Saturday, June 9, 2007

IMPROVING YOUR MEMORY I

Are you bad at remembering people’s names & faces, telephone numbers & addresses? Or even simple grocery lists? Don’t you wish you had better memory? If you do, then read on. This is the first part of a special two-part series on how you can maximise your memory power.

Scientists generally agree that it is possible to improve our memory management, but also that this cannot be done overnight, without commitment & effective memory management training.

In this article, I will examine how the brain processes & stores information, & in the second part, I will outline various proven techniques for improving your memory management.

At the onset, it must be pointed out that intelligence is the capacity to learn. Learning is your ability to acquire new data & facts, & also your ability to process these data & facts into information. Memory is your ability to retain & recall the stored data or information. Without memory there can, of course, be no learning or high intelligence.

Scientists have in recent years been able to actually see the changes that occur in the chemical & electrical output of the brain cells as learning takes place & memories are stored. By learning new things, & by using your intellectual capabilities more efficiently, you can actually change the physical properties of your brain. These changes can take place no matter what your age!

The Control Centre

Scientists believe that the things we experience with our senses are stored in our central nervous system. The central nervous system is the body’s control centre. It is made up of the brain & the spinal chord, both of which contain millions of nerve cells known as neurons. The brain is the most important part of your central nervous system – the captain of its organisation.

One of the major functions of the central nervous system is communication, within its various parts & with the outside world. The signals that communicate information within the brain are electrical & chemical in nature. The electro-chemical “messages” are responsible for all our physical & mental activities. Memory is just one of the mental activities, just as thinking is another.

The largest area of the brain is called the cerebrum. The cerebrum is made of two cerebral hemispheres. Broadly, the two hemispheres deal with different mental operations. The left hemisphere deals mainly with analysis, calculation, language, topic, facts & figures. The right hemisphere deals mainly with art, colour, imagination, music & rhythm.

Your brain & nerves have a basic function: to assist you in adapting to perceived changes inside & outside your body. Your nervous system accomplishes this by processing data from your senses.

How Memory Works & How It Can Work Better

We rely on our memory to help us survive through each day. The pieces of information that we use are stored in our memory like information in a filing cabinet. But the information needs to be well-organised so that it can be easily recalled for later use.

Scientists today think that the memory goes through three stages:

- Sensory memory;
- Short-term memory;
- Long-term memory;


Your senses are automatically & continuously gathering data, even though you may not immediately be aware of it. Tune into yours senses for the moment: smell, touch, sight & sound. You are seeing this page, hearing various background noises, touching the keyboard. You may smell the perfume or coffee. Most of this data is held only briefly, for a second or two. The data important to you at the moment quickly moves on into your short-term memory for further deliberate processing. The rest is discarded. This is your sensory memory.

Short-term memory is often called your “working memory.” Now, pick up a phone book & select any number. Close the book & jot it down. Without looking at the number again, try to jot it down. Did you forget? The phone number probably stayed with you just long enough for you to jot it down. In this case, you have just used your short-term memory.

Your short-term memory can hold seven pieces of information (plus or minus two, depending on your mood). Unless you repeat to yourself what you are trying to remember, the data is typically forgotten in less than a minute. Your temporary storage system is used, for example, when you recall what someone said a moment ago. Your small capacity “working memory” plays a critical role in your reasoning & comprehension.

Try to go back as far as you can in your memory. Recall some thing that was remembered in your head for almost as many years as you have been alive. You have just used your long term memory.

In contrast with short-term memory, the capacity of your long-term memory is vast. It normally contains records of enormous numbers of facts & experiences. You can preserve information for many years without making any conscious effort at all to retain it.

There is a route that information travels on from short-term to long-term memory. When you remember something it first goes to short-term memory. After a period of time, if you are lucky, it then goes to long-term memory, & thus it is stored permanently.

This is the ideal scenario. In the real world, you will forget information because you over-stuff your short-term memory. As a result, the information does not travel into your long-term memory. With memory management techniques, more information can travel the route to long-term memory. Therefore, it is easier to learn information with a trained memory.

Scientists have concluded that our minds can search through a memorised list at least three times faster than our eyes can see. We are capable of making a mental search at the rate of 25 to 30 digist per second.

Long-term memory, scientists believe, is arranged like a thesaurus. Words with related meanings seem to be stored “near” one another in the brain. Nearness, however, may correspond to either physical proximity or richness of neuron connections. They base their belief on the fact that we can recognise & pronounce a printed word faster if it is related in meaning to an immediately preceding word – such As Apple to computer – than if it is unrelated – like Apple & helicopter.

One logical explanation of why long-term memory is probably stored this way, they said, is that retrieving a word from long-term memory temporarily increases nerve activity in the locations of other nearby words. This “overflow” activation reduces the process needed to recognise a related word, & thus speeds up reaction time.

Now, you can see why ‘mind-mapping’, which is based on “association” of information in the brain, is so effective.

But how does short-term memory become long-term? No one knows for certain, but there are clues. It is known that the storage of data in our brain requires three basic actions:

- Registration: Our brain must receive the data from our senses;

- Retention: The processed data or information has to be stored either short-term or long-term;

- Recall: We have to be able to call up that information when we want it;

Emotion & Feelings Affect Your Memory

Scientists have long been aware that emotions play a significant role in the memory process. Dr Paul MacLean, a brain scientist at the National Institute of Mental health in Washington, D.C., postulated a brain model which is based on his studies of the evolutionary development of brains in many species, from dinosaurs to man.

The first brain is the brain stem. This is sometimes referred to as the “dinosaur brain”. As the bottom core of our present brain, it is concerned with physical space, basic survival, possessions, & the urges of self-defence. The biological & physical functions of the body are coordinated from this area.

The middle brain or the “mammalian” brain is composed of the limbic system, which is involved with the processing of emotions. The social & family sense of concern & protection are seated in this area.

The third part of Dr Maclean’s brainmap is the neocortex. It lies at the top of our brain, on both sides, surrounding the limbic system. This part of the brain is where most of our mental activity happens. Spatial & mathematical thinking, dreaming & remembering, processing & decoding sensory information all function through this area.

Dr MacLean believes that there is a “community of learning” within these three brains, & that the incorporation of these three areas will awaken a fuller & more satisfying manner of learning.

According to Peter Kline, best-selling author of ‘The Everyday Genius’ & ‘School Success’, when we study difficult material that does not interest us, we do not allow our limbic system & neocortex to work together. That is why it is so often so hard to remember what we learn – because we have no strong feelings about it. He stresses that if you want to learn something well, find something about it that excites you & makes you happy & interested in it. Every subject has the possibility of exciting you, but only if you let it. You may have to use your imagination to find the fascination in some of your subjects, but if you do, you will find them much easier to learn & remember.

You will understand a subject better if you get involved personally. How do you feel about what you are studying? By bringing your personal reactions into your studies, you can make them all more memorable. Human beings just naturally remember things better when they feel strongly about them.

[to be continued in Part II]

THE ART OF BRAINSTORMING WITHOUT A GROUP

[Author’s Note: I originally wrote this article for the Business Times, Monday November 16, 1992. I was very proud of it at that time, as it was my first attempt in writing for a business newspaper. I have deliberately inserted it here because I feel the techniques as outlined are pretty generic, & therefore, still applicable for readers in today’s context.]

There are thousands of ways to brainstorm. Albert Einstein used to go to bed & dream about his theories. Archimedes made his famous discovery while taking his bath in a tub.

On a more contemporary note, Dr Yoshiro Nakamatsu, Japan’s world-famous inventor of the flopping disk, literally goes under. He picks up a water-proof note-book & marker pen, puts on his goggles, jumps into a swimming pool & stays under water as long as he can manage while brainstorming.

For managers who may not want to go to such extremes, there are other tried & tested techniques for getting the ideas flowing. While working in various general management portfolios during the past ten years, I have gathered & synthesised some of these into the following approach for brainstorming, especially when one is alone. The process goes through several distinct stages:

Preparation

Play Baroque music softly in the background as you prepare to brainstorm.

Research has shown that Baroque music (from the 17th & 18th centuries) can help eliminate stress & enhance performance. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons & Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major are highly recommended for enhanced mental performance. Other recommended baroque composers include Bach, Corelli, Handel & Telemann.

Paint the Big Picture

Write down the problem or issue you want to resolve, in key or nucleus words or phrases. Better still, paint a “big picture” of the problem, using what is now known as ‘mind mapping’.

