One Word Essay: Education

[2 Minutes Read]

When thinking of the word “education”, schools usually come to mind. A classroom with a whiteboard (or a blackboard, depending on when you were born) with a teacher pacing around the front, imparting valuable knowledge. Students would fill the rest of the room, seated behind desks. Some would be listening, others talking, whilst the brave and/or uncaring ones would be sleeping. In most countries, this setting does not differ much, whether you are in kindergarten or university/college.

 

But really, what is education? Is it really encapsulated only in a classroom, directed by the teacher? Fundamentally, education was to be a structured medium for our learning. But one cannot help but feel that the medium has overtaken the original purpose. Students are becoming increasingly disaffected with current education systems as grade- and performance-oriented academic system kill intellectual curiosity and the joy for learning.

 

This convergence toward a single standard is, at this current time and stage of society, outdated. By now, we are (or should be) aware that an individual’s talents may lie outside of the academic. And yet, if the most universally implemented system of judging a person’s worth based on his/her ability to perform as a scorer on tests and projects persists, current and future students will continue to face pressure to conform. They may never get the chance or dare to take the opportunity to develop potential in areas they could excel in.

 

On a more fundamental level, this pressure to converge, directed constantly in the same direction over years, dulls a person’s ability to self-direct learning and to think divergently. In an uncertain future, where AI and robots are replacing previously coveted jobs, the ability to pick up a new skill or knowledge while being highly resourceful would make one much more useful than a specialist whose skill vertical might be replaced by tireless, scalable and efficient software.

 

I do not have the answers, but perhaps if more people examined this concept in the context of the 21st century and took action, we could arrive at education 2.0 that much sooner.

Written by: Weiyuan

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5 Free tools to kick start your startup

[3 Minutes Read] As with most startups, aspiring entrepreneurs are likely to face budget constraints. With multiple systems to get up and running (think communications, backend, frontend, sales models, prototyping), how far can one really stretch the dollar? Many abide by bootstrapping – using whatever resources that are free or easily available. This is a non-exhaustive guide to FREE tools that can bring some momentum and verticals to your next big idea.

FREE STUFF! Glorious, glorious phrase. Glad you’re as excited as we are.

  1. Kickofflabs

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Picture1(Credits: KickoffLabs)

Most startups today require a virtual front (a landing page) and few provide a no-frills solution like KickoffLabs. KickoffLabs indeed makes landing pages easy, requiring no prior-coding experience to get your site up and running. Their simple drag and drop interface only asks of you to map out your desired landing page and they will thread it together.

Features: Create 1 campaign with KickoffLab’s branding, 1000 unique visitors per month and an email form

Useful for: Prototyping landing pages before building and committing it to a host

  1. Typeform

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Picture2(Credits: makeuseof.com)

Typeform is an interactive form platform, which promises a more human touch to your surveys. It is easy to boot up yet highly customizable. Its analytics tab keeps data well-sorted, aiding you in planning your next steps upon reviewing responses. Immerse your respondents in engaging questionnaires that do not require a click of a button. Just type!

Features: Unlimited basic typeforms & responses

Useful for: Creating a more interesting experience to encourage responses from respondents

  1. Slack

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Picture2(Credits: The Verge)

Touted by The Verge as an email killer, you know slack is a serious communications buff. Slack is a mobile and desktop cross platform app that brings together instant messaging and archiving, allowing a fast transfer of information without losing them as fast as they can get delivered. What I found useful was being able to organise chats through its channels function so that archiving is done more cleanly and efficiently.

Features: Searchable message archives, up to 10k of your team’s most recent messages, 10 apps or service integrations, native apps for iOS, Android, Mac & Windows Desktop, two-person calls, 5GB total file storage for the team

Useful for: Building an organised team communications channel

  1. Yesware

Picture3Picture4(Credits: Yesware)

The main objective of a financially poor startup is to simply get more sales and Yesware is here to help you with that. One key function is to track whether emails have been opened. Thus, providing you with the tools to track your team’s email activities, being aware of whether potential clients have considered your proposition and then use the information to map out your next steps. It is easy to use, easy to read, easy to install into google chrome as a plugin.

Features: See who opens your emails and clicks on your links, with email tracking analytics and templates for GmailUseful for: Tracking team activity and knowing whether potential clients have read your propositions before making a decision to follow up (or not)

Useful for: Tracking team activity and knowing whether potential clients have read your propositions before making a decision to follow up (or not)

  1. Insightly

Picture5Picture6(Credits: insightlyadvocate.com)

Insightly prides itself as an easy, powerful and affordable online Customer Relationship & Project Management software, and rightfully so. Its visual-centric interface makes it easy to sort out opportunities and simple to share your progress with the entire team. Certainly keeps the momentum going for the team!

