Saturday, June 30, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: 'I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN: AN INTRODUCTION TO GRAPHIC LANGUAGE RECORDING & FACILITATION', by David Sibbet

Following my introduction to & encounter with Jim Channon, billed as America's first "corporate shaman," & the originator of the popular concept of "corporate visioning, in the early nineties, I became fascinated by anything that is connected to graphic facilitation, visual language, visual thinking, & visual tools.

I am very glad to have found 'I See What You Mean' by David Sibbett, among many books & resources in the genre.

It's self-published & ofers an excellent introduction to the power of graphics within the context of graphic facilitation processes (including graphic recording).

It has been personally hand-crafted in the early 80's by the author, David Sibbet, who is considered among the very few pioneers of this emergent field. I consider him an established heavy weight in the field of graphic facilitation. He now runs the renowned Grove Consultants International Group, dedicated to visual planning & organisational change.

I dare to say that this book is the one & only first book of its kind in the marketplace.

Essentially, this spring-bound book serves as a visual guide & orients readers to the fundamentals of using graphic language with groups. It contains orientation materials, tips for getting started, basics of graphic language, graphic templates, meeting planning frameworks, case studies & tips for documentation & extension into other media.

'I See What You Mean' is itself a marvellous example of using graphic facilitation processes in print, & a really rich resource for anyone who wants to work visually with groups.

I believe a newly updated version of this book, also spring-bound, is now available in the form of 'Graphic Facilitation: Transforming Group Processes with the Power of Visual Listening'.

Please check out the author's website, http://www.grove.com/ for other good stuff. It's a goldmine of information. More information about graphic facilitation can be found at http://www.visualpractitioner.org/.

VISUAL LANGUAGE: GLOBAL COMMUNICATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

In the early nineties, I have had the rare opportunity of spending almost two solid days in a 16-day boot camp on the beautiful island of Kona, Hawaii, with Jim Channon, recognised worldwide as the original pioneer of the corporate visioning process. He was one of the principal instructors & taught the group the art of creating a personal vision quest, starting with personal values & higher purpose all the way to strategic intentions & tactical objectives, using his Advanced Visual Language (AVL).

[The power & beauty of his AVL is this: Everything pertaining to the vision quest goes into one single page, with pictures, symbols & in full colours. Wow! That's really cool!]

[As a matter of fact, I recall a particular passage on page 22, under the heading of 'Visualising the Dream' in the wonderful book, ‘Profit from Experience: The National Semiconductor Story of Transformation Management’, by Dr Gil Amelio, which I had read around the mid-nineties. In a nut shell, the book documented how the author had engineered a successful corporate transformation inside the industry giant. In that passage, the author related how he had recognised that a twenty-two page white paper, as part of the preamble to the Leading Change process, was too long for people to grasp readily. They then brought in David Sibbet of Grove Consultants. The consultants translated the Leading Change sessions (first for top-level managers throughout the world & subsequently moving down throughout the organisation) into creative visual rendering - sort of an artistic conception of the corporate vision. Some 700 people had participated. This eventually evolved into a single-page symbolic representation in the form of 'Spaceship National Semi-Conductor' vision poster. In reality, it had captured the thoughts & aspirations of all the employees within the industry giant. Every employee in the organisation had a miniature copy of the vision poster to signify his/her contribution & commitment to the corporate vision. That's true employee empowerment, at & across all levels! If I recall correctly, the same consultants had replicated their remarkable feat with Jack Welch in the GE Workout.]

Coming back to Jim Channon, I was completely mesmerised by his high-speed colour marker illustrations & spell-binding story-telling (& he was dressed as the mystical shaman), against the background of relaxing & yet energising music. I even bought a copy of his Basic Strokes Workbook (with video) to keep as a memento.

That's how I got hooked on to the power & applications of visual language (& visual thinking) in my work & my life.

Since then, I will always lay my hands on & browse any book that has a connection to visual language (& visual thinking) & its applications.

Robert Horn's wonderful book, 'Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century' is one of them.

To me, VL is very good compendium of tips & techniques on combining & integrating text, graphics & shapes to communicate ideas &/or arguments, despite its shortcomings in some areas.

In fact, it is the first in its genre to actually use VL to describe & analyse that language for lay persons. I also like the book's plethora of varied visual examples.

In a nutshell, it covers:

- introduction to the basic concepts of VL;
- concise history of some major innovations that form the core history of the language;
- survey of research on the emerging syntactical & semantic elements of the language;
- guide to the many varied applications of VL;

From my personal perspective, the shortcomings pertain to the relatively light treatment & perfunctory emphasis on multimedia & animations.

Ever since I have learned VL from Jim Channon & further from my own personal & professional explorations with its applications in strategic planning retreats for companies & special interest groups, I have found VL can be useful in:

- navigating & visualising complex subjects or issues;
- facilitating brainstorming & creative problem solving;
- fostering critical thinking;
- making group processes visible;
- facilitating project planning & control;
- presenting multiple & diverse points of view;
- facilitating cross-cultural communications;
- exploring deeper personal connections, beliefs & feelings;

On the whole, the book is very well written. Presentation is crisp & concise.

I strongly recommend reading it &/or having a copy in your personal library.

[More information about Robert Horn's work can be found at http://www.stanford.edu/~rhorn/; more information about Jim Channon & his troupe can be found at http://www.jimchannon.com/]

SYNTOPIC BOOK REVIEW: 'HOW TO DRAW A RADISH' by Joy Sikorski

1) How to Draw a Radish: And Other Fun Things to Do at Work;
2) How to Draw a Cup of Coffee and Other Fun Ideas for Home & Garden;
3) How to Draw a Clam: A Wonderful Vacation Planner All three books;

by Joy Sikorski

I have owned these three wonderful books since the late nineties & have re-visited them many times.

In the field of what I would like to term as 'deliberate doodling', I consider these three books to be the best in the genre. Unlike the common doodles, which seem whimsical, 'deliberate doodling' involves some form of structure & purpose. I am very impressed by what the author has done in the three fun books of hers.

All the three books are spiral bound, each with some two hundred pages of inspirational doodling techniques, on top of various other discovery games & paper crafts for professional & personal entertainment. Each is sturdily constructed with two pockets for special projects, organised with ten card-board dividers & yet small enough to fit into your jacket.

From my personal perspective, they are wonderful “toys for grown-ups”: playful, instructive & absolutely worthwhile!

The author has actually written another similar book, entitled 'Squeaky Chalk : And Other Fun Things to Draw (And Do) When There's Nothing to Do!' but for some strange reasons, I did not lay my hands on it.

For the benefit of readers, let me share this personal experience of mine:

I have combined the 'deliberate doodling' techniques from Joy with the 'rapid viz' techniques from Kurt Hanks, & integrated them into the 'private writing' processes as formulated by Mark Levy in his wonderful book, 'Accidental Genius: Revolutionize Your Thinking Through Private Writing .'

I use what I often like to term as my 'scratch pad', in the form of Bienfang NoteSketch pads. Alternatively, I also use the type graphic artists use, i.e. the A3-sized, spiral-bound, 100-pages-per-pad, 100-gms-weight drawing blocks, in conjunction with a multi-colour/multi-utility pen from Rotring.

On many occasions, I have astonished myself by being able to wrestle with the valuable business & life insights from my own seemingly disparate "private writing"/'deliberate doodling'/'rapid viz' pages. The doodles & illustrations often add a perceptive visual dimension to my seemingly random thoughts on paper.

My scratch pad is always a visual smorgasbord of relatively heavy text, mystical doodles & logical illustrations (thanks & no thanks to my engineering training!). I have translated many of my valuable insights into pragmatic projects. One of the sideline projects is writing reviews on amazon.com website. Now, another sideline project is writing my own blogs!

To all readers: If you really want to use both sides of your powerful brain to generate valuable insights, I can guarantee that these three books can drive your imagination engine into hyper-speed mode.

Last but not least, many thanks to Joy, Kurt & Mark for your timely & creative interventions!

BOOK REVIEW: 'ACCIDENTAL GENIUS: REVOLUTIONALISE YOUR THINKING THROUGH PRIVATE WRITING', by Mark Levy

I have had this book for quite a while & I have also reread it several times. I have been attracted to the book in the first place by what the author writes in the Introduction:

- Every recognized innovation has, in some way, been a product of human thought. It stands to reason, then, that the thoughts appearing in your mind have an enormous, potential value to you & the world;

- Sometimes your best thoughts must be coaxed out, & played with, before they reach their fullest potential;

- The world's most progressive companies have sophisticated infrastructures just to develop, and protect, the kinds of thoughts that you've already had or are capable of having;

What does this book do, in a nut shell: it teaches you how to get at what you're thinking on paper, so you can convert the raw material of your thoughts into something useable, using an energising body of techniques called 'private writing'. It entails examining all kinds of work/life situations & creating solutions for them through personal reflection and free-form writing.