'Mind mapping' is described in Tony Buzan’s book, 'Using both Sides of the Brain'. The author explains that the left-brain, which is logically oriented, “reads” only words, numbers, lists & facts. The right-brain, which is intuitively oriented, “reads” spatial relationships, patterns, rhythms, feelings, colours & “senses” the whole. The left & right brains together process the “big picture”.

A 'mind map' is just like a road map, with a pattern of interlinked clusters of ideas.

At the centre of a blank sheet of paper, write a key word or create a central image that captures the essence of the problem. Then, as you proceed to think about the problem, you build clusters of ideas around this key word or central image.

As your thought flow, you connect or link the many clusters of ideas. Using different colours colours to mark different clusters of ideas, you can make your “big picture” more sensory rich, since your eyes form the pathway to your brain.

This is a very powerful technique because it is exactly how the brain processes, assimilates & retains information.

[Author’s Comments: Today, besides ‘mind-mapping’, a variety of free-form approaches is being introduced, e.g. ‘mind-scaping’, ‘fish-bone diagramming’, ‘causal-loop diagramming’, etc., to address simple as well as complex issues. Also, an array of computer-based software tools is readily available to help you paint “the big picture”. Axon Idea Processor, Inspiration, MindManager Pro, Mindmapper Pro & VisiMap Pro are some good examples.

Generate Options through Creative Visualisation

The September 1990 issue of Business Month, a US-based business magazine, reported that the Harper Group, US$400 million (S$652 million) international freight-forwarding company, has won every major contract it vied for over the past ten years, from shipping building supplies for a new airport in Saudi Arabia to moving military equipment to Bahrain.

The company’s chief executive officer, John H Robinson said he achieved this through visualising success until it became ingrained in his subconscious mind & in everything he did.

The visualisation process is familiar to thousands of high-performance athletes & sportsmen, including golfers, who claim that by imagining themselves crossing the finishing line or making the perfect putt, they actually make it happen.

Before you scoff, try this creative visualisation exercise. First, find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. With your back straight, breathe in gently as you clench your fist, hold for a while & then breathe out completely as you release your fist. Repeat this for a few minutes. While doing this exercise, mentally tell yourself to relax. Soft baroque music will enhance relaxation.

Next, imagine yourself taking a slow-moving elevator from the 21st floor of a building to the first floor. Observe the lighted numbers on the button panel change as the elevator slowly descends. You will feel yourself going into a deeper state of relaxation.

Now visualise yourself tackling the problem or issue head-on, through several scenarios. This is the fun part of the whole exercise, because you just let your imagination take over. Take as long as you like for this visualisation exercise.

As you return to your original state of awareness by mentally counting from one to five, quickly jot down all the options that come to mind.

[Author’s Comment: Today, advanced technology is readily available to help you in facilitating & enhancing the creative visualisation process. Light & sound machines, or brain synthesisers as they are sometimes called, coupled with Hemi-Sync bi-aural frequencies, are some good examples.]

Incubate

For complex problems or more difficult issues you may need to sleep on it, or “dreamwork”. The term comes from Michael Ray of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Dr Ray runs a university course called ‘Creativity in Business’, & is the author of a book of the same title.

Just before sleep, he says: “Ask a clear question about the problem or key issue. Remember that you are attempting to maintain a spirit of inquiry. State the question in a way that will give further insight into the problem.”

Insight

On waking the next morning, just jot down – on the flipside of your 'mind map' – the ideas or insights that pop into your brain. Or the ideas could come in the toilet or during the morning shower, while you are having your breakfast or when you are in the car or on the MRT train. It would, therefore, be a good idea always to carry a micro-cassette recorder as well as a pocket note-book.

Several ideas or solutions would have emerged. How does one decide on the right one?

Take a leaf from management consultant Weston H Agor. He reports that psychological tests on more than 2,000 managers in the US showed that effective managers rely heavily on their feelings & intuition when they make their most important decisions. So use both your analytical & intuitive mind, & simple feeling, to help you sift through the many options, & choose the best solution based on what is important to you.

Implementation

Once you have figured out what to do, take action & be persistent.

The process of creative visualisation is powerful because it harnesses all your resources, conscious & unconscious. This was clearly the case in an experience I had a few years ago while managing the engineering & manufacturing operations of a major regional group.

I was confronted with the agonising task of having to sack a country manager because of suspected misappropriation of funds. He had been recruited by me, & I trusted him. The situation was all the more sensitive because of the manager’s temperamental nature & the hypersensitivity in that country about “losing face”.

Over a few nights, I brainstormed several scenarios & eventually focused the visualisation process on what I felt to be the best option.

On the day of the meeting, what could have been an emotionally-charged event turned out to be a controlled discussion. The manager resigned on his own accord – the outcome I had aimed for.

No voodoo here. The brainstorming process simply helped me to anticipate the manager’s responses, & answer along the lines I wanted: non-confrontational but nevertheless directly & firmly.

Because creative visualisation harnesses one’s conscious & unconscious resources, it ensured that the non-verbal message – such as tone of voice & body language – was entirely congruent with what I was saying. Communication was complete.

BOOK REVIEW: I AM GIFTED SO ARE YOU, by Adam Khoo

I have read the first release edition of this book.

Basically, the author has interweaved his personal journey from being an under-achieving teenager to a super-achieving professional, after having attended the five-day residential boot-camp for teens, known as the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp', into the student success secrets as embodied in his book.

Fully charged up & with the newly acquired skills from the camp, he zapped up from the bottom of his class, secured a top place in his secondary school, moved on further to top his pre-university class at a prestigious junior college, entered the national university & even got selected into the Talent Development Program consecutively for four years, & finally finished his studies with honours.

Technically, in his book, the author has incorporated more or less the entire curriculum of the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp', especially the hard skill sets, to form an integral part of his book.

The hard skill sets refer to goal setting, time management, speed reading, information gathering, note taking & making with spidergrams, super memory, lesson revision, test preparation, creative writing & strategic application in the exams.

The author has managed to cover only part of the soft skill sets, which have their experiential foundations embedded in the outdoor adventures, rope courses & group pattern games of the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp' curriculum.

The soft skill sets cover building self-esteem, self-confidence & self-image, understanding the mind/body connection, changing belief systems, over-coming fears, inter-personal/intra-personal communications, enhancing relationships (with family, peers, teachers), building trust, developing the 'eye of the tiger' focus, understanding the spermatozoa analogy (or born to win), etc.

Personal breakthroughs often come to the camp participants through deliberate encounters with these soft skills.

It is pertinent to mention that the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp' has been created around the mid-80's by Mr Ernest Wong. He has systematically put together the camp curriculum after having been trained in the UK & United States by Jack Canfield, Eric Jensen, Tony Buzan & Robert Dilts.

Jack has been one of North America's leading experts in developing self esteem & peak performance, although be is better known for his 'Chicken Soup' stuff.

Eric has been the co-founder of the internationally reknown 'SuperCamp' with Bobbi dePorter. Both Bobbi & Eric have apparently been involved in the faculty part of the now-defunct 'Burklyn Business School' in Vermont, CA, which brought Georgi Lozanov, recognised as the father of Suggestology, from Bulgaria to United States during the late 70's/early 80's. Eric left later to start 'Turning Point for Educators'. The latter taught accelerated learning techniques to educators, teachers & trainers.

In some way, this probably explains the curriculum similarities of 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp' with 'SuperCamp' (which incidentally also runs their residential camps for both young kids & teens in Singapore).

Tony Buzan is the creator of 'Mindmapping'. Robert Dilts runs his own school of 'Neuro-linguistic Programming'.

Mr Wong has successfully integrated the teachings of these learning experts into his camp curriculum, with an Asian teenaged audience in mind.

The author, upon completion of his university studies, eventually joined Mr Wong as a co-trainer in the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp', as well as in the local schools, for a number of years. It was during this period that he wrote his debut book, with the blessings of Mr Wong of course. The author has always acknowledged Mr Wong as his first mentor.

In early 2002 or 2003, & owing to some conceptual differences in future business, the author left abruptly to start his own training company, using his book as the springboard.

In real terms, he has unashamedly cannibalised the entire curriculum (even the jokes & anecdotes) of 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp' into his own 'I am Gifted, So Are You' Camp.

To put it bluntly, the protege has now turned the table against the master & become the dominant competitor.

Coming back to the book, I must add that it is visually appealing because of its catchy graphical illustrations, compared to most student success books I have come across. Best of all, it is printed in four colours!

For all its intents & purposes, it is relatively well-written. It is primarily targetted at a teenaged audience, ranging between 12 & 18.

