The void.
What is that?
That is the sound of a broken heart.
That is what broken expectation feels like.


TREND: What Lies Beneath

My idea on how to bring fame to a brand by using the psychological force that lies beneath pop culture. Inputs and questions are most welcomed.

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The Honest Truth about Dishonesty [A book review]

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves

By: Dan Ariely

Published June 5th 2012 by Harper

The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with thought-provoking work to challenge our preconceptions about dishonesty and urge us to take an honest look at ourselves.

Does the chance of getting caught affect how likely we are to cheat?
How do companies pave the way for dishonesty?
Does collaboration make us more honest or less so?
Does religion improve our honesty?
Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it’s the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty.

Generally, we assume that cheating, like most other decisions, is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis. But Ariely argues, and then demonstrates, that it’s actually the irrational forces that we don’t take into account that often determine whether we behave ethically or not. For every Enron or political bribe, there are countless puffed résumÉs, hidden commissions, and knockoff purses. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely shows why some things are easier to lie about; how getting caught matters less than we think; and how business practices pave the way for unethical behavior, both intentionally and unintentionally. Ariely explores how unethical behavior works in the personal, professional, and political worlds, and how it affects all of us, even as we think of ourselves as having high moral standards.

But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. With compelling personal and academic findings, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others.


Dan Ariely (so far) never ceases to impress me in his quest to unlock the secret of human irrationality. In his third book, he puts dishonesty on the centre stage. I read it, I am hooked, I love it.

First, I admire his passion and ability to narrate researches using layman language in a way that makes readers feel as if they’re involved in the journey. It makes me able to appreciate research more – you see something, no matter how trivial it is (correction: often trivial things, when examined, reveal hidden insights the most), that intrigues your interest, design the research creatively and voila you learn something new.

Second, related to the content of the book. Through experiments he and his colleagues conducted, he takes readers to question what generally people assume to be the cause of dishonesty and what can curb it.

Assumption A:

Personality. People cheat because they are (pathologically) dishonest people to begin with.

What research shows:

Nice people can cheat given some circumstances.

Assumption B:

Simple rational model of crime. What causes nice people to cheat is the benefit of cheating outweighing the cost. The bigger the benefit is (e.g. the amount of money) and the more unlikely for them to be caught, the more they cheat.

What research shows:

The amount of money and probability of being caught are not significant forces that shape cheating or dishonesty. Interestingly if the benefit reaped from cheating is too big, people tend not to cheat. From this point, Dan Ariely shows why simple model of crime is not adequate to explain dishonesty – it neglects the point that people want to see themselves having a good moral and their ‘ability’ to cheat depends on how they can reconcile or rationalise cheating with this desired view of self.

Then Dan Ariely opens our eyes on irrational forces which unconsciously drive people to cheat and rationalise their behaviour. Surprisingly simple everyday circumstances ‘tempt’ people to cheat, even as trivial as sporting counterfeit products. Even more surprising, sometimes, good values our society praise, such as altruism, creativity, can also drive people to cheat.

Based on these learnings, Dan Ariely also gives suggestions on ways to curb dishonesty. Some of the suggestions, he already tested it. However there are complex situations where he admits he does not have the silver bullets that can solve everything.

And that brings me to the third reason why I like this book so much: the author’s honesty that stays true to the book’s title “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty. Besides, honesty is a very important virtue in science or anything that is related to knowledge business. Knowledge is power. When that knowledge reflects the truth (less biased), it is useful – to help a lot to solve problems, better outcomes in respective field. Hence being objective is the gold standard any scientist or people who deal with knowledge should aspire to achieve.

In the last chapter, the author reveals this book’s limitation. He admits other factor such as cultural influences might play a big role on dishonesty and he realises readers might expect it to be given a big portion in this book. Apparently some experiments have been replicated in other countries yet it yields similar results.

This ‘honesty’ reflects on the conclusion takes account of the limitation of tests he used:

“Our matrix test exists outside any cultural context. That is, it’s not an engrained part of any social or cultural environment. Therefore, it tests the basic human capacity to be morally flexible and reframe situations and actions in ways that reflect positively on ourselves. Our daily activities, on the other hand, are entwined in a complex cultural context.”

