Saturday, July 7, 2007

FROM HIGH-POWERED EXECUTIVE TO SMALL ENTREPRENEUR: A PERSONAL LEARNING EXPERIENCE II

[continue from Part I. This is the final part.]

A financial whiz-kid from Austin, Texas, Keith Cunningham, who went broke – that’s the learning experience - & recovered, shared his personal experience about risks & investments as well as some nuts & bolts about raising capital.

I completed a purportedly two-year MBA course on accounting within two days, under the brilliant tutorship of Gary Clements, a CPA-turned entrepreneur/educator from Australia. It was awesome!

Blair Singer, who ran a successful freight-forwarding company, taught the class project planning with PERT (Program Evaluation & Review Technique) – the same technique which the US Navy used in its Polaris missile program development during the sixties – in eight simple steps. It was a fantastic session! Today, I have adapted this technique to teach students how to work out a long term plan for their life.

Bill Ashton, an engineer-turned-entrepreneur showed the class an interesting & workable model for identifying wastes & losses in any organisation, drawing an analogy from environmental conservation.

Peter Meisen from the Global Energy Network Institute (GENI) came to share his personal involvement to investigate the idea of a global electric energy grid, as originally conceived by R Buckminster Fuller, to solve many of the world's most pressing energy problems. He also took the opportunity to ask for donations to support GENI's work.

Robert Kiyosaki, co-founder & Director of the business school, gave practical tips on creating wealth, negotiations, marketing (the competitor does not slow down for you!), leadership & team-building. He also taught the class how to set up the rules of the game, policies & code of integrity in a learning organisation. He even worked together with the class to dissect a baker's dozen of lateral thinking puzzles!

Dr Layne Longfellow, a psychologist, came on video to show the class how we could turn our mid-life crises into mid-life corrections, so that we could play a better game in the second half of our life. The video had the most profound impact on me.

A beautiful, petite Hollywood dancer came one evening to teach the class some fancy footwork on the dance floor. So much fun & regrettably, so little time!

An American Tai-chi master, despite given a tight class schedule, managed to show us how to have more fun, fitness & peace of mind.

Robert Pante, an international image consultant, spent an entire day with the class & taught us how to project a powerful & congruent image. According to him, image builds business! He argued that "If you dress contrary to your intentions, people may miss all that you have to offer."

For some strange reasons, I could not recall the names of two other instructors, who gave relatively short presentations. One, a gentleman, who shared his personal learning experience in a prison cell, & the other, a lady, who shared some nuts & bolts about public relations &/or marketing communications. I could only recall that she had also related an anecdote about Madonna, especially the latter's gutsy promotional antics.

Last, but not least, a Saivete Hindu Master, Gurudeva Sirijaya, came surprisingly one evening, on the personal invitation of D C Cordova, another co-founder of the business school, not to talk about religion, but to share his most candid observations about human nature. Since he ran a very successful newspaper on Hinduism using advanced computer technology, he also shared with the class his entrepreneurial insights. He said, when you have a good idea, you can feel the vibration in your right leg! If it has not been done before, it’s worth exploring!

There was even enough time for each team to put up an impromptu showcase as part of a contest for the best promotional exhibit, plus a gala show performance on the eve of the last day.

There were plenty of case studies, group assignments & interactive exercises as well as debriefing sessions to assimilate the ideas, strategies & information we had learned. However, the hours were long, with very little sleep & rest, throughout the sixteen days.

On the last day, each of us had to design one personal project with PERT before leaving the school. My personal PERT project was to start a newsletter. In reality, I followed my PERT project to the letter.

As part of the Closing Ceremony, Robert Kiyosaki gave each class participant a personal parting gift: his debut self-published book, 'If You Want to be Rich & Happy, Don't go to School.' My review of his book: his command of the English Language was horrendous, but he certainly had some really good stuff to share with readers!

The unlearning part in Hawaii was really demanding for me. I was the only one in the whole class of about 130 participants who refused to participate in the final & most crucial event – team race for the 'Winning Team' & the 'Learning Team'! My only reason (or excuse?) for not participating: I had a slipped disc!