Features: free for up to 2 users, advanced reports, email templates, mass email, 10 customer fields, 2500 records, up to 200 MB storage, 500 rows file import limit, online knowledge base

Useful for: Organising workflow to keep your team in the loop

Of course, there are way more considerations when building up a startups and while these tools can value-add and give momentum, there are other skills you need such as finding a product-market fit and validating your market.

Fortunately, Reactor Industries conducts entrepreneurship workshops and consultation from time to time. Let us help you. Check us out at http://reactor.sg/ or drop us an email at hello@reactor.sg! #BeAwesome

Written By: Shen Yang

Are we all lacking gratitude?

[2 Minutes Read] Sheryl Sandbergs’ Commencement Speech at UC Berkeley sparked the motivation for me to write this for Reactor Blog. See http://fortune.com/2016/05/14/sandberg-uc-berkley-transcript/ for her address.

I guess people learn about gratitude somewhere along the way in their life. I learnt mine early when my grandmother told me about the days she walked long distances (a few kilometres) to get to work, get home to prepare lunch for the family, walk back to work, and then head home again to prepare dinner. The simple act of her boss offering her fresh cold orange juices on a hot day still remained in her memories of those days. I saw how simple it could be to see nice things in life, like the beauty of sunsets, appreciate and feel happy about it.

My primary and secondary school reinforced this value of gratitude. The opportunity to travel to Chiangrai for community service opened my eyes to how different people could lead life. Soccer was played on rough concrete grounds and players were happily playing barefoot. I tried it, and ended up with bloodied feet; I couldn’t walk properly for the next few days.

My next overseas community service to a village in Yunnan, China, taught me gratitude in a different way. We raised funds to revamp their water piping systems to ensure that the village has clean and uncontaminated water. And, in return, the village chief actually killed one of their animals (a pig) to thank us for our efforts. These pigs were their treasures but because we were guests, they gave the best they had when honestly, they did not have to.

As I gradually learnt the importance of showing appreciation, not just because of the fundamental value of it, but also because it helps to motivate your teams, it does hurt me a little when people think that I do not appreciate them. Or worse still, they leave because of that. And because I hold strongly to this value, it does not sit well with me when someone do does not appear to be grateful. Perhaps, they are grateful, it is just not properly conveyed.

Gratitude comes to me rather naturally. It is easy for me to see the better side of things. However, I feel that the next step is to learn how to convey this gratitude, and how to not just show but also to allow others to feel your appreciation. This skill could possibly make me an even better leader, and person.

Let’s all show more gratitude to our loved ones and those who are closest to us. Do you have experiences that you should like to share about gratitude? Share with us by commenting below!

Written By: Jing Wen

3 Steps that lead you on the right path

[5 Minutes Read] If you’re dreading Mondays and always looking forward to the weekend, this is for you. If you find it challenging to motivate yourself to study or to work, this is for you. If you’re grappling with finding meaning in study or work, this is for you.

As a student, stop working bullheadedly at grades just because; as a working adult, stop clocking day after day to grind out results. I’m not saying that what you’re doing is wrong; it could in fact altogether be what you should be doing. You should continue doing what you’re doing if you know why you’re doing it and what you’re working towards.

Not everyone is able to work on (some of) their passions. But if you believe that you have a decent chance, you should. Let’s do a quick-and-dirty calculation based on a typical scenario in Singapore. We start primary school at 7 years old, and assuming we retire at 60 and pass on at 80, the breakdown goes like this:

% of life spent studying AND working = 53/80 = 66.25%

We literally spend two-thirds of our entire lives studying and working. If possible, should we not take the risk to do what we love as a career and learn what we find relevant and useful? It only makes logical sense. The problem is the “if possible” bit. How can we know what is possible and what is not? 

The only way to know is if we make a deliberate effort to learn what we are passionate about and knowing that, build the skill sets needed for a career in that space. And the earlier we do that, the higher the chances of making this possibility a reality.

First step: Introspection
What are your values?
What makes you happy?
What difference do you want to make?
What are your dreams?
What do you love doing?
What are you good at doing?

