Contagious Optimism

By Iqbal Thokan

Stay positive and be optimistic. People do business with people, be optimistic and let your
optimism be contagious.

Businesses do not do business with business, rather people do business with people. We all
know that pessimism can have a huge impact on our well-being, but sometimes we overlook
how pessimism can play a huge role on our decision-making ability. Optimists see
opportunity where others see uncertainty and despair and this is what makes us
businessman or true entrepreneurs, the ability to see that opportunity and capitalise on it,
but more importantly having the others around us see this vision of opportunity.
I have yet to come across a business that survives or thrives without any human interaction
at all; a business created by robots for robots. The success of every business lies in its ability
to serve the needs of another in whatever way or format, whether it be direct contact or
even digitally, people do business with people and sometimes we forget that. We focus on
pricing and marketing and operations and expenses and sales and forget the human part of
it all.

Every business interacts with people at different levels, from suppliers to support or from
staff to customers and each of the people involved at the different levels have a role to play
in our success. Which makes every single one of them significant to us, and as business
owners it is our duty to make sure that each of these people are optimistic and positive
about our vision and envisioned future.

Running a business is not easy and managing people is even harder, but when we start to
realise that every other person has the same or similar challenges, stresses and fears as us,
we start to realise that we have another role to play as businesses owners, and that is to
lead. Some of the great leaders of our time focused their energy on positivity and optimism
and this is what lead them to greatness.

Richard Branson once said, “if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your
customers”. In this time of distress and negativity we need to be very aware of the
wellbeing of those we employee.

During this time of crisis, we find ourselves juggling with trying to keep the business afloat,
while also trying to navigate and coordinate a healthy place of work; putting in measures to
ensure all of our safety, and sometimes we find ourselves so focused on productivity and
profitability that we place morale building efforts on the backburner.
Right now, in this time of crisis, this is exactly what we need to bring to the forefront
alongside productivity and profitability, the human element needs to show, to stand as one,
to be united in our efforts to ensure that we all survive and thrive during and after the

Some of the things that as business owners we have to do to uplift morale, is create
consistent interaction with our team, showing them that they are part of the survival plan,
informing them of updates, expectations and next steps.
As leaders we need to operate with higher levels of compassion and kindness and create a
space for listening.

While most of us are struggling with financial challenges within our business, we can be
assured that so are our employees, our suppliers, our customer. Hence, another aspect that
we have look at is guiding them towards the right kind of financial advice or finding a
suitable financial advisor to discuss various financial options and their relevant risks. And if it
comes to the point of not being able to keep our staff employed, then are we able to direct
them and assist them with contacts within our network from other industries or sectors that
could possibly assist them. This way, we build a solid foundation of trust, respect and
advocacy, and when we are stronger again to grow, we know we have people that have our

Thus far, with each tip, I have been giving you a relevant story to go with it and some of you
have asked why the story, well we are certainly all creatures of social fantasy looking for real
life triggers to help us process information and seek inspiration from them. Stories of heroic
adventure and success inspire many of us to succeed ourselves, heck, even I energise from
these and there are many studies that show that inspirational stories have a positive effect
on us and I am hoping that each of these stories leaves you with a positive contagious
optimism to continue to stay relevant, survive and thrive.

Today’s story is about a man who started a global company and who has impacted not only
the entire economy of China, but also the internet industry globally. Not having written a
single line of coding or not having sold something to anyone, at 31, Jack Ma started his first
successful company called Alibaba. With an amazing story of a lifetime of rejection this man
never gave up and is the epitome of contagious optimism, and the most interesting thing is
that when he was interviewed about the success of his company, one aspect kept on
emerging, even though he didn’t know anything about technology when he started, his
focus was on understanding people, teams and customers. “I only know about people. Make
your team happy and make your customer happy,” Ma says.

None of us wants to walk into a business and be confronted with negativity and pessimism,
make our people feel excited about the future and let them pass this contagion on to those
they interact with; our customers.