The chapter on 'Extracting Gold from a Business Book' is my personal favourite.

For me, I have often used the author's writing techniques as a catalyst to guide my own best thinking on paper. I use what I often like to term as my 'scratch pad', in the form of Bienfang NoteSketch pads. Alternatively, I also use the A3-sized, spiral-bound, 100-pages-per-pad, 100-gms-weight drawing blocks, which most graphic artists use, in conjunction with a multi-colour/multi-utility pen from Rotring.

On many occasions, I have astonished myself by being able to wrestle with the valuable business & life insights from my own seemingly disparate 'private writing' pages. I have translated many of my valuable insights into pragmatic projects. My sideline projects include writing book reviews on amazon.com website as well as writing my own blogs.

I have noted that one of the most outstanding results of 'private writing' is honing my own critical & creative thinking processes.

Because of my personal interests in visual thinking, I often incorporate the 'rapid visualisation' & 'deliberate doodling' techniques I have picked up from Kurt Hanks as well as Joy Sikorski into my 'private writing' processes. As most readers may know, Kurt crafted the classic book, 'Rapid Viz', among many others. Joy crafted the following three marvellous doodling books, which I also own:

- How to Draw a Cup of Coffee & Other Fun Ideas;
- How to Draw a Radish & Other Fun Things to do at Work;
- How to Draw a Clam: A Wonderful Vacation Planner;

I have drawn phenomenal power from my purposeful integration of 'private writing' with 'rapid visualisation' & 'deliberate doodling'. That's why I always use a multi-colour/multi-utility Rotring pen in my work. My scratch pad is always a visual smorgasbord of relatively heavy text, mystical doodles & logical illustrations (thanks & no thanks to my engineering training!).

To conclude my review, 'Accidental Genius', is a real, rare gem.

I strongly recommend this book to any reader who wants to explore powerful insight generation, &/or to apply some structure & purpose to - & at the end, extract some value from - all those notes you've been writing to yourself.

SYNTOPIC BOOK REVIEW: THINKING WITH A PENCIL, by Henning Nelms & 'RAPID VIZ' by Kurt Hanks


In the field of rapid visualisation, there are only two books I would often recommend to others:

For left-brainers, i.e. people who are naturally logic-oriented: get hold of 'Thinking with a Pencil' by Henning Nelms;

For right-brainers, i.e. people who are naturally creative &/or imagination-oriented: get hold of 'Rapid Viz' by Kurt Hanks;

Both books cater to all those who wish to use a simple drawing as a tool for thought & communication. They explain how to draw &/or sketch quickly as well as how to use graphic illustration as a thinking tool & as a means of organising & presenting ideas on paper. This, in a nut shell, is essentially the process of rapid visualisation.

The only difference between the two books lies in their approach to the process, even though both have a free-hand style.

'Thinking with a Pencil' has a more structured approach, with a slant toward technical drawing. It has almost 700 technical illustrations.

'Rapid Viz' has a more free-form or creative approach, with a emphasis on speed & simplicity. In essence, it's more wholistic in terms of the process. It has some 900 illustrations & is also packed with ideas, games, puzzles & exercises to guide the reader.

As an engineer by training, I have owned the first book since the late sixties & the latter book since the early eighties. During my engineering days, the first book has been my field guide.

I have found that both books are written for the novice in mind. They provide easy-to-follow step by step instructional approach to the practical strategies of seeing, thinking, & drawing.

They are the only two true classics in the field!

Friday, June 29, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: 'MAPPING BIOLOGY KNOWLEDGE', by Kathleen Fisher & James Wandersee

This is a really wonderful book.

I bought this book strictly because I was fascinated by the work of one of the authors, Dr James Wandersee, even though biology is not my cup of tea.

By chance, I had "strayed" into his web-site, aptly called ‘The 15 Degree Laboratory’, while surfing the Internet one day. (If you are curious to find out more, go to his web-site, http://www.15degreelab.com/)

When I learned immediately that he had co-authored a book, I ordered it immediately from Amazon.

Wow! What a great book!

As a strategic explorer & a very active practitioner in visual tools, I am always looking for other and better ways (or learning tools to be more precise) to build understanding, simplify complexity, map ideas & construct knowledge.

Out of the book's table of contents, the following chapters (out of ten) attracted me the most at first glance:

Chapter 1: overview of knowledge mapping;

Chapter 5: meaningful & mindful learning;

Chapter 7: using concept circle diagramming as a knowledge mapping tool;

Chapter 8: using concept mapping as a knowledge mapping tool;

(& the remaining chapters pertain to biological & botanical learning).

I must say, I have learned a lot from the authors.

The above first two chapters give an excellent foundation to the book, & also examine the issue of meaning-making & meaning-building (the starting point of learning & understanding anything) from multiple perspectives.

Kudos to the authors!

The authors have very masterfully spun together an excellent exposition on knowledge mapping, with the proposition & application of two powerful visual tools, among many others in the book.

I have deliberately picked these two tools because of my own personal & professional interests.

One is concept circle diagramming, which to me is a terrific enhancement of the innocuous Venn Diagram (or its predecessor, the Euler Circle, if you are familiar with mathematics).

The other is concept mapping, originally postulated by Dr Joseph Novak, who wrote two excellent books on it - 'Learning How to Learn' & 'Learning, Creating & Using Knowledge.'

The authors provide step-by-step directions for implementing these visual tools in classrooms, multiple examples of ways they can be useful, & insightful suggestions for learning the sciences.

Surprisingly, as academics, the authors write pretty well - crisp, succinct, & most of all, not boring.

Although the authors have expounded them in the context of biology i.e. in the educational setting, I personally feel that the visual tools as propounded are very relevant to the corporate world.

This is because, in understanding & simplifying complexity in a knowledge-based economy, the visual tools can serve as a powerful support system for the mind, create an arena in which we can make our knowledge explicit, reflect on its organisation & polish its edges. They are also useful for building & assessing our content & cognitive skills.

I wish I have learnt these tools while I was in school or college. Learning would have been fun!

And, life through the years would have been easier.

For many readers who still think mind-mapping as created by Tony Buzan is great stuff, wait till you read this book and use the tools.

If you are already familiar with mind-mapping, I would strongly recommend you to learn these visual tools, as a valuable supplement to your skill repertoire.

It is my fervent hope that the authors of this book would sit down one day to re-write the book for the corporate world. - minus the biology stuff, of course. That would be really great!!!

BOOK REVIEW: 'VISUAL TOOLS FOR CONSTRUCTING KNOWLEDGE', by David Hyerle

I have found this book to be more suitable for teachers and students, and not so suitable for business readers.

It is a relatively good book on visual thinking - more precisely, on the subject of using graphic organisers and concept maps, which can be used to help teachers in guiding their students to shape their understanding of reading materials in schools - and at home.

However, the visual tools introduced in the book cannot be used to cover all kinds of reading materials in schools. For examples, a story grid - which is not covered in the book - would be more appropriate to shape understanding of literature texts; a time line or time series - also not overed - would be more appropriate to track chronological events in history textbooks.

For the businessman, this book can be somewhat boring, although one or two of the tools e.g. cluster and fishbone diagrams, can be used to organise visually one's thoughts or ideas while reading business books.

For business use, I would strongly recommend Terry Richley's ‘The Marketer's Visual Toolkit’ and/or Larry Raymond's ‘Reinventing Communication’. Both titles offer a very broad range of powerful visual tools for strategic thinking, planning, communication and problem solving. There are gems for the business user.

Even Nancy Margulies' ‘Mapping Inner Space’ book is worth exploring. In deep contrast, she adopts a free-form approach.

Nevertheless, this book is still worth reading, especially if you want a deep understanding of why we are 'visual'.

Also, David Hyerle's tools and ideas are still useful for the business reader, especially if one is pursuing business management studies e.g. MBA, in the evenings. The visual tools can be useful in that respect, particularly for probing understanding through the text, and taking/making personal notes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

EXECUTIVE READING GUIDE: 'VISUAL THINKING TOOL-KITS FOR BUSINESS APPLICATIONS' I

Visual thinking or thinking visually is just a way to organise our thoughts & improve our ability to think & communicate. It's a way to go beyond the linear world of the written word & enter the non-linear universe of spatial relationships, networks, maps, pictures & diagrams.

