Halogen360 https://h360.halogen.sg Where Perspectives Matter Thu, 24 Jan 2019 06:15:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.20 166459526 A Weekend with Giants on an Island State https://h360.halogen.sg/a-weekend-with-giants-on-an-island-state/ Thu, 24 Jan 2019 06:11:05 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2102 →]]>

In the first few days of 2019, I was invited as part of a group of 21 leaders to help design the ‘Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific’ programme. This programme aims to bring together 200 emerging leaders from across Asia-Pacific to explore new ways to take on the biggest challenges in their communities, and the 21 of us spent 3 days together as the first cohort envisioning our future for the world and what emerging leaders would need to make that future happen.

Coming off more than 13 years of facilitation and L&D experience in my career, I’ve learnt that the worst thing you can do for your learning is to say: “Been there, done that.” I’ve conducted leadership workshops, design thinking workshops, product design sprints, strategy development offsites, and every experience is a different one. This design workshop in Hawai’i affirmed that belief. We learnt from Bill Coy, Director of the Omidyar Fellows, what it meant to be an adaptive leader and not a mere technical problem solver. We learnt from Stuart Candy, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon and futurist facilitator, a primer on futures thinking and how it affects our role of agency today. We worked with Foundation supporters to consider solutions and synthesise thoughts for the larger ‘Leaders: Asia-Pacific’ programme. It gave me hope — and a great deal of excitement — that when we gather 200 emerging leaders later this year, it will be practical in empowerment, warm in connection, and earth-shaking in inspiration.

It’s taken me a while to consolidate my thoughts and distill the learning that was in every person’s wise words. There was nary a moment when you didn’t feel your mind expanding; your ideas challenged; your view of the world take on another vantage point, and I’ve tried to condense all of this into five points that will hopefully provide some idea of my learning.

Photo by The Obama Foundation

1. What the traditional Polynesian greeting taught me

A common sight of respect amongst the elders who were leading our sessions, and who we had the opportunity to learn from, was their greeting of touching foreheads. Two of them would come together, extremely close, and bow their heads slightly, stretching them forward until their foreheads would meet. And then they would linger there for a few moments.

That greeting had more meaning and symbolism than I had first come to appreciate. The act of coming so close signified a unity of ‘breathing the same air’. As they were soaking in the shared space and mutual respect, they lingered in understanding, setting a precursor to what they would converse about. The second symbol that was astounding to me was one of vulnerability. You see, the ancient Polynesians were warriors and navigators. They would sail treacherous seas in search of new lands, and once they come across those lands, they would fight for their livelihood — and at times fight to defend it. The greeting had two persons literally sticking their necks out, demonstrating a willingness to be vulnerable and trusting the other person, for how easy it would be to whip out a knife and deal a killing blow.

As a leader, this was such a strong metaphor for me. Am I putting myself in a position of mutual respect and shared understanding? Was I being vulnerable enough; trusting enough, in order to make the change I want to with my team? This is a worthwhile reminder for all of us privileged enough to be in a place of leadership.

Photo by The Obama Foundation

2. The antidote to rising nationalism

One of the best parts about the weekend was actually spending time with the Obama Foundation International team. They were warm, welcoming, and so hospitable in making everything so easy and smoothly run. You leave the workshop actually feeling a little bit indebted, and making a promise in your heart to not let the work be in vain.

Anyway, I digress. One of the common discussion topics we had amongst the leaders and the team was: There is a wave of nationalism that is increasing across the world, in some places going to the extent of protectionism. What can be done on the grassroots level to stem that?

One idea that came up is that if youth are the future of our world, then it bears worth to develop them — not into people who fit our ideals of what leaders should be, but into people who hold the right values of leadership. Values that go beyond the frequently-espoused, never-disputed, but less-exemplified (these are things like integrity, responsibility, etc.) Don’t get me wrong, I think values like that are of utmost importance. In fact, Halogen Foundation’s values include the two I mentioned above. But our young people have grown up with these values preached to them, through the education system and through management literature. My worry is not with those who would live them out, but those who do not immediately identify with them as they are intrinsic and cannot be seen upfront. The youth who struggle with daily life, whether because of peers or family background, and need an actionable value to consciously build their approach to life in their impressionable years. I think the way we build young leaders as we move forward has to involve conversations and simulations on values like inclusion, tolerance, and a commitment to human dignity. And if we can do that, we are building our future not to just be prosperous — but to be gracious.

Photo by The Obama Foundation

3. The best thing you can give as a leader is your interest and attention

One of the segments in the weekend was a visit to the Manoa Heritage Center, and being guided along elements of the native Hawaiian culture. Maya Soetoro-Ng, a Faculty Director at the University of Hawai’i (who also happens to be President Obama’s sister), briefed us on the visit and in her briefing said something which stuck with me.

“High school and middle school students from leadership programmes are going to be your guides during the trip, and they are very excited to share with you what they know and have learnt about the heritage and culture. Do give them your attention, but I also ask that you take an interest in them — ask them about their leadership journeys and lives.”

What a heart. It was the first time I heard that being explicitly said by anyone, and it struck a chord with me on how we at Halogen Foundation have been successful — not because we have credible programmes or excellent resources, but because we believe in giving attention and showing interest. If you’re working with young leaders, your encouragement doesn’t come by advice or solutioning — it comes by attention and interest.

Photo by The Obama Foundation

4. Do the thing that is necessary but that others don’t want to

One person we encountered was a former U.S. Ambassador. It constantly intrigues me to learn about a person’s life journey, so I felt compelled to ask him about his story. A piece of his advice will continue to ring true for a long time to come:

“If you do what others don’t, and become good at it — whatever that may be — you’ve made yourself indispensable.”

Hearing his story fundamentally had two salient points for me: One of them is the above. In a political campaign, few people want to ‘get their hands dirty’ and do the ‘gumshoe work’ of fundraising. But that’s what he put himself out to do. I reflect on the young people I speak to, and on my own life even, and that cannot be truer. Ever so often, the glitz and glamour of a job/function/role takes primary focus, while the necessary gumshoe work doesn’t. What makes it harder is the spotlight that continuously shines as a result of social media — highlighting the flashy bits and downplaying the cogs that make the clock run. This is a message to the youth I lead, but more so a message for myself: Keep at hard and good work, and don’t get dazzled by the spotlight.

Photo by The Obama Foundation

5. See the power in other people

President Obama gave a speechat the launch of the Leaders: Asia-Pacific programme, closing off our design workshop, and this part stuck with me:

“Often times frankly people ask, ‘Oh Barack, we miss you! Oh, why isn’t Michelle running?’ And you know, we always say to people, we- we- I won’t say we; I’m getting old! And one of the challenges we have in this world is people clinging onto power instead of seeing the power in other people.”

I am inspired more by what he is doing today, than what he did in his capacity as sitting President. It takes courage to let go, and an epiphany of sorts, to see the power that he has and is willing to share; give; shine onto other young leaders who are raring to make a change. My big takeaway from his speech is one that I hold closely in the work we do on youth development: Many issues persist not because there isn’t the technical solution. There are smart people all over the world who can put their minds together to solve wicked problems. What’s missing is a lack of leadership — and not necessarily those who hold positions or offices — but leaders who can mobilise people and organise humans.

