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Yeo Xi-Wei, Director of Living Theories, on Book-Journeys, Story-Addictions & Reading on Weekends

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Yeo Xi-Wei is the Director and founder of Living Theories, a gamification consultant, and a full-time addict to all forms of games.

Xi-Wei is focused on concept designing and leadership development. He believes that he grows by helping others grow, and flourishes by the prosperity of the people around him.

In 2015, he founded the training and development company Living Theories. By using gamified learning experiences, they help reconstruct the thought processes of individuals and organisations, shaping a new generation of thinkers and effective teams. Their motto? Learning is Living. The team believes that every moment we live is a ripe opportunity for us to grow and develop as individuals.

Xi-Wei has been involved in Training & Development for more than 7 years. He has covered a variety of genres, from running school programmes, food & beverage operations and training, to sports coaching. Before starting Living Theories, he contributed to Singapore Airlines for a couple of years, where he focused on Branding and Communications within the Loyalty Marketing Team.

We reached out to Xi-Wei, eager to find out more about the books that shaped his thoughts as a leader and impacted his journey. Keep on reading to find out as well.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 10 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

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

Business: Start With WHY, by Simon Sinek. That book has been my go-to since I heard his Ted-talk in 2009, which was one of the 5 most watched Ted Talks of all time. This book isn’t a book about giving you “quick tips” or “insider info”, it’s about identifying WHY you do what you do. It’s a fundamental read, for startup founders and key decision-makers.

Non-Business: Books by David Gemmell, a fantasy writer, and Conn Iggulden, who writes excellent historical fiction.

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

I wasn’t the most confident of youths, I think. I was never bold enough to be a trend-setter, but always too concerned about what others thought of me to be comfortable in my own skin. Because of this, I was lost, drifting from path to path. Then I read Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield, which was a historical fiction about the Battle of Thermopylae.

I know it sounds a little silly now, but reading about the Spartan code changed me. It wasn’t about how brave you looked or seemed, but truly about knowing yourself and being proud of who you are. I learned to believe in myself more since then, and seize opportunities that I believed in, and not just what others wanted for me.

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

To be honest, I’ve always been a fiction and fantasy reader, probably ever since I realised those weird little shapes called alphabets actually made sense in a string. I credit books like Gates of Fire, the Conqueror and Emperor series by Conn Iggulden as shaping my thoughts as a leader. I actually recommend reading memoirs and biographies, even those sculpted into fiction, of great leaders and thinkers. Understanding their problems and dilemmas, their strengths and their weaknesses, put things in real perspective for me.

Non-fiction, I’d definitely credit From Third World to First: The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew as one of my key inspirations. Lee Kuan Yew was one of the greatest leaders and thinkers of the 20th Century, and as a Singaporean, understanding his struggles and candidness behind his “hard” decisions was revelatory.

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

Here’s a book-journey for you, friends. Firstly, start off by reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Know the fears, the insane amount of work that you have to put in, and be prepared for the game that lies ahead, in whatever you choose to pursue. Once you’re done with that, head to Start with WHY, by Simon Sinek. We all have different goals, motivations and dreams in life, and we all have our own paths to follow. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for wealth, or simply pursuing a deep passion for music, in my books. You just need to be real with yourself, know yourself, and go for it.

Once you’ve figured out your weird kinks and conks, the mad, wonderfully serendipitous amalgamation that forms YOU, you then read up and find out as much as you can about your field. If you’re into gamification, like myself and my team, I highly, highly recommend Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, Actionable Gamification by Yu-Kai Chou, and Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to do Extraordinary Things, by Brian Birke. Jane McGonigal is essentially the Martha Stewart of gamification (sans prison sentence), and Yu-Kai Chou is doing great things in the field, pioneering great frameworks like the Octalysis. Can’t wait to get more of their books.

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

I read when I can, where I can. It’s embarrassing to say, but I read a lot on the throne. Oops. I also read a lot of the bus or the train! Nowadays, reading is also a part of my research, so I have to do desk reading as well, but I’m most comfortable on a couch, a stiff whiskey next to me, and my curtains drawn. Read, doze off, get up and read again.

I am a firm believer of paper books. I totally get the appeal of a portable electronic device that can store many books in one, something that can totally Kindle one’s fire for reading, but I’m addicted to the musty smell of books, the flipping of pages, and even the dog-eared traces of humanity in the books I read. Every book you read is a story of life in itself, and it forms a big part of the experience for me.

How do you make time for reading?

I’m ashamed to say that I used to read a lot more; I’d polish off 3 – 4 books per week at times, but I’m now a slave to social media. Well, part time slave. It’s harder to make time to read for pleasure, but I do try to set aside a portion of my weekends for reading, or in the evenings when I no longer have to reply emails.

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

I create stories in my head about important facts and notes. If I had to remember something about Napoleon signing a Treaty for example (and I did, when I took History as a major subject), I’d visualise the entire scene playing out, and I insert important facts in, like people he spoke to, or the year in which it was conducted. I mentally press ‘repeat’, and I watch the replay and regurgitate the information out.

How do you choose what books to read next?

For fiction, I follow authors. If I’m a fan of someone’s work, I tend to hunt down everything the author produced, and work my way through that. Which is why I’ve finished all of Gemmell, Iggulden, Wilbur Smith, Raymond Feist, and many others. I’m now reading much more local fiction now though. I’m from Singapore, and there’s a plethora of new and upcoming writers who are both exciting and entertaining in their styles. I’m looking forward to unearthing more!

In terms of non-fiction, I’m a practical reader. I read what I need to know, and I read what I feel is relevant and key to parts of my life. I used to read more on self-discovery and change-making, now I read more on gamification and business.

Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I have a few close associates whom I regard very highly, and I tend to take their advice to heart. But I’m generally on my own when I select my books.

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

I’m reading books from Yu-Kai Chou and Jane McGonigal; I’m expecting to gain a lot more insights and thoughts on gaming, and the different perspectives in which we can utilise game theory as a tool to systemise operational procedures and engagement strategies. There’s a very real change that gamification can bring to the way we perceive and conceptualise ideas, and breaking these down is what I’m quite passionate about!

My general piece of advice is, remember that every single book shapes you. You can take away huge lessons and perspectives even from fiction and fantasy, and there’s nothing that won’t show you a new worldview, if you keep your mind open.

Links where you can follow Xi-Wei or find out more about his projects:

  • Living Theories
  • Living Theories @ Facebook | Linkedin
  • Xi-Wei’s interview @ Asian Entrepreneur

  • All books mentioned by Xi-Wei in our interview:

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