May you lose weight, stop drinking, and pay off your debts!

Or should I say – Happy New Year!? New Year’s greetings for those celebrating it and some musings about the genre of New Year’s resolutions: what do they tell us about the future and the present?

(This was written for and first published at Leidenanthropologyblog.nl)

The Aspirational Self

The most popular New Year’s resolutions are unlikely to take many people by surprise. Your aspirational, better self spends quality time with family, exercises regularly, learns new languages, has smoked only to quit, never exceeds the recommended half glass of wine with a healthy dinner, and has a healthy savings account to match.

The arrival of the New Year, marking the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, is the perfect rite of renewal, where one can imagine a break with the past and a fresh start. Starting anew. For the better. Except, of course, that we can never really start from scratch.

The lazy underachiever

Blue Monday, notoriously the most depressing day of the year, falls roughly in the middle of January – right at the time when many New Year’s resolutions start to crumble. That oh-so-glorious new year turns out to be just yet another year, and the resolutions that were to lead towards the better self slowly fade into the background of everyday concessions and compromises (or to put in another way – you “embrace the lazy underachiever you really are”).

Imagining the Future and the Present

Nevertheless, imagining how life could be remade is exciting. From Socrates and Plato, to the whole genre of utopia writing that emerged in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, right up to phenomena such as the current reality tv show Utopia.tv, human beings seem to have a deep-seated fascination with imagining futures and exploring alternatives. Such explorations are revealing not only in what they show, but also in what lies behind them.

It seems to me that, just as Thomas More’s Utopia can be read as a critique of medieval Europe, New Year’s resolutions can be read as a list of normative priorities in  society. Even if the resolutions are seemingly individual, they arise from complex social, cultural, economic and political pressures. It would be fascinating to see a longitudinal study of changing New Year’s resolutions: I suspect that ‘spending less time on social networks’ or ‘taking better pictures’ are ratherpeculiar resolutions, which speak to very contemporary issues faced by particular groups in society.

Imagining Futures and the Future

Explorations of various versions of the future are revealing not only with regard to the present they relate to, but also with regard to the nature of the future as a category, and the changing relationships we have with it. For example, it has been argued that during the Middle Ages in Europe, with a world view based on Christian teachings, the future was largely understood as predestined and determined by God: Man had very little say in the matter. With the Enlightenment, our relationship to the future changed dramatically – the future became open for man to explore and change. Belief in the notion of progress meant that in the future everything was possible, and it all depended on humankind itself. Isn’t it interesting that the most widespread New Year’s resolutions are geared towards personal improvement?

May the future be the same and better!

Anthropologist Sandra Wallman, writing about the human relationship with the future, notes that most people seem to want to live better and to live the same as before. This seemingly contradictory aspiration combines a desire for positive change and for reassuring continuity. And that is what I wish for you and for myself as we enter the new 2014!

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The daily life of anthropologist?

Anthropologists are known for studying how people go about their every day lives. It may be interesting to turn the tables and ask what a day in the life of an anthropologist looks like.

(This was written for and first published at Leidenanthropologyblog.nl)

I often get asked “What do you actually do?” by friends and acquaintances not familiar with anthropology and academic life. So I thought that it might be worthwhile to briefly sketch some aspects of the everyday life I and most of my fellow- anthropology PhDs actually lead.

In the field

As anthropologists we usually spend part of our lives in the fieldwherever/whatever that is for each of us – Amsterdam community centres, gold mines in Ghana or co-working spaces in Singapore. During the fieldwork we ‘collect data’ by immersing ourselves in the environment that we explore. Thus, when in the field, I spend my days closely interacting with a range of people. I go to the events they attend or organise, take part in meetings and discussions they have, read the books they suggest to me, go shopping together, celebrate birthdays, etc.

In many ways my life ties in with the lives of my informants as we get to know each other as people (see for example Janine Prins’ description of master student Cecile Schimmel’s fieldwork in Indonesia). Over time, through the intensity and quality of these interactions, I can slowly develop an understanding of why and how certain things, activities, and practices make sense.