Iqbal Thokan is an experienced business management consultant and the founder and co-
owner of

Leaders and their HR teams have a lot to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are the efforts everyone needs to take to prevent the spread of the illness.  This requires coordinating healthy business operations if you have essential employees reporting to work or once employees start returning to the job. There is also the challenge of balancing an employee’s privacy with the staff’s right to know when an employee tests positive for the virus. And finally, the importance of interim morale efforts that help people navigate these volatile and unprecedented times.

Below are some tips to consider for each scenario.

Preventing the Spread of Illness

The CDC website is continuously updating their guidelines for how businesses need to plan and respond to COVID-19. Some key highlights to keep in mind include:

The CDC website is continuously updating their guidelines for how businesses need to plan and respond to COVID-19. Some key highlights to keep in mind include:

  • Communicate the seriousness of this issue and the company’s commitment to abide by all CDC requests and recommendations, to include social distancing and safer at home guidelines.
  • If you have essential employees coming in for work, actively encourage employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough or shortness of breath) to notify their supervisor and stay at home.
  • Educate employees how they could be spreading the virus and how best to prevent it.
  • Implementing a cleaning protocol to decrease the risk of infection from high-touch areas such as doorknobs, phones and computers

Coordinating Healthy Business Operations

In the midst of so much change and uncertainty, now is not the time to assume all people are on the same page. This includes the collaborating efforts across several departments. Below are some tips to consider when trying to keep things running as smoothly as possible during this pandemic:

  • Identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible and the point of contact for COVID-19 issues and their impact on the workplace. All team leaders should be briefed on who this person is and the requirement for them to check in and coordinate all efforts regarding this issue with them.
  • Implement flexible sick leave and support policies and practices. This is not the time to have employees risk exposing others to the virus because they are afraid of losing their jobs or facing back lash, explicitly or implicitly, from their manager or team members.
  • Ensure that you have updated any leave policies to align with local, state and federal legislation.
  • Come up with a contingency plan for a situation of spiked sick leaves and employee downtime.
  • Connect employees to employee assistance programs (EAP) resources (if available) and community resources that may help them navigate emotional and financial stressors.

Managing COVID-19 Positive Results

Whether you are faced with managing essential staff through the pandemic or preparing for the return of employees, it will be critical to have an approach that balances the privacy of those testing positive with the virus and the right to know of the staff in danger of exposure.

Below are some guidelines to consider when navigating this gray area:

  • Communications that include any announcements regarding updates on the impact of COVID-19 should come directly from the head of the company.
  • Any communication should balance optimism and compassion with the real facts and data that helps inform decision making.
  • No person’s private medical information should be shared without their written consent.
  • Immediate communication that a positive test result has occurred within the employee base should be shared with the staff, to include preventative measures to reduce the risk of further spreading of the virus.
  • All efforts should be made to ensure the individual’s identity is protected based on their desire for privacy.
  • Where possible, any extra precautions taken should be a company-wide effort vs. targeted to only the affected person’s workspace or team.
  • Frequent communications should increase during times of positive test results to help ensure adherence to preventative measures, as well as keeping staff calm and feeling protected.

Prioritize Morale Building Efforts

A chance for employees to discuss their families, pets and hobbies wouldn’t be critical in normal times but these are far from normal times. Morale building efforts tend to be a secondary effort to ensuring business productivity and profitability. But right now the human element of your workforce needs to be bumped to a top priority.

Some core practices to consider include the following:

  • Creating a consistent schedule of virtual team meetings to ensure everyone is being looped in on updates, expectations and next steps.
  • Leaders should create 1-1 check ins with each team member. This gives an opportunity for individuals to address personal concerns in private.
  • Create virtual or socially distanced opportunities for staff to connect and feel a sense of workplace community.
  • Operate with higher levels of compassion, kindness and space for listening.
  • Make sure any medium to large scale effort is coordinated across the company to ensure people don’t feel excluded and resources are available to support your efforts. This includes working with the COVID-19 coordinator, IT, HR, Finance and any other functions that will play a part in supporting your efforts.