In this respect, for college-bound teens, this may not be a appropriate book to read. For them, I would strongly suggest Adam Robinson's 'What Smart Students Know', together with Sean Covey's '7 Habits for Highly Effective Teens.' 'The Power of Focus for College Students: How to Make College the Best Investment of Your Life' by Andrew Hewitt & Luc d'Abadie is worth reading, too, for broader & global perspectives.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a more active learning approach with self assessments & activities to apply concepts in your own lives, I would suggest Robert Throops' 'Reaching Your Potential: Personal & Professional Development'. The latter is a much larger & thicker book, but definitely worthwhile for systematic exploration.

In terms of rating for this book, I would be inclined to rate it rather low for its lack of originality & imagination on the part of the author. However, for sharing his personal experiences of under-achievement in school & eventually super-achievement in life, thus creating a role model for many student readers who would probably be in the same boat, the author certainly deserves a higher rating. Out of 10, I will give it a 8.

For readers, who are keen to explore the technological underpinnings of the above book &/or the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camp' as a whole, I would like to suggest the following readings:

Jack Canfield:
- 100 Ways to Develop Student Self Esteem & Responsibility;
- 100 Ways to Enhance Self Concept in the Classroom;
- Self Esteem & Peak Performance;

Eric Jensen:
- SuperTeaching;
- Student Success Secrets;
- B's & A's in 30 Days: Strategies for Better Grades in College
- You can Succeed: The Ultimate Study Guide for Students;

Bobbi dePorter:
- Quantum Learning: Unleashing the Genius in You;
- Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success;

Tony Buzan:
- Use Both Sides of the Brain;

Robert Dilts:
- Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP);
- Applications of NLP;
- Changing Belief Systems with NLP;

Georgi Lozanov:
- Suggestology;
- A Teaching Experience with the Suggestopaedic Method;

Denis Waitley:
- Psychology of Winning;

Anthony Robbins:
- Unlimited Power;
- Awaken the Giant Within;

Michael Gelb:
- Present Yourself: The Simple Way to give Powerful & Effective Presentations;

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE POWER OF OBSERVATION & JUXTAPOSITION


I have never read any of Tom Clancy's published works, but I have seen all the movies made from them. Patriot Games is one of them.

The storyline of this action movie is quite simple:

Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford), former CIA analyst, was on vacation/lecture tour in London with his family. While on the way to meet his wife & daughter near Buckingham Palace, they were caught in a cross-fire during a bold assassination attempt on a member of the Royal Family, Lord Holmes (Edward Fox), executed by a rogue faction of the IRA led by Sean Miller (Sean Bean).

In the ensuing shoot-out, Jack accidentally killed one of the terrorists, who happened to be Sean's younger brother. Jack unwittingly got drawn back into the CIA after the terrorists set out a vengeful attack against his family back in USA.

In my view, the action sequences in this movie were not very exciting, when compared with any of the recent James Bond &/or Jason Bourne movies, although the entire movie was quite entertaining.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence showing a real-time satellite-tracking session at CIA Headquarters, during which Jack & his counter-terrorism team were watching a crack SAS team conducting a black ops raid at the terrorists' hideout somewhere in Libya. The accompanying music score was realistically haunting!

What excited me most about this movie was watching Jack exercising his astute power of observation & his uncanny ability to juxtapose images in a relentless attempt to track down the where-about of the rogue faction of the IRA, with the high-tech resources of CIA's counter-terrorism group, of course.

Using vital information secured from Paddy O'Neil (Richard Harris), an IRA supporter in the USA, Jack narrowed down the search through his observation & juxtaposition of CIA's satellite images (which included an overhead snapshot of an apparently capped woman with a pony tail) with his own recalled images:

- a back-view glimpse of the pony-tailed driver in the terrorists' getaway vehicle during the foiled assassination attempt in England;

- a side-view glance of the pony-tailed driver in the terrorists' getaway vehicle during an unsuccessful assassination attempt on his life outside the US Naval Academy;

For Jack, all these quick mental associations had been triggered while answering nature’s call & walking pass a pony-tailed woman employee at CIA Headquarters.

What a brilliant piece of detective work - observation plus juxtaposition - on the part of Jack! It is obvious that the power of observation as well as juxtaposition form the pre-requisite character traits of a good CIA analyst.

Well, in the real world, I reckon these traits are equally important, as far as idea generation is concerned.

Tom Peters, an influential management guru & business visionary, once said (in his ‘Achieving Excellence’ newsletter):

“Allow for unplanned interruptions. Most AHA!s, mundane or grand, come from the juxtaposition of surprising streams of information.”

He added further in his classic book, ‘Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganisation for the Nanosecond Nineties’ (1992):

“The essence of creation – in all endeavours – is chance connections between ideas & facts that are previously segregated. Entrepreneurship is the direct by-product of chance, of convoluted connections among ideas, needs & people.”

Let me share with readers a classic example of the power of observation & juxtaposition in the real world.

According to Canon, maker of the well-known brand of copying machines & laser beam printers, there was a time when printers & copying machines required regular professional maintenance. This changed in 1982, when Canon developed the world’s first all-in-one disposable toner cartridge for copying machines, adopting a design that enabled end-users to easily perform cartridge replacement.

Do you know how its all-in-one disposable toner cartridge innovation came about?

According to one of their marketing newsletters, a group of R & D engineers at the Canon plant were earlier struggling with the design problem. They often hanged out at nearby pubs after work, having great fun with karaoke & drinking their favourite Japanese beer. While still pondering about the design problem, one of the R & D engineers, still holding the cold beer can in his hand, had a lightning AHA experience. He rushed back to the R & D laboratory & the rest was history.

Canon has acquired several hundred patents for all its all-in-one disposable cartridge innovations. As a matter of fact, Canon also developed a slimmer all-in-one toner disposable cartridge for its colour laser beam printers, allowing users to replace all consumable parts simply by replacing the four colour cartridges. Canon has also been collecting & recycling used toner cartridges worldwide since 1990.

In summing up, I have enjoyed very much watching ‘Patriot Games’, & at the same time, have also gained some practical insights into the power of observation & juxtaposition.

Friday, June 8, 2007

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE POWER OF BELIEF

I have re-watched the entire Star War trilogy ('Star Wars', 'The Empire Strikes Back', 'Return of the Jedi', in that order) many times, first in the cinema during the late seventies & early eighties, & subsequently on video discs as well as cable television. Incidentally, I also visited the original 'Star Wars' movie site on the Sahara Desert, located in Tunisia, North Africa, during the late nineties with my late wife. The vast sand dunes of the Sahara Desert were really an enchanting, & yet haunting, sight!

I recently re-watched 'Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back' on the Star Movies Channel.

Frankly, 'Star Wars' movies have never ceased to entertain as well as inspire me from the very beginning. I have always thought that they provide valuable learning points, especially in terms of life (survival) skills.

Among the three mentioned movies, I would like to single out my personal favourite, 'THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK', especially some related scenes involving Luke Skywalker & the Yoda Master, as part of the Jedi Knight training.

[The story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo & his sidekick, Chewbacca, the droids C2P2 & C3PO, Princess Leia and the rebels didn't end with the destruction of the Death Star in the earlier movie - it continues in 'THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK', where the battle to save the galaxy from the evil Darth Vader rages on.]

Luke was unable to get his X-wing fighter out of the swamp. Yoda, using the Force, effortlessly got it out of the swamp. Witnessing the scenario, Luke remarked: "I don't believe it!". The response from Yoda was quick to the point: "That's why you fail!"

A lot of the times in life we fail to achieve what we have set out to do is because we fail to believe we can do it. This is very true, especially for kids & teens when they encounter stumbling blocks or set backs in their path to achieving their fondest dreams.

That's why, Anthony Robbins, a top-ranked peak performance & success coach in the industry, & author of 'Awaken the Giant Within', often shares this profound observation in his books as well as his Mastery University seminars:

"Personal breakthroughs come from change in personal beliefs!"
When he was nineteen years old, Arnold Schwarzenegger, came to United States with only a dream & a belief that he could become Mr Universe.

[He achieved the title five times, in addition to the title, Mr Europa, seven times. In fact, he also entered the Guinness Book of Records with 'the most perfect body'.]

He revealed in his autobiography, 'Education of a Body Builder':

"As long as you can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it - as long as you really believe it 100 per cent."
There are other interesting learning points from the Yoda Master: (Here are just some of them)

- Yoda: "Control, control. You must learn control!"

- Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learnt."

- Yoda: "Size matters not..." (in response to Luke: "I can't. It's too big!")

- When Luke yelled: "All right. I'll give it a try." The rebuttal from Yoda was fast & furious: "No. Try not. Do or do not! There's no try."