Why visual thinking?

Tony Buzan gives an excellent answer, in his signature book, 'Use Both Sides of Your Brain', as follows:

"The reason why, to quote the old adage, 'Pictures are worth a thousand words' is that they make use of a massive range of cortical skills: colour, form, line, dimension, texture, visual rhythm, & especially imagination - a word taken from the Latin 'imaginari', literally meaning to 'picture mentally'...Images are therefore more evocative than words, more precise & potent in triggering a wide range of associations, thereby enhancing creative thinking & memory."

Visual thinking is also about using various available visual tools to externalise our thinking processes, making them more clear, explicit & actionable.

Besides capturing & organising thoughts, visual tools are also very useful for problem solving, decision making & strategic planning.

Drawing on my personal exploration, I have compiled the following books & resources to help you to explore, understand - & apply - various visual tools that are already available in the marketplace.

In this particular instance, the visual tools are intended for business applications.

I have also compiled a separate collection for educational applications. This can be viewed in The Study Smart Smorgasbord weblog.

I am now in the process of compiling another collection for business applications, taking into consideration many more & newer visual tools.

1. MAPPING INNER-SPACE: LEARNING & TEACHING VISUAL MAPPING, by Nancy Margulies

Comments: "Excellent field guide to visual thinking for business professionals and beginners (including kids!). Profusely illustrated, with easy to follow, hands-on application. Goes far beyond mind-mapping!"

2. RAPID VIZ: A NEW METHOD FOR RAPID VISUALISATION OF IDEAS, by Kurt Hanks

Comments: "I love Kurt Hanks' books. This one shows you how to convert all your thoughts & ideas into visual forms, with quick sketching approaches. The companion Rapid Viz Toolkit has a ragtag collection of his zany sketches."

3. THINKING VISUALLY: BUSINESS APPLICATIONS OF 14 CORE DIAGRAMS, by Malcolm Craig

Comments: "Shows effective use of diagrams in a wide array of business situations. Over 50 detailed business examples."

4. THINKING VISUALLY: A STRATEGY MANUAL FOR PROBLEM SOLVING, by Robert McKim

Comments: "Excellent source book of new ways to solve problems, visually. Well researched/clearly written & profusely illustrated. In terms of depth and breadth, this one is the best!"

5. REINVENTING COMMUNICATION: A GUIDE FOR USING VISUAL LANGUAGE FOR PLANNING, PROBLEM SOLVING & REENGINEERING, by Larry Raymond

Comments: "Strictly for visualising ideas in a strategic planning environment and/or group problem solving situation. Well written/illustrated with real-world business examples."

6. BEYOND WORDS: A GUIDE TO DRAWING OUT IDEAS, by Milly Sonneman

Comments: "For group brainstorming/problem solving, this book is packed with handy tools/techniques for visualising ideas on the wall, so to speak. Fun to read & apply."

7. INFORMATION GRAPHICS: A COMPREHENSIVE ILLUSTRATED REFERENCE, by Robert Harris

Comments: "An excellent encyclopedia with over 4,000 visual tools for presenting facts & analysing problems."

8. VISUAL LANGUAGE: GLOBAL COMMUNICATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, by Robert Horn

Comments: "Not a toolkit per se, but gives a encyclopaedic brush about the use of visual language in the communication of thoughts & Ideas. Worth reading!"

9. THE MINDMAP BOOK: HOW TO USE RADIANT THINKING TO MAXMISE YOUR BRAIN'S UNTAPPED POTENTIAL, by Tony Buzan

Comments: "A visually-appealing book from the creator of mind-mapping process. Worth exploring, especially if you want to do a quick 'brain dump' on paper!"

10. CREATIVE VISUAL THINKING: HOW TO THINK UP IDEAS FAST, by Morton Garchik

Comments: "Although written for the advertising world, it provides fresh perspectives on idea generation, visually of course."

11. THE MEMORY JOGGER II, by Michael Brassard

Comments: "Not a visual toolkit per se, but offers powerful, industry-strength techniques for analysing root causes or productivity problems, some in visual forms, e.g. fish-bone diagram. Pocket size, so handy!"

12 THE MARKETER'S VISUAL TOOL KIT, by Terry Richey

Comments: "From the marketing strategy standpoint, this is an excellent field guide. Some business examples may be too perfunctory, but on the whole, still useful to read."

13. THE A TO ZEN OF LIFE MAINTENANCE: MAPPING THE EMOTIONAL MIND, by Maya Phillips

Comments: "Not so much for the corporate/business user, but still offers useful visual tools for self discovery & personal development. Explore it!"

14. A PICTURE IS WORTH 1000 WORDS: A WORKBOOK FOR VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS, by Jean Westcott

Comments: "A simple, handy guide, if you are a flip chart user. Excellent for beginners to visual thinking approaches in group problem solving."

15. MARK KISTLER'S DRAW SQUAD, by Mark Kistler

Comments: "From a master. Not a visual thinking toolkit per se, but teaches you - both adults & kids - how to "draw, draw, and draw!" Also my favourite."

16. RAPID PROBLEM SOLVING WITH POST-IT NOTES, by David Straker

Comments: "Reminds us that the simplest problem solving techniques are ten the most effective - all with the help of Post-it(R) Notes! Fun to read - and play!"

17. THINKING WITH A PENCIL, by Henning Nelms

Comments: "One of the best books I have read on how to make your concepts into recognizable sketches that can help convey ideas to other people. Now, a classic!"

18. THINKING ON PAPER, by V Howard

Comments: "Not a visual tool per se, but definitely helps to externalise, shape and organise your thoughts on paper. Also, an excellent source of ideas about how to start writing."

19. MAPPING BIOLOGY KNOWLEDGE, by Kathleen Fisher & James Wandersee

Comments: "Although written in the context of biology education, many of the author's visual thinking approaches are very relevant in the corporate/business environment. I love this book for the fresh insights."

20. STUDENT EDITION OF VIZABILITY FOR WINDOWS, by Kristin Woolsey

Comments: "The best in the genre of visual thinking tool-kits! Superbly-designed, and Intellectually and physically very demanding!"

21. DRAW: A VISUAL APPROACH TO THINKING, LEARNING & COMMUNICATING, by Kurt Hanks

Comments: "Provides a step by step approach to the practical strategies of visualising, expressing & communicating your ideas - and concepts - on paper! Packed with ideas, games, puzzles & exercises;"

[Watch out for 'VISUAL THINKING TOOL KITS FOR BUSINESS APPLICATIONS II']

BOOK REVIEW: 'VISUAL THINKING - TOOLS FOR MAPPING YOUR IDEAS', by Nancy Margulies & Christine Valenza

Sad to say, I am quite disappointed by this new book & with the two authors, whose past work I am most familiar with. Having read (& reviewed with gusto!) the principal author's two earlier pieces of work i.e. ‘Mapping Inner-Space’, I find this book to be somewhat of a letdown.

It is natural that I would compare this book with `Mapping InnerSpace.' Much of the material in the new book has apparently been rehashed from the earlier work. The only new stuff I can find is the `symbollary' of easy-to-draw iconographs, which is now been re-organized from A to Z, plus a handful of new 'Mind-scaping' application templates in the last chapter. That's it.

Surprisingly, the authors even continue to make use of the same Foreword, which goes back to the late 80's & which appeared in the first book.

I get this funny feeling that the new book has been based on perfunctory desk research & no attempt has been exerted to conduct some real field research to cover new developments or advancements. Worst of all, & sad to say again, the material is still restricted to the authors' own limited field of work.

Based on my own personal exploration, the field of visual thinking has obviously made tremendous progress in the last few years, in both the educational & business arenas. A quick search & browse across the net will give readers a good appreciation of what has happened/is happening out there.

I actually expect the authors to provide a quick round-up (or snapshot) of developments & happenings with regard to new & exciting visual thinking applications across the educational as well as business realms.

There have been abundant application variations as well as radical enhancements in the field of visual thinking for business professionals. I am well aware that field research is no easy task in the light of many proprietary methods, but with a little ingenuity & persistent legwork, it would have been rewarding for both authors to go the extra mile.

The new book, taking into consideration the prevailing developments outside their own sphere, would have been great for all the readers, especially the professionals.

For examples, the creative work of heavy weights in the field of visual thinking as applied to business & industry, like Jim Channon (large system imagineering with Advanced Visual Language), David Sibbet (graphical visualisation of organisational change with template-based methodology) & Matt Taylor (creative augmentation, with artful integration of visual space technologies, collaborative environments, & knowledge-intensive work processes), to name a few, have not been captured &/or exemplified. Not even in the Resources page.