Announcement: Retirement of Chairman Mr Lim Soon Hock and Transition of Board Leadership to Exco https://h360.halogen.sg/boardannouncement2018/ Thu, 27 Dec 2018 04:37:01 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2086 →]]> Dear Supporter of Halogen Foundation,


Retirement of Chairman Mr Lim Soon Hock and Transition of Board Leadership to Exco


Halogen Foundation Singapore (HFS) wishes to announce that having successfully concluded our 15th Anniversary celebrations in 2018, Mr Lim Soon Hock has stepped down from the Halogen Board of Directors on 29 November 2018, after six years of stellar leadership as Chairman of the Halogen Board.

Since 2013, Mr Lim has led the Board and organisation through a difficult time, taking it from the brink of insolvency, to building a healthy financial reserve that allows Halogen to not only grow but also take on new challenges in our quest of building young leaders and entrepreneurs.

Under his chairmanship, Halogen grew both in scope and scale. In 2014, Mr Lim helped the organisation secure our partnership with Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) in the United States and with it, expanded our impact with young people to include nurturing young entrepreneurs. The NFTE entrepreneurship programme complemented our leadership suite to uplift youth from poor and needy families, especially those who are at risks, to give them a better head start in life to build their careers and futures, and is a compelling cause worthy of your invaluable support.

Mr Lim served tirelessly in raising funds for Halogen’s cause. During his time, Mr Lim published Vantage Views III and the most recent publication, Golden Nuggets. The two book projects alone raised over $700,000 for the work of building young leaders and entrepreneurs in Singapore. Mr Lim has been a connector for Halogen and has brought in his networks to expand our reach and the public awareness of our cause.

To house the growth of the staff team and volunteer pool, Mr Lim oversaw the transition of Halogen’s office from SCAPE to the current office in New Bridge Centre where we have our in-house training and event facilities to better serve our youth and educators.

Going in to retirement, Mr Lim is stepping down from a number of his numerous appointments in other companies and charity boards so as to rebalance his time and pursue his other interests.

In line with Halogen’s constant push towards progressive leadership models, Mr Lim hands over the reins of the organisation to an interim Board Executive Committee comprising of Mr Tam Chee Chong,  Mr Ramlee Bin Buang, Mrs Tan Hwee Seh and Mr Martin Tan.

Along with the rest of the current board members, who have served under Mr Lim’s chairmanship, the Board will continue to bring with them a wealth of experience in the People, Private and Public sectors to the organisation as we enter into the next phase of youth development. Halogen will continue to benefit from a strong and committed Staff Team who will deliver the initiatives and drive the overall cause and mission as a local youth development charity.

The Board and Halogen Team would like to thank Mr Lim for his invaluable insights and investment in our cause for the last six years. He leaves the organization in a far stronger state than when he joined and we are grateful for his contributions in moving us to greater heights. Halogen records its deepest thanks and gratitude to Mr Lim for his sterling leadership as our Chairman and the passion and energy he devoted to building a generation of young leaders who will lead themselves and others well.


On behalf of the HFS Board of Directors,

Martin Tan
Co-Founder & Exco Board Member
Halogen Foundation Singapore




Why Everyday Leaders Matter, the Most https://h360.halogen.sg/why-everyday-leaders-matter-the-most/ Sun, 18 Nov 2018 05:38:26 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2099 →]]>

As youth work practitioners, there is some level of dichotomy in the leadership development outcomes we wish to see in our youth, and the ways in which we try to develop these outcomes. While we wish to empower them for positive youth influence and outcomes regardless of their operating environments (school, community, future workplaces, causes etc) the youth are in, we very often defer to very niche and compartmentalised tracks to nurture traits in these future changemakers.

“You run leadership training for all youth?”

“Why do they (underserved youth communities) need leadership training?”

“Leadership doesn’t need to be for all. If everyone leads, who follows?”

No doubt, there’s still a notion that one’s ability to create change is still very much hinged on his or her access to positions of power. In organisations and workplaces, it is these positions and titles that give people “legitimacy” to create change. But the new times of today require us to understand and appreciate the blurred line within our organisation and community systems, where positions of influence account for just as much power (if not more) than what formal positions of power can provide.

It is through this new world lens in which modes such as ‘reality tv’ and ‘authentic social influencers’ (both quite oxymoronic, in my opinion) have thrived, and this lens will continue to change the way we see and access influence for the future.

Our team at Halogen has long been enraptured with the notion of seeing leadership development through an influence lens and investing in youth from all walks to develop the traits of an ‘everyday leader — individuals who understand their personal influence and exercise it responsibly to benefit a community beyond themselves. Taking the idea of leadership off it’s pedestal and giving it a more commonplace access, we believe everyday leaders will truly change the world, and here’s why:

1. ‘Everyday’ moments are the best classrooms for developing strong character

In the course of inspiring young people to step up, dream big and to model after aspirations and achievements of great leaders — we sometimes neglect to give them enough validation and emphasise enough of being able to do the everyday (and sometimes small) things well. Honouring a commitment made to a project or event; speaking encouragement to a friend who is struggling through his own mess; removing stray trash that will get in someone else’s way. These everyday moments are often so unnoticeable and seemingly insignificant.

But what we give our attention to, inadvertently become the anchors in which we define our values, meaning and worth. As former American basketball player John Robert Wooden once said, ‘Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are…the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.’.

An everyday leadership act may not get you the recognition of the big deeds, but the small actions are the best practice to build character muscle. In times of turbulence and pressure, the greatest leaders are those who can draw upon this strong foundation to do the right things, do things right and hold strong in the face of turbulence. When a strong wind storm hits, only the trees with deep roots remain anchored to the ground.

2. ‘Everyday’ moments train for leadership mindset

Leadership content can be easily imparted by structuring frameworks and materials for instruction, but developing a sense for spotting leadership needs and nuances comes from the deeper work of cultivating mindsets and building perspective.

Some of the best leaders I have had the privilege to know, are the ones who just have a knack for turning difficult situations into ones of opportunity and hope— in spite of the odds, despite not holding formal title to take charge. The quality that stands out in them, is their ability and mindset to always seek to leave the other person better off, and bring new perspective to positively turn the situations before them.

It is a pressing need for our youth to develop this lens, for the world that they are growing in will only experience greater V.U.C.A. Young people will find that they have to constantly weigh on how to respond to complex situations — having a sensitive conversation with someone who is struggling with mental health issues, interacting with colleagues from starkly different walks of life, navigating potentially difficult conversations relating to family, marriage and inclusion.

The everyday moments cannot be easily dismissed or ignored, neither can we exhaustively teach young people how to respond to each and every type of situation that emerges. Our youth will have to acquire skills of adaptive empathy, understanding and discernment to navigate the challenges before them. But first, the leadership mindset in approaching these everyday situations needs to be built right.

3. ‘Everyday’ leadership moments impact us more than we think

If you were asked to share the most significant memories of what someone did that changed your life or perspective positively, chances are it is the everyday moments that matter the most to you. Stories of Nelson Mandela’s fight for freedom, Malala Yousafzai’s Peace Prize Speech, even when KPop Band BTS spoke at the UN — significant milestones as they may be, will not be the cherished and pivotal moments you reminisce at your deathbed.

