Below is a modified transcript of a talk I gave to senior students at the Mapua University on June 16, 2018. It is part of a student-organised event entitled: One Up: Exceeding the Vision.
I wish to credit my teammates and friends at Ignite and Delta and Partners MNL who continue to relentlessly pursue the meaningful and all-essential drive for igniting Mega Manila through what we call the Ignite OS of Genius, Purpose, Shared Mission, Collaboration, Innovation and Impact.
This talk uses the OS and is directly inspired by the Ignite Manifesto, which is quoted in-text below. Ignite is undertaking major strides in the industry in bringing real innovations that have the highest potential to impact lives of thousands, if not millions, of Filipinos.
I encourage you to join one or two of the many platform events that Ignite regularly holds or to find out how the OS can help you and your organisation by checking out the links above.
First, I want you to know that I am very much just like you.
I am a full-time student at La Salle, on my first term of my doctorate studies in Economics.
I wish to share with you that, perhaps like some of you, I have been sleeping at 4AM, on the average lately. Most of the time I now spend on reading and, more recently, on writing because of research projects due for submission soon.
And since my days and nights are now allocated to reading and writing, which I try to balance with my being a dad to a 3-year-old kid and a husband, and all that plus CrossFit, I realised that there is an inverse relationship between how much I must read and learn and the number of pages or words I am allowed or need to write.
For my most recent paper submission, I’ve had to read approximately about a thousand pages, no exaggeration, before I could even begin to piece the knowledge together and concisely write a concept paper of not more than 3 pages long (or short).
I am not complaining, after all this is the “job” I have chosen for this phase in my career and life. The life of PhD student entails, at its core, a lot of researching which leads to a lot of reading to produce some writing that will hopefully contribute to my dissertation, which is a much more intense level of researching, reading, and writing.
You might be wondering about several things about me now. Yes, my track record reflects that I have worked for 14 years straight – in brand management, general management, advertising, digital marketing, customer experience, integrated marketing. So why am I now doing a doctorate in Economics?
The question we must ask ourselves is this: What is all this for? Or flipping it to another question yet pointing to the same answer, we ask: Why are we doing what we are doing?
Some of you might have guessed it right. In my opinion, and many others, some of them great thinkers even, that we are in a constant pursuit of happiness. Happiness.
Other words related to happiness are pleasure, joy, utility (for economists), contentment (vs. satisfaction). But there seems to be no other universal word for that state that which, in absolute terms, gives us and the things we do more meaning than happiness.
Happiness, in superficial and, more importantly, profound ways, must then be the objective for every endeavour you take from today, the moment you graduate and usher into the real world of adulthood. That is somewhat easier said than done, unless we break it down to practical advice. After all, I am not Plato nor Al-Ghazali, both of which have made major contributions to understanding the philosophy of happiness. I trust that you will meet them for coffee at the right time.
For many years, I have not actively thought of what makes me different, unique, special compared to others. I have always thought anyway that when you start to actively think of being unique, you stop being truly unique because you end up typecasting yourself to an ideal which you may or may not truly be. Until I did an exercise which started with the question: What is your Genius?
It took me long – days then weeks – to answer the question. What is my Genius? To answer this question, I needed to reflect on strengths along with weaknesses, pressing situations in which the best version of myself came out, as well as what others would say makes me great as a person, a colleague or peer, a boss.
Now, many people I have worked with would say I am a tough leader with very high expectations and the highest degree of attention to detail. Some would say I am a good mentor. Some would even say that I am hard to book (for coffee, dinners, drinks), which probably makes me a difficult friend. Some would say that I can turn something bad into something good. A few who know me very well would say I am great at setting the table that would give event stylists a run for their money. But, an actionable Genius I have that I realised by doing a lot of introspection is that I have a knack for solving problems and making problems look easy and doable.
One very senior client once called me to a meeting. Together with her leadership team, she downloaded to me four research studies, output from about three internal workshops, and five complex use cases or customer journey maps. She also gave me a download of the business case and a technical roadmap of features of platforms for roll-out. After an hour of downloading all this information to me, she came to a surprising point: “now what do I do with all these?”