At the desk

According to David Mosse, “ethnographic method [is] premised on the division of field and desk – the social and the anti-social,” which in practical terms means that after the very socially active time of fieldwork comes the time for reading, thinking, and writing. The fieldwork experiences are re-examined and transformed into a book-length description and analysis. This is a slow and often painstaking process. There are days and even weeks when it feels like you have made no progress at all. “What have I actually done during the past days and why did it take so long?” is a question that I often ask myself when struggling with the fact that reading, writing, and all the thinking and rethinking that goes into the process take time.

Yet, in terms of immersion and intensity, this part in many ways equals the experience in the field. For example, I believe many of my colleagues will admit to having imaginary dialogues with the books they read, with occasional slippages when phrases such as “Ah, how come?”, “No, there must be more to it!”, “Mhm, interesting” escape from the mind and are said out loud. So much for the stereotype of the absent-minded academic!

The borders between field and desk, however, are not necessarily as clear cut either in time or space. Many anthropologists study processes and issues which they cannot ‘leave’ (see Dorien Zandbergen’s article on cyber anthropology) and continue to communicate and stay in touch with their field after the ‘official’ field work period (see Marlous van den Akker on how she followed elections in Kenya glued to her computer screen).

At the University

Even though the ‘read/write/think phase’ is rather solitary, the loneliness is softened by the fact that we work at the university, which imposes certain institutional rhythms and routines. When September comes the university seems to explode – the building becomes alive with chatter and movement, long queues form by elevators, new students get lost and knock on random doors asking for directions, and the hallways are filled with colleagues. This also brings a whole range of seminars, workshops, lectures, administrative meetings and often also teaching responsibilities, filling the agenda with deadline after deadline to calm down only by the end of June.

During summers the university is silent. The students are away and the hallways are empty. Most of the staff is on vacation, at conferences presenting their work, or use the opportunity to immerse themselves in either fieldwork or writing/reading/thinking.

What do you actually do?

While a lot can be (and is) said about how these everyday activities contribute and shape the knowledge anthropologists produce, my aim here was far less ambitious – just to write in simple terms about what shapes the working days of myself and many of my colleagues. This is just one version, mainly based on my experiences as a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at Leiden University. It would be nice to hear more versions — what shapes your days?

The peculiar case of (non) creativity

Creativity is one of the buzzwords everyone seems to be after – individuals, businesses, education institutions and even states. Some seem to succeed better than others. But is that really the case? What are our views on what is creative and what is not?

(This blog entry was first published at Leidenanthropologyblog.nl)

What is creativity?

At the SPT2013 conference in Portugal this summer I had a chance to listen to a presentation on how certain work procedures either stifle or foster creativity and technological innovation in companies. The authors defined creativity in a way that is common in psychology and organisation management studies – work is considered creative when its original, novel as well as useful. Similarly, in line with such scholarship, creativity was also linked to technological innovation and therefore creative output was measured in terms of  publications, intellectual property rights, sales and exports.

There are two points that I find striking about such a definition and understanding of creativity. First of all, defining creativity as novel as well as useful immediately raises questions about power and authority. Novel for whom? Useful for whom and what? Who is in the position to define something as novel or useful? And after all, why should creativity be useful, or to be more precise, ‘useful’ in what sense? To illustrate what I mean, I would like to discuss two cases I have come across during my research on the ability of certain groups to create.

Power play in defining what and who is creative or not

Power in defining what is creative and what is not seems to be distributed along larger lines of power inequalities in the world – not only in relation to what really is considered to be creativity, but also who are ‘the creatives’ and who has the capacity to create. A case in point are discussions on creativity I have come across in a young technology business space in Southeast Asia.