I was bazooka-ed twice in the class during the final days by Robert Kiyosaki! He even broke my camera during the process. I was almost devastated by the encounter, but I survived, because I finally realised that I had learned something the hard way! I realised the essence of my experience in the school:

- The only failure in life is the failure to participate;
- I can choose to be the man in the field of action, or continue to stay behind the viewfinder;
- I can be powerful as long as I take charge of my own life;
- For things to change, first I must change;
- It’s not what you know, it’s who you are;
- If you do what you love & love what you do, the money will follow!


I had really enjoyed my journey to the business school. I had expanded my mental paradigm. Nevertheless, it had been very trying, painful - & expensive - for me.

The only time I hated most was the strenuous team running everyday, up the hill & down the hill, even though all of us in the team had an enchanting view of the Pacific Ocean. The running aggravated my slipped disc. Sometimes, I wondered why I had to go through so much pain to learn something. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain.

There were also two other aspects of the journey, which I found personally uncomfortable. I found my Australian & American classmates very sensitive & emotional people. I was constantly bewildered by their rampant emotional outbursts during group dynamics & social interactions every now & then. For some reasons, there was also a lot of hugging in the classroom – men hugged men, women hugged women, men hugged women & vice versa.

In summary, the foregoing three seminars, namely, ‘Nuts & Bolts of Organisation’, ‘Money & You’ & 'Excellerated Business School', had been insightful & inspiring. They had given me fresh perspectives & usable strategies for succeeding in today’s rapidly changing times; also, many new tools to challenge - & change - my thinking as well as my way of doing things.

Within three months upon my return to Singapore from the business school, I made the final decision to say good-bye to the corporate world, & handed in my resignation to my big boss in September 1991. My last working day was 31st December 1991.

In retrospect, I have absolutely no regrets. Today, I am doing what I love & I love what I do!

[Information about my small entrepreneurial ventures starting from early 1992 can be found in 'The Story behind The Brain Resource.]

[I am well aware of the negative publicity & adverse controversy surrounding the foregoing seminars, the training & networking methods used, & the people who were or are behind them. For me, I follow one simple philosophy: Absorb what is useful; reject what is useless; research my own experience; & add what is specifically my own!]

FROM HIGH-POWERED EXECUTIVE TO SMALL ENTREPRENEUR: A PERSONAL LEARNING EXPERIENCE I

31st December 1991 was a very important milestone in my entire life. To paraphrase Faith Popcorn, it was the day I “cashed out” of the corporate jungle. I was then forty three years old. As I reflected on that day, vivid images of my best years in the corporate jungle, stretching from early 1967 to late 1991, flashed across my mind’s eyes.

I had played by the company rules for too long. I had enough of errant bosses & irritating pea counters. I also had enough of office politics. I relinquished an enviable position with a nice office, a chauffeur-driven car (a v8-engined Rover Vander Plas) & a steady pay-check. Some of my friends said I was a nut. One even offered me a job. My late wife was worried like hell.

Well, on hindsight, I was really very happy as I knew I would be enjoying my personal freedom at last. I was going to do what I want & what I love to do. I realised, too, that the going was going to be tough.

How did this “cash out” come about? Well, let me share this personal story with readers.

I came to know about the 'Excellerated Business School' in October 1990, while attending the one-day ‘Nuts & Bolts of Organisation’ seminar in Singapore. In a nut shell, this latter seminar was more an introduction about developing personal growth & change. I was intrigued by its personal growth technology which combined new entrepreneurial business skills with the core concepts drawn from the human potential movement, presented in a high-speed learning environment, with music & games. In many respects, it was apparently quite new agey in scope, but that didn’t bother me.

In February 1991, I flew to Adelaide in Australia to attend a mandatory as well as preparatory 3-1/2 day course for the business school – ‘Money & You: The Future of Business’, as it was called.