A socially isolated elder will remember the friend who blessed him with the gift of time and companionship. A shy teen will remember the friend who first integrated her into a college group and helped her build meaningful lifetime friendships. You will remember the trusted confidante who pulled you back from the brink, when he gave timely encouragement when you needed it most.

These are the everyday heroes who had the choice to act otherwise, but took up a step to make our days better through their actions. Though without formal position or title, their gestures leave the most profound and personal impact on us — both practically and in our inner convictions and experiences of society. These acts of influence sometimes leave the most indelible marks on our lives, beyond what the movements of #metoos can bring.

At the end of the day, I’m not asking us to deny formal titles and rebel against structure and positions to take up the ‘everyday’. But I am saying we need to consider broadening our definition of what leadership looks like and where it shows up.

If truly everyday leadership is so ubiquitous and essential, it begs the question we started out with — should we rethink the level of dichotomy we ought to have (or rather, not have) in our attempts to develop our youth?

If we start to build leadership tenets into the ‘everyday’ person and moments, will we start to see a bigger shift in the impact of positive influence in the community and society at large? Truly, if we all start by taking one small everyday leadership action, the world would instantly be in a better place, won’t it?

p.s. Halogen runs an award yearly to recognise young everyday leaders in our midst and bring their stories to the fore. The nine 2018 stories are up, check them out and vote for your favourite one at bit.ly/votenyla2018.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – For all or for some? https://h360.halogen.sg/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-for-all-or-for-some/ Thu, 11 Oct 2018 09:47:43 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2080 →]]> Personal takeaways from the World Economic Forum on ASEAN

For the most part, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is seen as an exciting pivotal moment in the evolution of work and commerce. It seems like almost every other day, a new technological disruption takes place, and we see reports extolling the benefits of a new advancement. But with progress comes the inevitable need to shift. What happens to those who are left behind? What can large companies and governments do together? How do civil society organisations and social enterprises help to make this shift less jarring for the everyday global citizen?
These were some of the questions raised at this year’s World Economic Forum on ASEAN, held in Ha Noi last September. I had the privilege of representing Halogen Foundation Singapore at the Forum, invited as a member of the Singapore Global Shapers Community, and brought across the youth-centric messaging to the high level delegates present and seeking to learn more.
The Forum does a good job of reporting the happenings, but I’d like to focus on five personal takeaways, and specifically in the context of youth development and building for the future.


1. Technology and its Impact on Jobs

A common theme centered upon what the job market looked like for ASEAN in the midst of its cautiously enthusiastic adoption of technology and disruption. In summary, governments and the youth are optimistic – bullish even – about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on their futures. The survey released by WEF at the session revealed that 51.7% of youth in ASEAN think that technology will increase the number of jobs, and the speeches delivered by heads of state motioned for a closer collaboration within the region in areas such as skills education and free movement of data to embrace the ongoing disruption.
What is really interesting to me is the disparity of optimism among the youth depending on the countries they are from. While the average percentage of youth across ASEAN who think jobs will increase as a result of technology is 51.7%, this is largely due to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia(60.3% and 54.0% respectively). Singapore youth are more pessimistic: Only 31.2% of them think so. This further reinforces how education really moves the needle – both in terms of expectancy for the future as well as preparedness. In Singapore, which has a youth populace that has higher education levels, the hypothesis by WEF researchers is that youth recognise more threats than opportunities. This results in us having two paths ahead, not unlike the ‘glass half full or empty’ mentality: Do we expect to be displaced as an inevitability, or do we work harder towards preparedness? Unfortunately for a country, this cannot be forced, and is an individual mindset shift that must happen among the young.

2. Outperforming Economies

I’m not an economist by any measure, but the nature of market forces and how humans and behaviours affect outcomes in a very real (and sometimes disproportionate) way interests me greatly. This interest was stimulated at a closed breakfast session hosted by McKinsey & Company, where they launched their report on emerging economies and the companies that helped propel them into high-growth. Singapore was one of seven long-term outperformers, achieving a 3.5% annual GDP per capita growth for 50 years. The report identified key government policies that allowed for commerce and large companies to drive rapid growth.
The question for us is: What’s next? Rapid growth is to be expected when you are a young developing country, but once you attain high-income status as a country, you start tapering down to an easier gradient. A separate McKinsey & Company report states that investment growth in Singapore has slowed significantly since 2008, and consumption growth has been sluggish. A heavy conversation piece now centers around income inequality and the social divide it threatens. This is something that the other outperforming economies of ASEAN should also anticipate, seeing as South Korea (like Singapore) is experiencing the effects – or some might say trade-offs – of this growth. Youth should take this as a rallying cry of sorts: The economy will grow, and Gini coefficients will rise. Do we sit and expect for something to be done by the powers that be, or can we — while we increase in affluence ourselves — do something for those that don’t?

3. Diversity in Workplace 4.0

As the workforce evolves, how will diversity be seen and respected in the wake of the fourth industrial revolution? A panel discussion on Workplace 4.0 didn’t have a consensus on best practices, whether on an individual level, corporation level, or government level. There was general agreement over some salient points, more notably the need for inter-sector collaboration, experimentation among the workforce, and a mindset shift on what to expect.
The mindset shift was most crucial to me. In the evolving workforce, we begin to unveil new types of workers: Retirees, triple-job holders, single mums, etc. How do we as business leaders and policymakers support that growing demographic of unconventional worker? Is there equality in treatment and benefit? How does this affect the trade unions and labour movement? The transition stems from all three sectors. In the public sector, enact policies that consider the support that should be given to ease their transition. In the private sector, lead by example and innovate on business models to take advantage of the workplace being disrupted. And in the non-profit sector, keep a keen ear to the ground and sense for those who have slipped through the cracks, ready to help them even the playing field. Regardless of sector, I think young people should also consider their role as the future of their country. Young people considering their careers should be guided by the 80,000 Hours concept, and recognise their immense potential to bridge the gap.

4. The Fight against the Illicit Economy

My first brush with Bitcoin was in October 2013 when I read about the owner of the online black market Silk Road being arrested. What began as intrigue into how the FBI tracked a man whose methods of evasion included using public computers in libraries went into how Silk Road managed to maintain the drug trade without the paper trail, trading exclusively in BTC. I bought 2 BTC then, as a fun experiment and at ~US$300, but eventually spent it on some in-game currency for World of Warcraft at a big steal (I stopped playing WoW a while ago). You can imagine my bewilderment when 1 BTC traded for ~US$18k in December last year.
But I digress. The panel at WEF on ASEAN focused on the rise of illegal activity, both enabled by tools such as cryptocurrency, but also disabled by law enforcement’s savvy use of groundbreaking technology. My story above simply notes how it took the rise of a black market on the Dark Web to proliferate the use of cryptocurrency, and the implications the fourth industrial revolution would have today. Thomson Reuters gave a presentation on how they are able to map through connection networks the different links on terrorist financing and money laundering, and financial institutions were cautioned about the tenuous balance between innovation and security. While the discussion was centered mainly upon the financial industry, I couldn’t ignore the concern of how this would permeate into other aspects of security – societal, physical, even moral. (Think: Altered Carbon.)