You can find my answers at the very bottom

If you draw a blank on any of these questions, it’s fine. It is part of being alive. We are shaped by various experiences and the people we meet along the way. The answers you first gleaned may also change over time. As long as you continue to be diligent in your introspection, you will eventually find answers. At the very least, simply knowing who you are at each stage of your life will enable you to make better-informed choices that give you a greater chance at happiness. And when you are happy and fulfilled, it often spills over to those closest to you in a positive manner. Imagine your brothers and sisters, parents, girl- or boyfriends and friends happy and purposeful in their work and learning the majority of the time!

Second step: Evaluation of environment, resources, constraints
Once you have discovered your answers to the above, you should have a clearer picture of who you are and what drives you fundamentally. Next comes an evaluation of your situation. Are you where you think you should be right now? Are you on the trajectory to your dreams? If you are, great! If not, then it’s time to think about what you can do with what you have to get on track. Think about your strengths to decide on what you might be able to do and whether your deep-seated personality suits that ideal. Build on those strengths, work towards being a master of two deep skill verticals that are useful to your field of passion.  Sometimes, that might mean leaving the system and working on your own or with a small team, just like me and thousands of others out there.

Third step: Taking action
It’s now crunch time: you’ve collected as much information as you can, you know yourself well enough now. All that’s left is to take the plunge. Or in the case where what you’re doing now is exactly where you should be, please continue on your merry way. For the rest of us, will we be the ones to go against the flow and effect the change? I look to two gurus: Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and Yoda, “Do or do not, there is not try”.

The path is your’s to choose
It is always easier to take the path that has been ground down under the soles of a thousand others. However the destination may be where we want to be and the sights and sounds along the way could be far less exciting. Nonetheless, if the traditional path allows you to achieve your dreams and fulfils your purpose, there is absolutely no need for you to deviate from it.

My answers are:
Commitment, integrity, purpose
Knowing what I do makes a difference to people, that my family is happy
Help young people find their way in life, at scale
Enabling others to find their way, live comfortably, be a great spouse and father
Reading, playing computer games, having deep conversations, doing weird shit with family and close friends
Listening, digging deep, coaching

What you wished you told yourself years ago

[2 Minutes Read]

Dear Me,

What’s been up man?
Time flies so fast. I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since I was you.
I mean, look at us, we’re basically two separate people now.
You know me, I know you, real recognises real right? So let’s cut to the chase.
You must be wondering why I wrote in.
You might have guessed that I’m here to provide some answers from the future for you.
Sadly, despite being four years more senior, I still don’t have the answers you so desire.
But rather, I’m hoping you have answers for me instead.

What if I told you I lost my way?
That I’ve lost sight of my goals?
That I could no longer envision the lofty views you once clearly pictured?
That I’ve simply failed to fan the fire that once burnt intensely to attain my dream?
The same fire that would burn through anything that even threatened to slow me down.
Anything.
Encroaching crowds and audiences in Taiwan.
Teary visions outside studios when you got cut from the team.
The people who said you were unbefitting of the red beret.
All burnt down.

Two years later, I drag myself around unwillingly and force myself to put on faces.
When did that light start to flicker?
I can’t even remember why I even enjoyed pushing myself.
All I know is that I don’t want to be like them.
Yes, ‘them’.
Those people are happy with the status quo.
Those people that accept being another brick in the wall.
Those people that settle on remembering names and not making names that people remember.
Look, all I just need you to do is to remind me.
Are you hearing me?
I want to remember, way back when I used to enjoy the grind.
Back when nothing but self-improvement fuelled my life.
Back when I look forward to every day as a day of self-discovery.
Back when I set goals for myself and went out to fulfil them.

“Nothing worth having comes easy…”
You wrote that on all your shoes back then.
Now those words have long faded.
I will not let myself fade into mediocrity.
I will not settle for me being the same every damn day.
I WILL have the same intensity as the guy who wrote that down again.
So from today, I’ll make a promise to myself never to let myself down again.
I know. It’ll be a tedious and arduous road to recovery.
Hence, I duly ask for your help to always remind me along the way.
Of why I even started in the first place.
To never allow me to falter in my journey.
To, as they say, keep my eyes on the prize.
Why you?
Because after my lapse, no one may believe in me anymore.
But I know I can always count on you to believe in me.
So wait for me.

I took a two year break, but now I’m coming back home again.

Love,
You

Written By: Yi Hng

An entrepreneur’s dilemma – cause or cost?

[3 Minutes Read] “What happens if the bills start piling up?” Try asking entrepreneurs this question. Oh, just try. Then observe their facial expressions and body languages – you might pick out a couple of wrinkles perhaps. Thing is, this is a reality that entrepreneurs loathe to face but is a perennial question that plagues them (sometimes even in their sleep).