In this course, I learned about a few key things, among many other stuff:

- Life & business are bound together;
- Failure is learning experience;
- Removal of subconscious mental blocks is the first step to success;
- Focus on the power of the heart for results;


There were plenty of interactive games in the class. I learned that life could also be a game. The Blocks Game on the last day was a very powerful personal experience. Frankly, it was somewhat mind-boggling, but somehow I could not find the words to describe the world experience.

Additionally, what I got out of 'Money & You' was its interesting but valid Business Success Model:

- learn from a master & become a master in your discipline;
- find a niche & fulfill a need;
- leverage by doing more with less;
- build a team to complement your strengths;
- create synergy as the whole is greater than the parts;
- anticipated results will always fall in place once all your other elements are congruent;

In May 1991, I flew to Kona, in Hawaii, to attend the business school.

From ‘Nuts & Bolts of Organisation’ to ‘Money & You’ & then to the 'Excellerated Business School', had been a carefully planned journey of personal adventure to explore what I wanted to do with the second half my life. I never had so much fun - & pain – in my entire life – fun in learning, but pain in unlearning!

In Kona, Hawaii, the learning part was very information-rich. There were about 130 class participants, comprising mostly Australians, a few Americans & three Singaporeans including myself, who were then split into a dozen teams, with each team tied to ‘one for all & all for one’ boundary marker.

On the faculty, there were twenty instructors – one came on video – each of whom was an established professional of some sort - & also an inspiring educator – in his or her own right.

On the first day, Dr Peter Powers, a blind doctor from Alaska, who had overcome persistent chronic diseases – taught me the reality habit: that I must intellectually & emotionally understand that reality is not the way I wish things to be or the way they appear to be, but the way they actually are. Also, mentally, how I think & what I am willing to accept or entertain as possible has an effect on what is possible. In other words, I create my own reality!

Then, a Vietnam-war veteran turned strategic designer, Jim Channon, dressed as a mystical shaman, described vividly with amusing anecdotes on how to formulate a personal strategic vision. He also elucidated - with hands on participation - how to design a personal quest to follow your bliss with his patented Advanced Visual Language. He was my most favourite instructor as his illuminating insights became my springboard for further exploration of the power of visual-graphics in the ensuring years.

Next, Mark Reardon, a Director of Training from the world-famous SuperCamp series told the class that each & every-one of us had three brains inside our heads. What a discovery! He taught me how to be an excellent learner. I really enjoyed his session on accelerated learning strategies, especially the high-tech note-making.

This was followed by Randolph Craft & Dr Amy Edmundson, two self-proclaimed fanatics, but eminently qualified, who came to the class to share their knowledge & experience in applying the self-disciplines of the maverick engineer-scientist-philosopher, R Buckminster Fuller, or Bucky as he was affectionately known. This was my toughest subject to learn since many of Bucky’s innovative ideas, as embodied in his two major classics, Critical Path & Synergetics, went against conventional wisdom, e.g. unity is plural, etc.

Nevertheless, Randolph showed some video clips on Bucky's lectures, & Amy conducted a hands-on session on building tetrahedral structures (considered the most stable in the physical world) with toothpicks & marshmallows. I also bought Amy's debut book, A Fuller Explanation, a book about Bucky's geometry, to keep as a memento.

In between, Bill Galt, founder of the Good Earth Restaurant chain in San Diego, shared his personal insights on guts & intuition. In fact, he also shared an interesting anecdote: While having a quick Kentucky Fried Chicken take-away meal with Colonel Sanders on a sidewalk, the Colonel turned to him, with the finger-licking-good drum-stick in his hand & said: “Bill, this can really kill you!”

The Founder & President of the organisation behind the SuperCamp series, Bobbi dePorter, expounded the power of vision & the model of excellence in her organisation - Learning Forum: Creating Environments for Lifelong Learning & Personal Success. She also related a story about her own personal struggle to attain professional success during the early years.

[These were subsequently captured in her books, namely, ‘Quantum Learning: Unleashing the Genius in You’ & ‘Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success’, which I would recommend readers to explore.]