On explanation on why there is no chapter about infidelity in this book:

“With all of this complexity, nuance, and social importance, you might wonder why there isn’t a chapter in this book about infidelity and why this rather fascinating topic is relegated to one small section. The problem is data. I generally like to stick to conclusions I can draw from experiments and data. Conducting experiments on infidelity would be nearly impossible, and the data by their very nature are difficult to estimate. This means that for now we are left to speculate – and only speculate – about infidelity.”

Back to the silver bullets problem, one might ask, “if there is no silver bullet, what’s the use of knowing all of these?” I think this book has served its purpose – widen our perspectives on dishonesty.

“… dishonesty is a prime example of our irrational tendencies. It’s pervasive; we don’t instinctively understand how it works its magic on us; and most important, we don’t see it ourselves.

The good news in all of this is that we are not helpless in the face of our human foibles (dishonesty included). Once we better understand what really causes our less-than-optimal behavior, we can’t start to discover ways to control our behavior and improve our outcomes.”

By understanding irrational forces that can drive us to cheat, it is now our task to start finding ways to control our behaviour. First, start from the man/woman in the mirror. Then, think critically whether as a citizen when reviewing policies or coming up with idea to solve social problems (e.g. how to prevent corruption, how to tackle institutionalised blackmail in law enforcement) or as an aspiring ‘Of The People, By The People, For The People’ policy makers when designing policies (e.g. how to stay loyal to the people instead of drifting to corruption and any practice that puts self-interest/elite’s interest above all).

Watch Dan Ariely’s eye-opening TED talk on the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUdsTizSxSI%5D
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The Little Prince – a must-read for everybody especially grown ups [a book review]

Original Title: Le Petit Prince

Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Illustrator: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Cover Artist: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince (French: ”Le Petit Prince”), first published in 1943, is a novella and the most famous work of the French aristocrat writer, poet and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944, Mort pour la France).[Note 2]

The novella is both the most read and most translated book in the French language, and was voted the best book of the 20th century in France. Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects,[3] selling over a million copies per year with sales totaling over 200 million copies worldwide, it has become one of the best-selling books ever published.[4][5][6]

Saint-Exupéry, a laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and a reserve military pilot at the start of the Second World War, wrote and illustrated the manuscript while exiled in the United States after the Fall of France. He had traveled there on a personal mission to convince its government to quickly enter the war against Nazi Germany. In the midst of personal upheavals and failing health he produced almost half of the writings he would be remembered for, including a tender tale of loneliness, friendship, love and loss, in the form of a young prince fallen to Earth.[7]

An earlier memoir by the author recounted his aviation experiences in the Sahara desert and he is thought to have drawn on those same experiences for use as plot elements in The Little Prince. Since first being published the novella has been adapted to various media over the decades, including audio recordingsstagescreenballet and operatic works

Source: wikipedia.com

I heard people raving about this book and I completely understand why!

“The Little Prince” is centred on a little prince who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet, embarks on an ‘intergalactical’ journey and experiences interesting encounters with grown ups in different planets. His story is narrated in his conversation with an aviator he met who made a forced landing due to engine failure in the Sahara dessert – a place, that is often portrayed as lonely, sad place where life will meet its end, is interestingly chosen to be the place of birth of enlightenment and connection. 

Combining innocent, honest and imaginative storytelling style with premise that rings true with what human always longs for, “The Little Prince” possesses an everlasting charm.

“The Little Prince”, through several types of grown up living in their own small ‘planets’, presents us anecdotes of grown ups’ desire and banalities seen through innocent eyes: greed, narcissism, quest for power, wisdom without real action, conformity without questioning. It begs us to question what growing up is all about – have we lost sight to what is important to conform with society’s expectation?

In a more essential level, The Little Prince reminds us about the importance of human connection and how we need it and are responsible to nurture it once it is formed. Connection is built through efforts and moments together. It is so personal that no one can fully grasp it unless you are the subject of that connection. Letting one’s guard down, the courage to experience, be it happiness, longing, suffering, loss or grief – that is what stops our lives from being like a machine. It may not be perfect and has its own problem but it makes our lives meaningful. 

Although this book was published a long time ago (1943), this book couldn’t be more relevant for today’s age. In today’s age that puts premium and value things based on tangible achievements and outlook, we often forget that “… you can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“The Little Prince” is not just a children book. It is a book that everybody should read, especially grown ups and is definitely one of the books that I will revisit time after time.