5. The Role of Community

After the Forum, I realised that the best moments of my time there weren’t during the sessions, but during the conversations I had with some amazing people. And these weren’t all the big names. The World Economic Forum is an equalising platform indeed – government officials, top corporate leaders, business superstars, you name it – and in whatever context you enter with, you are placed on the same level for a discussion that matters to your respective entities. Because of that, there was access to persons who had influence to make big things happen, and naturally there were many deals to be made.
But the real value was in building relationships. The World Economic Forum runs three communities: The Global Shapers Community, the Young Global Leaders, and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Selected members of each community were invited to the Forum, and I was fortunate to meet people who were making enormous change in their own fields. These were folks who were young, still in their 20s and 30s, and already inspiring countless others to adopt the audacity and tenacity they had in pursuing impact. This is in line with a common piece of advice I give to youths: Build your network, build relationships, build goodness. Support people doing good work and be a giver. This is absolutely essential in your late teens and early 20s. Reach out to me if you want to find out more about committing and contributing to a community like the Shapers.


As we progress, who are we endangering or leaving behind?

In all the optimism and excitement for the fourth industrial revolution, it’s worth thinking about those who might not be so fortunate to ride the wave, but instead are in danger of being swept away. These include:
  • Our elderly. Already we observe how the shift to cashless payments has created the possibility of them having to rapidly learn how to operate digital money transfers and pay for their meal through their phone. What more in the age of driverless cars and delivery-by-drone?
  • Vulnerable or exploited persons. Touched on very briefly in an earlier point, the nature of exploited persons being further endangered is a real possibility. Only 1% of illicit activity done over digital connections are caught – is there more we can do? Can we benefit more from tech, despite tech being neutral and value-ascribed?
  • Underserved youth. One hypothesis that WEF and Sea Group researchers had in the youth survey commissioned is that youth are more optimistic the lower their income-base, and this could be due simply to the access they might have to emerging frontier technology. But with lagging exposure comes the risk of being left behind or ‘late to the game’. How can we even the playing field so the gap between the privileged and underprivileged; the access-easy and the access-tough, is not widened?
I leave the Forum feeling enriched, both intellectually and emotionally, but stirred for change. It is a commendable effort to bring the youth voice to a platform such as this, but we need more. We need more youth representation, and not youth who act like grown-up businessfolk. We need to raise the youth voice higher, spread the inter-generational work wider, and make advocates out of would-be adversaries.
I spoke to some participants about the 80,000 Hours theory, and this is what I stand by. But you don’t have to make a career change to prove an economist’s view of altruism – that is not for everyone. What you can do is simply to make your own contribution. The world needs more. We can do more. At Halogen Foundation, we are doing more. Join us to uplift a generation.


Thanks to Ivy Tse and Sean Kong for reading drafts of this article and giving their thoughts.
(Timothy Low is the Chief Operating Officer of Halogen Foundation, a youth development non-profit organisation focusing on building young leaders and entrepreneurs. Prior to this, he founded a training consultancy, tenured as Entrepreneur-in-Residence in an L&D firm, and led an accelerator-VC programme for deep-tech startups. Outside of work, Tim is involved with communities making real impact, including Sandbox, Global Shapers, Kairos Society, and +Acumen Impact Circle. This post first appeared on timothylow.com)
The Who, What & Why of Fake News https://h360.halogen.sg/the-who-what-why-of-fake-news/ Wed, 16 May 2018 09:56:36 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2069 →]]> denny-muller-534086-unsplash

In 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

3 centuries later, a study by MIT affirms what the writer intuitively concluded. The recent study has found that false news spreads 6 times faster on Twitter than real news, and most of it are spread by people, not Twitter bots.

Misinformation is not a new problem, but technology has enabled it to spread much faster than before. At our recent Halogen Think Tank, we invited a community of educators, as well as experts in the field, to discuss some of the issues surrounding the propagation of fake news.

  1. Who falls for fake news?
  2. What do they fall for? (What do they trust?)
  3. Why do people spread misinformation?denny-muller-534086-unsplash

Who falls for fake news?

On a spectrum of skeptical to gullible, we discussed that youth tended towards the skeptical end of the spectrum, and older adults (Baby Boomers and Gen X) tended towards the gullible end of the spectrum with regards to falling for fake news. This was evident during the controversial 2016 US Elections.

Many of the participants attest that family Whatsapp chats remain their largest source of pseudoscience (a common type of misinformation), with one participant quipping that “Whatsapp aunty tales are the new old wives tales”. The intentions might be good, but the lack of scientific credibility of what is being shared might be a reason why there is a growing skepticism amongst the youth.

While youth may be skeptical, it was found that the skepticism was directed towards mainstream or authoritarian sources of information. There was however higher levels of receptivity towards information and opinions shared amongst peers. It seems that youth gravitate towards opinion, and like to form their own. The concern is whether these opinions are sometimes formed outside of the basis of facts and evidence.

What do they fall for?

In his book “The Trust Economy”, Philipp Diekhöner highlights that trust is attributed to the interface of a website or platform. Everett Rosenfeld, Asia-Pacific Editor of CNBC added that this was true for consumers of mainstream news as well, citing evidence that a large population in the US cannot tell the difference between newyorktimes.com and newyorktime.com because they had similar interfaces whilst featuring very different headlines. The finding is consistent in the world of tech start-ups, where good design and interface trumps substance and content when looking at user adoption and receiving grants/investments. This is not inconsistent with the age old mantra that “first impressions count”.

“Trustable” interfaces can then be purposefully designed to propagate various kinds of misinformation like conspiracies, hoaxes, pseudoscience, political propaganda and the like. It takes a discerning (or skeptical) viewer to be able to filter or question the information being presented.

Why do sources spread misinformation?

This was a sensitive topic that called into the question the professional ethics of journalists and editors, especially those of the mainstream media. The balance between objectivity and chasing the bottom line profits sometimes gets blurred. It is also difficult to have objective reporting when journalist carry their own biases, and sometimes paint events through these biased lenses.

An awareness of these would probably be the key to being able to navigate the large sea of information and filter what is true from what is false. It will serve the reader well to question the motives behind each piece of content that is put out and also question what is not being said.

#neveragain https://h360.halogen.sg/neveragain/ Wed, 16 May 2018 09:40:16 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2056 →]]> #neveragain

The world has, indisputably, become more vocal.

And it’s not just because we have immense access to content, or the convenience of sharing through the touch of a screen, and that our gateway to the world can be one instastory, one tweet, or one snapchat away.

Heading to the Big Apple for a partners visit last week, I was a little apprehensive of the terrain that I’ll be going into. After all, this is a country that is going through such a season of volatility and change — just 280 characters from the POTUS sends a media wave reverberating across the globe, daily.

Life has a way of presenting juxtaposes in your path to you reflect upon your beliefs. What caught me by (pleasant) surprise, was the absolute privilege of being in the city right in the midst of March For Our Lives. Here’s to share a bit of what made me come home, really illuminated.


