How to Be in 2 Continents at Once: Asia-Pacific Week Berlin Recap


Last week, I had the pleasure of being in two continents at once: Europe and Asia. No, I am not talking about Istanbul… I am talking about Asia Pacific Week in Berlin! When I learnt about the open conference and made my decision to attend, I was expecting perhaps a small-scale networking event that would be a nice side-reason to visit Berlin… But it turned out to be the main event, literally. Companies from all around Asia and Europe, from start-ups to major corporations, came together for a few days of exchanging knowledge, expertise, and business opportunities.

Starting with the first day, a wealth of knowledge and experience was shared by inspiring personalities such as Joe Kaeser, President and CEO of Siemens AG, a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, Allan Chou, CEO and Founder of RAIDical China which focuses on finding and growing the next Unicorns in Robotics, AI, IoT and Big Data in China, and Lars Voedisch, Managing Director of PRecious communications.

In an interesting panel discussion on future-proofing, the panelists shared the expertise and insights on how businesses and startups can use change as a drive for innovation to stay relevant in the future. Luckily, to help the attendees start on their future-proofing journey, APW hosted a number of experts from several fields to take us through the latest happenings in technologies that are increasingly having a major impact on business: Blockchain, AI, IoT, Advanced Materials, and Cryptocurrencies.

Ruo-Mei Chua (SUTW impact), Allan Chou (RAIDICal China), Gerrit Dumstorff (Hella Fast Forward), Lars Voedisch (PRecious Communications) share insights from their experience on how to become and stay future-proof.

Ruo-Mei Chua (SUTW impact), Allan Chou (RAIDICal China), Gerrit Dumstorff (Hella Fast Forward), Lars Voedisch (PRecious Communications) share insights from their experience on how to become and stay future-proof.

Of all these technologies, I am most excited about AI, as a marketer and as a sci-fi fan! Although there is often chatter in the digital marketing sphere about technological advancements and how they’re going to revolutionize the marketing industry, there are often misunderstandings and a lot of confusion about how exactly to leverage these technologies. Remember the Big Data fuss a few years ago? Well, having access to large sets of data is useless without the ability to accurately draw insights from it… That’s where machine learning, a subset application of AI, comes in. Without going into too many technical details, AI-based machine learning algorithms process Big Data, performing Data Labeling/Segmentation, Data Analytics, and Scenario Simulation, to create a big picture with insights and patterns that are sorted out, categorized, and packaged into a digestible form. Sounds easy, right? Well maybe for a human, but machines have yet to learn how to “explain” things to us in human-form, as they still lack the ability to combine implicit and explicit knowledge, or as Dr. Feiyu Xu, Vice President of Lenovo Group and Head of AI lab of Lenovo Research, said: “common sense”. While there are AI methods that model implicit or explicit knowledge, the next big challenge is to bring these two together in “Explainable AI (XAI)”… An AI that can be trusted and easily understood by humans, not because it can explain itself, but because it is transparent enough with any explanations that are needed being part of its design process.

Dr. Feiyu Xu taking us on a deep dive into AI and the challenges it faces…

While omnious sci-fi movies and series (Black Mirror anyone?) come to the minds of most people when they think of such technolgoies, they can pose more opportunities than threats if we learn how to take advantage of them with a strategic plan, rather than just the fear that they’d drive businesses or employees obsolete (or the human race to extinction…). This fear, however, can still be useful data for innovation, according to Raymond Miranda from Laborastory, a story and innovation expert, and global speaker.  I had the pleasure of attending Raymond’s StoryMapping Unplugged workshop on the 2nd day, and found the process of using stories to guide startups through innovation, quite… innovative!

Raymond Miranda taking us through StoryMapping and how each step applies to starting a business.

Raymond Miranda taking us through StoryMapping and how each step applies to starting a business.