Even the primary antagonist in the movies, Darth Vader, has something to share with all of us: His character trait of laser-focused, singled-minded, dogged determination to pursue & wipe out the rebels - no matter where they are - is worth emulating! Although he deservedly failed & died at the end, he practised what he believed!

So, Mums & Dads out there, if you want your kids & teens to learn valuable life (survival) skills, go & watch the Star Wars trilogy with them!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE POWER OF OBSERVATION II

[continue from Part I]

'THE BOURNE IDENTITY' and 'THE BOURNE SUPREMACY'

Both action movies are loosely based on Robert Ludlum's work, which included 'The Rheinmann Exchange', 'The Osterman Weekend' and 'The Holcroft Covenant'. They have also been made into great action movies.

In the first movie, with the opening scene: An unconscious young man is pulled out off the Mediterranean coast by a French fishing boat one stormy night. Thinking that the young man is dead, a curious fisherman with a scalpel finds two bullets in his back and a microchip in his hip. The chip reveals a Swiss bank account. But our wet hero isn't dead but realises that he has amnesia. He then rushes to Zurich.

In the bank vault, he discovers his name, Jason Bourne (played by Mark Damon). In addition, he finds a baffling pile of different passports, all with his picture, and a large chunk of cash.

In the ensuing scene at the US Embassy, he bumps into Marie (played by Franka Potente), and along the way realises the fact that someone is out to kill him. Armed with plenty cash and superb martial arts skills, and with Marie by his side, he scours Paris for clues about his real identity and past life. He finds himself in the middle of two assassination plots against him (one assassin was played by Clive Owen, as 'The Professor'), masterminded by rouge elements of the CIA.

In the second movie, with the opening scene, continuing from the first movie: Jason Bourne is recovering in Goa, India, with Marie. He spots a mysterious dark-glassed man with the wrong clothes while jogging. He escapes with Marie but she is shot in the ensuing chase.

The next scene shows CIA operatives under deputy director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) conducting a sting operation in Berlin to fish out a mole in CIA, but something goes wrong. Her subsequent investigation leads to the highly-classified Treadstone project, which apparently also involves Jason Bourne. She even finds evidence that Bourne is behind what happened to her botched sting operation in Berlin.

So Bourne sets out to clear his name.

The remaining part of the movie shows Bourne outsmarting CIA operatives - and the Russian assassin (played menacingly by Karl Urban as Kirill) - & tracking down the rogue elements in the CIA, with shady connections to the Russian mafia, which has jointly framed him in the first place.

In both movies, Jason Bourne demonstrates his uncanny ability to observe and pay attention to what's around him – often noticing the exceptions in the details of the environment - which allow him to constantly stay ahead of his predators and at the same time, stay agile (mentally and physically) to anticipate dangers and get out of precarious situations.

For example...remember the scene in the second movie...after he had jogged at the beach, he observed a dark-glassed man whose clothing and behaviour somehow did not match the environment...

His ability to stay calm, size up dangerous situations and come up with super-quick, innovative solutions to escape from capture is well demonstrated in both movies.

For example...remember the scene in the first movie, where he jumped down several storeys with a dead body as cushion and blasting his gun at his assassins while running up the staircase... the scene in the second movie, where he improvised an explosive escape using a magazine stuffed into a burning toaster in a quickly engineered gas-filled room. Wow! that was really cool and great!

Naturally, I am also fascinated by the many hand-to-hand combat sequences (particularly those within close quarters, using tactical improvisation, involving a rolled-up magazine, book, pencil, as defensive weapons), car chases, cat and mouse games, etc., in both movies.

Additionally, what I like about both movies is the total absence of super-duper gadgets commonly found in such spy-thriller movies. Jason Bourne uses only his sheer human ingenuity and anticipatory prowess to outsmart his enemies.

I must add that I have enjoyed re-watching all the three action movies, experientially as well as educationally. Once again, I have also realised that the power of observation is equally a very important life (or survival) skill in the real world.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE POWER OF OBSERVATION I

I recently re-watched three action movies on cable television, even though I have already seen them at the cinema a few years ago.

There are:

- 'Ronin', starring Robert de Niro & Jean Reno;
- 'The Bourne Identity' & 'The Bourne Supremacy', starring Matt Damon;

As a strategy consultant, & whenever I go to the movies (or watch movies at home), I often like to take the opportunity to seek out possibilities of using them to teach life (survival) skills to participants in my seminars & workshops.

The foregoing three movies are three great examples.

RONIN

Ronin is a very interesting movie. It’s very exciting, too. It has a simple story (a snatch team is assigned by a mysterious client to recover a metal suit-case) with a complex plot as well as perplexing sub-plots, exotic settings, rising & falling actions, a critical but unknown object of pursuit, witty dialogue, all compounded by a host of mysterious key characters & their vague relationships (IRA terrorists, Russian mobsters, ex-CIA & ex-KGB operatives).

What I have enjoyed most from this movie is watching Sam (Robert de Niro) assuming the role of a strategist in the snatch team. As a strategist, he is always seeking "the big picture" by asking clarifying questions & verifying details.

I am amazed at his astute power of observation, as shown below, just to name a few scenes:

- scanning the surroundings from various angles before entering the rendezvous, a pub & checking out possible escape routes;
- feeling rather apprehensive while observing the dimly-lit surroundings & finally spotting a sniper, during a covert weapon-buying routine with the underworld near the bridge;
- sizing up each member of the snatch team, especially Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard playing the rogue electronics expert) by intentionally pushing a cup over the table edge;
- reconnaissance at a hotel lobby, testing out the camera & taking photographs unsuspectingly & creating a diversionary scene;
- noticing quickly the wrong metal suit-case after recovery from an ambush/shoot out;
- spotting a wall advertisement of a Russian ballerina as a possible lead to the where-about of the Russian mafia who is seemingly involved in the whole saga;


Even Vincent (Jean Reno) demonstrates it, especially when he spots, from a window in a cafe, a young girl carrying a metal suitcase, while trying to figure out with Sam the exact where-about of Gregor, who had switched & stole the original suitcase earlier.

Obviously, the power of observation is a very important character trait of a Ronin or a covert operative for that matter.

In the movie, there is even a short history lesson about the exploits of the famous 47 Ronins & their eventual suicide ritual known as sepaku, as told by Jean Pierre (Michael Lonsdale). I understand a Ronin is a master-less samurai...sort of a lone-wolf...a maverick...a mercenary. Apparently, in the movie, each member of the snatch team is a Ronin.

[Based on actual historical events, only 46 of them committed sepaku. The last one was pardoned by the Shogun.]

The most exhilarating parts of the movie are obviously the high-octane, pulse-quickening car chases & rampant shoot-outs in both Nice & Paris settings...first, on a quiet country road, on a highway entering the city, & finally through busy side streets as well as a road tunnel.

There is even an amazing scene, showing Sam doing his own personal surgery to remove a bullet from his stomach with a mirror & knife.

The most touching scenes in the movie are the dynamic comradeship & seemingly mutual respect between Sam & Vincent, despite the fact that each of them has his own agenda in the snatch team.

In the final scene, - & in fact, throughout the movie's running time -, the critical but unknown object of pursuit remains a mystery.

[to be continued in Part II]

Thursday, June 7, 2007

HOW TO BECOME AN INTELLIGENT LEARNER IV

[continue from Part III. This is the final Part.]


Put Your Information on a Map

You can remember best the information you have read once you personalise the information, by converting the incoming data into meaningful relationships. This process takes place through thinking about the information input, understanding it, evaluating it, & translating it into terms you can readily use.

One of the best ways to consolidate your knowledge of a topic is to put your learned information on a map i.e. to make an idea map (or a mind map, to use a term coined originally by Tony Buzan).

Idea mapping is a simple method of distilling the essence of what you know & organising it in visual terms.

According to Tony Buzan, in his book, ‘Using Both Sides of Your Brain’, our left brain, which is logically oriented, “reads” only words, numbers, lists & facts. Our right brain, which is intuitively oriented, “reads” spatial relationships, patterns, rhythms, feelings, colours & “senses” the whole. Both our two brains work together to process the “big picture”.

To make an idea map, take a clean sheet of paper, arrange it horizontally or landscape-wise & begin by putting your central topic or principal idea in the centre of the page. Start writing key words or phrases on drawn lines radiating from your central topic. Remember to print on the lines, one key word or phrase per line, & keep the lines connected.

