age? Truly there seems to be a bit of room but many executives seem to taking a more conservative view.

While opening the subject matter of strategy with “cost reduction” would always have eyes rolling and have people reading for parachutes, we have to note that some of the greatest innovations in management perhaps is the philosophy that you can take both cost savings / cost mitigating measures while pursuing innovation to push or even build new value propositions.

In the same PwC study an equal amount (71%) of CEOs see the value in innovation capacity and more-so in the US at 76%. 61%-73% say that they are seeing an increase in both direct and indirect competitors and that there will be entrants both from traditional and new entrants. 47% to as much as 70% of CEOs see industry disruption coming from technologies and service provision. While “cost alignment” is often seen as Death Knells for employees, there still seems to be a lot of growth in the grey areas where the usual boundaries are blurred.

Please read on! It is not always as black and white as you may think.

There is a reason as to why strategists must align their costs with strategy. The dynamics of competition still remain to have the biggest effect on strategic development. As Michael Porter would say it: “Competitive Forces Shape Strategy”. It is a mistake however to believe that industry structure remains static with defined market segments and accurate valuations of transacting markets. Even within existing frameworks, there is a lot of room to move and the intensity of competition often determines the volatility of industry structures. The optimist would base their strategic decisions based on penetration or even an expansion of an existing market space. For the most part however, executives are too pessimistic and defensive. The latter will tend to have a myopic view of the industry and look more towards defending turf rather than exploiting existing and emergent demands. The end market is a moving target and shifts at greater rates of speed due to intensifying competition.

While some visionary corporate strategists would like to throw a curve-ball by disrupting market structures, the fact remains that we work with finite resources and that traditional structures cannot cope with the demands of an ever shifting competitive climate. The flip-side of disruptive innovation is that companies who cannot respond to these drastic shifts in industry structure would fall victim to more creative and nimble entrants. Strategy needs to be aligned with structure as well. A new captain who wants to steer a large vessel that chooses to remain in its course sometimes cannot steer fast enough to avoid collision with an iceberg especially when the rest of the crew is sailing through a fog. Strategies are only as good as the organisation’s capacity or capability to execute them. Leaders should not be in the business of selling pipe-dreams!

Companies must be “fit to cope” with change. The company functions very much like a human organism. Surely one who has too much fat around the belly would do better to lose some of the weight. The same goes with having a “cost consciousness” or more blatantly a “cost-conscience”! Perhaps a legacy of giving executives lavish allowances and car-plans could take a back seat to funding product and service experiments? Perhaps you can use your cost alignment measures to launching innovation pilots and investing in technologies that improve processes that have a positive impact on cost and ultimately result in a greater capacity to serve the customer.

The importance of aligning cost to strategy is equivalently weighed with execution. Economic considerations should always be weighed with every strategic decision. Financial decisions that you make today will affect your future and the organisation’s capacity to execute future strategies. Focusing on the numbers makes a lot of strategic sense! Proper fiscal alignment allows you the budgets to invest in your company’s capacity and invest in its people’s capabilities.

In the words of Alex Molinaroli, Chairman, President and CEO of Johnson Controls Inc.: “Companies are capability-driven today. End markets don’t mean as much as the capabilities you build.”

So the next time your CEO starts talking about cost-reduction, perhaps you could start looking at the statement as a step in the right direction instead of having to reach for the parachute or scrambling to the exit. “Cost alignment” could be taken more positively than negatively.

On a personal note, when someone tells you that you’ve gained a bit of weight around your waist, take it as an opportunity to change! Perhaps you would do better if you did! While I do agree that drastic dieting is overrated, the same could be said about companies! Smarter people would have you know that it is not as much about how much you eat but rather what you choose to eat. Budgets are the same! The company is like a living human organism. Cost-alignment is better said and received than cost-cutting! Amputation is never a pleasant operation! The negative reaction to “right-sizing” as a euphemism for “lay-offs” has caused way too much trauma that we cannot turn back. Perhaps saying “cost-alignment” is likened to “right-eating” then perhaps it all makes sense. In the end, eating right leads to better effectiveness and performance.This applies both the person and the organisation. So “Yes” be cost conscious and put the energy in the right places for performance!