On that second day, my attention shifted from technologies to gender, culture and bias… A topic that is dear to me as a female entrepreneur from the Middle East, having also heard from and read about many other women in business, and the struggles they have to go through. I was glad to see Lu Ying, co-founder of Future Urban Living, bringing up the important point of male empowerment in the home world in her keynote “Bridging the gap between gender, industry and culture”. It is in my opinion that if we want to reduce bias towards women in business, we need to stop treating the desire for flexibility, work-life balance and family life as “feminine” traits, and reduce the stigma around men having the same desire. I want to feel that the way I want to do my job is a “human desire”, rather than a female thing. And women shouldn’t feel like their careers are less important or serious to them if they want to take time off to build a family, and feel pressured to compete with men in that regards. If we make it safe and normal for both genders to have a work-life balance, both would benefit and so would the employers.

Lu Ying sharing with us her insights on gender equality in business for better economic value.

Lu Ying sharing with us her insights on gender equality in business for better economic value.

In that regard, as a behavioral economics (BE) buff, I am quite enthusiastic about the possibilities that BE principles, such as nudging, present in fostering inclusion, and improving gender equality. I brought some points up from those articles with Miroslav Dimitrov, from SAP.iO No Boundaries, the first comprehensive inclusive entrepreneurship initiative for underrepresented entrepreneurs in the business software industry, during his keynote where he pointed out the low rate of female entrepreneurs with startups and even much lower rate of those who acquire funding and investments. I wondered if they’d be using techniques such as blind auditioning to reduce gender bias during start-up pitches for funding, he believes though that the right selection of open-minded judges who care more about the pitch than the pitcher’s gender is key.

One of the biggest takeaways from APW, aside from plenty of business opportunities, is the bridging of the very distinct cultures of Asia and Europe through sharing and understanding. That isn’t surprising considering Europe is mostly a low-context culture, that communicate information in direct, explicit, and precise ways, whereas Asia is a high-context culture, that communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on nonverbal language. Attendees especially shared their experiences with cultural differences in business during the keynote and workshop “Yays and Nays of intercultural communication” by Tien Ma, Director, and Lucas Jahn, Senior Account Manager, at REDHILL international communications firm, who will soon be sharing with us a report of the workshop outcomes, which I in turn will share with you later.

John Lucas and Tien Ma from Redhill International Communications agency share low context and high context cultures where most central and northern European and western countries being low context, and Asian, Arab, south European, African and Latin American countries being high context.

John Lucas and Tien Ma from Redhill International Communications agency share low context and high context cultures where most central and northern European and western countries being low context, and Asian, Arab, south European, African and Latin American countries being high context.

Of course, it is not news that culture plays an important role in business, as cultural differences can pose quite a challenge, especially when doing business across borders. It is a discussion I indulged in with Alexander Jansen, a serial entrepreneur, mentor and professional consultant for startups, who provides leadership training & coaching, especially in agile and innovation environments across Europe and Asia. From our discussion, it was evident that there are difficulties in conducting business between two cultures that operate on a different pace, such as the German pace being quite steady and time-consuming to ensure quality, whereas the Asian pace in countries such as China and Singapore can be fast and ad-hoc to favor innovation.

Naturally, Europe and Asia have many distinct countries and cultures within, that can’t be just bundled under one label. During the third day of APW, Embassy Day, it was clear where interests lied when it came to Asia… Countries like Singapore and China garnered much formal business attention, but I personally was there rooting for one of the countries on my travel wishlist: Nepal. Home to friendly and modest people, it is perhaps most known as a trekking destination for the Himalayas, or for the devastating news of earthquakes in 2015 that left a high death toll and the country in ruins. Still, it is certainly not a formal or serious vibe that we got from the keynote of Mr. Ramesh Khanal, Ambassador of Nepal to Germany, that day, but a message of hope, music, dance and a warm invitation to experience Nepal’s natural beauty and sense of adventure. I’ll be taking up his invitation for sure some day, as I do believe in Nepal’s potential of being the next adventure and budget travel destination in Asia!

Me all huddled in with the Nepalese Ambassador, Mr. Ramesh Khanal, and the beautiful colorful Nepalese dancers.

Me all huddled in with the Nepalese Ambassador, Mr. Ramesh Khanal, and the beautiful colorful Nepalese dancers.