You can add small iconic pictures & use colours, whenever possible. Let your associations occur spontaneously. When you feel you have generated enough material through free associations, take a look at the result: all your ideas will spread across one single page. As you look at your map you will begin to see relationships that will help you organise & integrate your ideas. Connect related parts of your maps with arrows, more lines, iconic pictures & colours. Eliminate elements that seem extraneous.

Alternatively, you can look at each element & ask yourself: What does this lead to? What’s next? Jot down your thoughts & reactions. Pare your map down to just the ideas you need for your purpose. Then number them in sequence, if necessary.

Idea maps are tremendously effective as memory aids because they utilise the same structure of association as the brain: the brain works primarily through association, connecting ideas in a non-sequential manner. Ideas that are closely related are grouped together, reinforcing the association. This makes the idea map a powerful means of embedding knowledge in memory in a form that will make it easy to recall & retrieve later.

In essence, idea mapping synergises the left-brain with the right brain, thus generating a whole-brain activity. The typical outline form of note taking & writing generally serves only the left-brain style.

By implementing these strategies & techniques as outlined in these pages, you can develop the competitive edge of being an intelligent learner.

As we enter the 21st century, & in order to survive information overload, we must first become intelligent learners.

In summary, I wish to paraphrase John Naisbitt, a well-recognised global trends watcher, who wrote the well-known ‘Megatrends’ classics in the nineties:

“In a world that is constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn.”

HOW TO BECOME AN INTELLIGENT LEARNER III

[continue from Part II]

Enter the Peak Learning State

According to Paul Scheele, principal developer of the PhotoReading technology, the brain must be adequately prepared in order to study or ready efficiently. Two mental exercises will accomplish this preparation:

a) Clearly state your purpose, &

b) Generate a resourceful state of mind;

Clearly State Your Purpose

Reading everything many times in order to achieve total comprehension would take a tremendous amount of time. It would also not be worthwhile in most cases. Since all reading ultimately serves some purpose, it is best to learn to set a specific purpose.

Here are a few questions which can help you establish a purpose in your reading:

i) What is my ultimate application of this material?

ii) How important to me is what I am reading, & in the long term, how worthwhile is it?

Once these questions are answered, try to narrow down your purpose:

iii) What specifically do I want or need to remember from the material: Is it “global overview” or is it small information I want?

State to yourself the purpose for reading every time you read. Get into this reading habit. This tends to engage the brain, to increase your concentration & sharpen your focus. It also reinforces your ability to choose when to make the power of your brain to work for you.You will undoubtedly find yourself choosing not to read the less important materials. You can then release any sense of guilt about procrastinating or failure to read by default. Instead, you can start affirming, “I can accomplish anything I sincerely set my mind upon.”

ii) Generate a Resourceful State of Mind

Many studies have shown that a relaxed & resourceful state of mind is crucial for efficient reading. When a person is relaxed & alert while reading, he is more likely to be faster, more fluent, & less distracted. He will be more able to comprehend, retain & recall what is read.

I would like to introduce you to ‘The Tangerine Technique’ developed specifically for PhotoReading.

Using the Tangerine technique, a reader can quickly & easily establish a relaxed state of alertness. An added feature of this simple technique is that it automatically directs a person’s available unit of attention. The result is an immediate improvement in reading skills.

Further studies have shown that both reading & memory require attention. A person has seven, plus or minus two, units of attention available at a conscious level. By fixing one’s attention on a single point, a person can effectively focus his other available units of attention to perform the task at hand.

Research also indicates that the actual location of one’s point of attention is important. For example, when driving a car, the best point of attention is down the road – not on your dashboard or the rear bumper on the car in front of you. For the efficient reader, the ideal point of attention is just behind & above the head. The Tangerine technique helps locate & maintain the ideal point of attention for reading.

Basic Steps to Follow:

i) Hold an imaginary tangerine in your hand. Feel the size, shape, weight, texture, & experience the smell of the tangerine;
ii) Gently close your eyes & place the tangerine so that it delicately balances just behind & above the back of your head. Become aware of the feeling;
iii) Imagine your field of vision opening up;
iv) Open your eyes while maintaining the feeling of the tangerine resting on just behind & above the back of your head. Read;


By playing with this technique, you will navigate reading material with increased speed & fluency. Your ability to concentrate on the information improves & reading becomes more relaxing.

For the first few weeks, you will have to consciously place the tangerine just behind & above the back of your head. Soon it becomes an automatic (unconscious) process so that whenever you approach reading materials, the imaginary tangerine floats into place.

[to be continued in Part IV]

HOW TO BECOME AN INTELLIGENT LEARNER II

[continue from Part I]

Create a Brain-friendly Environment for Work & Learning

Organise your physical environment to support you both at home & at your workplace. Here are some suggestions:
Establish a learning centre. Have one specific place where you can work or study, helps you get your brain in the habit of getting down to the business of information processing whenever you are there. Always make sure you have a good light source for reading. Natural light or full-spectrum lighting is best for your eyes. Also, get comfortable – but not so comfortable – chair. An erect posture in the chair will transmit messages of alertness to your brain.

Keep the room temperature cold. The best temperature for the brain is about 19 degrees Centigrade. This is the temperature that will promote optimum brain performance. It is colder than most people commonly set their thermostats. If it feels too cold, wear a sweater.

Play some Baroque music softly in the background as you work or study. Research has shown that Baroque music from the 17th to 18th centuries can help eliminate physical stress & enhance mental performance. The slow movements in Baroque compositions, generally designated as “Largo” or “Adagio”, have approx, 60 beats per minute. This is close to the rate of the human heart beat in a relaxed state.

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons & Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major are highly recommended for enhanced mental performance. Other recommended Baroque composers include Bach, Corelli, Handel & Telemann.

Keep your surrounding environment bright & pleasant. In addition to a good light source & a cold temperature, the surrounding environment should have an uplifting ambience. Subdued pastel colours, beautiful paintings or posters, a window with a view of nature scenes are uplifting for your brain. Choose artwork that is relaxing, but avoid busy scenes that remind your brain of noise & crowds. It is also good to have some natural green plants around you, & plenty of fresh air with cross-ventilation to keep the air blowing.

Remove visual distractions from your work or study space. Keep food, TV, magazines & other temptations out of sight & out of the room if possible.

Give yourself regular breaks. Concentration can deteriorate as a result of mental fatigue. Studies indicate that forty to fifty minutes is about the maximum time most people can effectively concentrate. At the end of that time you begin to experience fatigue & drift out of the peak learning state. A short break will revitalise you. When you are taking a break, get some exercise, stretch, relax your neck & back muscles, drink some water, or participate in a non-mental activity to clear your mind.

[to be continued in Part III]

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

HOW TO BECOME AN INTELLIGENT LEARNER I

According to information experts, 80 to 90 per cent of the information inputs we receive daily comes through visual cues. Most of these visual cues are captured by your brain through the process of observation & reading. Therefore, to be able to master information, you must become an intelligent learner.


On these pages, I have synthesised some useful, practical techniques & workable insights to help you become an intelligent learner.

For your quick & easy reference, I have organised them in the following approach:

Develop Powerful Work Habits

According to Robert Ringer, best-selling author of the books, ‘Look Out for #1’ & ‘Million Dollar Habits’, there is only one major difference between successful people & mediocre people, & that is, habits. Successful people have simple but powerful habits & these habits can be learned by anyone who is willing to put forth the necessary effort.

So, first make a habit to plan & prioritise your day. Every morning, or before you go to bed the night before, make a list of tasks for the day ahead. Start by listing every major task you need to take. Categorise each task as priority A, B or C, depending on its importance to you. Focus on tasks that are really important. (Remember, “urgency” does not equal “importance”.) & then, do them, but tackle the C’s only after you have finished the A’s & B’s.

Set goals. In order to organise your priorities, you have to know what your goals are. Take some quiet time to think about what you want to accomplish in different aspects of your life, both in the long term & in the near future. Think about where you want to be, say, one, five & ten years from now in terms of your career, education, health, social/family life, networking, etc. Write down your goals on paper & set out an action plan as well as a time table for completion. This is very important.

Goals will help you to focus on the future, & a compelling vision will always pull you forward towards your desired future.

[to be continued in Part II]

POINTS TO PONDER: HOW TO PROFIT FROM TODAY'S RAPID CHANGES

Towards the end of the eighties & the early nineties, while pursuing my personal interests in understanding 'entrepreneurial opportunity search & recognition', I came across a relatively good number of wonderful resources.

Among the resources, one was a paperback entitled 'Winning the Innovation Game' by Robert Tucker & Denis Waitley.

