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Saigoneer Bookshelf: "Crab Hotpot": A Picture Book for Entrepreneurial Adults

Punisher Crab “pulled Me-First Crab down to the bottom of the pot and pooped on his shell to humiliate him.” One might not expect to find such a sentence in a book dedicated to improving workplace mindsets, but that is exactly what “Crab Hot Pot” seeks to do. 

The colorful cover of “Crab Hot Pot,” complete with expressive cartoon crustaceans, looks like a children’s tale at first glance. Even the beginning pages, which describe a group of crabs getting caught inside a pot of boiling water on the beach, resemble a whimsical picture book. But as one continues reading, it becomes clear that the work has an important message aimed at adults.

Problem Crab, Action Crab, Loner Crab, Normative Crab and Relationship Crab are some of the characters struggling to find a way out of the deadly predicament at the start of the story. Unfortunately, they repeatedly fail, often in humorous ways. For example, Preparer Crab spends too much time researching escape efforts with no tangible plans ever produced; Solution Crab’s bamboo-shoot ladder and mushroom trampoline prove untenable; and Jargon Crab confounds everyone with nonsense talk like “Crabbedy crab, splishidy splash, sand on your back, empower the rabbit hole.” Blame-casting and fighting quickly break out and it seems the crabs are doomed to die in the rising temperatures.

By examining and reforming their informal office roles that are reflected in their names, however, the crabs are able to work towards a solution. Once Not-good-enough Crab transforms into Results Crab, she is able to teach her peers that “Our future begins with our shared commitment to be free from this pot, enjoying life as beach crabs. This is more important than being right about our points of view about each other.”

Results Crab’s simple shift in perspective inspires Stuck-in-the-past Crab to become Future Crab, Wrong Crab to turn into Acknowledgement Crab, Problem Crab to shift to Breakthrough Crab, and so on. Putting aside their petty differences and unproductive hang-ups and instead focusing on a clear vision for the future allows them to escape the pot (though you’ll have to read the book to find out exactly how they do it). 

In addition to enjoying Châu Phạm (an artist from the famous Vuon Illustration team)’s playful illustrations of anthropomorphized crabs, readers of “Crab Hot Pot” are likely to find themselves wondering which crab they embody and which ones remind them of their co-workers. Such thinking quickly leads to an examination of one’s workplace dynamics and his or her place within it. While the book is entertaining, this is the ultimate goal behind its publication.

Vietnamese translation by Nam Phương. 

“Crab Hot Pot” was written by Chris Freund, the founder of Mekong Capital, a Vietnam-focused private equity firm whose investments include many companies familiar to Saigoneer readers including Pizza4Ps, Marou Chocolate, Pharmacity and Mobile World, amongst others. But despite its current success, business wasn’t always smooth. In 2007, six years after its founding, Freund considered resigning as CEO amidst disappointing investment returns and self-doubts about his leadership skills. 

Thankfully, before he could quit, Freund attended a transformation program in Singapore that completely changed his management mindset. He realized that Mekong Capital’s culture and vision had to shift to a focus on the future and committed outcomes free of casting blame or dwelling on past failures. The team then applied the transformation strategies to the companies they worked with. At the end of 2007, they moved from an ineffective and traditional knowledge-solution model to an ontological approach that examines who people are, as well as how they can - and do - respond to different situations. This Vision Driven Investing framework empowers companies to discover and take advantage of breakthroughs.

Chris Freund (left) and Mekong Capital team members (right).

Not long after Mekong Capital changed its approach, it hired a storytelling coach to guide the team through the writing and sharing of stories. Following conventional narrative arcs including rising action and a climax during which the main character undergoes or reveals a change, the stories were engaging ways for people to exchange workplace successes and learn from one another. 

This practice of storytelling helped Freund write “Crab Hot Pot.” He had originally written it to give to his team and maybe a few of the companies they work with, but their storytelling coach encouraged him to publish it so it could reach a wider audience. Hanoi-based Alpha Books was a natural partner because of their focus on business and self-help books here in Vietnam. They were immediately interested, and the illustrations provided by Châu Phạm and translation for a Vietnamese edition by Nam Phương quickly fell into place. The book is now available at major online retailers and bookshops around the country.

Transforming a workplace or business approach doesn’t happen overnight, and it often begins with a small spark of inspiration or insight. “Crab Hot Pot” might be that perfect entertaining and accessible introduction to a new workplace mindset. Given as a gift to business partners, placed in an employee lounge, or purchased for oneself when looking for a helpful perspective in a fun and easy-to-read format, the book is suited for many contexts. And of course, anyone who simply wants to see how the crabs make it out of the Hot Pot will enjoy it as well.


Crab Hotpot is available to buy online:

Amazon: English digital version

Tiki: Vietnamese version and English version