[to be continued in Part II]

UNDERSTANDING - & EMBRACING - THE LAW OF REQUISITE VARIETY

I came across the 'Law of Requisite Variety' while reading some books on neurolinguistic programming during the early nineties.
The law is attributed to William Ross Ashby, a mathematically minded British psychiatrist, who has been recognised as a pioneer in the study of cybernetics & complex systems.

According to my understanding, the law states that, for a system to properly survive in an environment, it must be capable of matching whatever complexity its environment presents.

In other words, its rate of learning must be equal or greater that the rate of change in its environment.

To put it in perspective, these are the valuable learning points I have gathered:

1) As environments change, our responses will not always produce the same result. A minimum amount of flexibility is required in order to adapt & survive within a system;

2) The amount of flexibility required will depend on the complexity & variability (you can also read as uncertainty) in the system. As a system becomes more complex, more flexibility in terms of options is required;

3) The people with the most flexibility as well as agility have the highest probability of achieving the results they want;

4) If what you are doing is not getting the response you want, then keep changing your behaviour until you do;

5) The more you know about a subject or a set of subjects & the more you can do, the better are your chances of succeeding;

From a problem solving perspective, the solution to a problem requires the problem solver to be able to understand & influence all the variables contained in the problem.

This, in turn, requires both perceptual sensitivity & organisational skills - the ability to recognise, understand & manipulate the different variables of the problem.

Finding a solution is greatly assisted by adaptive feedback.

This is, to put simply, the ability to learn from our experience & to use the learning to rethink & adjust further action.

Finally, it also requires infinite imagination - the ability to speculate continuously about possible ways in which something can go wrong.

This is because:

- a complex system can fail in an infinite number of ways;
- the mode of failure cannot ordinarily be predicted;
- crucial variables are often discovered by accident;

By implication, learning increases variability. In fact, Ross Ashby put it very beautifully, "only variety can kill variety"!

LESSONS FROM CRITICAL PATH: CREATING WEALTH

I recall I had picked up a valuable lesson from a book, Critical Path, by R Buckminster Fuller, creator of the geodesic dome, during the early nineties. The lesson is about creating wealth.

According to my understanding from the book, real wealth is measured by your ability to create sufficient ongoing income, so that you can support your current (or preferred) standard of living for yourself (& your family) for so many days forward so that you have the time & means to live the life you want without substantially working.

If your current standard of living is $5,000/month, & you make $5,000/month in your job:

your wealth = zero;

You saved up to $10,000 & your current standard of living is still $5,000/month:

you have two months of wealth;

If you saved $100,000, assuming zero inflation, you would have 20 months of wealth;

Let's say you had income from business or investments of $6,000/month & your standard of living was $5,000/month:

you would potentially have an infinite amount of wealth;

you can be perpetually wealthy without being rich;

Put in in another way, monetary freedom = perpetual wealth;

Monetary freedom is when you are able to finally support your current standard of living without having to substantially work.

[More information about R Buckminster Fuller, his inventions as well as his writings can be found at http://www.bfi.org. Readers can also visit http://www.fullereducation.org.]

BOOK REVIEW: 'THE JOY OF NOT WORKING', by Ernie Zelinski

If you want to get out of the corporate rat race, – especially if you are working in quiet desperation & your job is draining the life out of you - read this book first!

I bought the first edition of this book just about the time I had decided to quit the corporate rat race in the very early 90's. I was then forty three years old. Since then, I have found it - in fact, I have reread it several times - to be a very provocative, entertaining, down-to-earth, and tremendously inspiring book. It also strikes a common chord with me: Like the author, I was trained as an engineer.

I simply love the author's personal philosophy as expressed in his wonderful book: We work so hard - and over-value work so much - that we have forgotten how to just live! Life is short! - go and enjoy it all!

I highly recommend this book to all corporate rats who are longing or aspiring to pursue their dreams, to work more productively (by working less), to be financially independent (with less money), embrace enjoyable leisure and pursue "creative unemployment."

For the uninitiated, 'creative unemployment' is living a rewarding and fulfilling life through plorking i.e. playing & working!

