Friday, October 8, 2010

Interview with Dr. Rob Yeung

Thank you Odelia from Pansing for arranging this interview for me :)
To those of you who haven't heard of Dr. Rob Yeung, he's a British psychologist, business speaker, and management author. He was recently in Singapore to promote his latest book, The Extra One Per Cent. I asked him about what got him into psychology and his experience in putting this book together.

Have you always wanted to do psychology? Why? What do you enjoy most about it?
When I was at school, I studied physical sciences including physics, chemistry and biology. I thought I would become a chemist or a biochemist. It was only by chance that I did some reading about psychology and at the last minute changed my mind to study psychology.
When I started reading about psychology, I thought it was just this amazing topic. It really resonated with me as I've always been a curious person, I've always enjoyed figuring people out, so when I found out there was actually a discipline, a subject I could study at university
that allowed me to learn more about people's minds and their motivations, I was hooked.

What I enjoy most about psychology is that to me the human mind is the final frontier. We know so much about the physical world and we've even sent missions to other planets. But we are still only just beginning to scratch the surface of how the mind works and understanding why people are the way they are. Psychologists are answering new questions every day, but as fast as we answer old questions, we encounter new questions, which is both frustrating and exciting.

Whom have you always inspired to be? Why?
My thoughts on the person I want to become have changed over the years. So when I left university, I started out working for a big American management consultancy and my goal was to become successful in terms of climbing the career ladder, becoming a partner in the firm, and having status and prestige as well as the material wealth that goes with it. But over the years, and especially as I've met more successful people who define success not just in terms of financial success but also family success and relationship success and all sorts of other factors, I've changed my goals. So now I aspire to be a balanced, rounded individual. My career is now just one aspect of my life. My family and friends are a big chunk of my life now, as is my health, but also I want to have some fun in my life too.

What inspired The Extra One Per Cent?
I was frustrated that I couldn't find a book on success that I wanted to read. I've been hugely influenced in recent years by books such as Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and Malcolm Gladwell's books such as Outliers and The Tipping Point. These books tell stories based on factual evidence and research. Another influence has been Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds. Again, they all base their recommendations on research, so that's what I wanted to do on the topic of success. I feel that too many books on success are based on the author's own experiences and opinions about what makes people successful. I wanted my book to be different so I base it on research in the same way as the Freakonomics guys but I also went out and did interviews with dozens of successful people from entrepreneurs and senior figures in large businesses to leaders in charities and so on.

Who should read it?
I wanted to make the book as accessible as possible to everyone. So you can read the book if you enjoy a good detective story and just want to read about how researchers have gone about trying to identify the traits that lead to success. But you can also read the book if you want to improve yourself too. It's not just about financial success though. I talk about the need for what I call a 'balanced vision' of success, of thinking about your relationships, parenting, and being a good citizen.

Was it difficult to decide what to include in the book?
I didn't have any specific difficulties deciding what to include or not because it was a very organic process. I just did the research and interviews and let the book take its own shape. I initially wrote a proposal to my publisher with an outline of what I thought the 10 chapters would be about. But as I did my research and began interviewing successful people, the shape of the book changed. So in the end I had only 8 chapters, and actually only about 5 or 6 of the chapters turned out to cover the material that I thought would be important. Some of the eventual content that ended up in the book did surprise me, especially on the topic of Citizenship, which is about ethics, integrity and being not only a good citizen in your community but also a steward of the planet.

Among all that is mentioned in your book, which one do you think is the most difficult for one to put into action? Why?
I don't think that anything in the book is difficult to put into practice in the sense that calculus is difficult. None of the recommendations require a lot of brain power. However, the recommendations are difficult in the sense that we sometimes know what we should do, but don't always do it because we forget or think we know better. For example, we all know that we shouldn't eat too much fat or salt in our diet and that we need to exercise more. We all know that we shouldn't drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes at all. But we often continue to do things that are bad for us. In the same way, there are techniques in the book that can help us to have more successful relationships with other people, whether that's business customers and colleagues or family and friends. The difficulty is only in remembering to use the technique and not to think that we can get away without using them.

In the process of writing this book, what did you discover about yourself? Were there any aha moments? Please tell us about it.
In my work as a corporate psychologist, I've been interviewing successful people for over a decade. Even though I only started to write the book a couple of years ago, these interviews have shaped my personal views of success hugely. One of the biggest revelations is that money really doesn't buy happiness. There's one piece of research in which psychologists went and interviewed people who had not just millions of US dollars, but over a hundred million US dollars in wealth. So these were really rich people. However, the psychologists found that one-third of these multimillionaires were actually /less/ happy than the average person who earned only a fraction that they did. Early in my career, things like wealth and status mattered a lot more to me. The more interviews I did in researching The Extra One Per Cent, the more it changed my personal views of what I wanted to achieve and do with my life.

What do you think is your best accomplishment? Why?
Gosh, that depends on how you define an accomplishment, of course! One of my personal highlights was presenting a TV show for the BBC. The BBC was looking for someone who has a lot of experience about careers and job hunting to present a TV show called 'Who Would Hire You?' I got the gig and had to learn how to become a TV presenter. The show was a success as they then commissioned a second series called 'How To Get Your Dream Job' and I learned so much about working with the media but I also had a huge amount of fun. There's not a lot of people who can say they've been the lead presenter of their own TV show!

But then I also think that books such as The Extra One Per Cent are a huge accomplishment for me. I trained as a psychologist, not as a writer. I've worked really hard at learning how to write in more interesting ways, in how to interview people like a journalist, and how to weave their stories with the research. So I'm hoping that my next biggest accomplishment will be to get lots of emails from readers telling me how they found this book useful and helpful in their own lives.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Yeung!

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