The other two were actually audio cassette programs entitled 'How to Profit from Today's Rapid Changes' by Robert Tucker; 'Innovative Secrets of Success' by Robert Tucker & Denis Waitley.

During that period of time, both authors were already well-known thought leaders in their respective fields, with the former in 'innovation management' & the latter in 'peak performance'.

In a nut shell, 'Winning the Innovation Game' captured the pioneering work of the principal author (Robert Tucker), who had interviewed more than fifty successful & innovative executives, entrepreneurs & financiers during the eighties. Their 'innovative secrets of success' were sprinkled generously throughout the book, arranged with the following layout of chapters:

- The Innovator Defined;
- Winning Strategy;
- Innovation Self-Inventory;
- Becoming Your Own Trend Spotter;
- Improving Quality of Your Thinking;
- Proven Strategies for Working with Ideas;
- Tapping the Power of Your Informed Intuition;
- Finding Innovative Opportunities of Your Own;
- Discovering Your Breakthrough Idea;
- Building Your Breakthrough Idea;
- Elements of Risk Taking;
- Building Your Team;
- Staying on the Game;

I reckon the most exciting & valuable aspects of the author's interview results in the book were the following revelations:

- how to spot changes & trends before your competitors do;
- how to analyze trends & format strategies to profit from them;
- how to develop your own "future scan system" to keep you from missing out on important developments;
- how to distinguish between passing fads & the kind of changes that will reshape the marketplace;

However, for me as a company executive, there was one particular aspect of the book that had the most pivotal impact at that point in time. I was then a hard-working corporate rat at the upper echelon of management, but going through a mid-life transition. I was really slogging in quite desperation, but constantly in search of that 'something' I would love to do as part of my design for the second half of my life.

Till today, I am referring to the most profound self-questioning checklist in one of the chapters, which I would like to reproduce as follows:

- what do I really enjoy doing that I'd like to do more of?
- where's the niche that hasn't been developed?
- how can I position myself in a way that is different?
- how can I make a living from doing what to one is fun, challenging & never boring?
- what might my customer group want if it were available?
- what can I offer they (the competitors) aren't offering?
- what would make this process or procedure more convenient?
- where is the market inefficiency?
- what's next for 'Me, Inc.'?
- what would people pay for that isn't available yet?
- how can I do this less expensively?
- how can I add value to the service or product I now produce?

In retrospect, these were the powerful questions that eventually inspired me to set up a strategy consulting firm under the trade name of 'Optimum Performance Technologies', publish & edit a newsletter ('Left-Brain/Right-Brain Newsletter'), as well as own & run a small, but unique, retail store, aptly called 'The Brain Resource' in the central business district from early 1992 to mid-2005. [I recommend readers to visit my 'The Brain Resource' weblog.]

POINTS TO PONDER: THE H.A.I.R MODULE

During the mid-nineties, while running my own strategy consulting firm for small companies, I came across a wonderful book entitled 'Strategic Pragmatism: The Culture of Singapore's EDB' & written by Prof. Edgar Schein, a leading authority on organisational cultures.

In a nut shell, the book documents the culture of Singapore's EDB, a quasi-government body set up in the early sixties to spearhead the country's strategic thrusts for attracting foreign investment. It sheds light on how Singapore within the space of thirty-five years could be transformed from a fairly improverished under-developed country with per capita of US$500 into a modern city state that today stays at the forefront of the world's most competitive economies.

Today, Singapore's per capita income exceeds US$30,000.

More precisely, this book tracks the creation & development of the EDB, its leadership & management structure, its human resource policies & its influences over other organisations within the Singapore government. The book also intertwines the many perspectives of Singapore's leaders who created the board, the current & former EDB board members, business-people who have dealt with the board, & more importantly, the major investor clients from North America, Europe & elsewhere.

What strikes me most about this book, at the time when I read it, is the revelation for the first time how Singapore's leaders, specifically Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore's Prime Minister from the early sixties to early nineties) pick top brains to run the various government ministries as well as statutory bodies, like the EDB.

EDB's top brains include the late Hon Sui Sen (whom Lee Kuan Yew reluctantly lent to Dr Goh Keng Swee to develop & run the EDB in the early years), I F Tang, Chan Chin Bok, Ngiam Tong Dow, P Y Hwang & Philip Yeo.

(Philip Yeo masterminded the US$4 billion Jurong Island complex, in which seven offshore islands were linked with imported landfill to form a huge new industrial area. As Chairman of Singapore's National Science & Technology Board, he has positioned Singapore to excel at what he believes is the next big thing: life sciences & bioengineering.)

From the book, I learned that Lee Kuan Yew (at the time the book was researched & written, he was Senior Minister in the Singapore cabinet; currently, he is Minister Mentor to the Singapore cabinet) has used the H-A-I-R module to pick his candidates. He has adopted this human resource module from the Royal Dutch-Shell Group, a global energy & petrochemical company that has also pioneered the application of scenario planning in long-term strategy formulation.

(Shell is the world's second largest oil company after ExxonMobil & owns the first oil refinery in Singapore. Today, Shell is acknowledged as Singapore' first 'Distinguished Partner in Progress'.)

For the benefit of readers, here is the H-A-I-R module (Lee Kuan Yew has specifically pointed out that he has wanted all four qualities in the people who he selected, as follows):

H = Helicopter ability: the ability to rise above the immediate scene & see it from a total & overall perspective;

A = Analytical ability;

I = Imagination: the ability to see things from new & creative perspectives;

R = Realism: having one's feet firmly placed on the ground;

Furthermore, from the book, I also learned that Lee Kuan Yew has mandated that the entire civil service in Singapore adopt the HAIR module & distribute the booklet describing the system in detail to every. He has even asked Shell to train people in the use of the system. Though EDB does not use the system explicitly, these qualities are sought in the recruits.

The other interesting revelation by the book is the fact that EDB has embraced readily the concept of itself as a 'learning organisation' during the mid-nineties, drawing much inspiration from Peter Senge's systems thinking perspectives.

On the whole, 'Strategic Pragmatism', has been an interesting & inspirational read for me.

[Readers who are interested to find out more about how EDB picked their 'road warriors' - EDB's international centre directors, who roamed the entire globe, more specifically in North America & Europe, to scout, cajole & attract foreign investors to Singapore, & their 'war stories' - should read Chan Chin Bok (former EDB Chairman)'s 'Heart Work: Singapore Economic Development Board & EDB Society'. Another interesting & inspirational read!]

DEVELOPING AN OPPORTUNITY-SENSITIVE MINDSET II

"In the fields of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind."

This wonderful quotation is attributed to Louis Pasteur, the scientist who discovered the Germ Theory in the 1880s, which had contributed tremendously to the development of modern medicine.

According to my dictionary, 'chance' means 'opportunity or possibility of something happening."

How does one get prepared for chance or opportunity.

In the course of my work as a strategy consultant to small companies, as well as to schools and students, I have discovered and synthesized the following viewpoints, which I believe can readily help you to become sensitive to the opportunities around you.

SEEING WITHIN:

You must know yourself and believe in yourself. You must know who you are and what you want in life. If you believe you are a champion, and think like one, all you can see are the winning opportunities waiting for you!

SEEING AHEAD:
In essence, this is planning ahead. You must set goals in all areas of your life, and take consistent action to put your goals to work, for tomorrow…for the next 90 days…and for next year.

As a student, your priority is your study goals. Once you have this as your priority, then all you can see are the important things that will make your dreams come true.

SEEING BEHIND:

This is essentially learning from your past experiences. The past does not guarantee the future, but you can learn a lot from it:

-1 What work?;
-2 What doesn't work?
-3 What corrections do I need to make in my life in order for me to move forward?;

Anthony Robbins, internationally acclaimed Success Coach, once said:


"The difference between those who succeed & those who fail isn't what they have - it's what they choose to see and do with their resources and experiences of life."

SEEING ABOVE:
Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew calls this 'having the helicopter ability'. It means having the ability to rise above and to see the entire forest, instead of seeing only one or two trees.

Oftentimes, we are too close to a problem, we just don't see the opportunities lurking inside it. Therefore, you must learn to rise above your problem and learn to see the larger picture of what is happening around you, and not get bogged down by nitty-gritty stuff.

SEEING UNDER:
Oftentimes, when we look at problems, we tend to look at only the surface and jump quickly to conclusions, without even looking at the underlying reasons or factors.

When we look at problems, we must also go under the surface and examine the root causes. For example, in addition to asking what has happened, who did it, and why it had happened, we should proceed further by asking what did not happen, who did not do it, and why something else did not happen…

Like icebergs, root causes of problems - hidden possibilities or opportunities - are always deeply submerged!