There was a lot more happening in APW, and a few more days to cover, but this was a very brief summary of what I was able to gather. Still, if you’d like to know more or need help connecting to any of these speakers/businesspeople, I am more than happy to help. Possibly being the only representative of the Middle East at APW, I felt like I was caught in the middle between East and West with barely anyone knowing much about the MEA region, but I tried to do my best to present the unique Middle Eastern culture and the business value and potential it holds. Hopefully next year, promising and innovative startups from the Middle East can also have a presence at APW! Until then, subscribe to my blog or connect with me on Linkedin, Instagram or Twitter to stay updated.

So, which technology do you think would have the biggest effect on your career/business:

  1. AI

  2. Cryptocurrencies

  3. Blockchain

  4. IoT

  5. Advanced Materials

  6. None

  7. All

  8. Other? Specify in the comments!

4 Behavioral Change Strategies for a Healthy Routine

achievement personal goals success

In the past few years, I have taken a huge interest in Behavioral Economics, and have read some great books related to the topic such as the Freakonomics series, Predictably Irrational, and Thinking Fast and Slow, as well as listen to podcasts such as Freakonomics Radio and Hidden Brain.

A big part of my interest in learning about Behavioral Economics is not just to implement it in my marketing and research career, but in my personal life, especially for goal attainment. I hope this is something you also share, and that we can help each other on this journey. So if you came here for answers, you may leave with more questions!

I have been doing research for a couple of years (on and off) on how to set goals for myself, and commit to achieving them. Most people share the same common goals of eating healthy, getting fit/being more active, etc. That's also what I am focusing on, not because it is a social trend, but because it's what's missing from my life. I mostly lack discipline and routine because my life has no specific structure because for many years I've had flexible jobs that involve frequent traveling…. I love the freedom and flexibility, which just adds to my laziness and lack of discipline or motivation to do anything else haha

My habitual routine involves:

  • Sitting in front of the TV for most of the day, which I really love, especially when I can find something that really stimulates my brain and gets me thinking, or at least entertains me.

  • Spending hours on my smartphone, which I don't necessarily consider a waste of time because I focus on consuming useful articles related to my work/life, and maintaining social connections which is important since I live alone.

  • While I now maintain an overall healthy diet at home, I tend to indulge on unhealthy food when traveling since I have less control of what's around to eat, and I also tend to hunt for good food that isn’t available in my home town haha. This shouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t travel so often!

Every now and then, I muster the motivation and willpower, which research show aren't sustainable, to stick to a balanced routine of healthy food and workout... But that doesn't last for long before I switch back to my regular more natural habits.

Now I am trying to kickstart the healthy routine again, part of which is taking tje Behavioral Economics in Action course on edx to do something useful during the day apart from watching TV.

In the first unit, we learnt about 4 strategies for behavior change, that can be implemented to make changes on people’s behavior in the policy and welfare world, as well as business world… You can learn about them in the video below from the course, which is highly recommended!

So now I am thinking: How can I use these strategies to help me build a healthy routine?

This is what I got so far:

  1. Restriction on choices: Easiest implementation starts with only buying healthy food for home; which I've been doing for a long while. But I still need to control my portions (even healthy food in big portions isn't good for health!). Also, I worked on restricting TV and mobile use past 11 pm, where I switch to reading or podcast listening. What can I do further? Have you tried something that worked for you? Any ideas?

  2. Monetary incentives: Not sure I can give myself money to commit to exercising lol but perhaps if I commit to paying money to a gym/coach, then I can go more often?! I don't see that working out unless the payment is high enough that it would be a legitimate loss. Or maybe incentives can be other than monetary? Like in the form of cake that I earn as a reward for achieving milestones lol What do you think?

  3. Information and persuasion: Information is perhaps the only area where I've done the most work; I'm more of a mental/pensive than a physical/active person. So while I enjoy gathering useful information, researching, analyzing, etc. It doesn't always lead to persuasion to take action or sustain it! Am I simply just not accessing the "right" information that will persuade me to commit to action? What does research say about this?

