the bảohouse is the journal of muses of change strategist bảo.thiên.ngô often thinking about the Vietnamese American community and its place in the grand scheme of things.
2014
Oct
13

Improving Discussions

What are the traits of a leader?

A group of high school students from different schools gathered to think about this topic to improve their ability to run their school clubs. The discussion started to become a game of one-word answers to tack onto a laundry list. It was kind of dry and uninteresting. And so I interjected, "Name one person in your life who you really admire, and describe why this person is someone you want to model yourself after." And from there the discussion blossomed. One student said her tennis coach, because he was kind, knowledgable, and determined. Another student said her dad, because he was resilient, committed, and loving.

And rather than go home with a laundry list of leadership traits, it was just easier to give them a simple, small task: Pick one of those traits and think about how you can be better at it. How can you show more kindness? How do you express more love?

In hindsight, it probably would’ve been better to ask them first: Tell me a time you expressed kindness to someone. When was a time you conveyed love? The reason I prefer to phrase the topic this way is because the first thing we must recognize that these students are already expressing these leadership traits. It’s presumptuous to say that they need to improve on something they already possess themselves. And if they do have a story to tell, then all I can say is to keep at it and do more of it!

What are your goals in life?

A rather heavy question, especially for young people who are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. It’s easier to break up the topic into steps.

Firstly, Thinking about how you grew up through your youth, was there something you experienced that you hope would never happen to your baby cousin, nephew/niece, or someone you adore who is younger than you? It’s a bit of a different take, but it provides a backdrop for why one chooses to live the way they do. Someone might talk about the difficulty of growing up with divorced parents. Another might be livid about youth having experienced trauma in some form. Yet another laments not being able to speak fluently with their grandparents in the native tongue, who raised them like second parents.

Secondly, we invert the first question by asking: Have you ever had a kind of life-changing moment that you would say contributes to what you enjoy doing or currently striving towards? So rather than focus on avoiding a negative as in the first question, we ask them about something they really like to do now that came from some fountain of inspiration. For myself, I because a graphic designer because of watching a Vietnamese student play performed by UCLA Vietnamese Student Union group. For although I have done art in high school, it was that theatrical production that determined my course in life for many years coming.

I think talking about what you want to do with your life is admirable. But orienting listeners to what compelled you to start on a path in life is more relatable.

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2014
Sep
24
Those who LIVE must learn to open their I’s.

Those who LIVE must learn to open their I’s.

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Talent Poker

Corporations engage in a game of talent poaching, which gives the professional worker a lot of latitude if they have the right skills to negotiate their pay, because they can ALWAYS find a company who needs them. Unfortunately this means that those who have the skills/experience get fought over, and those who don’t have it have to look for ways to improve their own appeal.

Sometimes you will see corporations invest in a less-than-ideal candidate to help them gain the necessary skills, but they always have to ask themselves if the person will one day just jump ship and work elsewhere, or hopefully stay and be a contributor.

I kinda imagine the whole situation like a game of poker. Every round all the big players put in chips (the amount of money invested in growing a person professionally), and at the end of the round, someone takes home the value of all of those personal investments. If you don’t have a lot of chips in hand, you only play rounds where you have a chance at gaining, right? You wouldn’t blindly jump into every round; you’ll just bleed to death doing so. Thus, for small businesses, it’s a really hard decision to want to hire someone and help them grow, because as much as we all want to help people grow professionally, some big fish will come along, take everything, and slap the little fish in the face.

To me, I can see why vocational and private for-profit schools are increasing in numbers; there is a need for people with skills, but companies are playing the poaching poker game where the few talented people gets most of the attention, and everyone else is left to their own to figure out how to improve themselves at their own expense.

Just an observation for now.

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2014
Sep
20

Supporter Self-Introduction Preparation

I’ve reached out to you as a supporter because I felt that the things you mentioned in your request-for-support statement focused primarily on benefits that don’t pique my interest.

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While contemplating about my personal bio revision, I caught a glimpse of a spider’s web lit by sunset.
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While contemplating about my personal bio revision, I caught a glimpse of a spider’s web lit by sunset.

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Group Dynamics in a Nutshell, After a Round of Beer

  • Visionary - The annoying person in the group who always talks about dreams and ideas and asks everyone else when they gonna jump on the bandwagon (which is occupied only by him/her).
  • Strategist - The realist who knows what’s going on in the world, can put together intricate plans for world domination, but doesn’t feel like doing anything about it because it’s too much of a bother.
  • Administrator - The person who loves ticking checkboxes, scheduling meetings, writing agenda and minutes, and balancing budgets. Because numbers have names and feelings too, apparently.
  • People-Person - The life of the party, counselor, and coach. Being everyone’s best friend, these folks are most likely invited to be a part of everyone’s groom/bridal party. In a few years, this will become their day job.
  • Champion - The vanguard of ethics who does the right things and calls out the unethical behavior. The first person nominated to take care of public relations issues when shit hits the fan. Sometimes the last person to get invited to the afterparties.
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2014
Sep
8
Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Day!
Mid-Autumn by Menstos
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Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Day!