In pages, it was hundreds of pages. In data points, close to a thousand. In slides, hundreds. Excel sheets were too long for human consumption. But, a few days later, after working on the “brief” alone granted that everybody else in the agency was busy on a pitch, I presented an initial recommendation in the form of a strategic framework and consumer roadmap complete with messaging guidelines and recommended insight routes for consideration to an audience of at least 20 people (which surprised me when I entered the room). Right after the meeting, I was asked to write a cost estimate broken up in parts, and one part they wanted to pay upfront was for the presentation I made to them. A day after, we bagged a few million Pesos for a single 20-slide presentation I made (opportunity cost: 1 night without sleep).
The first thing you need to know and embrace now and always for you to be happy is your Genius. Doing what you love to do and being the best that you truly are will make daunting challenges ahead of you seem a bit easier if not at all totally easy. When you go out there, it is easy to lose sight of what makes you naturally good, of what is already great in you. Of course, you can always nurture a new skill, learn a new language, master a new craft which could become your Genius, but there is, in each of you, an immutable strength – a distinguishing characteristic – that is your real Genius. Never be afraid to put it to use, but first know what it is. Genius.
Now, reflect on these words: Genius.
First, that I am gifted with my own Genius – unique, unrepeated, and repeatable for all time.
Allow me to digress a bit. Let me answer the question earlier.
Why a doctorate in Economics? There are many reasons why, but one of them that is particularly interesting is that I have a certain proclivity for embracing a weakness to the extreme of turning it into a place of strength.
One example is my CrossFit journey. For one, I knew that CrossFit, aside from it being a fitness regimen, is the sport of fitness. CrossFit elevates the gym workout to the level of sport, which means it would require all the strength one has gained working out in the normal gym and combining it with other attributes that define other sports, such as agility, endurance on both physical and mental levels. I knew that I was not that strong to begin with; I once hated back squats, much less do heavy sets on leg days at the gym. I knew that I was athletically inferior compared to others.
One time, after dropping my son off to school, I mustered the courage to enquire at the nearby CrossFit box and scheduled a trial class. As of today, it has been six months since joining CrossFit, and I am glad to hear from some of my coaches that, with consistency, I should very well be on my way to competing next year. Indeed, we should not forget that it is in our control to turn weaknesses into a place of immense strength.
The same holds true for my relationship with math. I studied in Manila Science High School and that means I have gone through four years of collegiate algebra in increasing level of difficulty, a year of trigonometry, two years of statistics, a course in number theory, a year of calculus (up to double integration) along with other subjects in math and science. In a long test in Linear Algebra, I remember, out of a 100-point test, I only scored 4. Four not even 10. And this is just one of the many examples of how much I have neglected academics for extra-curricular activities, in which I have excelled and received graduation awards for.
One reason for taking a PhD in Economics is exactly this – I am embracing my weakness in math in the hope of turning it into a great place of strength. I consider it a paying up for lost time for what could have been great to begin with. Now I do not recommend that you take the extreme all the time, but I have learnt that, in life, the boldest moves often are the ones the reap the boldest rewards.
Now what I have come to learn is that Genius leads to the all-important Why. Why? Why are we here? In other words, Purpose. Purpose gives us meaning and, in principle, then gives us happiness. What is your Purpose that is bigger than your ‘self?’ This is perhaps an even harder question compared to ‘what is your Genius?’ Purpose gives us a great sense of responsibility for why we exist because why we exist we not only owe to ourselves, we owe it to the people around us, we owe it to the world. Maybe owing is too much. I do not want you to think that indebtedness is critical; often it is misused in the real world. But I only wish you to realise this: who we are and why we are here affect others and the world around us. It gives us a sense of place as it puts us in an equation where we are relative to others who, in their own lives, are also serving their Purpose in pursuit of their own happiness (and maybe – and hopefully – of others, too).
In my 14 years of working with others, I have come to realise that my Purpose stems directly from my Genius. Remember me telling you that some people would find me a tough boss or mentor? That I have too high a degree of attention to detail? And some would even say, indeed, that I may sometimes get easily frustrated even over minor missed details in the thinking and execution of things?
This is what I realised. I realised that my Purpose is to unlock potential in people, so that they can attain for themselves a profound, lasting sense of personal (or professional) achievement directed towards doing only what is good for others especially those who are in need. Now, this is a loaded realisation.