Consider the Financial and Employment Needs of Staff

These morale efforts should also include some level of financial support and guidance for employees.

  • Consider bringing in a financial advisor to discuss various financial options and their relative risk.
  • Communicate regularly regarding the financial stability of the company itself, careful to balance the need for reassurance with helping employees prepare for reality.
  • As a company, consider what creative measures can be taken to keep employees financially stable. This may be moving towards reduced pay vs. loss of jobs during this uncertain, but temporary shutdown.
  • If unable to keep staff employed, make efforts to connect employees with contacts with other industries and hiring companies.
  • Provide assistance with revamping resumes and LinkedIn profiles and putting resources towards some level of severance for those staff members faced with being let go

These are challenging times for everyone but also a time few are bound to forget very quickly. The more thoughtful companies are about how they support their employees the better chance they have to build resiliency within their staff and for their brand’s impression on their customers.



We are all social creatures always looking for fantasy in real life to trigger our thought process and seek inspiration from them. On a daily basis we come across a lot of strangers but we seek inspiration from only a few of them, and what sets them apart is the stories that they have to tell. Even as a child, we grow up listening to stories of how a hero comes to the rescue of his people and his family, we find solace in such stories. Studies have also found that such inspirational stories have a positive effect on our brains and helps us become more emphatic, generous and improve our overall outlook on life.

So, today we’ll talk about a story. The story of the life of a man who has impacted the entire economy and internet industry of China almost single-handedly. His life is nothing less than the story of Robert, The Bruce and the Spider, that we were taught as kindergartens. That’s is the story of Jack Ma.

Jack Ma is the founder of the E-commerce giant Alibaba and is a stakeholder at Alipay, it’s sister company which is an e-payment portal. He is now officially the richest man in China with an estimated net worth of $25 Billion, on the back of the recent world record $150 Billion IPO filing of his company. Given all of this, Jack Ma only holds a 7.8% stake in Alibaba and a 50% stake in Alipay. Alibaba and Jack Ma, although are not household names out of China, you must know that Alibaba is worth more than Facebook, and processes goods more than eBay and Amazon combined!

This might be beginning to seem like the story of an arrogant and rich billionaire who hasn’t seen the dark. But don’t be mistaken by the numbers that you see above, they can fool anyone. Although as simple as it may sound, Jack Ma has had it hard in his life to get to where he is today. A true rags-to-riches story and definitely a one which will inspire you even in your darkest days.

Jack Ma – The Backstory

Ma Yun a.k.a. Jack Ma is one of those self-made billionaires with humble beginnings. Jack Ma was born in Hangzhou, located in the south-eastern part of China. He was born and raised along with an elder brother and a younger sister during the rise of communist China and its isolation from the Western regions. His parents were traditional Musicians-Storytellers and they didn’t make enough to be even considered as middle class during those days.

Former US president Richard Nixon’s visit to Hangzhou in 1972 improved the situation of tourism in his home-town and Jack wanted to make the most of this opportunity. Jack always wanted to learn English as a kid and he spent his early mornings riding on his bike to a nearby park, giving English tours to foreigners for free. It was then he met a foreign girl who gave him the nickname ‘Jack’ for his name was hard to spell for her.

Jack, after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English, worked as an English teacher at Hangzhou Dianzi University with a pay of $12 a month! Now here comes the part where it gets more interesting, even before he has received that degree and became an English teacher.

Rejected, But Not a Failure.

Jack Ma as an extremely lucky bloke who just became a billionaire in a snap. But it is safe to know that Rejections are synonymous with Jack Ma. You wouldn’t believe the number of times this man has been rejected and failed.

In his early childhood, Jack Ma Failed in his Primary School examinations, not once, but Twice!  He Failed Thrice during his Middle School exams. When applying to universities after his High school, Jack failed the entrance exams thrice, before finally joining Hangzhou Normal University. He even applied and wrote to Harvard University ten times about being admitted – and got rejected each time. This was only during his education!