March For Our Lives
On 14 February 2018, a shooting struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. A gunman stormed into school and killed 17 students and teachers in a 6 minute 20 second rampage. The tragedy not only shook the world with outrage, but also sowed a very deep seed in the minds of the survivors of this incident and their immediate community.

35 days to start a movement
The students shortly decided that prayers and support for victim’s families were not enough for them, and a core group of youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organised themselves in a directed effort to advocate for tighter gun legislative laws — one that culminated in the March For Our Lives.

In a mere 5 weeks, the march brought together:

  • at least 2 million people in more than 800 March For Our Lives protests across the country and the world.
  • 3.3 million: Tweets sent with the #MarchForOurLives hashtag
  • 387: U.S. congressional districts across the country that saw marches
  • 104: solidarity marches outside the U.S.
  • 800,000 attended the march in Washington, D.C. alone, making it the largest single-day protest in the history of the nation’s capital

(Courtesy: Fast Company: #MarchForOurLives by the numbers)

Many voices, one message
This was one of the most inclusive activism efforts I’ve seen. In the march, rallies and media representation, the most diversified pool of individuals came together for one cause. African-American students and minority races joined the march; family members of the victims, teachers, parents and their children, members of the public — even tourists — were represented amongst the march crowds. Even celebrities and media personalities made their contributions through pledges and commentaries. (see the response by former President Barack Obama).

The youngest rally speaker Naomi Wadler, aged 11, delivered her speech to the Washington D.C. march crowd.

Teens take centre stage
This march and campaign was birthed and led entirely by young people. Starting with only 3 friends in their teens, the trio quickly grew their core team and recruited key members to join their cause. The youth organised themselves and developed a clear call of action for their activism efforts. Their rally for help was extremely concerted — they sought out journalism seniors, survivors of school shooting incidents, youth across diversity profiles etc etc. They utilised media — tweets, online posts and videos — to capture the support of the youth and online audience. They told personal stories with conviction and sincerity, and roped in their peers to join them in taking a stand. Their efforts have delivered nothing short of a world class movement.Check out this speech by Cameron Kasky.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  — Margaret Mead

A seed of change
Seeing the teens going up onto a stage to deliver their own speeches, handwritten on school notebooks and scraps of paper, vocalising their thoughts and making a stand on what they believe was nothing short of humbling (Granted, in the open culture of the US we also see a more liberal use of certain forceful vocabulary :P).

In these young people, I saw how the seeds of grief and anger, can develop into a conviction that will influence change; how a glimmer of discontent with status quo, can become a fire that lights a campaign. A single voice can indeed kickstart a ripple effect that fuels great hope, amidst challenge and tragedy.

What does this really mean for us as supporters of youth? I believe there are a couple of things that we, as stewards of our young people, can learn from in order to enable them to create change.

1. Trust in their potential, but help them channel their passions and convictions into meaningful energy

This movement could have been just another social media war, a series of lambasting verbal battles that drag every other frivolous commentary in its tailspin, or turned into an angry act of violence or riot. But it wasn’t. It was an organised and coordinated march of solidarity. The students didn’t want mere “thoughts and prayers”, so they delivered other proactive solutions within their means to rally for change. As said by a district superintendent, “The students in Florida have just really lit a flame in our kids that I don’t know that they’ve ever felt before in terms of a particular social issue.”.

Youth have their inner passions and convictions. Sometimes all we need to do is help them channel their innate potential for change, into meaningful, positive endeavours.



2. Give youth a stage, but teach them to carry the weight of responsibility for their own endeavours

Groups of adults have been silently supporting the youth in their rally efforts. Instead of having taken over the movement as more experienced organisers, the support community gave the youth ample space, limelight and platforms to lead and make decisions for themselves. In areas of where adult council and supervision were needed, the adults came together to lend their support.

Giving the youth the full autonomy to drive this movement, also meant that they had to take full responsibility for their words, actions and decisions made. While being at the forefront, these young activists have to learn to bear the heat and pressure from opposition forces, to handle naysayers and experience outright challenge to their beliefs and actions. The march could have failed, unthoughtful ranting by their peers could have tainted the campaign message and intents. But a responsible leader will bear them all, the good, bad and the ugly.



3. Give youth a space to fail, but focus on playing the role as an evolving supporter of their journey

The younger generation of today will grow into a very different world, with different social and economic roles, facing very different challenges from us. And while we constantly go back to the old adage of letting them fail and fail forward, I think we also ought to examine our own role — one that is also constantly evolving — as good supporters to their learning endeavours.

There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.
— the Obamas, in response to the March For Our Lives

In tumultuous times, some of the most meaningful support that we can offer is not that of giving solutions and answers, but one of guiding thought processes and nurturing timeless values. For what’s even more valuable than pulling off a movement like this, is to know that our youths have learnt how to go about stand up for something that is not right, in a meaningful and grounded manner, to attain change.

At home ground, what’s next?

As a member of the youth development community in Singapore, it is impossible to not beg the question — what about our Singaporean youth? I certainly don’t wish we would ever face a calamity as severe as this for our youth to rise up, but I certainly hope that in times of need, our youth will step up with the same type of maturity, stead and resolve in standing up for what’s right.

We cannot rest on our laurels. But take every opportunity to build that inner character and mindset in our youth, a strong foundation for a generation of great promise.

We are moving forward . There’s still much to do (and particular to work on ourselves), but I know there’s much hope if we all set our eyes on the prize and continue to press ahead.

Want to do more? Want to reach out and play a part in becoming an effective and responsible youth influencer? Reach out to Halogen and get involved!

(Ivy Tse is the Chief Executive Officer of Halogen Foundation, a youth development non-profit organisation focusing on building young leaders and entrepreneurs. As a strategist and a builder for the organisation, Ivy brings her roots from a multinational corporation to that of the non-profit sphere. Ivy is a Double Degree Graduate & Global Merit Scholar from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and also a recipient of the NUS Eminent Business Alumni Award in 2016. Drop Ivy a message here to speak to her about your interest in the youth sector!)


How We Build A World-Class Youth Team https://h360.halogen.sg/how-we-build-a-world-class-youth-team/ Thu, 28 Sep 2017 05:10:52 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=2044 →]]>
Five things we do to motivate and mould a Millennial workforce

Being a youth development charity, the work that Halogen Foundation does with schools continuously puts us in daily contact with excellent young people – and many a time this work is done by excellent young people themselves.

I’m talking about our interns. Youths who are still studying in (or awaiting entry into) tertiary institutes and who decide to spend 3-6 months with us on our Halogen Internship Programme. They come from all walks of life, united by a common passion: Impacting the lives of young people, inspiring them to lead themselves and others well.

Interns have historically been seen as a commodity in the HR world, to be used for low-level operational tasks and easing the load during high-peak work seasons. Over recent years, with the explosion of glamourous tech startups and the rise of ‘résumé badge-collecting’, interns have taken on a different angle. They look for one of two things: The potential of a startup going huge and therefore having bragging rights as one of their early ‘employees’, or the brand name of a multi-national company to add to their real-world ‘Pokédex’.

This presents our first conundrum: How do we get interns who are fully committed and engaged in the work that is done, rather than focus on a self-serving intention?