I am also very intrigued as to why the innovative work of Christine Allen Ewy ('Teaching with Visual Frameworks') & Elizabeth H Wig ('Map It Out: Visual Tools for Thinking, Organizing & Communicating') is not even captured in the Resources. There are many others.

In today's technology-savvy world, there is no mention of using technology to augment one's visual thinking approach. The Mind-Manager Pro software quickly comes to mind. Xplanations is another innovative one. There are many others, too.

In these respects, the book does not stand up to its title, ‘Visual Thinking: Tools for Mapping Your Ideas’.

For the beginner, particularly a teacher or a parent or a student, who is currently looking for simple visual thinking approaches, this book still stands as great work. I would attribute this to the wonderful symbollary.

To sum up my review, I reluctantly rate this book a 6 out of 10 in the light of my foregoing comments, although it deserves a 10 in terms of useful & practical learning for the beginner in the field of visual thinking.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

POINTS TO PONDER: DEVELOPING ANTICIPATORY PROWESS

Peripheral Vision: Detecting the Weak Signals That Will Make or Break Your Company
by George Day & Paul Schoemaker

From emerging technologies to changes in consumer tastes, tremendous opportunities and threats often begin as weak signals from the periphery. How good are you & your organization at sensing, interpreting, & acting on these signals?

George Day & Paul Schoemaker use the catchy term 'Peripheral Vision' to signify that ability in their latest book. For all intents & purposes, it is a very fascinating book, filled with superb insights.

From my perspective, `Peripheral Vision' rides on a much larger issue that has strategic ramifications for businesses as well as for individuals in today's chaotic world. Mercer Management Consulting calls it `Strategic Anticipation' & they define it as `the ability to get it, to spot an emergent opportunity & chart a path there before the competition does.'

In fact, one of their VPs, Adrian Slywotzky, has even written a book about it in the late 90's. It's called `Profit Patterns' which provides a powerful discipline to see order beneath the chaos, based on the company's ground-breaking research into over 200 companies in 40 industries. They have identified some thirty patterns.

I call it anticipatory prowess.

The two authors of `Peripheral Vision' come with excellent credentials. George Day wrote `Market Driven Organisation' & `Market Driven Strategy'. Paul Schoemaker wrote `Profiting from Uncertainty' & `Winning Decisions.' The four books have been my personal favourites.

I must compliment the two authors for coming up with a seven stage systemic process model in `Peripheral Vision.' It provides practical tools & strategies for building a vigilant organization that is readily attuned to external environmental changes. The `Strategic Eye Exam', which has been well thought of, is a real gem. The same model & tools can also apply to the individual.

`Peripheral Vision' draws its intellectual cues from the concept of `splatter vision' which has been mentioned earlier & for the first time in a business book by Wayne Burkan in 'Wide Angle Vision', during the mid-90s. According to him, the concept involves scanning the entire landscape & looking at the big picture, to consider the signals coming in from every direction, rather than focusing on the individual signals coming from one direction or another.

I understand that it has its origins from an ancient technique practiced by North American natives as part of their survival repertoire. They call it the 'eye of the tracker', which allows them to take in all of a tracking scene, like a wide angle lens, without focusing immediately on anything in particular. Today, it is practiced by US Secret Service & FBI agents as well as army snipers, police detectives, fighter pilots, truck drivers, animal hunters, bird watchers & other nature observers.

In the martial world, it is known as `soft eyes', often exemplified by the late Bruce Lee as he fended off fighting opponents with his stealthy anticipatory 'Jeet Kun Do' moves. As a matter of fact, in the 'Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy', Japan's legendary combat strategist, Miyamoto Mushashi, taught how to 'relax & unfocus' the eyes in order to secure a sure victory during life-&-death duels.

In 'Photo-Reading' developed by Paul Scheele of Learning Strategies Corporation, readers are taught how to use a similar technique, known as 'Photo-Focus', which allow them to absorb massive information with relaxed & unfocused gaze of the reading material.

Anticipatory prowess is a critical survival skill for a company as well as for an individual in today's turbulent world. Our ability to avoid or withstand threats & crises is a function of both our ability to anticipate & our ability to respond quickly.

Applying the seven stage process model alone is inadequate. One must first truly understand how one's mind perceives the world in its many manifestations e.g. data. When we look at new data, we automatically try to make a match to what we already know & select a pattern from our memory store-house that might apply. This matching process gets influenced not only by what patterns we have stored up, but also our goals, prejudices, fears & passions.

Perception is undoubtedly the first & most important step in turning raw data into reality.

Next is creativity. Creativity requires seeing things differently as well as doing things differently. In essence, creativity takes place in the perceptual phase of thinking. This is where our perceptions & concepts are formed & this is where they have to be changed. According to Edward de Bono, most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.

I wish to drive home the point that the only sustainable edge a company (or an individual) has over the competitor is the perceptual sensitivity & creative ability of its people, because the competitor can also likewise implement the seven stage process model.

I generally concur that the seven stage process model can readily help in reducing the vigilance gap but as a user one must constantly enhance one's perceptual sensitivity to the world & also be prepared to challenge one's assumptions. Additionally, one must also be prepared to be exposed & adapted to other new approaches.

In this respect, & in order to broaden & expand one's repertoire of perspectives & tools, I would like to suggest the following supplementary reading to `Peripheral Vision':

At the Business Level:

- Opportunities: A Handbook of Business Opportunity Search, by Edward de Bono (**must read**);
- Future Edge, by Joel Barker (**must read**);
- Wide Angle Vision, by Wayne Burkan;
- Profit Patterns, by Adrian Slywotzky;
- Market Research Matters, by Robert Duboff (a former VP of Mercer Consulting);
- Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risks & Create Powerful Strategies, by Benjamin Gilad (his earlier work, Business Blindspots, is also worth exploring);
- Heads Up: How to Anticipate Business Surprises & Seize Opportunities First, by Kenneth McGee;
- Business Early Warning Systems, by Patrick Caragata;
- Harnessing the Power of Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence & Surprise Events, by Alain Martin;
- Anticipatory Management, by William Ashley;
- Vital Signs, by Melanie Herman (written for non-profit managers but worth exploring);
- Managing Business Crises, by John Burnett;
- Creating a Market Sensitive Culture, by Ken Langdon;
- Developing Strategic Thought, by Bob Garrett (only Chapter 5, which is a real gem. It illustrates strategic 'seeing' from multiple perspectives or viewpoints. A masterpiece from Henry Minzberg!);

At the Personal &/or Professional Level:

- Dinosaur Strain, by Mark Brown (**must read**)
- It's not the Big that eat the Small, by Jason Jennings (**must read**);
- The Power of ImPossible Thinking, by Jerry Wind;
- Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way, by Robert Ramsey (written for school principals but worth exploring);
- Anthony Robbins' Power Talk (Professional Series): The Power of Anticipation (**must listen**);
- The Titanium Professional, by Hugh Davies;
- Who Moved My Cheese?, by Spencer Johnson;
-High Impact Leadership (3-volume video), by Mark Sanborn;

To conclude my review, `Peripheral Vision' is definitely worth exploring, but first be aware of your perceptual sensitivity to the world!

POWER TOOLS TO ACCELERATE YOUR READING

Based on my personal exploration over the years, I have gathered & synthesised the following books & resources, which can provide readers with the necessary practical insights & power tools to accelerate your reading pursuits.

My personal comments are attached to each title.

1. HOW TO READ A BOOK, by Mortimer J. Adler

Comments: "An excellent and classic primer on how to read a book. His syntopic reading strategy is a real gem."

2. PHOTOREADING: THE WHOLE MIND SYSTEM, by Paul R. Scheele

Comments: "The creator reveals his secrets on reading at high speeds. His Tangerine Technique is very powerful - and it works, because we have always been doing it unconsciously while driving!"

3. SUPER READING SECRETS, by Howard Stephen Berg

Comments: "The Guinness Book of Records' Fastest Reader shares some of his breakthrough reading secrets. You will be amazed."

4. PHOTOGRAPHIC MIND: HOLOGRAPHIC MEMORY SYSTEM, by Dane Spotts

Comments: "You can't read at high speeds without an effective memory. Memory management is only a matter of strategy."

5. SUPER BRAIN POWER: 28 MINUTES TO A SUPERCHARGED BRAIN, by Dane Spotts

Comments: "You can't read at high speeds without a prepared mind. Clarity favours the prepared mind. It can be achieved as it is only a matter of training."