SEEING SIDEWAYS:
To paraphrase Dr Edward de Bono, a renowned creativity guru, this is thinking laterally. Only by moving sideways from looking at a problem , then only we can get to a new viewpoint, which will give us a new perspective to our problem. With a new perspective of a problem, we are able to see and take an alternative route to solving it.

When Mr Philip Yeo, the former Chairman of Singapore's Economic Development Board went to the United States to sell Singapore as an offshore petrochemical hub, the American investors laughed at him. They appreciated the attractive tax incentives offered but lamented that our offshore islands were too small - and they were right. Mr Yeo rounded up all the top guns in the Economic Development Board, Jurong Town Corporation and other related government agencies to brainstorm the problem. They thought seriously - and laterally - and eventually offered the American investors a proposition they could not refuse: a new Jurong Island, formed by the merging of seven small offshore islands!

SEEING THROUGH:
This is perseverance and persistence in the face of adversity. Many of us tend to give up easily when we fail in something. For example, in school, when we got an F in the Chinese Language test or flunked the O Levels, we thought it was the end of the road. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

When we made a horrendous mistake in some part of our life, we just wanted to give up. According to motivational experts, there are no such things as mistakes, only learning experiences. But please, don't make the same mistake twice!

In fact, I like what F Buckminster Fuller, recognised as Planet Earth's Friendly Genius & inventor of the geodesic dome, once said:


"There are no failed experiments; only unexpected results!"

If Thomas Edison had not persevered and persisted in experimenting with some ten thousand filament alternatives, we would probably still be using large candles today!

SEEING BEYOND:

It is difficult to predict the long-term future, especially in a world that is rapidly and constantly changing. However, this should not stop us from considering and playing with some plausible scenarios in the future, in which we plan to play a major role in them.

In the corporate world , we call this scenario planning.

For a young student, it is pertinent for you to take a longer term perspective, at least ten or more years down the road, in terms of what you want to do with your life. This can affect invariably what you do today.

Let me illustrate. Today, you are a lower secondary school student and your dream is to become a neurosurgeon.

To become and succeed as a neurosurgeon, you need to have adequate working experience in a reputable hospital. To do that, you need to graduate from a top-notch medical university. For entry to study in a top-notch medical university, you need to score excellent grades in your A Levels, and you also need to do well in your SAT. To attain that, you need to go into a good junior college to mix around with the best, and just to get into one, you need to achieve excellent scores in your O Levels.

So, it is obvious that your planning starts from today, and you will have to start by seeing beyond in order to consider all the educational options open to you! Once you set this in motion, you will get to see the opportunities along the way that will pave the time-path for you to achieve your ultimate dream!

Be prepared for all the opportunities lurking around you, but first things first, go and enjoy your exploration from different viewpoints!

I would like to conclude this post with a quotation from Leonardo da vinci:
"If you wish to gain knowledge of the form of problems, begin with learning how to see it in many different ways."

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE POWER OF SELF-TALK

Rocky III
starring Sylvester Stallone

Since I was a kid, I love to watch action movies. I often go to watch action movies - even though they may be deemed 'no-brainers' - with only two objectives in mind. One, to be entertained, & two, to learn something useful.

Sylvester Stallone is one of my favourite action movie stars, despite the fact that he has drooping eyes, a crooked mouth & talks funny. I have watched many of his action movies, which included Rocky I to III, Rambo I (First Blood) to III, Judge Dredd, The Specialist, Demolition Man, Cliffhanger, Tango & Cash, Cobra & Nighthawks.

I would like to single out one of his action movies, Rocky III, which I thought shares many valuable learning points in terms of life (survival) skills.

The focus of the entire movie centres on his reluctant return (again as Rocky Balboa) to the ring after an earlier brutal knock-out & devastating defeat by Clubber Lang (played by Mr T), with the encouragement of Apollo Creed (played again by Carl Weathers).

Rocky struggled through his fears & anguish as he kept playing the vivid images of past defeat in his mind. On the other hand, Apollo kept drumming into Rocky's thick skulls about the urgent need to regain his fighting spirit. It was very interesting to watch both of them & also to listen to their witty dialogue, as Rocky struggled to attain his former killer instinct, 'the eye of the tiger', while undergoing intensive re-training.

Flashbacks of his failed encounter with Clubber Lang constanly kept Rocky awake at night. It was quite fun to watch Mr T in his meanest role as a wrecking machine in the ring.

In one early training scene, Rocky was really exhausted & he wanted to stop: "Let's do it tomorrow." Apollo screamed: "There's no tomorrow!"

The scene at the beach & the subsequent dialogue between Rocky & his wife, Adrian (played by Talia Shire), was really heart-warming.

A very concerned Adrian asked one pertinent question: "Tell me, why did you come here?".

Rocky began to reveal his inner fears & lingering doubts through his conversation with Adrian.

The final revelation actually came from Rocky as he yelled: "Nothing is real if you don't believe in who you are!"

A lot of the times in our lives when we encounter stumbling blocks or setbacks in our path to seek out our fondest dreams, we often begin to lose steam as we begin to doubt ourselves. This often happens to kids & teens when they get an F in a test or may be just flunk school. Like Rocky, we keep playing the images of self-defeat in our minds & begin to lose the original focus & intended purpose at the beginning of the journey.

The interview dialogue between Clubber Lang & the reporter was also witty but meaningful. When asked for his strategy to counter Rocky's comeback to the ring, his remarks were "Strategy? Don't need any!" When asked again by the reporter for his prediction, he retorted: "Pain!"

At the ring just before the fight, Clubber Lang said menacingly to Rocky: "I'm going to bust you up!" Rocky's immediate response: "Go for it!"

Putting these dialogues into a life-skill perspective, I am sure readers will concur with my following analyses:

- If we don't have a strategy in life, pain is definitely what we will get.

- The best way to deal with fear is to fight it! FEAR is just a FALSE EVENT APPEARING REAL!
- Alway believe in ourself & in our ability to perform & succeed in the things we are working on. Believing that we can make it happen is an important step toward creating a desired future. Napoleon Hill, author of the 'Law of Success', rightly said that, it takes a person half their lives to discover that life is a 'do-it-yourself' project.

- In life, everything is possible; it's just a question of strategy!

- Our success or failure in life is often reflected in the stories we keep telling to ourselves.

- All of us have choices in life: we have the power to choose & we should always choose to win!

If you have not yet watched Rocky III, I strongly suggest you watch it quickly & carefully. You will learn hell a lot from this movie!

All Mums & Dads out there, I strongly urge both of you to go & watch this movie with your kids & teens!

PHOTOREADING TECHNOLOGY: A PERSONAL EXPLORATION

I attended the four-day PhotoReading workshop in Singapore during the early nineties under the instruction of the co-developer of the technology, Patricia Danielson. In fact, I was the organiser of that first PhotoReading workshop in Singapore & simultaneously, I was also one of the thirty like-minded workshop participants.

[It is pertinent to mention that I also started a small but unique bookstore, aptly called ‘The Brain Resource’ in the central business district at about the same time. I love to read & so I thought a book store would certainly help to fuel & bankroll my life-long reading pursuits.]

Frankly speaking, I had very ambivalent feelings after the workshop. This was partly due to my training as an engineer. My logical mind kept censoring my thoughts & actions. I even had problems viewing the random dot stereograms as part of the training in developing 'soft focus'.

It was only about one year later that I started to embrace the PhotoReading techniques.

What I had done later on was just learning to let go...to get on with the PhotoReading tasks as instructed in the program...to go with flow, so to say...& stop myself from 'intellectualising' every move I made along the way. I managed to see the random dot stereograms without even 'trying'. I finally succeeded in PhotoReading. Since then, my reading pursuits went into warp speeds.

Therefore, I can relate quickly to many reviewers on the Amazon.com website who threw pot shots at the PhotoReading technology. Here, I want to share with readers how to go about it, based on my personal experience.

There are seven important process stages or steps in achieving PhotoReading:

Step 1. Enter a resourceful state of mind, by practising a simple relaxation sequence & then using the Tangerine technique. It is important to note than a relaxed mind is an alert mind.

Step 2. Define your purpose for reading, by asking:

a) what is the significance of this reading material?;
b) how much time am I prepared to invest in reading it?;
c) do I need a global overview or detailed information?;
d) what do I already know about this reading material?;


[It is important to note that your purpose questions actually activate the reticular activating system (RAS) in your brain, which therefore acts like a servo-mechanism, exactly like the one in a Tomahawk missile!]