Internships themselves are a peculiar arrangement. Most companies limit the number of internships they take per year as there is usually much more invested than the approved allowance. It is difficult to justify hiring an intern above the obvious lower-tier of financial expense and an extra headcount to defray the weight of heavily operational tasks. There is of course the other benefit that many established companies are maximising on – building their talent pipeline to have first dibs on the top talent that graduate and enter the workforce. But even so, the risk of having these talented individuals leave within a year of joining is extremely high, with a recent study citing 30% of fresh graduates leaving within a year – and 37% of employers recording that most graduates do not stay for more than two years.

This presents the second part of the conundrum: How then do we ensure the loyalty of young workers, beginning at the internship level?


While we don’t dare to claim we know all the right answers, it is safe to say that Halogen Foundation has enjoyed above-average engagement and loyalty traction. Our recent employee engagement numbers from a study done with Aon Hewitt are at 84%, with 30% of our 20-strong staff being converted from an earlier internship, and 45% of them celebrating more than two years with the organisation in January 2018. As a new entrant into this wonderful organisation, it is easy to see why – it starts with our interns and how we give them the unspoken permission to display excellence, and that trickles upwards to the staff who manage them, the managers who lead teams, and the top brass being fully aware of the mantle placed upon them to grow people before growing the organisation.

There are five key actions I’ve distilled in how we build a world-class youth team, and these are things we do actively and consciously. If you have a youth team, or are planning on building a workforce of Millennials and Generation Zs (let’s face it: all of you are) then this is for you.

1. Trust First, Judge Never.

In the ‘Millennials and Gen Z’ study, it’s been found that young people more than any other generation still living have the highest level of intrinsic motivation for work they believe in. When we ask an intern to lead an ice-breaker on their first day, it doesn’t just jolt them out of the comfort zone well into the growth zone. It also sends a message: That we entrust in your hands something that may well make or break the initial customer experience – because your development is our priority, and we are committed to that.

As managers learn to let go and be the first to trust, that trust is reciprocated very quickly. Not least because judgement never comes their way, regardless of whether the first task was a booming success or a complete failure. Our interns know after that instance that they are in a safe space to experiment, take risks, and release a little bit more of their genius into the world.

2. Human First, Partner Second.

The benefit of having a young staff composition is that when interns come in, they immediately feel at home. The culture we’ve built allows for youthful vibrance and expression. But this can be achieved even without beanbags and foosball tables (we don’t have any of those things by the way). The key thing we focus on when anyone new joins us is that we see them first as humans – people who have made the conscious decision to join a charity to make an impact on young lives.

What does this mean? It means that we recognise and appreciate them as partners in the work we do, rather than as employees. Sure, management is a job we perform to lead people to outcomes, but management is a tool not a title. Titles have never got anything done sustainably, but relationships have ensured the longevity of work for generations. Allow for non-work speak openly, and engage the personal sides of your people’s lives. When you see what makes them who they are, you’ll learn what to do to help them become who they can be. And for interns, this is such a differentiating factor.

3. “I Only Win If You Win.”

A big part of streamlining an organisation’s operations involves its targets and performance measures. As we scale up in our work and impact, we want to be able to measure how we as a charity make a tangible change in the lives we interact with, and closely aligned to that are the measures of the team.

Adopting Google’s methods of measurement – more notably the OKR system – has been key in allowing us to do that. What we really like with the OKR system is that each person’s quarterly objectives are directly linked to their manager’s own objectives. This means that if someone fails, they don’t bear the brunt of the failure alone, and it becomes the manager’s job to help her team succeed. What this does is create a significant shift in the way we perceive and reward performance. No longer are persons measured by the excellent work they do themselves, but by the collective excellence displayed by everyone – including interns. When people at every level internalise this, it sets the stage for greater (more exciting) exploits like business innovation.

4. Autonomy Leads To Ownership.

In the book ‘Drive’ written by Daniel Pink, he talks about how motivation works in high-performance teams. One of the key takeaways I had from that book was the need for autonomy to be shared across the whole organisation, and how autonomy can change the way people view their responsibilities.

Unlike the conventional internship, interns who work at Halogen Foundation have a great deal of autonomy in their day-to-day workflow. They also set their own OKRs with their managers, and get to decide how they want to spend their time moving towards the team’s goals and numbers. What we found was that when people are in control of their own work and their own processes, there are only two possible outcomes: [1] They do really high-quality work that you can see much effort in, or [2] they cannot perform due to a gap in competence (but not a gap in effort and commitment). In the first outcome, the benefit is clear. In the second outcome however, while you face a short-term speed bump in team performance, the benefit is even larger – because now as the intern’s manager, you can see clearer their development roadmap and help them close the competence gap very quickly. Autonomy gives control away, and this control gives them permission to take ownership.

5. Build Competence For Their Next Step.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Interviewers ask this popular question to assess a variety of attributes: Future-orientedness, loyalty, growth trajectory, etc. We ask this question for one main reason: We want to help the candidate, if selected, to get to that 5-year vision. Most people see their time with Halogen Foundation as a stepping stone – it becomes our job as leaders of the organisation to make this the best stepping stone ever.

It’s hard for most leaders to accept that their company is a stepping stone. It posits that the organisation did not provide an experience worth staying for. But this is not the case. What we’ve found and learnt is that by actively building their competence, their attachment; the association to the organisation’s human brand value, increases tremendously. The contrarian idea is that as you see your organisation as a stepping stone for young people, the more they see it as a place they want to stay associated to and give back to. One of our earliest interns, despite spending merely 6 months with us, left with a connection that lasts to this day, tangibly manifesting in a charity fundraiser she held for us of her own volition. Building competence in your people increases their self-confidence, and allows them to tackle larger challenges. And if you’re using internships as a tool to build your talent pipeline, this becomes one of the most important things you can do for the youths who walk through your doors.


Again, I don’t think we’ve cracked the code yet. Over the past 14 years of Halogen Foundation’s existence, we’ve seen three different classes of youths pass through: The late Gen Ys, the Millennials, and now the advent of Gen Zs. How we deal with young people has to evolve, and we are now working with what research calls the ‘most impact-driven generation’. It’s important to recognise our unique and privileged positions as leaders, and use this to help the next generation become exemplary citizens and leaders themselves.

If you’re a manager, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it takes to build a world-class team of Millennials and Gen Zs. Reach out to me – let’s chat.

If you’re between 18-25 yourself, or you know someone who is a Millennial/Gen Z youth looking for an interesting place to learn and grow, join us as an intern – I can personally promise the best culture to not just impact young lives, but to be impacted and developed yourself.


(Timothy Low is the Chief Operating Officer of Halogen Foundation, a youth development charity focusing on building young leaders and entrepreneurs. Prior to this, he founded a training consultancy, tenured as Entrepreneur-in-Residence in an L&D firm, and led an accelerator-VC programme for deep-tech startups. Tim is also an Ambassador for Sandbox Singapore hub, a member at Kairos Society ASEAN, and volunteers as a youth leader in his church. This post also appears on timothylow.com/blog.)

