Breakfast Notes #14 (Rudolph, Rajaratnam, Reading)

Breakfast Notes #14 (Rudolph, Rajaratnam, Reading)
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev / Unsplash

Hi friends,

We are reaching the end of the year, and I would love to thank you for investing your Friday mornings in reading my Breakfast Notes. May I bring you more knowledge (and some wisdom) in 2022!

I value your eyes, readership and interest so please feel free to provide me with any feedback/ thoughts!

Here we go with today's Breakfast Notes!

The Truth About Rudolph


How did Rudolph, The Red Nose Reindeer become Santa's favourite pet? Was he always leading the sleigh since the good old days?

What if I told you that Rudolph was only born after World War I?

In 1939, retail giant Montgomery Ward wanted to distribute its in-house Christmas book to entertain visiting children while their parents shopped.

This task fell to a copywriter, Robert May. This request came at a difficult time in his life. His wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer, and with $5000/year, he was struggling financially to support his family whilst paying for her treatment. Not only that, he was in peak career disillusionment.

As May later wrote,

I was heavily in debt at age 35, still grinding out catalogue copy. Instead of writing the great American novel, as I'd always hoped. I was describing men's white shirts.

Inspired by his daughter's love of the reindeer's at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo and drawing from his shy childhood, he wrote an illustrated booklet, 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'

May persisted in writing this booklet whenever he had time, and when it was finally published, it was an instant hit among shoppers. Five million books later, Rudolph was now part of the Christmas mythology.

While none of his subsequent books replicated the magic of Rudolph, it is still worth learning from the story of May.

History is much more contingent than we think. Had May rejected this gig for all the valid reasons he had, our Christmas folklore would be a little duller.

Do not belittle the small opportunities that come knocking on your door, for they might reconfigure your entire house.

Visualization Of The Day

McKinsey & Company

Ride-hailing services are reshaping the mobility sector in Asia. Traditionally, car ownership follows an S-curve based on income, after which crossing an inflexion point, suddenly everyone buys cars. Otherwise, everyone is going carless. This phenomenon is clearest in Singapore, where the price of a second-hand Toyota is $60,000.

Given that ride-hailing remains relatively inexpensive, it allows more consumers access to mobility through private vehicles in this region.

Rajaratnam's Rule For Foreign Relations

S Rajaratnam, Singapore's Founding Foreign Minister (Source: PAP)

As a Singaporean living on this tiny little red dot, the intensification of the US-China rivalry, the varied response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar coup are all causes for concern.

What is Singapore's policy position? Should we be pro-America or pro-China?

In such times, history acts as an effective guide. On 21 September 1965, Singapore was admitted into the United Nations right in the heat of the Cold War.

China had just tested its first atomic bomb, America and USSR were locked up in the space race, America had just entered the Vietnam War. A newly independent Singapore was confronted with many options.

With elegance and poise, our founding Foreign Minister, S Rajaratnam declared,  that Singapore has chosen the path of non-alignment.

It simply means that we do not wish to be drawn into alliances dedicated to imposing our way of life on other countries. The friendship between two countries should not be conditional on the acceptance of common ideologies, common friends and common foes.

Does this mean agnosticism or hard-headed neutrality?

Rajaratnam deftly continues,

This does not mean that my country equates non-alignment with indifference to basic issues of right and wrong or that it will evade taking a stand on matters which it considers vital lest it displeases some member nations, including those with which it now has close ties.
Non-alignment is only in regard to narrow power bloc interests and not in regard to the basic principles embodied in the U.N. Charter.

The genius of such a policy position was Rajaratnam's insight. In a side conversation, he whispered to Kishore Mahbubani, ' When a small country aligns itself with big power, there is no doubt who keeps in step with whose policies. In other words, Singapore's foreign policy, if it is aligned becomes a mere reproduction of the foreign policy of its more powerful power.'

If Singapore was bold enough to attempt this at the height of the Cold War and maintain such a position throughout the years, expect more of the same in the coming years.

Quote Of The Week

Paul Graham, in How To Write Usefully,

In writing, you constantly admit you are wrong. You just do it before publishing instead of after.  

The Art Of Drinking From A Firehose

Fire department connection on the side of a rusty sheetmetal building.
Photo by Ralph Katieb / Unsplash
The Art of Drinking From A Firehose
I am two weeks from finishing my rotation at the Trade Team in Enterprise Singapore. I am going to share with you three lessons on how I learned to drink from the firehose. To drink from the firehose is to absorb and integrate an overwhelming (or even excessive) flow of

I wrote a minor post last week on drinking from a firehose.

We are confronted with a deluge of information daily in this digital age. To drink from the firehose is to absorb and integrate an overwhelming (or even excessive) flow of information into one's workflow.

In this post, I share three ways I am learning on the job while drinking from a firehose.

The greatest lesson I learned was that most people treat books, articles and memos like TV. They consume it passively, and that is completely wrong. They will have been much better served if they read actively.

May The Sun Shine Upon Your Face,

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