  4. Nudging: This seems like the most promising technique, using “positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals”, already with many studies showing its success, and entire top-selling books dedicated to it. It can be in the form of "reminders" that I set for myself to perform certain activities. Another possibility is to make changes to my home environment to add cues for certain habits, like putting fruits in a visible/reachable place to increase consumption. I wonder what kind of nudges would work on getting me to be more active... Even a simple few exercise routines that require no equipment or preparation don't seem to come naturally to me, and feel like they need to be forced/nudged. What nudges do you think would work? Anything you've personally tried or think of trying?

I would like to hear your opinions, thoughts, and anecdotes based on personal experience, as well as any interesting research tidbits that you might have come across, in the comments. Let's use this opportunity to make real sustainable change!

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Edtech Trends


“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational"… a quote that quite supports the use of technology in education. Thus, there is no question as to whether technology belongs in education. The question is what and how!

Year on year, educational technology (edtech) crosses decades in the world of innovation, with more technologies springing that find their way into the classroom and driving some of the latest trends in edtech, such as:

  • Learning Management Systems which have become the embodiment of convenient learning and teaching.
  • High quality contents that are accessed with technical devices and should be intelligible enough to bring change in the world of education.
  • Immersive learning through various technologies such as virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality that can bring learning to life.
  • Online social networking and social media tools such as discussions, comments, communication and feedback that can foster group studying and bonding.

Even with their increasing popularity in education, such technologies still face several challenges such as:

  • A hesitation to change and adopt new tech, as it often requires a change in the teaching methods and standards.
  • A cost crunch as these new educational technologies often cost money that institutions don’t have adequate funds for.
  • Too many choices to handle with high competition driven by new startups and companies making it difficult to be noticeable.

These challenges, and many more, are addressed in the STIMEY project head on, to capitalize on edtech in STEM learning. Being developed based on a well-researched pedagogical framework geared towards STEM education, STIMEY ensures that the technologies adopted in its learning environment are designed for educational purposes and in support of teaching and learning, rather than merely being adapted in education for being trendy. Moreover, the learning environment is being built based on co-participatory design principles, with teachers, students, parents, organizations coming together with our experts and researchers, ensuring the best fit of technologies based on their needs, thus they’re less likely to resist the change.

The integration of several technologies such as robots, radio, and social media in a web-based learning platform with different capabilities also come at no cost to the users, giving institutions the ability to exploit their full potential. Additionally, the platform is open-access, giving institutions as well as individuals also the opportunity to add their own content, link their resources, and promote their edtech products and services in support of the users’ learning and teaching needs.

Thus, we’ve made it our mission in STIMEY to stay on top of trends while addressing their challenges, but we’d still like to hear from you in the comments of what other trends and challenges you think we should keep our eye on!

For collaborations and active participation in the project, reach out to us.


Why You Shouldn't Learn From Your Mistakes

Photo Credit: Denial by César Astudillo, on Flickr. 

Photo Credit: Denial by César Astudillo, on Flickr. 

It's been a while since I've put my thoughts in a blog form... Over a year actually... Not because I stopped having thoughts that I wanted to share, but rather I had been buried in my thoughts. 

One particular thought had been haunting me lately, as I've been through a difficult and confusing time, and had to make many major decisions within a span of a few months... And it wasn't easy. I have somewhat of a phobia of making decisions (not sure if there is a scientific term for that... Let me google it... *few seconds later*: Aha, it's called Decidophobia), mostly because all of my life, I've been afraid of making the wrong decisions, making mistakes and ending up disappointed with the results... Which is more than often what happened. I guess by the "Law of Attraction", we do always attract the things we fear the most. For most of my life, I tried coasting it by not really wanting anything in particular or pushing for certain things, but rather just taking it easy and doing the best I can with what I get. And alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God), I've had a pretty good life. I wouldn't say it's a happy carefree life, for most of it, I wasn't really truly happy, but I am also wise enough to know I got nothing much to complain about, most of the time. That, on its own, is a blessing to be thankful for. 

Yet, I can't help shake the feeling that I could have done more, achieved more, wanted more... It's the perfectionist in me that drives me to reach higher, but it's that exact part of me too that makes me fear to reach and fall to my failure. Wisdom entails that we look at our mistakes and our failures as learning opportunities... The thought that's been haunting me is: How exactly do we know what we're supposed to learn from our mistakes?!