Step 3. Design a road map by doing a quick preview/inview/overview of the book i.e. look at the table of contents, if any, preface, introduction, chapter outlines, paragraph headings/sub-headings, graphical illustrations or pictures, key words in caps or italics, bulleted points, book or chapter summaries &/or review/discussion questions, if any, marginal notations, boxed selections, even the index, also the first & last sentences of key passages.

In reality, all these little 'signposts' will trigger &/or create some sort of prior knowledge, allowing you to know what you don't know, what you need to know, what you want to know. You can view this step as a reconnaissance of the (book) terrain;

Step 4. PhotoRead by adopting a 'soft-focus' view of the page (to be precise, it's just a wide angle view, with your peripheral vision playing a major role, in contrast to your focused vision; the soft focus allows you to create & see an imaginary blip page) in the reading material & turn over the pages in a gentle rhythmic manner, follow up with a Rapid Read;

[It is pertinent to note that this process step is relatively similar to those reading methods of recognised experts like Evelyn Wood, Stephen Berg & Peter Kump, although they don't use fancy terms to denote the step.]

Step 5. Pause to read & then annotate important passages within the text or in the margins. To facilitate your annotation, a really good strategy is to use a pencil or colour pen as a pacer, which is my favourite personal approach;

Step 6. Personalise your information by creating mind-maps or using visual tools, by making use of the annotated information with the text or in the margins as key ideas;

Step 7. Review/Reflect on your mind-maps or visual tools & then synthesise the key ideas or points, with a short summary, if possible; From a tactical standpoint, the 'strategic heartbeat' of the PhotoReading program lies at & between stage or step 1 & stage or step 5.

As you complete your PhotoRead manoeuvre with the 'soft focus', i.e. you can see the imaginary blip page, you actually generate an unconscious holographic blueprint of the book terrain, with all the little sign-posts in their actual places.

It may be fuzzy in perspective but it's still there in your mind. When you do a Rapid Read, your prior knowledge from the blueprint will guide you, in sort of a conscious mode, as you navigate the book terrain again. You will instinctively slow down when you come across or recognise passages that have relevance to your purpose questions. In other words, your RAS (servo mechanism) kicks into homing mode the moment you start to Rapid Read.

I have read from somewhere that research has shown that 4 to 11% of any given text contains the key words or phrases. Put it in another way, the 80/20 rule or Pareto's Law applies also to reading.

One of the hallmarks of high performance reading is always going after key ideas, which are often embodied in the key words or phrases. Applying the 80/20 Rule, these key words or phrases generally account for 20% of all the words within the given text & yet they hold 80% of the total meaning within the given text.

To most readers in general, all these foregoing PhotoReading routines as outlined may seem quite far-fetched.

All of us have been to the supermarket or hypermarket as we tag along with our spouses during the weekends. As we move from aisle to aisle leisurely, our eyes (focused vision as well as peripheral vision) are always scanning the entire environment, with all the multi-sensory impressions, consciously & unconsciously. Invariably, our spouses may turn around & say "Hey, we need to replenish this or that item." Instinctively, we often can direct them to the proper aisle & even the correct shelf to retrieve the needed items. How is this possible?

Again, research findings have shown that whatever object that falls within our entire field of vision, especially when we are taking our own sweet time, is always captured in our mind. The question is how & where to retrieve them. A relaxed & resourceful state of mind holds the vital key. This applies also to idea generation.

A lot of people think that the 'soft focus' technique in PhotoReading is simply hocus-pocus. In reality, it is an ancient technique already practised by North American natives as they stalk wild animals. To them, it is 'the eye of the tracker.'

Today, I understand that US Secret Service & FBI agents also use the same technique to visually weed out potential assassins hiding among the crowds. They call it 'splatter vision.' Army snipers are trained to use it to spot enemy targets in both jungle & urban warfare environments. Have you watched Tom Berenger realistically playing the hardened, veteran army sniper in the 'Sniper' movie & its two sequels?

In the martial world, it's called 'soft eyes'. Legendary Japanese combat strategist during the sixteenth century, Miyamoto Mushashi, had documented this technique in his famous 'Book of Five Rings.' Have you ever watched the late Bruce Lee & his stealthy, anticipatory 'Jeet-kune-do' moves on TV (‘The Green Hornet’, ‘Longfellow’) & in the movies (‘Marlowe’, with James Garner)? In his book, 'The Tao of Jeet Kune Do', Bruce Lee apparently described his combat technique as 'diffused attention.'

The same technique, often called the 'soft gaze', facilitates the viewing of random dot stereograms. Just think about it: How is it that the human mind can discern a 3-D picture apparently hidden among all the dots?

A lot of people, including myself at first, get turned off by the Tangerine technique. Actually all of us already practised the Tangerine technique in our daily lives, unconsciously, of course.

Let me use an analogy to explain. When we drive a car or ride a bicycle on the road, our visual attention is always focused on the road, at a moving & floating point which is about 30-40 metres ahead of our vehicle. Yet, our eyes are always 'roving' about...looking at the instrument panel (in a car); at the rear view mirror (in a car; on a bicycle, we turn our head to look back momentarily); at the wing mirror on either side (of the car); sometimes, looking at the front seat passenger (in a car); sometimes, something fancy in front of our vehicle or alongside our vehicle strikes our eyes...but our eyes always instinctively fall back to focusing on the road ahead from time to time, at the moving & floating point & yet our vehicle does not even move in a zig-zag manner...sometimes, we pass or turn through 2 or 3 road intersections (with traffic lights) without even realising it. Bear in mind that our powerful unconscious mind is constantly processing all these vital as well as trivial information.

If I draw an imaginary straight line from the moving & floating point on the road all the way back through our eyes, it will come out of our head, just above & just behind it, where the tangerine is supposed to be positioned. It is this imaginary tangerine that helps us to maintain the 'soft focus', while driving (or riding a bicycle) & also while doing all those little tasks I have just described. It keeps us on track on what we are doing, unconsciously. This is also how it works when we read a book. The imaginary tangerine helps the reader to maintain the 'soft focus'. Get it, now?

I trust I have enlightened readers on this working mechanism of PhotoReading. I want to say this: There is no vodoo in PhotoReading & Paul Scheele is definitely not a con artist!

PhotoReading actually works as originally envisioned by Paul Scheele. I can do it. Donald Mitchell, a well-known business consultant & one of Amazon.com’s top reviewers has also done it, too. So can you!

The book by Paul Scheele, the principal developer of the technology, captures the essence of PhotoReading very well. It's also very easy to read.

As a matter of fact, it also highlights another useful technique called 'Syntopic Reading', which actually has its origins in Mortimer Adler's 'How to Read a Book', written in the 40's. I wish to add that with PhotoReading techniques, your 'Syntopic Reading' can move with exponential speeds.

According to the author, PhotoReading rides on three proven technological strands:

preconscious processing (the work of Norman Dixon), accelerated learning (the work of Georgi Lozanov) & neuro-linguistic programming (the work of John Grinder & Richard Bandler).

Both Patricia Danielson, a NLP Master Trainer, as well as Peter Kline, an accelerated learning expert & author of ‘The Everyday Genius’ classic, have contributed substantially to its early development.

Let me share with readers some vital research findings (unfortunately I could not recall the source of my notes) pertaining to high performance reading, some of which have already been mentioned in the book:

- The mind moves by bounds;
- The mind uses peripheral vision to anticipate what is coming next;
- The mind is faster than the eye;
- The mind can grasp up to fifteen words at a glance;
- It's OK to sift & select as well as read at different speeds;
- Reading faster means better understanding;
- Understanding takes less time than reading;
- The mind moves spontaneously from synthesis to analysis;
- Reading is personal;
- our past history determines our reading habits;
- Context gives meaning to words;
- The meaning might lie ahead;
- The mind needs a purpose & precise commands;
- The printed word is not sacred; it's there to be challenged!
- AVOID sub-vocalisation;
- AVOID regression;

Have great fun with PhotoReading!

My final advice to interested readers: Don't get too engrossed or obsessed with fancy terms in the book, like "25,000 words per minute", "one page per second", "mentally photographing"...just enjoy & stay with the reading process as described in the book &/or in this review.

Please accept the fact that the human mind has the innate ability to absorb & process information at very high speeds!

For a moment, just imagine how Gary Kasparov could out-smart & out-manoeuvre IBM Deep Blue in their first man-machine contest over a chess game in 1989. (I recall he won once or maybe twice again in the mid-nineties, but eventually lost in subsequent contests because machines got more powerful processors - with brilliant evaluation capabilities, could not get intimidated by him, & could not get tired at all!).