I have witnessed discussions on how Asians, Singaporeans, Chinese, etc. are ‘not creative enough’ over and over again, with variety of reasons being given as to why they are not as creative as other nations (isn’t it peculiar that creativity seems to be a capacity distributed according to national borders?). Usually political and education systems, narrow-mindedness, risk avoidance, and a culture of conformism are highlighted as the reasons why certain nations are less creative than others. Such discussions are often stirred by comments from influential people based in Silicon Valley.

Singapore’s Apple

For example, in 2011 Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, commented in a BBC interview that in “structured societies such as Singapore … all the creative elements seem to disappear”. Wozniak’s announcement that Apple could not have been started in Singapore caused great turmoil in the discussions between  technology entrepreneurs in Singapore, who felt that their aspirations to a creative future were challenged by such a statement. While some agreed and incorporated Wozniak’s comments (see this or this, or this, others disagreed. For others this was an opportunity to start a campaign WEare.sg to showcase the “ordinary Singaporeans who are doing extraordinary things” and challenge the stereotypical view of Singaporeans as a country of managers with no or little agency. As the founder of weare.Sg explained “Once we get to a hundred [profiles], we’ll send this site to Mr. Wozniak, saying: Dear Mr. Wozniak: here they are. Kthxbye.”*

Creative West and non-creative East

More recently a similarly dismissive comment on the creative qualities of Chinese entrepreneurs was made by Steve Blank, an American entrepreneur, professor and author of one of the cornerstone writings for technology businesses “The four steps to epiphany”. This spring he visited China for a week, and captured his impressions in five blog posts. In the last post he comments that people he met often asked him questions he didn’t know how to answer, such as “How do you know how to be creative? What do we have to do to be creative?” or “You Americans just seem to know how to do things even if you’ve never done them – can you show us how to do that?”.

Instead of being startled at the fact that Americans are viewed as the epitome of creative individuals, he accepts such designations, and comments that the Chinese inability to be creative must be a result of “rote educational system” and the Chinese political environment. In this way, both Steve Blank and Steve Wozniak echo a well-established Western narrative about the links between political freedom, economic output and creativity, which considers the ability to ‘create’ a nearly exclusive Western property.

So again – what is creativity?

These two cases merely indicate just how contested and problematic is the notion of creativity, and how authority and power play a role in defining who is able to create or be creative. While many have incorporated the hegemonic notions of what and who is to be considered ‘creative’, it was great to see how in the case of Singapore these understandings were challenged and resisted, potentially making way for recognising alternative understandings of what creativity could mean for Singapore. Similar processes are taking place in China and are described in  wonderful detail by Dr. Silvia Lindtner in her dissertation “Cultivating Creative China: Making and Remaking Cities, Citizens, Work and Innovation”.

The understandings of what is novel, useful, and therefore also creative are, after all, socially, culturally, historically and, most of all, contextually dependent. Whereas in a world geared towards knowledge economy creativity has become the most important resource to be mined and thus is implicitly defined in a manner that stresses economic potential, I believe that there is room for a more inclusive understanding of creativity. An understanding of creativity that acknowledges the creative potential and success of various groups defined in their own terms – whether it is the half a milliard Chinese internet users who chose to use the services they find novel and useful, or the Chinese or Singaporean entrepreneurs who grow their businesses in response to the peculiar circumstances they find themselves operating in.

Kthxbye (internet slang): used to express (in a facetiously polite way) a  dismissive or abrupt end of a conversation, statement, etc.

The problem of ‘culture’ in the New Economy

Governments around the world postulate digital entrepreneurship as the key to their nations’ economic future. Yet it seems that this call for more entrepreneurial citizens also goes hand in hand with a request to change culture.

(This was first published at Leidenanthropologyblog.nl)

Entrepreneurship as the way in to the future

‘At the time of economic gloom, I’m in no doubt where our hope lies – with startups, innovators and entrepreneurs’ This is how Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, welcomed roughly 1,500 participants at a recent digital industry conference Next 13 in Berlin through a video message. The Next 13 annual conference is described as the number one meeting place for the European digital industry where, according to the website, marketing decision makers, business developers, technical experts, and creative minds come together “to discuss what will be important in the next 12 months”. The two-day event, as I gather from the videos and the program (PDF), was marked by inspirational talks on a range of cutting-edge technologies, speculations about digital trends, discussions on how to create business opportunities based on these technological and social changes, and celebration of the uncertain, disruptive future which will open doors to greater profits.