It may seem simple enough for most of you, when you make a rash decision, that ends up being a mistake, that you need to learn to take your time before you make a decision next time... That if you trusted the wrong person, next time, you look for similar signs that deems another person untrustworthy so you may not fall in the same trap. Perhaps you feel that you make the mistake of being too open too soon, and you need to learn to hold back and control your thoughts and behavior... Once you've been through an adversity, your mind wanders to understand what has befallen you and why, looking for explanations, justifications, and perhaps a "bright side"... Perhaps one of the biggest fallacies we fall for is that "everything happens for a reason", and we often fall on the belief that the reason is that we were supposed to learn something from that experience...

Maybe we did need to learn something, but how do you know that what you deduced and learnt is actually the lesson you're supposed to learn? If it had been so easy to learn that lesson, just by experiencing something you probably still don't understand, why wasn't it obvious to begin with? Do our brains and logic really change so much by experiencing something negative, and suddenly we acquire clarity and wisdom we did not have before? Unless we've been through a trauma, we're unlikely to have changed so much that it actually enhances our logic... So whatever logic that got us first to make a mistake, is the same logic that got us to the "lesson" we're supposed to learn from that experience... Which, logically, will only lead us to make more mistakes!

So maybe the reason we push so much to try to learn from our mistakes is our fear from making the same mistake again... But guess what, no two mistakes or experiences are ever the same... It will always be different people, or a different situation, or a different mental state, etc. There are basically endless opportunities to make mistakes.... So maybe the best we can do is not to try to find some wisdom in it, and search for a lesson to learn, but just to accept it, let it go, and move on... And hope that with each adversity, since you may not be getting any wiser, you would at least be getting better and faster at getting over it.

What lessons do you think you've learnt lately?

My 5 Favorite Nerdy Apps

Photo credit:  "Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon".

Photo credit: "Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon".

Do you spend a lot of time on your mobile using social networks or playing games? If you're like most people, you probably do... I am not saying I don't; I actually tracked how much time I usually spend on social networks and other distracting apps using RescueTime, one of the tools I recommend using for productivity management, and it's around 2 hours on average per day! Although you might be using each app for a few minutes every other hour, but these minutes pile up throughout the day, and you end up wasting hours with not much gain. I'm not advising you to quit social networking; as a social media consultant, it would be bad for my business if you do lol, but there are apps you can use to compensate for wasted time, and to enjoy as well as benefit from spending time on your mobile... Let's call them "nerdy" apps! So without further ado, here are the apps I recommend for some good mobile fun with great value:

Elevate - Your Personal Brain Trainer

I am IN LOVE with this app! Its aim is to "elevate" your skills in writing, speaking, reading and comprehension, listening and MATH (I know, I'm such a nerd lol). The free version of the app gives you access to a new set of challenges each day to build the skills you chose to elevate. Every challenge is a game designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience and cognitive learning and are based on extensive scientific research. So basically, you'll have fun playing games that make you smarter! 

You get to train 30+ critical skills that are designed to boost productivity, earning power, and self-confidence; measure your performance and track your activity progress over time. You get to play three games every day, and have the option to switch a recommendation if you don't feel like playing a particular game, and you can replay the same game for a few times to enhance your score and reach a higher level.

As you can see, I'm all about math lol although I was originally excited about Elevate for the chance to improve my listening skills; they've got some fun listening games, with especially a practical one for name recall that would be quite useful when meeting new people and remembering information about them.

The app is available on iOS and Android.


I'm not sure if there is anyone who hasn't heard of Duolingo yet; in case you haven't, it's a FREE language learning mobile app that gives you the ability to learn a great selection of languages in a fun gaming setting. Learning with Duolingo is fun and addictive as you earn points for correct answers, and level up when you complete a set of lessons.

I am currently learning German, but previously I was practicing my Spanish, having learnt it on my own (prior to the existence of Duolingo). What I like about Duolingo is that it's fun, easy, practical and mobile... for anytime anywhere learning. The commenting feature on each sentence is also quite useful as native speakers and other learners often leave useful tips and links to supporting lessons that are helpful, and sometimes they just make really funny comments lol; giving you a feeling of learning in group or in class.