6. WHAT SMART STUDENTS KNOW, by Adam Robinson

Comments: "Learn and master the 12 powerful 'cyberlearning' questions from this book and they will help you to navigate more efficiently through any kind of reading text, irrespective of complexity.."

7. MAPPING INNERSPACE: LEARNING & TEACHING MINDMAPPING, by Nancy Margulies

Comments: "Reading is only part of the speed equation. You need a brain interface to externalise and capture your thoughts after reading. This is it."

8. PEAK LEARNING, by Ronald Gross

Comments: "Additional tools, at low cost or almost no cost, to enhance and sustain your reading capabilities for life! The Invisible University is within your reach!"

9. TRIGGER POINTS: HOW TO MAKE DECISIONS THREE TIMES FASTER, INNOVATE SMARTER, & BEAT YOUR COMPETITION BY 10%, by Michael J. Kami

Comments: "The author's razor-blade reading technique for magazines is the best I have ever come across. He was IBM's former business strategist."

10. NATURAL VISION IMPROVEMENT, by Janet Goodrich

Comments: "Vision is critical to reading at high speeds. Maintain your two eyeballs in peak condition through vision exercises e.g. palming, sunning, near/far focusing, from this book."

11. BRAIN GYM FOR BUSINESS: INSTANT BRAIN BOOSTERS FOR ON THE JOB SUCCESS, by Gail E. Dennison

Comments: "Without whole-brain/whole-body synchronisation, it is difficult to attain high speed rate in your reading. Practise and internalise the key exercises from this book."

12. QUALITY OF MIND: TOOLS FOR SELF MASTERY & ENHANCED PERFORMANCE, by Joel Levey

Comments: "A resourceful state of the mind and body - and a relaxed ambiance - will always precede any high speed reading venture. Read this book to learn how to go about it."

13. SMART MOVES: WHY LEARNING IS NOT ALL IN THE HEAD, by Carla Hannaford

Comments: "Among other stuff, you need to drink a lot of plain water to maintain high speed learning. Water enhances oxygenation in the brain and cellular polarity. Read it to find out more."

14. KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE: 83 NEUROBIC EXERCISES, by Lawrence Katz

Comments: "Keep your brain nimble and stronger for longer, with neurobic exercises from this book. The exercises cause changes to your brain cell communications, which are vital to information processing!"

15. MANAGING YOUR OWN LEARNING, by James R. Davis

Comments: "A compact learning handbook, to beef up your reading and learning skills. Written from the ultimate application perspective. Excellent work."

OPPORTUNITY PATHFINDER'S BOOKSHELF I

I had originally created this bookshelf on amazon.com website several years ago. It’s based on my personal favourites in this genre. I am reproducing it in its entirety, with my personal comments attached to each title.

With the influx of newer titles, I am now in the process of compiling ‘Bookshelf II’.

1. OPPORTUNITIES: A HANDBOOK OF BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY SEARCH, by Edward de bono

Comments: "From my personal and professional explorations over the years, there are only two classic books ever written on the systematic approach to opportunity discovery. This is one of them."

2. OPPORTUNITY SPOTTING: HOW TO TURN GOOD IDEAS INTO BUSINESS SUCCESS, by Nigel MacLennan

Comments: "Gives a broad brush, but it is still worthwhile to be included in an opportunity pathfinder's bookshelf."

3. THE INNOVATION FORMULA: HOW ORGANISATIONS TURN CHANGE INTO OPPORTUNITY, by Michel Robert

Comments: "For corporations, the process tools revealed in this book are real gems, although I must add that the author's basic ideas came from Peter Drucker!"

4. CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING & OPPORTUNITY FINDING, by J. Daniel Couger

Comments: "More focus on "problem solving" than "opportunity finding". However, it's still a worthwhile book to be included in an opportunity pathfinder's bookshelf."

5. WINNING THE INNOVATION GAME, by Robert Tucker & Denis Waitley

Comments: "For a small book, this is an indispensable guide to spotting opportunities and winning big - at life! Many of the issues/questions in the book will definitely help to spur your thoughts/actions."

6. FUTURE EDGE: DISCOVERING THE NEW PARADIGMS OF SUCCESS, by Joel A. Barker

Comments: "From a strategic exploration/opportunity discovery viewpoint, this is an excellent field guide. The 5 strategic exploration tools are real gems!"

7. WIDE-ANGLE VISION: BEAT YOUR COMPETITION BY FOCUSING ON FRINGE CUSTOMERS, LOST COMPETITORS, LOST CUSTOMERS & ROGUE EMPLOYEES, by Wayne Burkan

Comments: "Read this book jointly with Joel Barkers' Future Edge. It will be an excellent companion as it gives more industry-wide perspectives and examples."

8. INNOVATE OR EVAPORATE: TEST & IMPROVE YOUR ORGANISATION'S IQ, by James Higgins

Comments : "Loaded with plenty examples from a cross-functional approach, plus questionnaires to test your innovation prowess. Read also the author's 2 other books."

9. INNOVATING THE CORPORATION: CREATING VALUE FRO CUSTOMERS & SHAREHOLDERS, by Thomas Kuczmarski

Comments: "The author's guaranteed and accelerated Innovation System in the book is a real gem!. Packed with compelling real-world examples."

10. THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET, by Rita Gunther McGrath

Comments: "An excellent compendium of strategies (esp. Chap. 7, 8, 10 & 11) to help you create opportunities in uncertain times. Heavy stuff. Excellent for strategy formulation/implementation."

11. THE IDEA ECONOMY: WHY YOUR IDEAS WILL HAVE TO CREATE PERSONAL WEALTH & HOPE IN AN AGE OF UNCERTAINTY, by Roger Hendrix

Comments : "From your workable ideas, you create real opportunities. This excellent book teaches you how to become an ideapreneur. It also comes with a self-testing ideapreneur profile."

12. THE MINDING ORGANISATION: BRING THE FUTURE TO THE PRESENT & TURN CREATIVE IDEAS INTO BUSINESS SOLUTIONS, by Moshe Rubinstein

Comments: "Although written from an organisational change perspective, it offers strategies to strengthen your powers of perception. This is the starting point of creating opportunities. Worth reading."

13. HOW TO MAKE MILLIONS WITH YOUR IDEAS: AN ENTREPRENEUR'S GUIDE, by Dan Kennedy

Comments: "From a maverick entrepreneur. A lot of rambling, but contains many fresh perspectives on opportunity creation. Suggest you also read his other books."

14. THE MANAGEMENT OF IDEAS IN THE CREATING ORGANISATION, by John Tropman

Comments : "The theme here is Idea-Leadership. Creating ideas is central to organisational as well as personal success. No ideas, no opportunities. Read it to find out more about 'why' and 'how to go about it'."

15. FROM ANTICIPATION TO ACTION: A HANDBOOK OF STRATEGIC PROSPECTIVE, by Michel Godet

Comments : "Gives a much broader understanding about developing opportunities into business solutions. Heavy going, but worth reading. Good for planning strategies."

16. FREE MARKET FUSION: HOW ENTREPRENEURS & NON-PROFITS CREATE 21ST CENTURY SUCCESS, by Glenn Jones

Comments: "This book's environmental scanning methods and scenario building strategies are worth your reading. To help you smell out business opportunities - and build strategic alliances!"

17. CHANGING STRATEGIC DIRECTION: PRACTICAL INSIGHTS INTO OPPORTUNITY DRIVEN BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, by Peter Skat-Rordam

Comments: "Although written from a strategic thinking perspective, it emphasises on the systematic pursuit of business opportunities as a way of generating company growth and establishing strategic direction."

18. INNOVATION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP, by Peter Drucker

Comments: "A classic. Although most case examples are pre-internet period, read it with the view to understanding the fundamentals of systematic innovation."

19. INVENT BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES NO ONE ELSE CAN IMAGINE, by Art Turock

Comments: "This practical book is about how to become a true trend-watcher, the first step towards opportunity discovery. Insightful n fun to read!"

20. ANTICIPATORY MANAGEMENT: 10 POWER TOOLS FOR ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE INTO THE 21ST CENTURY, by William Ashley

Comments: "Not an 'opportunity search' book per se but contains interesting insights, useful in developing your innovation capability."

21. MANAGING FOR RESULTS, by Peter Drucker

Comments: "A classic. Although most case examples are pre-internet period, read it with the view to understanding some excellent fundamentals about opportunity search vs problem solving."