In a recent dialogue session with the Committee on the Future of our Economy (CFE), a question was posted: “For an entrepreneur, which comes first: the purpose or the bottom-line?” This preceded a constructive debate that elicited responses from both ends of the spectrum and I am excited to share my views on this.

I do not believe that entrepreneurs intentionally travel the unchartered route just for the cash. Giving up a stable career, a consistent source of income and an accepting social community are huge sacrifices on the part of the entrepreneur. Why would he give up such comforts for a testing working environment? Thus, I believe that there is always a deeper underlying reason that drives an entrepreneur to venture into the unknown. And this deeper underlying reason is what I label ‘cause’. Or what others usually term ‘passion’, ‘motivation’ or ‘purpose’.

Now, why is ‘cause’ so important? Let me offer two analogies to make my case. ‘Cause’ is like a candle flame. It lights up the room; it lights up your darkest days. This purpose gives us direction and propels us towards our objective. When the bills pile up, it gives you hope that you can rise above your situation. It provides a fortress to fall back on in times of failure. ‘Cause’ is also what a swirling ballerina focuses on. As the world around her whizzes by ceaselessly, she has to keep her eyes on a focal point, to prevent her from getting giddy. This is the ‘cause’ that we focus on amidst the chaos and disruption of this world. It keeps us going because we want to make a difference and leave our mark on society.

‘Cause’ also shapes the culture of our society. ‘Cause’ is outward-oriented because the entrepreneur wants to help people. He wants to bring convenience to the lives of others. He wants to revolutionize the way we shop, eat and work; he wants to transform our lives. An excessive obsession with ‘cost’ on the other hand necessitates a discomforting vocabulary shift from ‘you’ to ‘I’. How can I satisfy the overheads? How can I survive? How can I make money?

However, lest others mistake my intentions, let me clarify that I am not saying that financials are not important. They are very important, in fact. But, I feel that our individual ‘cause’ should drive our enterprises, instead of the money. This isn’t a classic chicken and egg situation. It is clear to me that while an entrepreneur cannot succeed without the nous to monetize his ‘cause’, he cannot live without a vision. To me, the ‘cause’ is the foundation for an enterprise to flourish.

Each to his own ultimately, but I am a believer in intrinsic purpose because it breeds humility. It allows me to see myself as just a small cog in the grand scheme of things, trying my utmost to give a part of myself for society’s good. The world will remain the same even if I don’t exist, but I will never be the same if not for this world I live in. Tim O’Reilly very aptly remarked, “Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations”. We are living a life. We aren’t powered by money; we’re powered by our hearts. So fellow entrepreneurs, think about your ‘cause’ and be change-makers, cause you care.

Written By: Darren

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

[3 Minutes Read] Have you ever gone through a period of hardship, or a period so pressurising that you felt as if you might just crumble from the stress? I’m sure the answer would be a resounding yes. As you were going through the motions, you must have hated it. However, on hindsight, would your attitude towards it be the same?

As I was reflecting on my past struggles, I came to the realisation that while I hated every second of it, it turned out shaping me into who I am today. And this improvement of oneself as a person, is the beauty of stepping out of our comfort zones. However, many are often faced with the fear of doing so, and this great barrier often halts one from exploring past their comfort levels.

As marvellously phrased by Grace Murray, a US Navy Admiral, “A ship is safe in the harbour, but that is not what ships are built for”. I believe that we are all made to make a difference in this world. While it may not be huge technological developments such as Steve Jobs, or caring for the less fortunate like Mother Teresa, we can contribute to this world through our small actions. This may be going the extra mile to help a family member or friend in need, or innovating a product or service that will better the lives of the elderly.

Take a look at Elon Musk, who is currently in the process of developing electric cars to solve the energy crisis. How about Simone and Jake Bernstein, the founders of volunTEEN Nation, who is providing a platform for youths to easily access volunteering opportunities. This world needs more bravery, more compassion.

Personally, I make it a point to occasionally step outside my comfort zone to develop and grow myself. Recently, I have picked up coding, and I have found out that it is not the easiest task out there. When things become too daunting, I reflect by asking myself this simple question: “What would I do if I have no fear?”. This question reminds me once again of the reasons and goals I had set out when I first started on the journey, and provides me with the courage to carry on. With that, my end goals become clear once again, and my pressure and fear diminish.

“Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
– Steve Jobs

So let us all take the leap of faith straight into the path less travelled. While it may be unclear now, the journey will certainly be worthwhile and memorable.

Now, what would YOU do if you had no fear?
Written By: Samuel