Dear 2013 Pei Kang: Have Faith and Stay Humble
Creative Chronicles is a series of articles exploring the lives of four Singaporean Creatives. Previously in Series 1, our Creatives shared where they are in their creative journey today through a selection of images. In this Series 2, they revisited a challenging time in their lives and wrote a letter addressed to their younger selves. The letters were then used as conversation starters during our chat with the Creatives.
In this article, we chat with Pei Kang, Founder and CEO of TRIA. Writing to his 2013 self, Pei Kang shares how his road to leadership involved him learning to be comfortable assuming the role, taking ownership over his ideas and figuring out the kind of leader he wants to be.
We present his letter and a curation of themes that emerged from our chat. Instead of presenting the conversation chronologically, we delve into each theme through verbatim quotes from various parts of our chat. We hope you find them as insightful as we have.
Studio Dojo: Why did you choose to write to your 2013 self?
I think I’m generally quite a progressive person, in the sense that my first thought was, How can I better any of the previous phases in my life with this letter? In 2013, I was in the midst of starting my own practice and exploring my pathways. Back then, I didn’t realise that what is amazing about life is that no matter where or how you walk, it always gets you somewhere.
I think the main message that my 2013 self needed to hear is – you have to assume the role of the leader. The last 8 years have been a trying period in this regard and I realised that this is the part that my younger self would have appreciated help in.
I’ve always aimed to build a team that’s well-synergised. It is like a soccer team where everyone is so well-practised that with just a glance, the next player will know where you’ll be passing the ball and he will be there waiting. That unspoken chemistry, which I had some fleeting experiences of, gave me goosebumps.
What I had learnt was that even with a self-initiated team, I will be seen as The Leader and there will be moments when my team members look to me for a cue. It felt conflicting at first because I have always been more comfortable as being ‘part of the team’. I had to learn to assume the image of that leader role and figure out the leader I wanted to be. A leader does not mean he always knows the right move and decides on everything. I would like to be a leader who empowers others to find their own space.
Studio Dojo: Fill in the blank, “In my work, I would like to be known as Mr. __________”?
I provide the direction, so probably Mr. Navigator. I realised my strength is in the ability to read a situation no matter how difficult and to remedy a win-win solution. I think I have gained enough confidence to say that there is no problem in the world that cannot be solved. Be it a long-standing problem that a client faced or resolving the stalemate that circularity is in now, the problem need not be a negative-sum game.
I see my ability as a product of practice, practice and practice. I have been blessed with exposure to, whom I think are, some of the best thinkers out there (design methodologies, etc) and I found my own practice ground. Before I knew it, I realised I am resolving problems others see as roadblocks and I was getting faster at it.
I recall how back in university, I would unconsciously ‘rabbit-hole’ the problem in order to convince myself. I would spread stacks of information all over the floor and stare down the notes for hours, sometimes days, while I think through the problem from all possible angles. On hindsight, I see these moments as part of the practice. I am able to do what I do today because of this mileage, and I never felt more empowered. Because I can, I believe everyone can too, given the practice opportunity.
To provide the practice opportunities for my team, I prefer to guide and leave them to devise their own solutions. When one pushes his own ideas, the sense of ownership is priceless.
In saying that, I do often feel conflicted between balancing this ideal where everyone gets to practice and learn, versus the mission the company is on. As much as I feel for the former, the latter calls for speed and progress. There are many times when I have to cut short my team’s practice by fast-forwarding them to the answer.
But with the urgency our mission calls for, we need the soccer team now, not later – one that is highly functional and self-running. As much as I wish for others to realise their potential, I must balance it with time constraints.
Studio Dojo: How would your 2013 self respond to this letter from you?
My 2013 self would probably print this out, pin it on the wall and ponder for days. What do you mean by ‘exemplary effort’? What does he really mean by that? Hmm… Then I’ll be probably think through 20 different possible scenarios in my head. I don’t think my 2013 self would get it instantly but he would at least have a certain awareness after reading the letter. He would probably need some time to tune in before internalising but I think this will accelerate the pace for him.
The tone and directness of this letter will work well for me back then, it’s a bit of a ‘fire-under-the-feet’ approach. If anyone speaks to me like that, I would usually shut up and listen.
Interestingly though, when it comes to me communicating with others, I may be a lot softer. I used to feel this need to be overly-polite, to the point that discussions were not the most effective. What I have learned is the need for balance and I do think that certain things can be communicated clearly without triggering all the unnecessary emotions, so long as done in a sincere manner. It just takes a bit more courage I guess. I’m naturally not a person who enjoys delivering bad news or critiques. I recognise that talking and communicating well with others is something that I need to do more of. This is something that I’m still learning to do effectively today.
Catch up on Pei Kang’s article in Series 1: Designing Your Own Path: An Ongoing Practice Of Challenging And Committing