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What money can’t and shouldn’t buy [a book review]

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of The Markets

By Michael J. Sandel

Paper back, Open Market edition, 244 pages

Published April 2012 by Allen Lane

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?In What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes on one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?In recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life—medicine, education, government, law, art, sports, even family life and personal relations. Without quite realizing it, Sandel argues, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. Is this where we want to be?In his New York Times bestseller Justice, Sandel showed himself to be a master at illuminating, with clarity and verve, the hard moral questions we confront in our everyday lives. Now, in What Money Can’t Buy, he provokes an essential discussion that we, in our market-driven age, need to have: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society—and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don’t honor and that money can’t buy?

In this market-driven age with the underlying belief of “The Invisible Hand” – market as the effective instrument to achieve public good, often we are struck with awe by how economists and market practitioners brilliantly think of ways to allocate goods in more efficient manners, finding new avenues to generate more revenue in ways that were unthinkable before. We tinkered with the idea of stationing economists or businessmen in our government to make everything more efficient, propagate development and prosperity for our country.

If belief in market is the ‘yin’, this book aims to be its ‘yang’. Through this book, the author wants to encourage us to think how far we market to permeate our society and aspects of public good that are at stake: “what is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?”

What I like about the most about this book is the author makes his point without being preachy using layman lingo that reaches general audience (read: people who are not really familiar with philosophy).

He asks us to experiment by facing our moral conviction with jaw-dropping real-life market practice examples e.g. betting on strangers’ lives as demonstrated in janitors insurance practice (some corporates buy insurance policies on the lives of their workers and collect the death benefits when the employees die), schools pay students for each book they read to encourage reading, etc. In each case, Sandel poses readers with what “corruption” argument. First he lays down the civic goods and moral values at stake and what is the role of those civic goods and moral values. Then he argues how market practices can change and corrupt the meaning of honoured social practices including how we value ourselves and people around us in our society and how we view what we consider as a morally good thing to do (e.g. altruism, patriotism) by directing our thoughts to run “cost-benefit analysis” for everything.

Granted,  his arguments are sometimes loose and pose debatable aspects and this book leaves us with more questions than answers. However I think that is the whole point:  to provoke us to be and stay critical and question  in seeing how markets or commerce can “change the characters of goods they touch” that it is important to always have (public) discussions to deliberate “the meaning and purpose of goods” along with “the values that should govern them” in order to decide where the markets serve the public good – “where the markets belong” and where they corrupt the public good – “where they don’t”.

Here’s Amazon’s author interview with Michael Sandel explaining the premise of his book “What Money Can’t Buy”.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH_z6BPFQXI&feature=related%5D
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The Great Gatsby: brilliant, elusive, beautiful, ironic, melodious

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Generally considered to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel, The Great Gatsby is a consummate summary of the ‘roaring twenties’ and a devastating exposé of the shallowness of the ‘Jazz Age’. Through the narration of Nick Carraway, the reader is taken into the superficially glittering world of the mansions which lined the Long Island shore in the 1920’s, to encounter Nick’s cousin Daisy, her brash but wealthy husband Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby and the dark mystery which surrounds him.

The Great Gatsby is an undisputed classic of American literature from the period following the First World War, and is one of the great novels of the twentieth century.

I rarely read the introduction part which usually is a scholar analysis on the book. So my take on the premise of Great Gatsby might be different. After all each person has a different take on what he/she reads, depends on the circumstances that he/she’s in or what he/she believes.

For me, The Great Gatsby is a tale of people whose lives are not their own. Some belong to the past, some belong to an innocent dream of money and wealth as the promised land, some belong to their partner, some belong to revenge, some belong to the need to escape, some belong to the glittery nights, some belong to the addicting social validation. Neither of their friends are their true friends. Gatsby, a man whose imagination kept half of his life as his own but also gave the rest away to his past that took a life on its own. His life becomes his own fully when his story was contained by time and liberated by the memory of an observer.

In my point of view, this book, via its vivid narrative, seamlessly portrayed an insight about the clumsiness of our society (relinquishing their lives so that they are not their own). 5 words to describe my sentiment of this book: brilliant, elusive, beautiful, ironic, melodious.

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We might need to revolutionise the way we approach language

I studied psychology. Most of my assessment about people, including my potential boyfriend, are derived and shaped from the psychology framework. I am a believer in Jungian approach, more specifically archetype. I classified my date based on archetype and tried to analyse if the archetype matches with my own archetype. Pretty obnoxious, don’t you think? Especially when I am not really sure about my own archetype. Yup knowing myself fully is really challenging, especially when I do something that I thought was not of my so-called character. That is my shortcoming (or the shortcoming of the framework used – it sometimes makes us overgeneralise everything), I must admit, yet I cannot help but categorise people unconsciously based on the language I choose.