22. LEADING IN A TIME OF CHANGE: WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO LEAD TOMORROW, VIEWER'S WORKBOOK, by Peter Drucker

Comment: "Originally a viewer's workbook to video-taped meeting of Peter Drucker & Peter Senge, it contains an excellent list of worksheets/questions to help you organise & build your opportunity portfolio."

23. HOOVER'S VISION: ORIGINAL THINKING FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS, by Gary Hoover

Comments: "Points out numerous ways of keeping a sense of curiosity & wonder about all that surrounds you - the starting point of all new opportunities! Brilliant work!"

24. THE LEARNING PARADOX: GAINING SUCCESS & SECURITY IN A WORLD OF CHANGE, by Jim Harris

Comments: "Provides many varied and brilliant perspectives about how to become a problem finder and opportunity seeker - through learning to learn, to change, and to embrace uncertainty! Wow! "

25. BLINDSIDED: HOW TO SPOT THE NEXT BREAKTHROUGH THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR BUSINESS, by Jim Harris

Comments: "Continuation of The Learning Paradox. Provides an excellent series of breakthrough techniques to help you identify trends earlier and more accurately predict their impact. Wow!"

26. KEY MANAGEMENT QUESTIONS: SMART QUESTIONS FOR EVERY BUSINESS SITUATION, by Tom Lambert

Comments: "Not written as an opportunity finding book, but the very intensive spectrum of questions - all well-crafted - will help the manager to uncover many hidden - organisational & business - opportunities!"

[Watch out for 'Opportunity Pathfinder Bookshelf II'.]

BOOK REVIEW: 'OPPORTUNITIES: A HANDBOOK OF BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY SEARCH', by Edward de bono

Surprising, there isn't a single review of this wonderful book, not even on amazon.com website, except for my review.

I would seriously consider this book to be among the best in the genre. Unfortunately, within this genre, there are only a handful of well written books on deliberate opportunity search, which would include Michel Robert's 'Innovation Formula'.

Most of de bono's many other books touch on the betterment of human thinking. This is one of the few odd ones that he had penned, which focuses on deliberate opportunity search. (There is, in fact, another one of his which focuses only on the exploration of success principles. It's entitled 'Tactics'.)

There are four principal parts in this book:

- Introduction;

- People, Attitudes & Opportunities;

- The Opportunity Audit;

- Thinking for Opportunities;

Each part is packed with workable ideas & valuable insights.

Unlike most business books, the Introduction of this book is more than an introduction. On its own, it's a real gem as it gives a detailed preamble of the varied concepts of opportunity search, opportunity space, opportunity audit, opportunity team, idea sensitive areas, opportunity map, making distinctions & generation of ideas.

The remaining three principal areas are goldmines of strategies & tools to assist a deliberate opportunity search. The Opportunity Audit is the best I have read so far. The If-Box Map is a quick & powerful tool to apply, in spite of its simplicity.

de Bono defines an opportunity as “a course of action that is possible & obviously worth exploring”. He makes some very illuminating observations in this book:

"The reasons that many opportunities pass us by is a perceptual one - we do not recognise an opportunity for what it is. An opportunity exists only when we see it."

"Everyone is surrounded by opportunities. But they only exist once they have been seen. And they will only be seen if they are looked for."
That's why I have always maintained that perceptual sensitivity to the world at large is a very important skill for all of us in today's rapidly-changing, technology-savvy world.

Additionally & very interestingly, he offers possible reasons why we often missed our opportunities:

- We simply cannot see the opportunity;
- We can see the opportunity, but cannot see any possible way of evaluating it;
- We can see that it is a worthwhile opportunity, but cannot see how it can be achieved;
- We can see that it is a worthwhile opportunity & even how to achieve it, but nevertheless it is not for us;
- We can see the opportunity, but can also see huge problems with people, resources & money;
- We can see that it is a worthwhile opportunity, but we have better use of our resources & efforts;
- We can see that it is a worthwhile opportunity, but in our opinion the risks are too great/rewards too small;


This book is definitely - & undoubtedly - worth pursuing. Instead of waiting for opportunities to knock on your door, I strongly suggest readers to go out there & search deliberately for opportunities, with the aid of this book!

STRATEGIC THINKING BOOKSHELF I

I had originally created this 'Strategic Thinking Bookshelf I' on the amazon.com website several years ago. It's based on my favourite books in this genre. I am reproducing it here in its entirety, with my comments attached to each title.

With the influx of newer titles in this genre, I am now in the process of creating Bookshelf II.

1. THE MIND OF THE STRATEGIST: THE ART OF JAPANESE BUSINESS, by Kenichi Ohmae

Comments: "One of first few strategic thinking books I read many years ago. Love his concept of “Strategic Triangle”. Maybe a little bit dated now, but excellent as a preamble to other strategic thinking books. Read also his many other books for broader perspectives."

2. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: A GUIDE TO STRATEGIC THINKING, by William Rothschild

Comments: "An excellent foundation classic, from a veteran strategist, who created a disciplined ST logic process with software (StrategyLeader). A must-read for all beginners. Read also his other books to expand your strategic thinking."

3. THE STRATEGIST CEO: HOW VISIONARY EXECUTIVES BUILD ORGANISATION, by Michel Robert

Comments: "I consider this to be the best in the genre, with practical insights from the business battlefield, just like his Innovation Formula. He wrote a new book, but all ideas are from this book."

4. DEVELOPING STRATEGIC THOUGHT: REDISCOVERING THE ART OF DIRECTION GIVING, by Bob Garratt

Comments: "A rag-tag collection of excellent ideas, from many different top-notch thinkers. A must-read from the board-room standpoint. You will definitely enjoy Mintzberg’s strategic thinking as “seeing” from multiple viewpoints, among many others."

5. MORRISEY ON PLANNING: A GUIDE TO STRATEGIC PLANNING, by George Morrisey

Comments: "This is actually the first book in a strategic thinking trilogy. To me, the trilogy is the most extensive/comprehensive of all strategic thinking books I have read. Helps you to uncover all strategic/critical issues from thinking and planning to tactical perspective."

6. STRATEGIC RENAISSANCE: NEW THINKING & INNOVATIVE TOOLS TO CREATE GREAT CORPORATE STRATEGIES USING INSIGHTS FROM HISTORY & SCIENCE, by Evan Dudik

Comments: "Takes a while to appreciate his insightful ideas, drawing on history, philosophy and science to approach strategic thinking scientifically. Plenty of Do’s & Don’ts. Quite refreshing."

7. CHOOSING THE FUTURE: THE POWER OF STRATEGIC THINKING, by Stuart Wells

Comments: "In terms of strategic thinking for the layman, I love this book, especially the author’s grasp of diverse concepts/ideas and his easy-going style in explaining strategic thinking concisely and succinctly. His Strategic Thinking Cycle is a gem."

8. STRATEGIC THINKING & THE NEW SCIENCE: PLANNING IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS, COMPLEXITY & CHANGE, by Irene Sanders

Comments: "If you love the New Science, based on chaos and complexity, you will definitely enjoy this book, in terms of business/management applications. Her visual thinking mode to strategic thinking is refreshing."

9. DON’T JUMP TO SOLUTIONS: THIRTEEN DELUSIONS THAT UNDERMINE STRATEGIC THINKING, by William Rouse

Comments: "I like the author’s tongue-in-cheek approach. One of very few books that touched on ‘first-order thinking’. Offers insightful strategies for moving into ‘second-order’. Read also his other books."

10. STRATEGIC THINKING: THE STEP BY STEP APPROACH TO STRATEGY, by Simon Wootton

Comments: "If you don’t have much time, this is a small yet excellent guide, with many useful “prompt questions.” I like his preface to the book. The attached CD-Rom gives some practical examples."

11. THE INFLUENTIAL STRATEGIST: USING THE POWER OF PARADOX, by Patrick Thurbin

Comments: "A little bit heavy going, but offers interesting perspectives and useful ideas. Read also his other book, ‘Leveraging Knowledge’."

12. BREAKAWAY PLANNING: 8 BIOG QUESTIONS FOR ACHIEVING ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE, by Paul Levesque

Comments: "In terms of practical, down-to-earth, hands-on application of strategic thinking, this is it. His questioning process at all organisational levels is the best I have seen."

13. STRATEGIC PLANNING FOR SMALLER BUSINESSES & DIVISIONS, by William Lasher

Comments: "A suitable book for the divisional head within large organisations. Like me, some readers may not quite like the book’s typical academic textbook format."

