Three most underrated cities in Europe

(The weather is becoming too hot to do anything that requires brain right now, so I decide to put aside my dissertation and write this instead.)

Paris. Rome. London. They are all in every Asian’s travelling wish list. And going to the most touristic cities means that you can’t even take a proper picture of that famous landmark because tourists are swarming over it with their pink jackets, selfie sticks, and ugly hats. Ugh.

Although visiting those cities is also a must, I found myself happiest when I’m in these three cities. So without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

1. Stockholm

I have to admit that I’m not being objective here – one of my two favourite children books writers is Astrid Lindgren, and she’s from Sweden. I grew up with kids from Bullerbyn, Madicken, Lisabet, Ronya, and Lotta. So the first thing I did when I arrived in Stockholm is visiting Junibacken, where her masterpieces are immortalised. I simply love that place.

Putting Junibacken aside – Stockholm is fantastic! It consists of little islands, connected by bridges as you can see in this map.

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(This is a screenshot of my own Google maps, with places I favourited.)

Each islands has its own places of interest. Go explore those tiny roads in the old town Gamla Stan, or cross further to Sofo to try the famous Meatball For The People (which in my opinion is overrated). Grab a kardamombulle in Urban Deli Nytorget (thank me later). Visit ABBA Museum but don’t bother to enter – just sit outside, enjoy the songs and free wifi. Try the princess cake (prinsesstårta) at Vete-Katten where you can also enjoy free coffee.

I went there in the summer and I spent hours just sitting in a dock, eating ice cream, looking at sea, ships and seagulls.

2. Liverpool

After visiting more than 10 cities/towns in England, I found that all of them look very similar: Old buildings, old church, big clock, Marks & Spencer, Boots, and The Body Shop. If you closed my eyes and teletransported me somehow to the middle of one of the cities, I wouldn’t be able to guess where I am.

But Liverpool is different. First, it has docks and sea, which brings a nice addition to the regular English cities. And it has The Beatles. I will repeat it again: it has The Beatles.

To be fair, I wasn’t a huge The Beatles fan. I only knew Hey Jude and Yesterday. But then I went to The Cavern and fell in love.

The Cavern is an underground pub that serves live music almost all day long (from 12 noon to 2 midnight). It is famous because The Beatles has performed there for more than 200 times. And because it is underground, you can go there in the afternoon and feel like it’s midnight already. The live music is awesome. Solo or band, young or old, they are all amazing. And yes, you will hear Hey Jude over and over again.

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I never like clubs/pubs with loud, crappy music that you can’t hear yourself talking. But in The Cavern, you are not supposed to talk. Leave your seat, stand in front of the stage, and feel yourself being carried away by the music.

3. Budapest

I almost cancelled my trip to Budapest, because I was in Prague and there was nothing much. I thought Budapest would be similar, or even worse. I’m really, really glad I didn’t!

Budapest consists of two areas: Buda and Pest, and they are divided by Danube river. Buda is hilly and residential while Pest is flat and centre of government & commerce. It means that you have fantastic views from both sides: you can sit on the river bank in Pest and look at beautiful hill with old buildings in Buda. Or you can climb Buda and see Pest from the top.

Budapest history is also interesting. Being occupied by many empires give this city rich background and diverse architecture. You can see a pretty building from Hofburg era side by side with a dull one from communist time. And the thing I love the most is, there are hidden histories lie behind what look like ordinary statues! I strongly recommend you to join the free walking tour (especially the communism one) to discover the untold stories. (Confession: the tour was great and I didn’t have money to tip them properly – so I promised myself that I would promote them as my gratitude.)

IMG_20160707_165337.jpgBonus point from Budapest: they have the most amazing ice cream ever. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been obsessed to find best ice creams in Europe, and I think Levendula wins so far! Try their chocolate lavender and mint raspberry – heaven.


DISCLAIMER

First of all: your impression of a city or a new place will much depend on your experience. If it rains a lot when you are there, or your wallet is stolen, of course it will ruin your mood. I might be just lucky that my experience in these three cities are perfect. It doesn’t mean yours will!

Secondly: I didn’t expect anything when I came to these cities. I didn’t read much about them, I didn’t have places to visit listed. I found most of the places I mentioned above by accident – and that way, I got delightful surprises when they were that good. I’m not sure you will have the same wonderful experiences if you already have certain sets of expectation on them.