Another general case is intelligence. At the superficial layer, we can perceive intelligence and often are deceived by the language one’s used (I think that is why many people use jargon – they hide their incapability to form a sharp thinking – an escape valve and also it makes us feel intelligent). However to think about it, it also shapes the way we think. For instance, Indonesian language often relies on context, hence a word can have multiple interpretations. The negative side, it is a challenge to think and form a concise concept or “ngawang-ngawang” (maybe it is one of the reasons why we easily buy into politicians’ promise that is encapsulated by vagueness of the words yet sounds good. However the positive side of it is that we appreciate complexities in life. We embrace change and are adaptable to it. Maybe that is why despite of our economic condition, we are still one of the most optimistic countries. It is a different case with English that requires concise and precise thinking (if you work in communication or marketing industry, you know how it is sometimes tiresome just to find the precise and right vocabulary to express our thoughts in important strategy documents). On the hindsight, English-speaking people find it difficult to explain complexities of lives (hence the popularity of Eastern philosophy and culture).

The language challenge also happens when you connect with people of different language. For example, a relationship with people that speak different language (foreigners). You want to express a feeling but you cannot find the right word to express it then it leads to misunderstanding that might lead to unnecessary bigger problem. But then again, come to think again, we still find difficulty to find the right word to express our thought and feeling to people who speak the same language as we do. Words seem to float yet you do not know which one to choose. Then you settle with the second best word. You still feel that something is not finished, you don’t think that your partner really get it. This might cause people to stop trying to really communicate what they mean to people they love. “That is enough. If they really love me, they will understand” is the wishful thinking that we entertain to make us feel better. Then problems come. At one point, you will feel cheated because you find out that they get you wrong. Crushed hope. Loneliness. Endless longing for real connection.

A few days ago, I watched the first episode of “Touch”. It is a TV series telling a story about a father and his kid that is diagnosed as autistic in our existing framework, but is actually seeing the world in different lens, different language, the language of numbers, to be precise.The ‘autistic’ kid experiences the world in different way, he sees the pattern of the past, present and future and everything actually has a formula, some sort of calculation that if you understand it, you can predict why something happens and even the future. In short, the film comes with a premise that evolution of language signifies evolution of species.  In our world that we perceive as reality, evolution of language happens (often comes naturally with the invention in technology, social situation or context, etc.), from the slang words that its usage often indicates one’s age until the admission of new words regularly into dictionaries such as Oxford. Even with that, we still struggle to find the right word. In the “Touch” world, the struggle might lie into how to find the right mathematical expression for emotion or highly emotional concept such as love.

I often wonder about the Babel tower incident. The fable told a story about people that wanted to catch God up. They built a tower that is so tall in the hope of reaching God’s palace – my interpretation: they want to cheat death or they want to prove that they do not have to experience death to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. God was angry then took their ability to speak in the same language, hence different languages are born. Is it the envy of God that people actually have potential to open up limitless possibilities when are given chance to collaborate, forming collective intelligence? In the age of Renaissance, revolution was born in coffee shops where people gathered and exchanged opinions. In our time, people shared their knowledge openly via internet enriching our horizons  that helps us form better vision for the world and how to achieve it, scientists invite people to contribute in answering scientific question. This is our Babel tower now: collective intelligence to solve any problem.

Our different language has a benefit in one point. It creates divergence of perspectives. What people of language A do not think of are brought to realisation by people of language B. It opens up our thinking and possibilities of solution. This is the essence of collaboration. However as human, we also have a need of control. Hence there is structure inside structure. We create another language to convert different perspective into one language that hopefully everybody can understand. This is a good intention. But on the hindsight, as we are afraid that other stakeholder does not understand our intention, we spend more time to translate it into the structure, finding the right vocabulary, instead of focusing our resources to find new ideas (defeating the purpose of collaboration).

Right now I can only think of two scenarios to solve this problem. The first scenario, if the evolution of language brings us to the “pre-Babel” condition (one lingo that lacks of tangible form, some sort of telepathy). The second scenario, the division of labour that makes interpreters one of the most important jobs in this world. It does not limit to ‘geographical-based’ lingo only, but any lingo (jargon included). Interpreters, charge your client higher. Your profession is highly needed in order to make this world more efficient and productive.