While it would be easy to dismiss this, or other very similar events, as something futuristic, marginal, speculative, elitist, and on the whole  detached from the everyday experiences of most of the world’s population, the unfolding future is created and shaped very much by the ways in which we talk and think about it – especially when these narratives shape the technologies we use on a daily basis and even more when such discussions intersect with political agendas. While Neelie Kroes opened the conference, another influential politician, Peer Steinbrück, who is the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate for Chancellor of Germany in the 2013 federal elections, gave a keynote presentation on the “Future of digital economy” later in the day. In the same way as Neelie Kroes, his political vision of Germany as the centre of what he called “the 4th industrial revolution” also to a large degree relies on encouraging digital entrepreneurship.

The young, bright and resilient builders of the knowledge economy

The roots of the concept of a knowledge economy (often also referred to as the ‘New Economy’ or ‘digital economy’) go back to the USA in the 1960s, when economists noticed that an increasing part of the economy revolves around services and information processing,  rather than manufacturing physical goods or agriculture. In the context of the Cold War and the ideological competition in building a better society, this notion of a knowledge economy quickly attracted a wealth of utopian expectations. Information and communication technologies were associated with increasing productivity, and the ability to process information real-time gave impetus to expectations that markets could now become truly efficient. The neoliberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s were a clear example of how these narratives about a technology-driven economy had entered government policies, and shaped the everyday experiences of people around the world. The birth of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the 1990s and following hype of internet companies during the Dot-Com era of the mid to late 1990s seemed to confirm that, indeed, a radically new economy is on the rise. It is believed  that when information and knowledge become the primary resource for economic growth humankind enters a time of economy of abundance, since creativity is not a limited resource, as opposed to the material resources of the past.

At the very heart of these expectations were (and still are) startups – young technology companies typically imagined to be run by university drop-outs – young, bold people motivated and daring to change the world, and willing to put in thousands of working hours for low pay or none at all over multiple years, with expectations of large returns some time in the near future. The massive appeal of technology startups lies in their potential – while they do not require lots of resources to get started (as compared to any industrial enterprise), the rapid high growth and massive scale they can reach seemingly overnight due to the ‘virtual’ nature of their business makes them an attractive case for investment. While startups can succeed spectacularly, they can also fail fairly quickly;  the estimate is that 90% of startups fail.

Young visitors of Next Berlin 13 – by Heisenberg Media, Dan Taylor

Changing the Culture

What really struck me watching the speeches at the Next 13 conference in Berlin by the two politicians mentioned above was how similar the rhetoric about entrepreneurship were to what I encountered in Singapore. The most peculiar, to my mind, is that in this quest for more entrepreneurial citizens culture becomes a major issue – a problem that needs to be overcome through transformation.
In Singapore, risk aversion is often described as an “Asian problem” – a cultural trait that needs to be fixed. Willing to take risks also means opening the space for/door to failure.This, however, is seen as something antithetical to Asiannness and therefore the culture needs to be changed. It is believed that once Singaporeans are willing to let go of their aspirations of secure employment in government or multinationals, the country will have its technology startup success stories. Just as in Singapore “Asianness” and its risk aversion is seen as one of the biggest threats to the success of the new economy, in the speech by Peer Steinbrück “German perfectionism” was also positioned as a problem that needs to be overcome, because it leaves no space for learning by failing and risk taking.  And in both cases,  Singapore as well as here, the role model for a risk-taking entrepreneurial ethos is the Anglo-Saxon world, or more precisely the United States.

