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Ee Ling Lim, CEO of SmarterMe, Provides Key Learnings From a Bunch of Amazing Books

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Ee Ling Lim is the founder and CEO of Smarter Me, an education platform born in Singapore, looking to help kids discover their true passion and inspire them to strive for growth. By helping them answer the important questions about themselves and their identity, Smarter Me is looking to become a global school that makes it easier for children to obtain the right skills and mindset to become the best version of themselves.

Before founding the Smarter Me platform, Ee Ling has been an investment banker for almost a decade. In 2016, she became the VP of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. This experience brought a lot of work with technology required in retail industries and, just as it happens with every good entrepreneur, her mind started realizing just how much technology can help in solving daily problems. With her gears set in motion, Ee Ling saw the opportunity to combine technology and parenting-related problems and took the leap of starting her own business.

What drives Ee Ling to make Smarter Me an intelligent tool is the stagnation of the educational processes used from past to present. She believes that platforms like Smarter Me are the next step in the evolution and upgrade of education.

When we asked Ee Ling for her favorite books, she gave us very strong and detailed recommendations. The interview below will surely put reads into context and maybe inspire you to take the entrepreneurial leap of faith that Ee Ling did. Happy reading!

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

One of my favourite business book is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. What I loved about it was that not only was it was insightful and filled with some thought-provoking advice, it was extremely readable. You see, I love reading since young, but I used to only read fiction books, and it took me awhile to make the conversion into reading business books. Delivering Happiness is one of the rare ones which reads like a storybook.

For me, the key takeaways from the book are:
1. That us humans – regardless of what our intermediate goals (means goals) are, we ultimately want one same end goal – to be happy. And this happiness has to come from our job and not just personal life.
2. That people inherently need to believe in something bigger than themselves – and having a culture built on a shared vision and purpose at work will create the connectivity and loyalty that companies want.
3. That focusing on customer service, consistently WOW-ing customers, will do more for outreach than focusing on building buzz one-off.
4. That hiring should not be rushed. It’s better to wait and ensure that whoever you hire believes in the vision and will be contributing to the culture you wish to create.

For non-business books, I don’t have a favourite but I generally enjoy books by Jodi Picoult and Dan Brown.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

After reading Lean In, I jumped on Option B the moment it was released. This book is about resilience, and I only wish there was such a book when I was younger. I was 18 when my dad passed away and it was something that I didn’t talk about because I was so afraid of opening the floodgates. It hit me hard, the day my daughter commented that I didn’t seem to miss my dad – because I never talked about him.

Sheryl said that that’s the big mistake we make – ignoring the elephant in the room. She didn’t bring up her husband in the office after he passed, and colleagues would avoid bringing him up or even asking her about how she was, because everyone was just being cautious. But there’s evidence that speaking about it helps the person understand their own emotions and feel understood by others, and helps the person accept the situation, building resilience. It’s consistent with other studies that one way to build resilience is to accept events rather than fight it. Now, when an unfortunate event happens to friends around me, I remind myself to reach out to them, talk about it and offer a real tangible way I’m there for them – instead of holding back, thinking ‘what’s the right thing to say?’.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Start With Why by Simon Sinek really changed the way I viewed passion and purpose. His key quote is that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. During my investment banking days, I spent a lot of time with senior management in trying to build a culture and to understand why the turnover rate amongst junior bankers was so high. We never figured it out. When I read Start With Why (after I left banking), it all clicked! It was never about drinks at 6 or team offsites. The simple reason was that we never knew our Whys – why do we do what we do? There was no purpose alignment, if we didn’t even know what the company’s purpose is. Now, whenever I speak to customers, partners or potential hires, I always talk about our Why. With some people, it doesn’t click, but that’s when I think it’s for the better, because you can’t build a lasting relationship without believing in an aligned purpose.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve always thought of myself as a go-getter, but only after reading it did I realize there was still so much for me to lean in to. For one, women tend to underestimate themselves, only putting our hands up when we are certain we are ready for it. Whereas men would go for a role they are only 60% ready for. This insight came useful for me when I made my first hire – she applied for a marketing role, and I offered her a business development one. She was going to reject it, as she had not had the experience and wasn’t sure she could handle the role. I actually quoted Sheryl Sandberg! And she turned out to be amazing at business development!

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

It’s really hard to pinpoint, but for someone who is thinking about venturing into entrepreneurship but looking for something light, I personally like The Upstarts by Brad Stone. It tells the back-stories of Uber, Airbnb – what they went through to get the business off the ground, challenges and missteps, and what it means to be building something that really challenges the status quo.

Contagious by Jonah Berger is another interesting one for those trying to figure out how to market their business. In Contagious, Jonah identifies what makes some things go viral, and narrowed it down to 6 principles STEPPS: Social currency (content that makes people look good when they talk about it), Triggers (top of mind topics), Emotion (content that we care about, especially high arousal ones like anger, awe, excitement and humor), Public, Practical and Stories.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I still prefer paper books, which has resulted in a tsundoku problem – I have piles of unread books! It wasn’t until a couple of months back that I started on audiobooks, podcasts and I even tried an app called Blinkist – which is books summarized into 15 minutes, which you can read or listen to. But truth be told, I still very much prefer the actual hardcopy books.

How do you make time for reading?

Ever since I signed up for a course by Robin Sharma on practices of the Titans, I’ve been more deliberate in carving out time for personal development. I set a morning routine and a night routine which comprises exercising, journaling, and within which I dedicate at least 30 minutes at the start and end of my day to some form of learning – be it reading a book or watching a video lesson. It’s not easy, and I’m still a work in progress, but I do find that having it penned into my fixed schedule helps make it more permanent.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Currently, I pen down in my journal the key takeaways and quotes from books. But I would love for advice!

How do you choose what books to read next?

Occasionally, especially at talks or workshops, I would get recommendations from others. When that runs out, I turn to trusty Google for book recommendations, and also head to the Bestsellers section in the bookstore.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I have 2 that I’m going through concurrently!

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. My current focus is with helping children and teens understand themselves better, discover their purpose and be happier. It’s such an eye opener to know that achieving these in life is not something elusive, but that there are tangible tools which can help us get there.

Links where you can follow Ee Ling Lim or find out more about her projects:

All books mentioned by Ee Ling Lim in this interview:

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