Celebrating Breakthroughs – NYLD 2016 in the Spotlight https://h360.halogen.sg/celebrating-breakthroughs-nyld-2016-in-the-spotlight/ Thu, 01 Dec 2016 05:49:27 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=1994 →]]> Celebrating personal breakthroughs no matter big or small at National Young Leaders’ Day 2016.

With the running theme of “Celebrating Breakthroughs”, National Young Leaders’ Day (NYLD) 2016 seeks to encourage youth to find their inner strength, empowering them to overcome any obstacle they might encounter on their journey towards the peak of their lives through stories of inspirational speakers.

Held in the morning for primary school students, National Young Leaders’ Day Primary Edition (NYLDPE) presented a lively lineup of four speakers with performances that were not only entertaining but carried with them the inspirational message of resilience and breakthrough.

Kicking off the event was professional magician and ventriloquist, Shawn Chua, who shared about how his own determination had brought him to unimaginable heights. Shawn explored the notion of how passion drives one to not only do the bare minimum but find ways to go above and beyond. He also dived into how passion gave him the boldness to step out and be different amongst others in his field.

H360 Online Nov 2016 - NYLDPE 01

Riding on how passion acts as a key driving force through the valleys and peaks of life, Gelyn Ong also shared her journey as a budding, yet accomplish artist. Being the youngest speaker of the day, this 12-year-old proves to be a living testament to youth that anything is possible when pursuing your dreams, regardless of your age.

Through the sharing of his various projects as a creative director, Pann Lim our third speaker emphasised how things might currently not be how you expected them to be, but by following your passion you can achieve great feats in the future. A pivotal take away from Pann was his quote – “We wouldn’t know where the road leads us to, it can be anywhere. It’s up to you. It’s about the attitude and creativity that you have.”

H360 Online Nov 2016 - NYLDPE 02

Rounding off NYLDPE, local singer-songwriter Jean Tan shared, “If you put your heart, your mind and your soul to do something. You will get there. You don’t have to search externally to know your worth. You just have to search within.” Looking at Jean and hearing her performance, you would not have guessed that she was born with a condition that prohibited her from ever becoming a singer.

After going through multiple operations, she achieved the unachievable, overcoming her disability and becoming an influential musician with the ability to move audiences with her songs and powerful voice.

In the afternoon, National Young Leaders’ Day (NYLD) for secondary and tertiary students kicked off with another set of amazing speakers, no less interesting and captivating than those in the earlier session.

Josephus Tan, a lawyer specialising in criminal defence litigation started his session by painting a picture of how things used to be for him as a teenager, sharing how even though his education journey was not a prominent one, he still managed to turn things around and worked towards his goals. His captivating, amusing mannerisms as well as intriguing personality and appearance, allowed his message to resonate with many youths who left the theatre feeling like they could take on the world. It was very motivating to see someone who used to face impossible crossroads, now stand up and fight for people to be given a second chance.

H360 Online Nov 2016 - NYLD 01

Rohaishah Hamid, a passionate educator, shared her moving life story which left some in the audience on the brink of tears. Through her arduous tribulations, one message was clear: never give up. As she effectively puts across, “Life is like a storybook. When you tear the pages, there are still many more pages. When you go through difficulties in life, there is still so much more in store for you and each and every one of us has a different story. No matter what the story is, always never give up.”

Local actress, Oon Shu An’s message of self-love and self-worth connected with many youths, allowing them to realise the importance of making their own decision and finding their own direction in life. She also left audiences with a memorable quote she lives by – “Those who have a why to live can endure almost any how.”

H360 Online Nov 2016 - NYLD 02

Vincent Yong, our last speaker ended the day by having the students clasp their chest to feel the thudding of their hearts. As silence swept through the hall, the thud slowly became more distinct, beating with a steady rhythm, becoming clearer and louder. What the students felt was not only their heartbeat but also their sheer potential.

“If an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.” The message of how the search of one’s limitless potential often starts from looking within was what Vincent, founder and director of Danspire, hoped to ingrain into the prospecting minds of the many youths that attended NYLD 2016.


A common thread connecting each of the eight speakers’ intricately woven life stories was that regardless of their circumstances, all of them showed resilience, allowing their passion to be their main driving force. They stayed strong till they reached a point of breakthrough, facing obstacles with a fiery determination.

Through their stories, we hoped that the youth realise that they are able to overcome different challenges, to spark the flame of determination within their hearts and fuel them to strive for and achieve their personal breakthroughs.

— Article by Jovi Lee

H360 Online Contributor - Jovi Lee

Jovi Lee interned at Halogen in his last year at Victoria School.
He enjoys exploring new genres of music and adventuring into new places.

Beyond Borders https://h360.halogen.sg/beyond-borders/ Wed, 09 Nov 2016 02:30:02 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=1978 →]]> At a recent event*, I stumbled on a fascinating story of Peace Boat started by Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Yoshioka Tatsuya. Yoshioka started on his passion project back in 1983, with a simple notion of wanting to travel the world to meet and build friendships with people in the neighbouring regions. Today, Peace Boat has transformed into Japan’s largest cruising organisation, impacting up to 600,000 participants through their tours. In December, Peace Boat’s 93rd Global Voyage will set sail, charting 22 destinations in the Southern hemisphere, including that of Singapore.

33 years into this initiative, Yoshioka is constantly pushing new frontiers with Peace Boat’s work, and there are a couple of perspectives that may help us sharpen our saws for what’s ahead:

1. Plan for outcomes, not output

Yoshioka did not start off with the notion of building a cruise enterprise. He began with a desire to bring cultures together. Carrying that heart and aspiration to catalyse cross-culture appreciation and bonding, Peace Boat is able to generate countless ideas that can be used to design learning experiences. Cruise spaces are transformed into platforms for participants to play, learn, build and celebrate together; on and off deck activities at the ports are created to allow for deeper understanding of social and cultural differences.

2. Invoke inspiration as a catalyst

The activities presented by Peace Boat often bring inspiration and excitement that draws the participants into a deeper conversation for the issues at hand. Something as simple as cruise performances are reframed into exciting cultural showcases, bringing novelty that arouses interest and inquiry. Their latest projects? To reinvent University education on deck and build a new Ecoship that will game change the way we think about cruises – radical design, solar panelled sails and a ecogarden inspired by Singapore’s very own domes.

3. Enlist your people (influencers)

A committed staff team is what Yoshioka credits to be the key to Peace Boat’s success. Looking for “cheerful people who thrive on working in a group and can build on each other’s energy to come up with new ideas” provides the organisation with the stamina for change and invention. This team of staff are also the crew that embodies the Global Voyages experience – of energy, optimism and cooperation – and that gets consistently passed on to the batches of participants.

In many ways I find that Peace Boat’s journey is no different from that of our organisation. By focusing on outcomes, integrating inspiration and building culture, I believe that organisations will experience a surge of renewed energy towards achieving future aspirations.

— Article by Ivy Tse

Design Thinking Labs – Europe’s Millennials’ Alternative Workspace? https://h360.halogen.sg/design-thinking-labs-europes-millennials-alternative-workspace/ Mon, 14 Mar 2016 23:38:08 +0000 https://h360.halogen.sg/?p=1942 →]]> Berlin Youths Spearheads a New Work Order.
A Special Europe Feature on Social Innovation – Interviews with Sascha Wolff from Dark Horse and Anna Ostwald from INNOKI

I’ve heard about Design Thinking in Singapore for a few years – be it projects like the Employment Pass Services Centre from the Ministry of Manpower, or from the National Design Centre and Secondary Schools. I was curious about the process. Was it a buzzword? The steps looked simple and were almost too easy. What was it that was different?