Paradoxically, in the same speech Peer Steinbrück explained that the reason why the German economy is so strong compared to those of the UK or USA is that Germany didn’t take the risk and didn’t get involved in the financial speculations in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crash. The problem of Asianness in Singapore seems similarly paradoxical, since the very same traits that are now being condemned and described as in need of change are the traits which were praised during the 1990s as the explanation for the “Asian miracle”.

Spaces of intervention

Moments like these, when in the name of a better future culture is defined and re-defined are of great interest to anthropologists. When governments and regions strive to ensure their competitive edge in the global knowledge economy, assumptions about the qualities necessary for success have escaped the domains of infrastructure and aim to regulate culture according to an economic rationale.

Locating Futures: Singapore

This was first published at Leidenanthropologyblog.nl and most likely in a modified form will be part of my dissertation. Most likely in a chapters where I look at the relationship between space and future. 

During my first, exploratory trip to Southeast Asia in early 2010 I traveled from Indonesia to Singapore, from Malaysia to Burma, in each country meeting people passionate about web technologies. Many of them had started, or were planning to start, their own internet-based businesses. The goal of my visit was to familiarize myself with the environment and get to know the people in technology communities, so that I could start my research project on Future and Technology in Southeast Asia. Fairly quickly I came to realize that Singapore played a crucial role in the experiences and perceptions of technology enthusiasts around the region.

All the roads lead to … Singapore

Technology geeks I met in Indonesia talked excitedly about the times they visited Singapore and were impressed with not only the high rise buildings but also with the technology/business community there, from which they adopted specific organization practices. Malaysian founders of web startups explained to me that it is much more reasonable to incorporate their businesses in Singapore, because the legal processes are much faster there and the tax regime more favorable. One Malaysian founder, who had worked in Silicon Valley before returning to Malaysia and starting his company, explicitly said that running a business in Singapore as compared to Malaysia would be like facing the real world. For him, Singapore has the predatory competition and flow of finance that he associates with business in the real world. Some of the Burmese technology enthusiasts told me how they aspired to move to Singapore and work there in the future, because of the wealth this move could offer.

The sense of Singapore being regarded as at the real-time or more into the future as compared to the rest of region was strong during my initial conversations with people in the field of technology around the region. Many people I spoke to noted that everything happens much faster in Singapore- “Even escalators move faster there,” as one of my friends in Indonesia commented. Of course people also scoffed at the Singaporean laws and noted that Singapore is too organized to be enjoyable. Yet, the general sense was that Singapore is a more achievable version of Silicon Valley, which is often regarded as the ultimate location of technology innovation and business, always one step ahead of the rest of the world.

The epicentre of Asian Century or too sterile for innovation? 

When I arrived in Singapore, I was eager to learn how people who supposedly already live in the future think about Singapore and other locations in the world. Many of the Western expatriates I met in technologist circles proclaimed that this is Asian century and Singapore is the location from which to capitalize on the emerging global future. This belief, combined with the good living conditions that English-speaking Singapore offers, was part of the reason why many of them had moved there in the first place. Interestingly, the mere presence of such expatriates in the technology space was also pointed out to me as an indicator that the future of the Singaporean tech space is bright.

Yet, many people in Singapore were also very skeptical about Singapore’s future. They argued that when it comes to technology and entrepreneurship, Singapore needs to catch up with the developed world if it is to compete in the global economy. Singapore was described as too sterile for innovation, too small for starting a high growth business, and/or the people too conservative to be willing to do what it takes to start a truly innovative technology business. In these stories the future was located either as an exclusive property of Silicon Valley, or seen as attainable through cooperation with other countries in the region and/or by major shifts in the norms and values of the society.

Geographies of future(s)

What these encounters highlight is that particular futures (in this case futures related to technology innovation and business) are often imagined as unfolding or already being in effect in particular locations. Echoing science fiction writer William Gibson when he said “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed,” the people I met spoke of a fragmented landscape with a variety of locations, each characterized by its ability to actualize futures conducive to technology business. These geographical imaginaries seem to be not only structured along the lines of what Lucy Suchman has called reproductions of “neocolonial geographies of center and periphery” (2011:2), but also actively inform people’s understandings of the world and the decisions they make with regard to their lives (e.g., moving to a particular location, setting up a business in one location rather than another, engaging in certain activities rather than others, etc.). Thus, in my research on the aspirations linked to the so-called knowledge economy, I try to explore in more detail how such geographical imaginaries inform the lives of technology enthusiasts, and enable as well as disable certain social positions and actions.