14. LEADERSHIP THROUGH STRATEGIC PLANNING, by Annabel Beerel

Comments: "Gives a broad brush about strategic thinking, at least in the context of leadership challenges, drawing on findings from the New Science. Very good for background reading, especially with the view of expanding your perspectives."

15. STRATEGIC INSIGHTS: DECISION MAKING TOOLS FOR BUSINESS LEADERS, by Ron Wishnoff & Caryn Spain

Comments: "A very, well-written resource book on strategic thinking and decision making in the field of business development. Jam-packed with worksheets, containing thought-provoking questions to set your mind into strategic thinking mode."

16. STRATEGIC THINKING, by Andy Bruce & Ken Langdon

Comments: "If you don’t have much time, this short 'n' sweet little pocket-sized book is packed with enough practical techniques and simple checklists. Frankly, more for beginners as well as older kids."

17. STRATEGIC THINKING FOR THE NEXT ECONOMY, by Michael Cusmano

Comments: "A compilation of strategic thinking from many diverse "gurus" in the context of the new economy. A very good read. I like the questioning approach to strategic issues."

18. THINKING STRATEGICALLY: THE COMPETITIVE EDGE IN BUSINESS, POLITICS & EVERYDAY LIFE, by Avinash Dixit

Comments: "Based on Game Theory. A bit concentrated to read (needs re-reading many times). Also, too short on business examples. However, the strategic thinking principles are worth exploring."

19. MECHANISM OF MIND, by Edward de bono

Comments: "Not a strategic thinking book, but offers an excellent introduction to the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the mind in your thinking process. An excellent primer on ‘first order thinking’! A real classic!"

20. THINKING STRATEGICALLY: PLANNING FOR YOUR COMPANY’S FUTURE, by William Shankin

Comments: "Although written prior to the Internet era, it is still packed with solid, workable tools and strategies. Highly recommended."

21. THINKING STRATEGICALLY: A PRIMER FOR PUBLIC LEADERS, by Susan Walter

Comments: "Although written from the standpoint of public leadership, many of the author's tools and strategies are relevant to business leaders. One of very few books in this genre!"

22. STRATEGIC SUPREMACY PURE & SIMPLE: DON’T CHANGE THE RULES, CHANGE THE GAME, by Michel Robert

Comments: "Shows you how you can use strategic thinking to create a distinctive strategy to change the game, not just the rules in your industry."

23. THE ART & DISCIPLINE OF STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP, by Mike Freedman

Comments: "Presents a well-crafted, field-tested, & fully integrated model for strategy formulation. It’s from the Kepner Tregore team."

24. THINKING FOR A CHANGE: 11 WAYS HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE APPROACH LIFE & WORK, by John Maxwell

Comments: "Packed with a wide repertoire of thinking tools, both at strategic & tactical level & well-substantiated with numerous, relevant personal anecdotes & proven, practical hints! Also, it’s very easy to digest! "

[Watch out for 'Strategic Thinking Bookshelf II']

POINTS TO PONDER: PATTERN INTERRUPT II

I am a raving fan of Roger von Oech's creative work as embodied in his books & card decks, namely:

Books:

- A WHACK ON THE SIDE OF THE HEAD;
- A KICK IN THE SEAT OF THE PANTS;
- EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED;

Card Decks:

- CREATIVE WHACK PACK;
- INNOVATIVE WHACK PACK;
- ANCIENT HACKS OF HERACLITUS;

I have used all his creativity stuff ever since I started my own strategy consulting (& book store) business in late 1991.

From my personal & professional experience, I would like to say that the entire collection of Roger von Oech's creative work has been designed to serve three strategic purposes:

- understanding - & removing - your mental blocks;

- breaking your habitual patterns;

- shifting your focus & changing your paradigms;

As a matter of fact, once you appreciate & commit to these three strategic purposes in your life, you will soon realise that there is nothing in this world to stop you from getting rid of old ideas & getting new & fresh ideas.

I wish to quote Paul MacCready, famed inventor & entrepreneur behind the first successful human-powered flying machine in history (Gossamer Condor):

“I soon found out that a dominant factor in the way our minds work is the build-up of patterns that enable us to simplify the assimilation of complex inputs. But this same patterning can be a weakness as well as a strength. The pattern makes it hard for a new idea to get fair treatment. ”
Breaking old habitual patterns is definitely the first & foremost priority in your journey to creativity!

Once your shift your focus, you begin to change your paradigms or the way you look at the world around you. Always remember this: Your brain follows the direction of your dominant thought. Once you focus on something, that thing becomes the foreground. Everything else around it will fall into the background.

Most opportunities are unfortunately hidden in the background. The moment you begin to shift your focus, you are pushing the 'foreground' into the 'background', & pulling the 'background' into the 'foreground'. Get it?

At this juncture, I wish to share with readers additional perspectives on shifting your focus drawn from my strategic exploration:

Shift from:

Looking at what’s there - to looking at what’s not there;
Seeking your conclusions - to checking your assumptions;
Examining the various details - to evaluating the overall concept;
Concern about your goals - to regard for the entire process;
Focus on objects - to focus on relationship between objects;
Looking at the object - to looking at the surrounding space;
Listening to what’s said - to discerning what’s not said;


'A Whack on the Side of the Head' will help you to break through your mental blocks. They will open up your mind for innovation. This book is filled with provocative puzzles, exercises, stories & helpful tips.

'A Kick in the Seat of the Pants' takes you on a guided tour through the four stereotype roles of the creative process – the Explorer, the Artist, the Judge, & the Warrior.

Understanding - & applying - these roles will fire up your personal & professional creativity. Tactically, they will change your mental focus as you change to play each of the four roles.

I would like to add one more role from what I have learned from Japanese creativity experts: Antique Dealer. This singular role will allow you to combine all the four roles into one, especially when you are thinking about giving old or recycled ideas a new spin.

'Expect the Unexpected' uses thirty of Heraclitus' (the world's first creativity master) epigrams as creative springboards. It has intriguing questions designed to topple old habits of thought & fire up your imagination.

All the three card decks are basically extensions of the three books, to allow convenient usage during brainstorming sessions.

From my strategy consulting experience, these three card decks have proven to be inexhaustible sources of inspirations.

In fact, the 'Innovative Whack Pack' combines the creative power of both the 'Creative Whacks' & 'Ancient Whacks of Heraclitus'.

I strongly urge readers to seriously consider having the entire collection of Roger von Oech's creative work added to your Creativity & Innovation Library, & all the three card decks placed permanently on your desk top at all times. They will certainly help to break your habitual patterns, shift your paradigms & ignite your creativity!

POINTS TO PONDER: PATTERN INTERRUPT

'75 CAGE RATTLING QUESTIONS TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU WORK: Shake-Em-Up Questions to Open Meetings, Ignite Discussion, and Spark Creativity'

By Dick Whitney

This book has been around for almost a decade. I have found it to be a very good book as it teaches readers how to break the normal thinking patterns in the mind. To use a popular neuro-linguistic term, how to do a 'pattern interrupt'!

Patterning is one of three principal operating principles of the human mind. (The other two: selective recognition & self-organising.)

The good thing about patterning is that you don't have to relearn the same pattern if you are comfortable with it or it works for you, e.g. riding a bike or driving a car or using a piece of software. The bad thing about it is that you may get stuck with it, especially when the old pattern doesn't work anymore. In the same vein, the patterning makes it hard for a new idea to get fair treatment in your mind.

Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking puts it very beautifully:


"The mind is habitually uncreative - it is usually preoccupied with organising masses of incoming data into convenient patterns. Once the pattern is established, then the mind tends to rely upon that pattern in future situations, in order to facilitate decision making & action in an otherwise complex world."

Dr David Perkins, author of 'Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence', explains further:


"...As we go through life, puzzle out problems, & gain experience, we store up patterns that work well for us. In meeting new situations, we automatically try to make a match to what we know & select a pattern from our storehouse that might apply. This matching process gets influenced not only by what patterns we have stored up, but also by our goals, prejudices & passions."
So, how does one break old patterns or get out of complacency? One workable method is to continually pose to ourselves challenging, thought-provoking questions. Better still, wild & crazy ones!

Why such questions?

Well, for one thing, they set off processional effects that have great impacts beyond your imagination. Questioning your limitations is what tears down the walls in life - in business, in relationships. I believe growth & progress are often preceded by new & challenging questions.

This book offers 75 outrageous, thought-provoking questions that can clean out the cobwebs in your minds & get you working in new & productive directions.

The essence of the book is not so much using the 75 field-tested "cage rattlers" to shatter the complacency. I feel that the primary objective of the two authors is to make you fully aware of the pitfalls & dangers of patterning in our minds & to encourage you to constantly challenge your assumptions!

