Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat: What Jack Ma and Steve Jobs can teach us about competitive advantage

Curiosity is one of my research areas of interest and it’s a topic I teach and cover in my modules. You could call me the Professor of Curiosity! I’m inherently curious, reading at least one book a week.

In the course of living what I hope to be a life of curiosity and meaning, I have drawn inspiration from other inquisitive people around me. Through this blog post, I hope some of that spirit will rub off on you.

Jack Ma and his friends were once googling for beer when he realised how difficult it was to find Chinese beer on the internet. It prompted him to create a homepage in Chinese. Within five hours of posting the page, he received five emails from people across the world, including in the US and Germany. The power of the Internet surprised him – one which he harnessed towards building Alibaba, now a Chinese giant specialising in e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and technology.

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My Marco Polo adventures

China has always been on my travel bucket list. So when an opportunity came up to go on exchange with a university there, I was definitely not going to let it pass. In a regular meeting with my professor one day, he asked if I would like to go for a short exchange programme to study at Hefei University of Technology. For a split second, I thought he was kidding, so I jokingly said “yes”. Little did I know he was serious and three weeks after that meeting, I found myself boarding a plane to China.

As a first-time traveller in China, I experienced many new things during my exchange and also ran into a few hiccups.


I climbed up to the school’s rooftop and was rewarded with this beautiful view.

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Upside of being down under

During the last week of the summer holidays, I went on a research trip to Perth, Western Australia, under NTU’s University Scholars Programme (USP).

Last year, we went to Taiwan, with “culture” as the research topic. This year, the theme was “sustainability”.

In Perth, we were split into different groups and delved into topics like water sustainability, energy sustainability, sustainable tourism, and sustainable lifestyle practices. This year’s topics were more technical and thus much more challenging. Nevertheless, all of us did our best and put together a great end-product after weeks of research, discussion and editing.

Although it was a research trip, we had our fair share of fun.

As we were a big group of about 80 students and faculty, we arrived at Perth on four different flights. My group was on the third flight, and by the time we had landed and checked-in, all the shops were already closed. Unlike in Singapore, all the shops in Perth close by 5pm. However, that did not stop us from taking pictures of the wonderful city!

We took the free bus into town. The streets don’t look that different from Singapore’s, except that they are more cluttered with random buskers, but they still look beautiful. Or maybe the grass just looks greener on the other side?

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Eye to eye with CEOs…

Despite juggling many academic activities in my final year at the Nanyang Business School, I couldn’t resist taking part in the Undergraduate Research Experience on CAmpus (URECA) programme, a vigorous by-invitation-only elective that aims to bring out the researcher in us.

I chose to work with Asst Prof Kim Young Han on a finance and psychology project that involved analysing interviews given by CEOs to the financial media.

As an undergraduate majoring in tourism and marketing, I jumped at the chance to delve into a complementary field of expertise that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

Our aim was to find a way to detect the subtle clues CEOs inadvertently reveal in public media through their non-verbal behaviour. This purpose may seem trivial, but the results could help investors make more well-informed decisions on where to put their money – we’re talking about billions of dollars!

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