References: Suchman, Lucy (2011) “Anthropological Relocations and the Limits of Design.” Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 1-18

Startups validate their ideas at JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp

My 2nd weekly article for e27.sg published yesterday

After resurfacing from ideation and the first shocks of understanding the expectations of investors, the JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp teams have started focusing on customer* validation and development. The mentor feedback during the first two weeks was inspirational, but also very often led to contradicting ideas about the directions in which the products could be developed. The best way to decide is by testing all of them with potential customers.

The JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp follows the Lean Startup methodology, which emphasizes rapid prototyping and testing with users from early on. The underlying assumption is that there is no point in wasting your time and energy on developing a product only to discover later on that nobody wants it. Failing fast allows the team to ditch an idea and move on to the next one.

Many teams have rolled out their minimum viable products (MVPs)- the bare bones of the main feature of their idea and have started testing it out with their potential users and customers. Most of the teams have also found it useful to put up a website with waiting list or Facebook fan page to start gathering their early adopters around them. Even though quick validation makes sense rationally, it is often not so easy for the teams emotionally.

Daniel from Indonesian startup ‘Kark’ writes on the “How Do You Feel?” board at the JFDI jungle

Startup ideas are born in the minds of the founders. They see the vision of the ‘full experience’ they want to deliver to their customers. The minimum viable products are usually very far away from those ideals. Yet if your user doesn’t validate your idea at the first place, then most likely no Facebook integrations or design improvements will change that later on.

Adrian from Singaporean startup Gradeful tells: “I think it is very easy to delay shipping the MVP. It is just fear. Fear about what if it doesn’t work out. But we were very clear that we should just stick to it and see what the users say. Nothing speaks better than data and maybe from the user feedback we discover something we didn’t expect at all”.

Lizz from HobbyMash explains her vision to the joyful frogs on weekly Friday pitch

The basic principle of customer validation is to see if your assumptions about how the customers will relate to and use your product are true or false. Before every test the startups set very clear goals what they want to learn from this test.

Many teams have done questionnaires to see if their ideas are viable. Yet when drafting such questionnaires startups should be careful when asking people if they like the idea. The truth is that even if a person likes your idea, it doesn’t mean that she is going to use and/or pay for it.

Another option employed by many teams is to go out to the physical or virtual places where their potential users can be found to learn more about how they live, what they worry about and how the particular product could help them. Such interviews and observations usually provide the founders with very rich information and insights, but they also require some interviewing skills and take up quite some time.

Tudor from Flocations team interviewing people at the Beary Good Hostel and asking for their feedback

Presenting people with mockups is another option. Mockups allow startups to observe the reactions of the users and gain insights into the aspects that the users see as important or unclear. Mockups also allow for quick testing of various features or even pricing strategies.

Most of the JFDI-Innov8 mentors agreed that no matter what method you use to reach out to your potential users and/or customers, the sooner you do it the better it is. Mentor quotes about customer validation and development have been summarized here and here you can see what the chief executive frog vlog says about the importance of customer validation.

*I have used terms ‘users’ and ‘customers’ interchangeably, however, in many situations users of a product not necessarily are also the customers who pay for the product.

JFDI–Innov8 BootCamp – The first two weeks

With a bit of a delay I re-post the article from e27.sg where I briefly explain what happened at the JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp during the first 2 weeks. 

It has been now a bit more than two weeks since the JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp started bringing together 12 teams of aspiring Techpreneurs from all different parts of Asia and beyond. Many quit their jobs, stopped their studies, left their partners and families at home and all that in order to pursue their dream- launch a successful tech company. With stakes high, every day counts in this 100 day accelerator program. At the end of it all the teams will present their work to a room full of investors who will then decide which companies to invest in.