This book has 75 short chapters, fully corresponding to the self-described 'cage rattling' questions. Each chapter opens with the question, provides you with some ways to use the question, shares a war story & gives you further tips for using the particular question.

Frankly, I would encourage readers to formulate your own list of 'cage rattling' questions to be used in your own different situation. Certainly, you can make use of the book's questions as a springboard.

Sometimes, the questions to be asked don't even have to be 'cage rattling'. All you need to do is to reframe the question.

For example, in problem solving, I always like to ask myself, 'what else can I do?' instead of 'what can I do?'; 'what has not yet happened here?' instead of 'what has happened here?'

Sometimes, I just like to give it a little twist by asking 'What if...?' &/or 'Why not...?' &/or 'So What? follow immediately by 'What's next?'

POINTS TO PONDER: ENHANCING PERCEPTUAL SENSITIVITY

1. 'THINKERTOYS: A HANDBOOK OF CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES'
2. 'CRACKING CREATIVITY: THE SECRETS OF CREATIVE GENIUS'
3. 'THINKPAK: A BRAINSTORMING CARD DECK'


by Michael Michalko

I remember the first time I encountered the book, 'Thinkertoys', it was actually the first edition released during the early 90's. That was also about the time I began to explore the various options with regard to my mid-life transition. In fact, I had initially spotted a brief but interesting review of the book in the Entrepreneur magazine.

I managed to trace the publisher & had even immediately ordered the first 100 copies for my debut bookstore. It became the best seller in my store for many years. Next, came 'Cracking Creativity' a few years later, as well as the accompanying brainstorming card deck, 'Thinkpak', to 'Thinkertoys'.

What impressed as well as benefited me most is not so much the creativity tools outlined in both books. In fact, the most productive learning experiences I got out of both books are a few very important things, which I would like to share with readers.

Let's take a look at the book, ‘Thinkertoys’, first. In the Introduction, the author started off with a visual puzzle: 'Can you identify the figure below?'

Only by shifting your focus, you can then see the hidden word within the figure.

In the author's own words, "...by changing your perspectives, you can expand your possibilities..."

Let's move to second book, 'Cracking Creativity'. In the Introduction, the author prefaced it with a simple arithmetic equation: What is half of thirteen?

The subsequent passages as outlined in ‘Part I: Seeing What No One else is Seeing’, & ‘Strategy I: Knowing How to See’, by the author, revealed the secrets to getting many possible answers (or perspectives) to the above equation.

No creativity tool outlined in the above two books (or elsewhere in the world, for that matter) can help you to become more creative until you fully understand - & appreciate - what the author is trying to drive home in his two books.

In a nut shell, it basically boils down to one important thing: Use - & enhance - your perceptual sensitivity to the environment!

The author may not be the first person to postulate this crucial aspect of creativity.

I would consider Leonardo da Vinci to be the first person to have understood & practised it religiously. He said, in order to have a complete mind, one must use all our senses, especially, the sense of sight, among a few other things. In other words, one must LEARN TO SEE the world.

Edward de Bono had also broached this valuable concept in his groundbreaking series of lateral thinking books, starting with 'Mechanism of Mind' in the 70's.

I have always believed that you can't do things differently until you can see things differently.

Learning to see the world anew & from different perspectives is imperative if one wants to be more creative.

According to de Bono, creativity starts at the perceptual stage of thinking. He terms it, ‘First Order Thinking’. He added very beautifully:

"This is where our perceptions & concepts are formed, & this
is where they have to be changed. Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic."

The creativity tools, whether they are from the author's mentioned books or elsewhere, will then automatically fall into place & make more sense when you have first exercised your perceptual sensitivity.

Using any tool is a piece of cake, but changing one's perception - & maintaining fluidity of perception as well as having multiple perceptions - takes concerted efforts.

It is also important to take note that when things (or tactics) don't seem to work out as planned, always remember to check out your observations of the world first. Simply ask:

- what do you CHOOSE to see?

- where do you DIRECT your attention?

The second most productive learning experience I got from the above two books is realising that all thoughts are simply feats of association &/or juxtapositions - & the crux of creativity (in fact, also learning) are making associations &/or juxtapositions.

Tom Peters, in his wonderful book, ‘Liberation Management’, drives home with this insightful nugget:

"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."

Jay Abraham, high-powered marketing whiz, once shares these very interesting observations:
- ice cream was invented in 2000BC. Yet it was 3900 years later before someone figured out the ice cream cone;
- meat was on this planet before humans. Bread was baked in 2600 BC. Nevertheless it took another 4900 years for somebody to put together & create the sandwich;
- The modern flush toilet was invented in 1775, but it wasn't until 1857 that somebody thought up toilet paper;

According to him, "once these obvious connections have been made, they seem so obvious. So evident. We can't believe we didn't see them sooner. The endless number of these unmade connections exist to this day, especially in the business world." He adds further:

"You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically uncover your income, power, influence, & success, the problem is you just don't see them."

Leonardo da vinci once said, “everything is connected to everything else”.

The recurring question is therefore: CAN YOU SEE IT? The creativity exercises outlined by the author are specifically designed for this purpose.

The third most productive learning experience for me is the understanding of the differential between productive & reproductive thinking.

To paraphrase the author:

"...in productive thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can, considering the least as well as the most likely approaches ... in contrast, reproductive thinking fosters rigidity of thought..."

More relevant aspects about the significance of & more specific strategies to develop productive thinking are excellently covered by the author in 'Cracking Creativity'.

In the light of what I have written, I would consider the author's two books as the dynamic duo...to be among the best in the genre! It will be really worth your while to get & carry the ‘Thinkpak’ in your pocket at all times.

[In reality, ‘Thinkpak’ is just an extension of one of the oldest creativity tools (SCAMPER) outlined in 'Thinkertoys'. It's designed as a pack of cards, but they are very powerful triggers for generating multiple perspectives.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: 'THE NEW STRATEGIC THINKING', by Michel Robert

I have followed the published works of Michel Robert on strategic thinking for almost two decades, starting with his 'The Strategist CEO' & 'The Essence of Leadership' in the late eighties/early nineties, to subsequent 'The Power of Strategic Thinking' & 'Strategy Pure & Simple I & II', & finally 'Strategic Supremacy' & 'Strategic Thinking, Pure & Simple', in recent years.

I have just finished reading his latest book, 'New Strategic Thinking'. Frankly, I just can't help feeling that he is gradually running out of steam.

Michel Robert is undoubtedly the consultant who coined the term 'strategic thinking', & through his Decision Processes International, which he founded in 1980, he had developed many innovative & unique strategic thinking methodologies. Sad to say, the methodologies remain the same in the new book, with a primary case study on Caterpillar, plus some new business cases, including one in Singapore.

As usual, the author takes the reader on a proactive ride through his proven strategic thinking methodologies. Judging from the client testimonials, his track record is certainly very impressive.

In the new book, on page 38, under the sectional heading of 'Decoding the Future Today', he outlines his thesis which says that "the future is not one place, but a collection of five places where you can get a glimpose of the fture that lies ahead. He adds that "your future lies hidden in these five 'futures':

- the future ahead;
- the future beyond;
- the future behind;
- the future around;
- the future beside;

Again, I can't help feeling that this thesis of his seems to be a direct spin-off from Henry Mintzberg's article entitled 'Strategic Thinking as Seeing' which appeared in Bob Garratt's 'Developing Strategic Thought: A Collection of the Best Thinking on Business Strategy from Today's Greatest Business Minds' as Chapter 5 (published in 1995).

The same article re-appeared in Henry Mintzberg's 'Strategic Safari: The Complete Guide through the Wilds of Strategic Management' (published in 1998).

For the benefit of readers, Henry Mintzberg projects 'strategy formation as a visionary process' & outlines the role of 'seeing' in strategic thinking as follows:

- Seeing ahead;
- Seeing behind;
- Seeing down;
- Seeing below;
- Seeing beside;
- seeing beyond;
- Seeing it through;

Could I be wrong in my perception? I really don't know.

As it stands on its own & particularly for first timers into strategic thinking, Michel Robert's new book is really great stuff. When compared with the works by other eminent consultants/authors, it can readily stand out among the crowd. I would attribute this partly to the author's - & his company's - impeccable track record of 40 partners in 15 countries & impressive list of some 400 major clients across the globe. However, the moment you compare it with the author's own previous works in the same genre, the intellectual richness begins to lose some of its shine.