During and after his Bachelor’s degree Jack tried and failed to get a job at a multitude of places. After spending three years to get into a University, Jack failed to land a job after applying to them 30 times! He recollects in his interview, “When KFC came to China, 24 people went for the job.  Twenty-three people were accepted.  I was the only guy who wasn’t.” He also one of the 5 applicants to a job in Police force and was the only one getting rejected after being told, “No, you’re no good.”

Also, on his Entrepreneurial undertakings, Jack Ma went on to fail on two of his initial ventures. But that didn’t stop him in any way of dreaming bigger.

Down, but not Out!

The Resurrection of Jack Ma

In one of his interviews, when asked about his rejections, this is what he had to say, “Well, I think we have to get used to it.  We’re not that good.” Overcoming the pain of rejections and treating rejections as opportunities to learn and grow was what Jack Ma made of it.

After finally coming to terms with all of his rejections and failures, Jack Ma visited US in 1995, for a Government undertaking project related to the building of highways. It was then that Jack Ma was first introduced to the Internet and Computers. Computers were pretty rare in China then, given the high costs associated with them and Internet or E-mails were non-existent. The first word he searched on the Mosaic browser was ‘Beer’, and it popped out results from different countries, but signs of China anywhere. He then searched ‘China’ and not a single result popped out! He decided it was time for China and its people to get on the Internet.

Finally, after persuading 17 of his other friends to invest and join him in his new e-commerce startup – Alibaba, the company began from his apartment. Initially, Alibaba didn’t had a single penny in investment from outside investors, but they later raised $20 Million from SoftBank and another $5 Million from Goldman Sachs in 1999. Building trust among the people of China that an online system of payment and package transfers is safe was the biggest challenge Jack Ma and Alibaba faced, a challenge that Jack will cherish for his lifetime.

Having started his first successful company at the age of 31 and even after never having written a single line of code or selling something to anyone, Jack Ma runs one of the biggest E-commerce networks in the world. The company went on to grow rapidly, expanding all across the world, quickly growing out of its China shell. Only second to Walmart now in terms of sales per year, Alibaba has become the E-commerce giant that Jack Ma has envisioned for it.

The Key Takeaway here

What does all of this lead to? With a positive and childlike demeanor to him, the one who himself draws inspiration from is the real-life ‘Forrest Gump,’ who never considers himself disadvantaged due to events occurred to him.

Believing in yourself, Being Persistent in the face of adversities and treating rejections and failures as opportunities to propel yourselves ahead is what Jack Ma’s extraordinary life speaks out to the world. Here are some of my favorite quotes by Jack Ma:

Go big or Go home – Jack Ma
Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine. -Jack Ma
You should learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy, and you die. Jack Ma

This is the story of the exceptionally optimistic and determined Entrepreneur who has changed the face of business and Internet in China and across the world.

So what do you think about Jack Ma and his Entrepreneurial journey so for with Alibaba? Shout out your thoughts and comments about this business tycoon below.



Junk removal doesn’t exactly hit you right in the “feels.” It’s an annoying thing people want to get over and done with – or they avoid it for years. The industry is notoriously fragmented, with subpar companies capitalizing on customers’ need to get rid of stuff quick. In their haste to make a quick buck, they neglect a more important need: emotional connection.

As our former board member Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” He’s right: People are more likely to choose a brand they connect with on a level that goes beyond the business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship. They want brands they spend their hard-earned money on to resonate on a personal level.

No one wants to feel like a means to an end. That’s why customer-centric, people-focused businesses will always win.

Why customers make the emotional choice

The most successful brands have it figured out: An emotional connection has a bigger impact than customer satisfaction. Exceptional service can make up for a mediocre product, but the opposite is rarely true.