While some teams started with nothing more than an idea and great commitment, others were already further in the process having a working product and a bunch of users. Yet the first weeks have not been easy for any of them. ‘Pitch or die’ could have been the slogan of the first 2 days. The first pitch teams gave shortly after their arrival at Block 71 was to get to their dedicated working space (unofficially called the jungle- for reasons explained here). The next day, after very, very few hours of sleep, teams presented their ideas to real investors, who had decided to visit the BootCamp early. The questions were sharp and straight to the point- what problem are you solving with your product, how are you making it stick, how are you monetizing it, what is your exit strategy, why your team is the best suited to do this, etc. Even if some of it felt like being asked prematurely, participants developed a good feeling of where they have to be at the end of the 100 days in order to receive funding.

Natsakon and Meng on weekly Friday Pitch

After the first crash and burn experience the rest of the week was devoted to ideation. The BootCamp has a fantastic pool of mentors here in Singapore and also flying in from New Zealand, USA, England and elsewhere. Hours and hours were spent helping the teams to stretching their ideas, understanding what they are passionate about, good at and what real world problems they care enough about to dedicate years of their lives to solve. In a morning of one of those days I bumped into another co-worker of Block 71, who inquired how its going at the BootCamp. I cheerfully replied that it is really exciting. He looked at me with a doubtful expression “Do guys get some work done at all? All I see is they are at the meeting rooms a lot.” One has to agree, teams spend a lot of time in the meeting rooms. But that is what you have to do once you are making a company. You have to meet with people, talk with them and take the best of their advice. Programming is only one part of the work you do to launch your company and product.

No time is being wasted- weekly Check-in meeting with Meng and Hugh coincides with lunch time

Some of the teams kept to their initial concepts, however most of them pivoted. Some even reset their idea and started from scratch. Tom and YanYing from Wildby explained, “Brainstorming with the mentors inspired us to extend our idea to an even more ambitious  one. Instead of just bringing toys to the cloud, we now want to turn every object in the world into a toy.”

One of the Resident Mentors Boris discussed ideas with the Rocket Science Concepts team

Part of the companies have already or will launch their alpha versions in the coming days, so Week 3 seems to be all about customer development. Stay tuned and learn about the fears and revelations  founders have when meeting their users and customers face to face.

Indonesian startup ‘Kark’ in their Mentor meeting with Melissa Clark-Reynolds

JFDI-Innov8 2012 Bootcamp is organizing regular public events where the mentors share their knowledge and all of you are warmly welcomed to come along- check jfdi.asia to stay up to date.

JFDI–Innov8 Bootcamp

It is with great excitement that I announce also here on the blog that for 100 days starting January 26 I am resident anthropologist of the JFDI–Innov8 Bootcamp here in Singapore. This is the first tech accelerator of this kind to take place in Southeast Asia and it is put together by the absolutely amazing, frog loving JFDI team and supported by Singtel Innov8.

Why an anthropologist would want to study a tech accelerator program? This is a question I hear a lot. Well, there are multiple reasons. First, I am studying geek culture in Southeast Asia, and the BootCamp brings together participants from across the region giving me a unique chance to see geeks from Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere not only in action, but also inter-action.

Secondly, I am researching how geeks in the region act upon the future- what do they aspire and dread. Many of the participants have taken substantial personal sacrifices and risks to be here (moving away from their families for 3 months, quitting their jobs, etc.), so clearly this is an environment filled with expectations and tensions they create.

Thirdly, I am especially interested in the complexities surrounding geeks trying to take the stage of global markets. And where else would I have a chance to explore it better than in a 100 day acceleration program that makes geeks into entrepreneurs?

You’ll be hearing from me more often since the BootCamp has started and I have agreed to inform e27 on a regular basis about what is happening at the Blok 71. This is going to be an amazing learning experience for me, so beare with me as I learn what it means to be geek and what it means to be entrepreneur. I’ll keep you posted as much as I can.