 

 

Three things I learn from solo travelling

I started solo travelling when I broke up with my boyfriend, back in 2013. Around the same time, I decided to quit my job at the ‘Most Admirable Company in Indonesia’ – and I bought a one-way ticket to Bali. Since then, I solo travel almost all the time. And I learn…

1. How to take care of myself

Sometimes I get sick while travelling. I can’t even get up to buy medicines or food. But I have no options than lie in bed in fetal position until I get a bit better… then I crawl to grab myself some food or medicine.

Things happen and you can’t depend on anyone else.

2. That I make friends – and I lose them

Staying in hostels enable you to make friends quite easily. You chat in common areas such as living or dining room, and if you find many things in common, you can travel with him/her the next day(s). You talk whole day with them – sometimes you even share things you never tell anyone.

But then they leave. Or you leave first. You exchange contacts, but it’s least likely that you will keep in touch. After the first text (“Hey, I arrived in London already. Enjoy the rest of your trip!”), you just stop being in touch. Life simply gets in the way.

3. How liberating it is to be yourself

The sense of anonymity is liberating. You can wear anything you like without being self-conscious. You can stroll aimlessly, take unexpected turns, explore that tiny road, eat when you feel like it, go inside those cute shops, lie down on the grass watching squirrel and pigeons, buy that third cone of ice cream… The list is endless, when you stop trying to please other people.

Wait, am I writing about solo travelling or about… living your life?

 

Macabre metrics: Quarrels between departments

It was a one ordinary day at my startup. Around 10 am, my sales team would come to me to complain: “The operations dept is so annoying! This client – whom we have chased for months – wants us to deliver on Thursday. But the operations dept insisted they would deliver according to SLA, which was Friday.”

At 10.15 am, the Head of Operations would come to me and complained: “Your sales team thinks the whole company revolved around them! I have set rules and SLA to make the operations process regulated. Why can’t they follow the schedule?”

That kind of quarrel happens almost every week, with little improvement after each case. Now that I’m observing from outside the company, I can see more clearly what’s going on. I think the main problem lies in the KPI/metrics.

What gets measured gets managed. And the more frequently you got feedback about something, the more likely you are going to work on it. 

Now, if the target for sales dept was the $$$ value of sales, they would do whatever it takes to sell, including offering ridiculous discount or giving empty promises to the clients. And if the target for operations dept was merely cost efficiency, they would not care if the clients’ hairs turned grey waiting for the delivery.

In the ideal world, of course, the metrics should ensure sustainable growth and long-term value creation as opposed to short-term wins. There are two widely-used sets of metrics: HEART & Pirate metrics.

HEART is the acronym of Happiness, Engagement, Adoption, Retention, and Task Success. While Pirate, well, what sound does a pirate make? “AARRR!” and it stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue.

If, for example, customer happiness was the KPI for all departments, everyone would thrive to deliver the most delightful customer experience. The quarrel between departments were minimised because they were all fighting for the same target. And as we’ve agreed that there’s no such thing as multitasking, focusing on one KPI in one period of time is the wiser choice, rather than try to accomplish everything and achieve nothing. That one single KPI has to be emphasised again and again to the whole team, and also has to be tied with reward and recognition.

However, obviously, don’t take this advice to the extreme side and spend the last millions of dollars in your bank account to make your customers happy – and then die tomorrow.

 


(Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to be the expert here. This is just my reflection. Any thoughts are welcome!)

Be comfortable in the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’

How many hours do you spend in internal meetings every week? How many times do you leave the room without achieving anything productive?

In my startup, I used to spend lots of times discussing problems. Usually the trigger was a complaint from clients, caused by some errors by IT or operations team, and those errors were caused by unclear instructions from sales or product team, so on and so forth.

Usually some certain people would start to be defensive, and others would try to mediate and make jokes to lighten the situation. In the end, people left the meeting room feeling better about themselves (“Yay, so the complaint was not entirely my fault!”), until a similar error happened again.

From my favourite professor, Prof. Cliff Bowman, I learned something new: “Team” is not good in senior level. Fear of hurting team harmony is not something a manager should have.
In every meeting, usually there are two zones: zone of comfortable debate and zone of uncomfortable debate.