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A stranger in the city of lights

Hey stranger, I don’t know why when I see you, I feel as if I’m brokenhearted.

You stand there like a statue, looking but not looking. Everything seems to pass you by.

I wonder what compels you to wake up from your sleep, or… maybe you don’t

Have you ever been in love? Did it make you leap? Or did it draw you even deeper into your shell?

Did your beloved understand you? Or did she cover up the hole in your soul then realised that she’s suck in that she was losing herself

Did you write your songs because only in that way you can feel her existence?

… With this, I’m letting you go

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Hi. I am nothing.

Let me introduce myself. Should I introduce myself to my own journal? Besides I don’t know how to introduce myself.

Sure, I can give you my name, age, where I live or what my line of work is. However it is just cosmetics. It begs for meaning, personality, uniqueness to distinguish myself from other individuals with the same name, age, place, line of work, hobby, favourite dessert or even boyfriend, whatever.You may think that my facebook or twitter page seamlessly tells my story but mine is just another cosmetics, meaningless rambles. The only conclusion you might get is I’m a discreet and shy person. I used to think that way but is it true? Is me being discreet caused by introvert nature? Or it’s because I barely know myself.

‘Hi. How are you?’ is the most difficult question to answer without resorting to the usual minimalistic answer ‘good’ because I don’t know how I am, how I truly feel about the series of events I’ve been through. I am an almost empty vessel, the only essence left is only capable of doing the most banal operation. Thinking. Doubting.

People who know me may think of me as a quirky girl with shy but easy going personality or maybe as a boring person who is incapable of entertaining small talks. But deep inside, I know the ‘me’ they know is the sum total of different unique personalities I have encountered in my life, through books, blogs or people I meet in coffee shop or on the street. I am susceptible to be infected with accents, habits, opinions, thinking of others and make it as if they are my own as well. Maybe that is why I choose a line of work that allows me to use my ability to inhabit people’s mind and steer them to certain desired outcomes. When I work, I feel excited because finally my vessel is filled but they are just guests that are just passing through. When I don’t work, I am an empty vessel again.

You might think that I need some help. But is there anything to be helped? I am not sure myself. Self-help book has never entertained me. Self-help book’s premise is to heal or improve self but what if you don’t have the self? Nor I have the patience to go to psychologists because I have nothing of essence to tell. I also don’t have the inclination to tell my friends. I once told my friends about my nothingness but they did not quite get it, they offered some consolation that it might be because I was tired and needed some vacations. I don’t know if I am the only person who is contracted with this ‘nothingness’ or maybe it’s because I’m using the language that assumes content.

Maybe I need to find or invent the language of ‘nothingness’. Then the second question… If such language exists, are my friends willing to learn this language? I suspect this requires them to submerge themselves in ‘nothingness’ but isn’t this asking too much? I am not sure if I want to demand that kind of sacrifice. Then the only way left is to find another person who also contracts ‘nothingness’. But is it possible for two nothingness to connect? Is the language necessary? Won’t it be nothing as well?

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The Name of The Rose [A book review]

"The Name of The Rose" by Umberto Eco

“A brilliantly conceived adventure into another time” (San Francisco Chronicle) by critically acclaimed author Umberto Eco.

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns to the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, and the empirical insights of Roger Bacon to find the killer. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey (“where the most interesting things happen at night”) armed with a wry sense of humor and a ferocious curiosity.

When I read the local translation version, I was confused and avoided that book for so long (I felt stupid for not being able to comprehend it). Then one day, I braced myself to read the English version and it took my breath away. As I got into the middle of the book, it became harder and harder to put down. It’s a historical murder mystery set in an Italian abbey in 14th century. The story revolved around Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his novice, Adso of Melk(the story’s told from the Adso’s point of view) trying to untangle the mystery (hint: truth is far more random and stranger than fiction) while struggling to face the corrupt Pope and his followers.

In the course of the story, I was tickled by questions like…

What is ‘truth’, does anyone have a right to determine ‘truth’, is it ‘static’ concept or is it naturally ‘bend-able’, do curiosity and faith go together, how we can define heresy, how we should defend our faith, will we be wiser if we stay on track obeying rules or if we let our guard down and commit sin sometimes?

This book, beyond satisfying our intellectual need (with William’s insightful analysis), but also serves as a reminder to stay critical – not blindly believe the ‘truth’ that is shoveled down to your throat regardless of the status of the person.

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