When you have made a mis­take, your im­pulse may be to bury it and run away from it. How­ever, do­ing so means miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity. We talk to suc­cess­ful women about the mis­takes they have made and how they turned them around

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - Contents - BY ELLEN WHYTE

Malaysian fe­male bosses share steps you can take to make mis­takes work for you

Su­mi­tra Vis­vanathan, 49, is no stranger to pain and suf­fer­ing. For 17 years, she was a United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian aid worker who helped dis­placed men, women and chil­dren in war zones. Today, she is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Women’s Aid Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WAO), an NGO that fo­cuses on help­ing vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

"To do this kind of work, you have to think fast on your feet, know­ing that at any time, if you should get it wrong, it can re­sult in some­one’s death,” says Su­mi­tra.

Work­ing un­der tremen­dous pres­sure can cloud one’s think­ing – which is why cri­sis work­ers have to learn a set of prin­ci­ples and then ap­ply them rig­or­ously to ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. This helps to pro­mote best prac­tices and avoid known prob­lems. How­ever, the sys­tem is not per­fect.

“If you get it right 75 per cent of the time, you are ac­tu­ally do­ing great,” says Su­mi­tra. “Un­for­tu­nately, the trou­ble is that the wrong de­ci­sions – the other 25 per cent – af­fects real peo­ple. It can re­ally get to you, know­ing what can hap­pen if things do not go well.”

In her cur­rent role, she helps vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence who need a lot of pro­tec­tion. How­ever, they of­ten suf­fer from pro­longed stress and fear, which leads to de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and other men­tal health is­sues.

“In our shelter, we can­not take any­one with un­treated ac­tive men­tal health con­di­tions be­cause we are not trained to cope,” ex­plains Su­mi­tra. “Even if the case is com­pelling, we still have to say no.”

When the sit­u­a­tion is clear, ap­pli­cants are re­ferred to WAO. How­ever, in cri­sis, clar­ity can be hard to find.

“Once we took in a vic­tim, and a few hours later, she self-harmed,” Su­mi­tra says. “Luck­ily, she did not kill her­self; it was a cry for help and we were able to take her to hospi­tal in time.”

For most lay peo­ple, this may seem to be an un­der­stand­able mis­take – but aid work­ers see it a lit­tle dif­fer­ently.

“The prin­ci­ple for help­ing oth­ers is this: If you can­not do good, at least do no harm,” Su­mi­tra points out. “It is about know­ing your role and ca­pac­ity. By tak­ing in vic­tims whom we can­not cope with, we put them – and oth­ers who are in the refuge – in dan­ger.” So how do they man­age the stress as a team? “We get to­gether of­ten and de­brief in a safe space, al­low­ing our­selves to feel our emo­tions,” says Su­mi­tra. “It is vi­tal to ac­cept and em­brace feel­ings as sup­press­ing them leads to trou­ble later. After that, we as­sess the need to re­fine our process, which in­volves care­ful au­dit­ing.”

“I have to think fast on my feet. When I make MIS­TAKES, peo­ple may die”

Jess Teong, 52, ac­tress, model and film­maker has a di­verse port­fo­lio in the cre­ative arts, in­clud­ing the crit­i­cally ac­claimed award-win­ning film, TheKidFromTheBigAp­ple. It is tricky to try and ap­peal to peo­ple’s de­sires, and Jess be­lieves the se­cret to suc­cess is au­then­tic­ity.

“I have to love my own work – that is the first prin­ci­ple. Of course, you can cer­tainly make some­thing fit a com­mer­cial type or spe­cific fes­ti­val, but I won’t do it,” says Jess.

“Like with TheKidFromTheBigAp­ple, a fes­ti­val com­mit­tee said that if I re­moved some songs and scenes to fit in with their spec­i­fi­ca­tions, I might do very well.

“How­ever, I said no be­cause I think you have to be true to your­self to ap­peal to peo­ple. Shar­ing what you be­lieve is the way to cre­ate a mes­sage that the au­di­ence can take home.”

While this prin­ci­ple has brought suc­cess, the flip side is that it has also landed her in hot wa­ter oc­ca­sion­ally.

“About eight years ago, I was de­sign­ing jew­ellery,” re­counts Jess. “I love big chunky pieces, es­pe­cially el­e­gant chok­ers. One of my idols is Au­drey Hep­burn, so I de­signed a col­lec­tion of chok­ers that was rem­i­nis­cent of her so­phis­ti­cated style. I vi­su­alised my clients wear­ing these beau­ti­ful pieces to show­case their necks and shoul­ders.”

To her dis­may, the col­lec­tion did not sell. One of the most chal­leng­ing tasks for cre­ative peo­ple is that hav­ing put in so much per­sonal ef­fort into their art, cri­tique can be very painful and per­sonal.

“How­ever, you have to re­mem­ber that the bot­tom­line to suc­cess is the same as any other busi­ness,” Jess says. “It has to sell. If it does not, there is a prob­lem. Your prod­uct needs to be of qual­ity and avail­able in the right places and at the right price – that is a ba­sic busi­ness model.”

“Some­times, you can be ahead of your time though. A story or neck­lace that does not have mar­ket ap­peal now may be all the rage next year. So a ‘mis­take’ this time may be a suc­cess next time.”

Hav­ing checked and re-ex­am­ined the basics, Jess talked to her team and her clients.

“I mis­judged my mar­ket,” Jess ad­mits. “My clients just did not go for that par­tic­u­lar style or ap­pre­ci­ate it as much as I had ex­pected.”

For­tu­nately, with a lit­tle cre­ativ­ity, Jess was able to sal­vage much of her project.

“I took apart the pieces and used them to make rings and bracelets,” she grins. “Chunky, of course, be­cause I love that!” Thank­fully, the re­sults were ex­cel­lent. “It sold – very fast!” Jess laughs, adding, “And I see chok­ers are back in fash­ion now!”

“A MIS­TAKE this time may be a SUC­CESS next time”

Ade­lene Foo, 35, GrabTaxi’s re­gional head of op­er­a­tions, is the poster girl for com­mer­cial suc­cess – but the path has not al­ways been trou­ble-free.

“I did not dream big enough,” she la­ments. “When we started, we were think­ing na­tion­ally. We de­cided to call our start-up MyTeksi. It was a great name lo­cally, but when we went to the Philip­pines, they did not get the spell­ing of ‘Teksi’ and they did not iden­tify with ‘My’ ei­ther.”

The fix that seemed rea­son­able at the time was to call the Filipino ver­sion GrabTaxi. It went very well and the com­pany ex­panded all over the re­gion – but then Ade­lene dis­cov­ered that it cre­ated dif­fi­cul­ties too.

“When we went global, our own coun­try was out of step. With MyTeksi in Malaysia and GrabTaxi ev­ery­where else, we needed sep­a­rate apps, sep­a­rate so­cial me­dia ac­counts and even sep­a­rate emails! From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, that did not make sense.” The fix was ob­vi­ous. “We knew we had to re­brand our prod­uct back home. We were he­si­tant though, be­cause it means you have to per­suade your cus­tomers to change. And change is not easy.”

The com­pany took six months to plan the re­brand­ing cam­paign and then took an­other six months to carry it out com­pletely. It was suc­cess­ful, but it was tax­ing.

“In busi­ness, it is a MIS­TAKE to think small”

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