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In the first zone, we are discussing light topics and fun options. “We know we are not gonna do this, but it’s fun to talk about.” It’s dangerous if your meeting is still in that zone. 
Instead, we have to learn to discuss in the zone of uncomfortable debate (ZOUD). How?
  • Dig the root cause of the problem (ask 7 why’s if necessary), then move on to solutions. Stop dangling on whose fault it was.
  • Stop being personal – this is not about you. We are all here because we care about the same company, and we share the same vision.
  • Critique the works or the actions, not the people.
And more importantly, leave the ZOUD before leaving the room. If you are not mature enough to do it, then maybe you are not supposed to be in that room in the first place.

Your customer needs a hole, not a drill

Guess, who is the biggest threat for an airline whose customers are businessmen?

a. Another airline
b. Budget airline
c. Skype

Yes, the answer is C: Skype. Businessmen who used to fly once a week from London to Paris, for example, now only fly once a month. Three other face-to-face meetings are replaced by Skype meetings.

The business landscape are changing rapidly. Your competitors will come from places you never expected. It becomes more important than ever to ask this question to yourself:

What problems am I solving?

The legendary Harvard marketing professor, Theodore Levitt, phrased it this way: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!

If I needed a hole for some reason, I wouldn’t buy a drill, actually. I would go to TaskRabbit to find other people who can do it for me. Or I would borrow my neighbour’s drill via Streetbank. What’s the point of buying something that I would use once a month, or even less?

This paradigm shift brings us to “Product-Service System” era. Companies no longer provide mere product or mere service; they combine both to serve customers in better ways. Here are three possible ways to implement it:

  • Focus on optimising product usage – the products are still owned by customers, but you provide extra service to give them better experiences. Eg: Xerox PagePack presents a contract that includes ink, paper, regular service and maintenance by Xerox engineers.
  • Focus on usage, not ownership – your customers don’t have to own everything. Just give them access to the product they want, when they need it. Eg: average cars are only moving 5% of the time (the other 95% are sitting in your garage or in parking lots) – it makes perfect sense to do car sharing via Uber, Zipcar, or BlaBlaCar.
  • Focus on result – your customers only pay for the result, and product involvement is optional. TaskRabbit I previously mentioned was one of the examples.

By constantly focusing on the problems instead of the products, you would have a better chance to compete in this ever-changing world.

 


Adapted from: Tukker, A. (2004) ‘Eight types of product–service system: Eight ways to sustainability? Experiences from SusProNet’, Business Strategy and the Environment, 13(4), pp. 246–260. doi: 10.1002/bse.414.

 

3 things I wish I knew before applying for scholarships

1. Get your life together first, scholarship later.

Studying abroad for free is an enticing dream. Some people think, “I don’t care what I’m going to learn, I just want to study abroad!” or “I don’t mind studying anything, as long as a scholarship is available for that program.”

Wrong. Get your life together first – find out what you are best at, set your goals, and find a course/uni that will bring you closer to your vision. Explain to the scholarship provider why you want to study that more than anything in the world. Show them proofs of your capabilities: I’ve already done this much! And if I get this scholarship, I will be able to achieve much more!

2. Don’t give up – it will get much easier after the first time

I applied for scholarships 5 times. People asked how I could manage to do that, especially while working full-time in a hectic startup environment. Preparing documents for scholarship applications is a pain in the ass, I agree. But after the first time, next ones will be a piece of cake. Most scholarships require same documents – even the essays / personal statements are similar.

3. Don’t limit yourself – let others limit you

What I meant was don’t be scared to apply for top universities like Oxford and Cambridge. I didn’t apply because I thought they were out of my league. Turned out that I got accepted quite easily in every uni I applied to – LSE, Cranfield (#2 MBA program in the UK after Cambridge, and Lancaster (also in Top 10 MBA). I should have applied to the best – and let them reject me if they think I’m not good enough.

Scrum for grandmas

So I recently got certified as a Professional Scrum Master I and some friends asked what that was. The word sounds funny to them and somehow they associated it with ‘scrotum’.

This article aims to explain what scrum is to your grandma. The analogy I use is not perfect, but it can cover the basic principles of scrum for non-technical people.

Say, you were having a dinner date at your place! And you wanted to show that in addition to being good looking and smart and funny, you could cook too. You decided that you were going to cook a 3-course dish: mushroom cream soup, grilled chicken, and tiramisu.

You shopped for ingredients and you started to cook. While you cooked, you didn’t taste your cooking at all. You were confident that if you follow step-by-step recipes flawlessly, everything must be perfect. After 3 hours, you finished cooking, and your date came. You had set the table – you were ready to impress her with your amazing dishes.