I believe in the best of the people I trust that I push them towards stretching ambitions, which is often a painful experience, so that they can achieve for themselves in the first place. I believe in meritocracy, one where your personal achievements matter most in defining your future. However, I also believe that behind each achievement must be a strong mentor who pushed you to overcome challenges and to become your best. The process of becoming the best is oftentimes a difficult, painful process just as how a diamond becomes the beautiful piece we see on the display – shiny, precious, and of lasting value.
As a mentor to some, I have dedicated most of my leadership hours on finding ways to push people to become bigger than their own imagination. You see, sometimes the problem is that we tend to look at ourselves in rather small ways. Luckily, in my own journey, I have met mentors who have not only instilled in me a bigger view of myself, but who, in their own unique ways, have pushed me to my limits to become the best version of myself each time. Of course, in my own experience, it, too, was a painful and difficult. Those situations demanded focus, dedication and an almost absolute openness to the unknown challenges ahead.
What is your Purpose? What is your why that is bigger than your ‘self?’
In the real world, you will sometimes get lost because you get too busy with work and life all combusting at the same time. Knowing your Purpose will help a lot as it always had in moments in my life when I felt I was lost and too tired. It serves as your North Star; should you feel lost at any time; your Purpose will align you back on track. This is how I have navigated through the complex nature of the many jobs I have had as a leader.
Now, reflect on these:
Second, that my singular Genius bears the thumbprint of Who I Am and Why I am Here. Genius points to Purpose, Purpose to Genius.
Third, that I can only give out of what I have been given. And what I have been given, I must give and live for others. Genius finds its fullness in a Purpose bigger than self.
A keen awareness of Purpose can make us happy. For when we are sad, we turn to our Purpose, and we do things that achieve our Purpose.
Concretely, I want you to remember this: learn how to say no to situations that are not consistent with your Genius and Purpose. There will be moments when you will be faced with awkward challenges that will test the strength of your Genius and Purpose. Learn to say no, otherwise it is likely that you will be unhappy “doing things just because you have or had to.” This will lead to downward spiralling of your happiness. I would even dare say, do not compromise for anything else that helps you and others do good.
In Mega Manila of over 24,000,000 inhabitants, including yourself and the rest in this room, there is a high likelihood that you share your deepest concerns with somebody else or a group of like-minded individuals. In Manila alone, we are confounded by the same issues of traffic, pollution, injustice, and astounding economic inequality. We are faced by the same problems no matter how big or small our houses or toilets are. We live and breathe the same Manila each day.
Now there must be problems (or opportunities) that you want to solve, but ultimately cannot do alone. What are issues you are deeply concerned about? As college students, you would have already earned some sense of what bothers you deeply aside from commercials appearing in the middle of watching a YouTube video.
You know what bothers me most each day? I consider commercial and corporate greed bothersome especially when it is obvious, and I know with certainty that it is directed towards unknowing, disadvantaged segments of our society. I see this in text blasts, billboard ads, Instagram posts by so-called influencers (which by the way are mostly paid) and many more. And because of this corporate greed, many brands have fallen into short-term thinking of latest gimmickry that will lure more consumption, new customer acquisitions – yet without any lasting innovation that have the potential to truly change lives. It is a pity to see brands do marketing without an iota of innovation or, worse, to see brands that mask their corporate greed by calling new products and promos innovations.
What I have come to discover is that I am not alone in this. Last January, as I left the advertising world, I banded with others who believed in the role that real innovation plays in commerce and in our society. These are people who believed that real innovations have a direct impact on wicked problems that confound the Philippines all the whilst solving commercial problems and addressing profitable opportunities in the short run. The people I met are “renegades” in their own right: creatives, strategists, makers and builders, game masters, technologists, investors who knew that there is a higher objective to be met than commercialism and it could only be achieved through real innovation that has the potential to change lives for a long time.
Together, we formed a hybrid firm – an un-agency – that combines the best of consulting practice and agency work. We formed Delta and Partners MNL.
We seek to ignite Manila, first, then the rest of the country, through innovations that have the highest potential to impact lives for good through commercial partnerships with large enterprises who play a pivotal role in affecting change in our society in the long run all the whilst achieving commercial goals in the short run.
The notion of a Shared Mission allows like-minded, like-motivated and even like-bothered individuals to band together towards solving shared problems and goals.
Now, I want you to think of issues that you are deeply concerned about. Knowing what these issues are now will allow you to find people who are likewise affected by and concerned with these issues.