Before heading up to Berlin, I chanced upon a meeting with a local practitioner, Trechelle. She shared that if you want to learn design thinking, it would be Stanford’s d.school in the U.S.. Otherwise, it would be the Hasso Plattner Institute School of Design Thinking in Berlin where she went.

She linked me up with her classmate, Anna Ostwald, a budding design thinker from INNOKI. I googled around and found Sascha Wolff, a seasoned design thinker, from Dark Horse, whose clients include Audi, Bayer, DHL, Luthansa and Mercedes Benz. From my interviews with them, I started to realised that Design Thinking is more of a mindset, than a process. Perhaps, this mindset can enable these youths to change Europe in fresh ways, for the better.

Sascha Wolff - Dark Horse

Anna Ostwald - INNOKI

Halogen360 (H360): What is so unique about Design Thinking?

Anna Ostwald (AO): It is a practice that allows you to re-discover the abilities and talents you had, when you were young. You use your curiosity, grow your empathy for people and their problems then you try to find the wildest ideas on how to solve them in order to really come up with innovative solutions.

Design Thinking allows you to think with your hands as you prototype concepts and products. It also encourages you to fail early and thus learn from your mistakes quickly.

The German education system places much emphasis on rote learning and the ‘one right answer’. In a typical classroom in school, you mainly sit and listen. With Design Thinking, you’re searching for a solution through doing and failing, it is thinking by doing.

Design Thinking is also a mindset and a culture where the participants are all equal. The team gains ‘informed intuition’ – where you distill insights and a point of view from both qualitative human conversations combined with data and research. From there you brainstorm for solutions, create prototypes quickly and find something that works.

(H360): How big is your team and what do they do?

Sascha Wolff (SW): We have 30 co-founders from 25 different disciplines. In design thinking practice, it is important to bring multi-disciplinary people together as that is where you get fresh perspectives and prevent groupthink. Personally, I studied political science, environment education and philosophy and graduated from the HPI School of Design Thinking.

(AO): We are 20 equal co-founders of different academic and professional backgrounds. In our team, we have actors, engineers, neurobiologists and business owners. We use our interdisciplinary points of views to create innovative products and services. We also support other organisations in their change management journey and share our experiences through Design Thinking in Workshops for our clients. All of us studied at the HPI School of Design Thinking.

H360 Online Jan 2016 - Design Thinking Labs – Europe’s Millennials’ Alternative Workspace (Sascha Wolff & Anna Streiter) Images 03

(H360): What is the structure of your team and how do you all operate?

(SW): There are no hierarchies and all 30 of us have voting and veto rights. Yes we have ‘CEO’s by law and need functional roles but by and large we’ve created a company with a structure that is pretty uncommon. We are focused on building a community, serving each other.

We create tools of trust, not tools of control. One of them include the biggest failure award – it is self-nominated and the person shares with others what they done and what they’ve learnt from that. For that, he/she gets a ‘silly’ prize. This helps open up people and create a social norm to dare to attempt. This is important as trust issues and failure are strongly related. To build trust, we need to openly talk about failures – not glorifying it or sweeping it under the carpet.

We also help build a strong internal network by encouraging people to bring their full selves to work – giving them space to share both business related information and what is fun to them be it biking, hiking etc. We also take trips together – half of which are business-related and half are fun ones. This blurs the line between private and public.

(AO): In Germany companies can be quite hierarchical, and people do things because the ‘boss says so’. Leaders fail to manage and motivate people well. The Design Thinking culture empowers people to speak up, share ideas and co-create solutions. We all wanted to change the way we work and create opportunities to dive into projects we are really passionate about. They range from finding solutions of how to use new technology in German classrooms to re-designing insurance models.

We are set in a space where we can do “office work” as well as prototype new concepts and ideas and dive into our own passion projects.

(H360): What is your business model?

(SW): Through the Design Thinking process, we work with companies like Audi, Bayer, DHL, Lufthansa and Mercedes Benz to as consultants create new solutions for them, co-develop solutions with their team and/or provide training for their employees in innovation through innovation camps. For example, for Lufthansa, we co-designed offices that facilitate collaboration in the IT department. Through participatory research, interviews and workshops, we involved 400 employees and deeply analyzed their routines, communication flows and blocks. We designed and co-created an office space with more than 3.000 m². and room for more than 200 work spaces that enables collaboration and concentration at the same time.

(AO): Our goal is to change the world with empathy – to bring an empathic view to our clients when they create new products and services while creating solutions in a fast changing world. Design Thinking not only helps us to understand our clients/ users, it also helps us to understand each other and thus live and create a new working culture. We help to effect such an culture also with clients such as Deutsche Bahn, Zühlke Engineering, Barmenia Insurances, and Cornelsen.

H360 Online Jan 2016 - Design Thinking Labs – Europe’s Millennials’ Alternative Workspace (Sascha Wolff & Anna Streiter) Images 04

(H360): Sascha, Dark Horse published a book called “Thank God it’s Monday”. Tell more more about it.

(SW): As we started Dark Horse, we planned it to be a Design Thinking company. However, we didn’t realise that the biggest project was ‘us’. We applied principles via trial and error, did much self-reflection and as we did so, we found out that other people wanted to work with us. We did a workshop with a publishing company and they suggested we wrote a book (not about Design Thinking) but about ‘us’. That was how the book was birthed.

In the book, we shared more about how we worked – fun and hard work. Instead of meeting marathons, we had idea sprints. Instead of hierarchies, we had rotating offices. What we espouse is self-expression in tandem with cooperative collaboration, flexibility and digitisation.

With this, we also consult for HR managers who want are looking to attract and retain young talents with flexible, meaningful and engaging work. We help HR departments to develop their companies into employers of choice for Millennials.

(H360): Sascha, some Millennials may opt to work in established companies. How do you think they can adapt to traditional structures?

(SW): One of my favourite quotes is “Got to learn the rules so I can break dem properly”.– “Evolution”, lyrics from song by “Gentleman”, a German reggae musician. I think it comes down to the entrepreneurial spirit – yes, they can complain and they can dream of the ideal. But, I think they need to be brave to complain purposefully, find space to test ideas, not be afraid to fail, fail soon to learn and add value by creating a minimal viable product. I’ve learnt from HPI School of Design Thinking to not complain but have a spirit that asks “How can we solve this?”.


It is with this spirit of creating solutions in these Design Thinking labs that may give Europe the next boost. With the future of work becoming increasingly uncertain, established companies are racing to innovate yet some are also held back by traditional structures. Companies like Zappos are proposing a new work order called ‘Holacracy’, that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously.

With thorny challenges like the European migrant crisis, the unity of the European Union and the European economic state, one thing for sure, is that new and better solutions are needed.

What will work? What will not? The future is in the hands of those who create it.

— Article by Jael Chng
Photos contributed by Jael Chng