Nevertheless, I would still like to caution interested readers to read this book with an open mind as some stuff in the book may seem over-simplified.

More information about the author & his work can be found at the author’s website, http://http://www.real-success.ca/.

BOOK REVIEW: 'SECRETS OF SUPER ACHIEVERS', by Philip Baker

I have enjoyed reading this book. The author essentially illustrates that it is not a chosen group of people who succeed; rather, it is those individuals who make the conscious choice to succeed.

For those readers who are ready to make that choice, this book is worth pursuing.

In a nut shell, the author is a great story teller & a brilliant communicator. He has artfully weaved a tapestry of winning insights with everyday examples, inspiring quotes, vital lessons from Hollywood movies, other people's ideas, & personal anecdotes. At the end, he pares them down to the following fifteen success attributes:

- Character
- Responsibility
- Passion
- Optimism
- Focus
- Endurance
- Abundance Mentality
- Constant Learning
- Contentment
- People Orientation
- Balance
- Discipline
- Self Growth
- Humility
- Courage

I did not realise that the author is the senior minister of Riverview Church, reportedly the largest church on the west coast of Down Under - the land of kangaroos & koala bears. He is also the President of the Australian Council of Churches representing over 250,000 believers. This probably explains the numerous references to Christ & the abundant scripture quotations in the book. No wonder the author often throws in direct hints about the need for an underpinning faith. To me, there is nothing wrong with that, basically. I also did not realise that the publisher is a Christian book publisher.

Frankly speaking, I would have preferred the book to remain secular.

Nevertheless, I find the book easily digestible, even light-weight, yet thought provoking. In fact, I am very impressed by the author's coverage of the subject in terms of breadth & depth. Each success attribute is dealt with in a specific chapter & each chapter is prefaced by a meaningful quote as well as a insightful portrait.

One interesting nugget I picked up from this book, among many others, is the definition of 'Discipline': "a process of scheduling the pain & pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting & experiencing the pain first & getting it over with." I fully concur with the author that this is the best definition of discipline. [In the book, this is attributed to Scott Peck.]

While surfing the author's blog & the publisher's websites, I found out that this book is one of what has been designated as the Achievers' Quartet. The other titles in the quartet includes:

- Attitudes of Amazing Achievers;
- Decisions of Daring Acievers;
- Wisdom of Wealthy Achievers;

I am in the process of acquiring them from amazon & will share my reviews with readers in due course.

In summing up this review, I wish to say that, despite its relatively heavy religious references, this book is still worth pursuing.

Friday, July 6, 2007

UNDERSTANDING THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SURVIVAL (& SUCCESS!) II

[continue from PART I. This is the final part.]

PRISONERS OF OUR THOUGHTS: VIKTOR FRANKL'S PRINCIPLES AT WORK
Dr Alex Pattakos

I have been attracted to this wonderful book because I have been inspired by the life story of Dr Viktor Frankl, particularly the unspeakable horrors of his forced imprisonment at the Auschwitz concentration camps during the Second World War. That horrendous period of his life was captured in his book, 'Man's Search for Meaning', which I have reviewed earlier.

Using the inspirations from Dr Viktor Frankl's work, the author has very artfully drawn from his own personal observations, & experiences, the testimonials & quotations, & other anecdotes to create a thoughtful & powerful corporate guide for breaking free from old patterns of thought & action. In this respect, he has done quite a remarkable job.

Although I have earlier picked up several learning points on my own, based on my own review of Dr Frankl's book, & after watching Joel Barker's 'The Power of Vision' video (which has a vital segment on Dr Frankl's life story), I am very impressed by the author's discovery of many further principles which could be applied in our own lives.

In a nut shell, they are:

- exercise the personal freedom to choose our attitude or outlook;
- realise our will to meaning or significance;
- detect the meaning of life's moments & questions;
- don't work against yourself;
- look at yourself from a distance;
- shift our focus of attention or maintain fluidity of perception;
- extend beyond yourself;

Having read (& reviewed) Dr Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning' earlier actually facilitates my smooth digestion of Dr Pattakos' unique intellectual contemplations & deliberations as embodied in his wonderful 'Prisoners of Our Thoughts'.