What I don't like about Duolingo, however, is that it tends to repeat a few simple sentences for many times in a lesson, instead of adding new terms or more contexts, and sometimes some sentences seem to not make any sense (Have you spotted that in the example above?! lol). In addition, there are no explanations or materials to study and learn prior to lessons, which can sometimes make it very confusing and unclear, and you end up just playing a guessing game or learning through repetition like a parrot rather than clear understanding. So my advice is to couple the Duolingo lessons with another form of serious learning; my favorite is the Michel Thomas Method audio lessons, having used it to learn Spanish and some Japanese (before realizing that audio alone isn't enough to learn a language that has a non-Roman alphabet as I would also have to learn to read and write on my own). 

This app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows.

Mind Games

This one is actually more of a game, I promise... though for brain training as well! Mind Games is a great collection of games based in part on principles of cognitive psychology to help you practice different mental skills.  The games, ranging from free to pro, are aimed at enhancing various mind skills such as visual skills, focus and speed, working memory, and attention among many others.

I don't use this app as much as the rest, but it's still quite fun for short intervals every once in a while, to keep the brain sharp. While the design may not be that great, and the ad popups can be annoying, the games are fun and addictive, and they're far from being easy. All games include your score history and graph of your progress. The main app shows a summary of your best games and the day's scores on all games. Using some principles of standardized testing, your scores are also converted to a standardized scale so that you can see where you need work and excel. What's good about it is that it doesn't just track and measure your progress against yourself, but it also compares your score to the "normal standards" according to your age and gender, telling you if you're as good, better or worse than others like you.

Mind Games is currently available on AndroidApple iOSWindows Phone 8, and Windows 8.1.


If you're into classic fun and competition, QuizUp is the right app for you! It is a free, award-winning multiplayer trivia game, where you can challenge friends and meet new people who share your interests. The topics range from entertainment trivia testing your knowledge of music, movies, and series to more serious knowledge trivia like arts, business, history, language, sciences, etc... And everything in between! 

The app quickly turned into more of a social network, where you can follow and be followed by people, follow and like topics and communities, and get users' updates on these topics on your homepage, which you can also like and comment on. You can customize your own profile, search for users based on their age, gender, location and interests, challenge them, track your progress against theirs, chat with them, check their profiles to see what they play and what they're good at, their trophies and titles in each game and rank in their country.

Follow me on quizup!

Follow me on quizup!

As you can see, I'm among the top 10 in How I Met Your Mother and and #1 in Family Guy in Saudi Arabia :P. So although I don't quite use QuizUp for really brainy topics, but I still consider it a good memory and speed training app. Even if you're not particularly knowledgeable at a topic, the more you play, the more you learn and the better you get... All while having fun!

QuizUp is available on desktop, AndroidiOS, and Windows Phone.


Although it isn't quite an educational gaming app, but it is definitely worth mentioning. EdX is a massive open online course provider and online learning platform, hosting online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience, some at no charge. It offers online courses from some of the world's best universities, such as Harvard University, MIT, Berkeley University, etc.

You get to take as many courses as you like, with flexible learning as most offer an open study plan to learn at your own place, anywhere, anytime. With over 500 courses in subjects like humanities, math, computer science, psychology, etc. you're sure to find something of interest to you, or that can actually be useful in boosting your career level. You can choose to pay for some courses to get a certificate acknowledging your course completion or you choose to audit courses for free, with no need for certification. Part of each course, you will find the detailed courseware with videos and information and quizzes, reading material, a discussion where you'll find a community of your classmates, and you can track your progress in the course. 

No matter what your interests or career goals are, I'm pretty sure you'll find courses you'd love to enroll in. I'm currently enrolled in an MIT User Innovation course and an Introductory Psychology course; not that I check in daily, but I try to make some progress from time to time whenever I can.

EdX is available as a full version on desktop, with a mobile version for iOS, and Android, giving access only to courses that are mobile-enabled.

So these are my favorite nerdy apps at this time. Do you use any of them? Or do you have any other nerdy apps you'd recommend I add to my list/mobile? Comment below!