They turned out to be a huge disaster. First, the soup tasted funny – the mushroom must have been rotten! The chicken was still raw in the inside you could feel the Salmonella crawling in your stomach. And the worst part was – she was allergic to almond flakes you put in the tiramisu.

Hours later after you were back from the emergency unit, you reflected the night in regret. If you could have one chance to do things differently…

  1. You would check your cooking often and didn’t wait until the final dish was done. Tasting it a couple of times would allow you to fix your mistakes before it’s too late.
  2. You would check if your oven had the same spec with the recipe maker’s oven. Turned out both oven had different definition of ‘done’.
  3. You would ask her what she wanted, or at least what she didn’t want. It would save you lots of troubles.

And those are scrum basic principles:

  1. Deliver incremental product often, test it to the market, and iterate. The whole development process is based on transparency, inspection, and adaption.
  2. Build a reliable, self-organised development team, with a shared understanding of what ‘done’ means.
  3. Only build features with optimum business value (features that will increase customer satisfaction, bring highest ROI with lowest effort).

As Papa Drucker phrased it:

“There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

Not mere luck – How I got my Chevening Scholarship

My Instagram is full of my traveling pictures around United Kingdom. Since I got here last September, I’ve been traveling to more than 15 cities and attending more than 8 musicals/concerts/festivals, and the best part is, they are all sponsored by Chevening Scholarship.

(Clarification: the scholarship covers monthly living allowance, not specifically for traveling or other hedonistic activities, but if you are careful with your expense and eat only potato for two weeks like I do, you definitely can save lots of money to enjoy UK!)

I received many comments about how lucky I was. I am indeed lucky, but it’s more than mere luck – it’s hard work. This is my journey to pursue a scholarship to study abroad:

Quick background

I’ve been dreaming to study in the UK since I was 7, because I read Enid Blyton books about girl boarding schools. When I finished high school, I had to watch all my close friends going abroad to study, but my parents just couldn’t afford it. I knew that my only chance was by getting a scholarship, but I also realised that it’s incredibly hard.

First attempt

At the end of my undergrad year, I applied for a scholarship to study for 8 weeks in the US. It was my first time applying for scholarship, and I found out that the preparing the documents was a lot of hassle. One of them was university transcript, and it had to be a legalised copy. My uni administration staffs were jerks so I couldn’t complete it on time.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “Sir, I want to legalise my transcript.”

Him: (munching gum annoyingly) “No can’t do. The guy responsible for it is taking a leave.”

Me: “When will he come back, Sir?”

Him: “I don’t know.”

Me: “But, Sir, I need this document badly.”

Him: “Do I look like I care?”

 

So I submitted my documents without being legalised, and my application was rejected right away.

It upset me – what’s the point of preparing thousands of documents when in the end, my application just got thrown to a bin? The effort is not worth it!

Years went by,

but the dream hadn’t gone away. One day I have this imaginary conversation with my future kids:

Me: Yeah, Honey, I’d always been dreaming to study abroad too.

Her: Then why didn’t you go?

Me: Because I didn’t want to take an expensive TOEFL test, I was scared I would be rejected after putting lots of efforts.

I decided that if I was about to kill my dream, it would be after I had worked my ass off and tried everything I could. So I took the leap – I took the ridiculously expensive TOEFL test which would expire in 2 years, and that’s the same timeframe I gave myself. If in 2 years I didn’t succeed, I would just focus on my career in Indonesia.

Second & third attempt

I applied to Chevening 2013 and LPDP 2013. (I only applied to government-sponsored scholarships, because I was aiming for full scholarship + living allowance.)

Both were rejected. On retrospect I learned that in both times, I wasn’t clear about my vision, about what I was doing in my life, about the purpose of my study and why was it important for my career and for the society.

When you are overweight…

How to make yourself looks more attractive? You can learn Adobe Photoshop to edit your pictures. Or you can eat more healthily and exercise. Perfecting your essays and personal statements will make you look better temporarily, but what you really need to do is developing yourself.

So I took steps to develop myself. I challenged myself to take a leadership position. Started with managing 3 people, until in the end I had 11 people in my team, many of them are older than me. Being a leader was a humbling and crushing experience, but also brought most satisfaction.

Fourth attempt

was Australia Leadership Award 2014. I knew I was much more qualified than ever. I prepared everything perfectly… and I got another rejection.

I was really down. I did my best, I gave all I could – why wasn’t it enough?

So I decided that I would give myself another chance. If this time I failed… I would stop trying for the next 2-3 years. (Yeah, even then I didn’t give up completely.)