Looking at where we are in this journey, what we do about the problems that confound us is greatly inspired by our Genius and Purpose. Using our Genius and Purpose to good use means employing it to address a cause bigger than ourselves in the company of others who are also doing what they were born to do (their own Genius and Purpose).
Now I want you to think on this:
Fourth, that if I am honest and brave, my Genius and Purpose will find their manifest call in a shared Mission – with others, for others. A Mission rooted in finding that slice of humanity whose pains I am particularly gifted (and compelled!) to heal.
Of the 24 million people in Mega Manila, how many geniuses, purpose combined do you think will it take to solve the city’s most pressing problems? How many of you will it take to solve real problems through personal and commercial endeavours?
This question clearly leads to three interrelated elements: Collaboration, Innovation, and Impact. A shared mission allows us to collaborate with others who, indeed, share the same mission. By collaborating with others who share the same mission, it is likely that you will deliver innovation at scale with the highest opportunity to create a lasting impact to society in the long run.
Here is a case in point: The Firm I told you about is now in the final, definitive position to creating a new venture together with a large Filipino conglomerate, a market leader in its category, joined by two other companies who saw a need – a gap – in our society, particularly on jobs and welfare of the many who live below poverty. In the short run, the conglomerate generates commercial returns, profits, that have long been left off the table to other players, but more importantly, the new venture will create thousands of jobs that will give a sense of achievement and dignity of work to many people who, probably once thought, would never be positive contributors to their family and their community.
This innovation, compared to marketing gimmickry, will stand the test of impact because it is underpinned by a genuine intent to serve a cause bigger than self and corporate short-termism.
Now, reflect on these words:
Fifth, that this shared Mission leads naturally to Collaboration, and ultimately, to Innovation. Shared Mission demands Shared Genius: mine, yours, ours.
If we are a collection of our own Genius – each unique, unrepeated, unrepeatable – there is nowhere else to go, but to Innovation.
Who do you want to collaborate with? What do you want to do with them to address a shared mission that has the potential to leave a lasting impact on people and society?
We Ignite, therefore, not just for self, but for each other. Because what we are born to do, we are born to do with others. We need each other’s Genius.
These are what I wish you would work (think and do = work) on as you go along in your own journey of discernment alone and with your peers. Somewhere along these lines is hopefully a step that takes you towards the resulting object of everything we do: happiness. If we get to do what we love to do in the company of others who are doing what they were born to do – and steering all that towards real innovations for the good of others for a long time, then wouldn’t our definition of happiness be our ultimate goal for everything we do?
This is the path of transcendence. This is how we lift each other to heights we never in our wildest dreams, or loftiest ambitions, dared.
Think hard and you will realise this framework can contribute to your happiness, both professionally and personally. You will have the rare opportunity direct all your energy and resources towards innovation and impact.
Now, there are real world applications to the framework we just built. Some of you may very well go into brand management, in which case, the GPMCII framework will actually help you build a brand charter similar to what some call the brand key; what is the brand’s Genius? Purpose? What does the brand believe to be a cause or issue that is bigger than itself that can help people connect to it via its shared Mission? What are the innovations of the brand that when infused with its Genius and Purpose can leave a lasting impact to lives of people?
Another real-world application of the framework is for those who are into investing, but let’s take it another way. Would you invest in a franchised food truck? Why? What problem does it solve? Is investing in a siomai truck, for example, an expression of your Genius, Purpose?
Does it allow you to address an issue bigger than self? What are the innovations can you expect from the siomai truck? How does impact lives? Perhaps it creates three jobs, but does it last? You see, there are applications of the GPMCII framework that will allow you to ground an idea, person, or even businesses in its true Genius that leads to Purpose and the necessary progression of shared mission, Collaboration, towards Innovation and Impact.
Another message is clear, especially in the 21st century: everything we do must result in the two I’s: Innovation and Impact. Innovation goes beyond just copycats and me-toos. Innovation allows us to solve wicked problems that used to be well beyond the reach of people and brands and businesses. Innovations are what last; promos do not.
Having an Impact-oriented mindset enables you to drive for results from the onset and not post-mortem. You get to ask the critical questions upfront: does this truly matter? How do we think this will perform in the real world? And if it does, in what scale? Can we do better? More?
So, what is all these for?
Genius. Purpose. Mission. Leading to Collaboration, Innovation and Impact.
I wish you all the best in your coming years and may the odds be ever in your favour.