Mid-Autumn by Menstos

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2014
Sep
3

While visiting an auto mechanic

Viet·nam·ese me·chan·ic
Buys cars from in·sur·ance bro·kers
Left for a·ban·don·ment
And re·stores them back to sal·vage
Re·flec·tion of his life
Of re·build·ing post-ex·o·dus
Drift a·long o·pen Pa·cif·ic
Ar·rive emp·ty-hand·ed
Piece-by-piece re·fill his lost peace
Drift no lon·ger but drive!

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2014
Aug
23

It’s the second day at the Fourth Annual Behavioral Economics Summit, Startuponomics, and I feel so sublime to be able to learn from brilliant thinkers, researchers, and movers, and to really drill down on what my company’s products can do to influence change in people on a day-to-day level. What I’ve realized is the profound humility one feels at how much we don’t know (in addition to the surprising discoveries made) about human behavior, especially for positive outcomes, whether it’s finding happiness in committed relationships, or developing the right organizational culture, or creating effective products to help users develop better habits (save for retirement, exercise, or giving to charity).

I thought about my old profile description and felt it was time to make some adjustments on what I perceive as my identity. Were trust, awareness, and innovation my core values anymore, or have some other values inched their way up, such as encouragement, appreciation, humility, and peace? Can I really still say I enjoy moving society towards equitably enjoyed multiculturalism? Although I can’t say I work on that purpose anymore, I am still happy to be pursuing the notion of helping people find a sense of security, and in my current career it is through sound financial management. The key question I consciously think about throughout this conference is not How do I teach people to better certain areas of their lives, but rather What can they do or what tools can they use to make the process of self-change almost automatic and mentally effortless? Who wants to attend a seminar or learn a new jargon-filled framework? If anything I’ve always learned better being the monkey who imitates another’s behaviors, and then later draw insight on why it works once I’ve had the experience.

And in the moments I’ve shared my insecurities with others at this summit, I’ve realized that heroic accomplishments always require that one goes through life making mistakes, and surviving the aftermath. One woman, in college, decided to breakup with her boyfriend, go against her friends’ and family’s advice/pleas, and get totally out of her comfort zone to live for some time in Kenya to figure out how to better encourage low-income people save money for rainy days. And although she told me that it may have been the biggest mistake of her life, she admitted it was the best mistake of her life. I don’t think the questions of “If you had a time machine, what would you tell your past self” really sit well with me, because it implies there’s a sense of regret over an experience you wished never happened. On the trip up with my boss we had a conversation with our Eritrean taxi driver about this, and all agreed that if you never experienced hardships, you would never develop sensitivity to those who are struggling (though I’m not saying one should experience hardships indefinitely, because it’s possible to completely breakdown). And so it is almost a necessity; you might feel fallen at some point in your life, and are wary of sharing that with others because in your mind it is shameful to think you’re not doing well like your peers are. And maybe your peers annoy you because you know they care but are just saying the wrong things. But once you survive the trial, it’s easier to identify the feelings afflicting others. And I feel one can better communicate if there is a genuine sense of empathy behind it.

I am astounded at the other startups in attendance who are trying to address concerns in finance, health, and education. And although we all share the common struggle of figuring out how to stay viable (read: alive), there’s something to be said about being among comrades each individually doing something meaningful to figure out how to effect scalable change: it’s just simply beautiful. For me, there’s this conflicting sense of accomplishment and insatiateness. On the one hand, one feels good about helping others. On the other hand, there’s still more people out there who needs help. But we have to protect our mental health from falling into despair and hopelessness stemming from the enormity of the problems that plague the world, and for me, I tell myself: I am not a superhero. I can’t be a champion to everyone. It’s not glamorous, but doing one small step today is still better than nothing, because I know what it’s like to feel like I’ve done nothing, and it was a dreadful feeling. Just doing a small thing each day is a daily miracle for me. And so I do what I can, and just have faith that someone else is looking after the other folks.

When people ask me what flavored ice cream best represented me, I would tell them vanilla; not very interesting by itself, but pairs well with anything.

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2014
Aug
4

Porter Robinson “Worlds” as featured on NPR

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