Fifth attempt

Chevening 2014. After the interview, one of my interviewers pulled me aside and said, “I think you are the best person I’ve interviewed so far. I like it when I’m not the smartest person in the room, and it didn’t happen very often.”

My jaw dropped. Yes, I got in. And I couldn’t be happier. Not only because I finally got the chance to study in my dream country, but mostly because this scholarship was an acknowledgment of my zealous adventure. I wasn’t insane believing in my dreams – it paid off in the end.

I learned many things on my scholarship applications journey, but if I had to summarise it into one sentence, I would say:

You have to want it more than anything else in the world.

Tentang Kelanjutan Meter/Second

Kamu tahu, tokoh-tokoh dalam novel fiksi sebenarnya punya kemauan sendiri. Kamu pikir penulislah yang menggerakkan pena dan mengetikkan rangkaian kalimat yang menentukan tindakan si tokoh. Padahal tidak. Si tokoh pun punya keinginan sendiri, ia yang mendadak bertingkah laku di luar dugaan dan sang penulis harus pasrah dipimpin oleh tokoh tersebut.

Aku dan Kent menulis kisah Agus dan Filia di novel Meter/Second. Novel yang sejak awal kurencanakan menjadi novel bersambung. Akhir novel Meter/Second adalah pertemuan Agus dan Filia di bandara. Novel lanjutannya seharusnya mengisahkan perjalanan mereka di sana. Filia akan pacaran dengan Timothee, sahabat Agus. Barulah Agus merasa kehilangan dan sedikit cemburu. Blablabla, hingga mereka berdua pergi ke summer class di Italia dan setelah sebulan keliling Eropa bersama, mereka baru mengakui perasaan masing-masing.

Seharusnya.

Plot sudah dibuat, bahkan setengah novel sekuel Meter/Second sudah rampung ditulis. Tapi lalu tokoh-tokoh ini memberontak. Filia punya jalan lain yang ingin ia tempuh. Ia memang putus dengan Timothee, tapi bukan berarti ia ingin bersama Agus. Filia mulai bekerja part time dan bertemu teman-teman lain yang lebih dewasa dan menarik baginya. Bukan berarti Agus tak cukup baik untuk Filia. Mereka hanya… tumbuh ke arah yang berbeda.

Kamu mungkin pernah juga mengalaminya. Persahabatan semasa SMP yang mulai renggang saat masuk SMA. Kamu tadinya bisa ngobrol berjam-jam di telepon dengan teman baikmu, tapi sekarang terasa garing dan tak senyambung dulu.

It happens. Sometimes when people grow, they grow apart. And sometimes it’s better to quit while you are ahead, while you still have lovely memories to preserve.

Jadi tolong maafkan Filia dan Agus yang tak bisa melanjutkan kisah mereka. Mungkin suatu hari nanti, akan ada kisah tentang Filia seorang. Akan ada kisah tentang Agus seorang. Bahkan bisa jadi, di tahun-tahun mendatang, jalan mereka kembali bersilang. Tapi untuk saat ini… Biarlah mereka melepaskan gandengan tangan, meniti jalan sendiri menuju masa depan yang penuh tanya.

How To Let Him Go Gracefully

Firing employees is not a simple matter. Every discharge can make your other team members angry, worried, or even show their solidarities by resigning from your company too (Yes, Indonesian people put high value in solidarities. They call it tepa selira or tenggang rasa.)

To ensure that the firing will not disturb your company’s equilibrium, you need to consider these:

  1. Make sure you fire him for valid reasons.

Don’t ever fire based on feelings, moods, or personal dislike. Do you know that one’s performance is determined 40% by the company’s system, 40% by the leadership, and only 20% by his own competencies? If s/he’s not performing well, it’s 80% your fault. Think about the effort you’ve made to develop this person. Has he got the support he needs to perform at his job?

  1. Give heads up to other team members

Direct communication is not Indonesian’s virtue. You have to show in subtle ways how bad he’s performing. For instance, you can make a weekly meeting, where everyone has to present his achievement in the last week. That way, everyone knows who is performing and who is not. And when the underperforming guy is being fired, nobody will doubt your decision.

  1. Explain honestly about why he’s being fired

The discharge should be a learning experience for other team members. By explaining honestly the reason behind it, you will help them to understand more clearly what behaviours are not tolerable in your startup. Just make sure you don’t attack him personally.