Let’s take Starbucks, for example. No matter where you are or what you order, you always know what you’ll get. The barista will always be friendly and smiling, and a triple no-whip mocha frap in Kuala Lumpur is the same as one in Seattle. It’s amazing how, even in the most foreign of countries, a white cup and a green mermaid can give you the feeling of home. Starbucks’ consistency is killer, and it has created a level of comfort and trust for customers.

The customer journey doesn’t start and end with a transaction. There are many touchpoints along the way, from the first time a customer encounters your product through the purchase process to the follow-up. You want every one of these interactions to create a lasting, positive impression.

B2C isn’t the same as it used to be. Now, it’s H2H – human to human – and it’s changing how people choose and interact with brands.

Want to make a sale? Stop trying to sell

Establishing an emotional connection with customers hinges on their experience with your company. People know when they’re being sold to – and they don’t like it. Your primary focus should be to build a relationship, not to make a sale. Yes, companies need to sell to make money, but a people-first approach will earn trust and build positive rapport with your customer. That’s how you close the deal.

It’s really about converting every customer from transactional to relational. Transactional customers have a one-and-done attitude towards your company; they’ll use your product or service in a one-off situation and never come back. These are customers who don’t have a personal connection with your brand, often due to a second-rate experience. But a relational customer will return because you gave them feel-good vibes and treated them like a person, not a customer.

It takes time to build a reputation for your brand but seconds to break it (looking at you, Uber). Like any other relationship, the brand-customer connection relies on trust and accountability. At WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, we promise to provide the quality you’d expect in a timeline that’s unexpected. If we didn’t follow through, we’d undercut our brand and our relationship with customers. If you ordered something on Amazon and it took a week to arrive, would you use the service again? Maybe, but I bet you’d be skeptical.

You don’t need to promise the world, but you do need to live up to every promise you make. It makes a huge difference: Relational customers are twice as valuable as transactional ones.

Authenticity matters

Fostering relationships with customers is dependent on the people who represent your company. This means everyone from the front-line employees who interact with customers daily, to corporate staff toiling away behind the scenes. Every person in your organization plays a role in the customer experience, whether they’re writing ad copy, building online booking software or knocking on a customer’s door.

The ultimate goal for any company should be to inspire a team of brand advocates: people who embody what your business stands for and live it in everything they do (in their personal and professional lives). For example, our goal is to give customers a happy, easy, stress-free experience – so we hire happy, fun, approachable people who are inherently optimistic. This ensures the authenticity of our brand and our customers pick up on it. It’s a simple concept that can have massive impact.

Getting people to connect with your brand on an emotional level is a challenge every company faces. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. If we can do it with a junk removal company, anyone can.



Often in understanding business leadership, people tend to focus on two extreme models of leaders. The first is the “It’s all about the numbers,” leader. Typically, these are portrayed as hard-charging, data-driven, task and goal focused, and sometimes ruthless executives.

The other model is the human/people focused leaders. These are portrayed as caring more about people, their satisfaction, creating great collaborative work environments, expecting this will produce great results.

In reality, great leadership requires a balanced approach to both (minus the ruthlessness).

Great leaders are intensely business focused. They are driven to achieve, they have clarity about the strategies, goals, priorities, and directions of the organization. They are impatient in achieving those goals, recognizing results count.

But they realize the only way they achieve these goals is through their people. Without engaged, motivated people executing the strategies, their ability to achieve their goals become nothing more than wishful thinking. Without making sure they have the right people, in the right jobs, performing at the highest levels possible, it is impossible for the organization to perform. Without continued coaching and development, over time, the organization will fail to grow and execute its strategies successfully.

Successful businesses leadership is about establishing a vision, setting goals, developing strong strategies, building capabilities and capacity within the organization to execute those goals, and knowing these are achieved through people.

But where they differ from the first type of executive I described, is these leaders recognize the only way they can achieve the goals, the only way they can execute the strategies is through their people.

The reality of top leadership performance is you have to span the extremes of these model. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for failure. Too large a focus on one over the other creates stress and imbalance in the organization.



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