***

I am grateful to Meng and Hugh who agreed to have me on board and Erin, Nicole, Chiah Li, Alvin and Janice who welcomed me warmly in the daily routines of the office life. Now that the BootCamp has started I’m all excited about getting to know the participants more.

Singapore Geek Girls will not leave it to Guys-only

On January 7 I had a wonderful opportunity to take part in the first Singapore Geek Girls meetup organized by Joyce Huang and Mingfei Yan. Being a girl myself I am very interested in what does it mean to be a geek girl in Singapore and I was extremely lucky to arrive in Singapore right on time for it.

I believe it was 2 months ago that the idea of an event was born and it apparently addresses a hot spot here in Singapore, as more than 30 people gathered in the cozy Group Therapy Coffee on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t girls-only event and we had 6 guys who seemed to feel rather comfortable amongst dozens of cheerful and excited girls.

As Joyce in her opening speech explained- the main reason to initiate this coming together was her personal experience of being 1 of the 5 girls vs 30 guys at her her work. “Enough with the dirty jokes!” (‘we know what you mean’ laughter). With some support from guys also girls, can change the world via technology and design. Joyce drafted a perspective where SG Geek Girls organize meetups (1 x 2 months?), talks, workshops, bootcamps and other events. However, she also stressed that what SG Geek Girls become depends on the interests and input of the community itself.

We did a wonderful introduction round where each person explained their interests and motivations for attending and was supported by applause and very often also cheers. Although the event brought together various people, I would say that majority of the girls were recent or soon-to-be graduates of NUS or NTU and were mainly interested in meeting like-minded girls who have interest in technology. While some girls had a technical background, many girls expressed their interest in learning programming. Working in close contact with geeky guys and not understanding the language they talk (programming languages after all are languages, right?) seems to be an issue of control {when he says this can not be done, is it true?} and also empowerment {to make the website the way I feel it should be, I need to know how to make it}Rather few of the girls wanted to start or already had started their own companies.

I had multiple lovely conversations with girls that afternoon and a point that I kept thinking long after the meeting was regarding the acquisition of knowledge. Very often we feel like other people ‘just somehow know it all’- as if magically guys were born with internalized and always up-to date knowledge about gadgets and sports tournaments. I bet that from guys’ perspective it might seem as well that girls are similarly born with  internal knowledge about cosmetics and celebrity weddings. None of which is true. Its all just a matter of practices that we observe and repeat, and the conversations that we have with people around us on every day basis.  Having the experience of being a minority back at Media Tech (we were a group of 20 guys and 4 girls) I can relate to many sentiments shared in the meetup. I truly believe that it is important to create a space where girls can come together, discuss technology in a manner that reflects how they feel about it- including dreams as well as insecurities- and enrich themselves with the support they get from others.

Thumbs up for Joyce and Mingfei for initiating this and I wish SG Geek Girl community grows strong and prospers :) I was very happy to see that a lot of inspiration for this event was stemming from the Hackerspace SG. Even if  building and sustaining a strong community is not an easy task, the atmosphere was full of excitement and that is a good starting point.

PS. Guys are always warmly welcomed to join as long as they bring girls along.

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/SGGeekGirls

geek girls logogeek girl prideJoyce and GwenMingfei YanGroup photoHello Geeks introduction speech by Joyce

SG Geek Girls Meetup, a set on Flickr.

Hello Singapore!

It’s just wonderful to be here again! Even if leaving the Netherlands was the last thing I wanted to do yesterday (saying goodbye to my family and pets was just heart breaking), today I am here and feeling all excited- helllooo Singapore! I’m looking forward to the coming months here.

First impression: Had forgotten how it feels when it’s soo warm outside! Need to adjust a bit. My body seems to be going all crazy now after the 12 hour flight and the rapid change of temperature.

Note: Had my first two cups of ice-coffee. Perfect beginning!