In fact, I wish to add that, the most powerful learning experience I got out of this book as well as from Viktor Frankl's book, is a thorough understanding - & heartfelt appreciation - of the winning attitude towards ultimate success:

- don't whine;
- don't justify;
- don't lay blame;
- take personal responsibility for your own life!

I strongly recommend reading it, especially if you want to expand your own ability to change the quality of your work life as well as personal life.

[Readers who are keen to explore further the work of the author, Dr Alex Pattakos, &/or the work of Dr Viktor Frankl, should visit the http://www.globaldialoguecenter.com/ website. At the website, you can also view the segment covering Dr Viktor Frankl from Joel Barker's 'The Power of Vision' video.]

UNDERSTANDING THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SURVIVAL (& SUCCESS!) I

I would like to take this opportunity to single out two wonderful books from my personal library, which have in many ways, greatly influenced me, & which have also give me some remarkable perspectives as well as practical insights about the psychology of survival.

I have read one, the first one as follows, around the early nineties [at about the time I had contemplated to leave the corporate world for good], & the other, the second one as follows, towards the end of last year.


MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING
by Dr Viktor Frankl

I was introduced to an earlier edition of this book after I had watched Joel Barker's video, 'The Power of Vision' during the early nineties.

The book captured the author's chilling & yet inspirational story of his personal struggle & eventual triumph against unspeakable horror at the Auschwitz concentration camps. His entire family (His father, mother, brother & his wife) perished in the camps, except for his sister.

[Frankly, I did not realise the magnitude of the author's horrendous sufferings - & the Holocaust as a whole - until I personally visited the Auschwitz concentration camps, in the town of Oswiecim, situated about 60 kms from Krakow in southern Poland, with my late wife during the mid-nineties. Auschwitz was actually the German name for the town. I was told by my guide that about 6 million people died in the Auschwitz camps, more than 90% of whom were Jews.]

Because he was a psychiatrist, he was able to observe behaviours at the camps. He noticed that the healthiest, youngest, smartest, & best looking inmates were not automatically the ones who survived.

At this juncture, I would like to quote exactly what he wrote:

"Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food & various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, & not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behaviour in camp, whose suffering & death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost...

...Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

...Most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity & a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge & simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners...

...What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves & furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us..."

According to him, in the final analysis, the most significant indicator of survival was that all of those who made it through had something significant yet to do with their lives.

In other words, if one has something significant or purposeful or meaningful yet to do with one's life, the chances of survival against hardships, obstacles, setbacks & even death threats, will be much higher. That is to say, man's primary motivational force is his search for ultimate meaning. Joel Barker calls it the 'power of vision'.

According to Barker, a positive vision of the future is what gives meaning to life & a meaningful vision empowers us to solve problems & accomplish goals.

Another productive learning experience for me, from reading the book, is this: one often cannot change the circumstances of one's encounter with any situation, person or event, but one certainly has the power to choose how to interpret it & how to respond to it.

Put it in another way, one's attitude or outlook on life certainly has ramifications on how one can survive - & thrive - in the longer term.

I think I can now appreciate better about what Anthony Robbins once said:

"It's in your moment of decision that your destiny is shaped."

He added further:

There are three decisions that control our destiny:

- our decisions about what to focus on;
- our decisions about what things mean to us;
- our decisions about what to do to create the results we desire;

Viktor Frankl had also made another profound observation in his book:

"Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it & make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, & it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

This resonates very well with what F Buckminster Fuller, recognised as Planet Earth's friendly genius (he created the Geodesic dome), called 'precession' or 'precessional effects' is his book, 'Critical Path'. [This is another excellent book to explore, but I must warn readers first, it's not an easy read!]

On the whole, I have enjoyed very much reading Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'.

Many thanks to Joel Barker for the timely introduction!

[to be continued in PART II]

Thursday, July 5, 2007

DEVELOPING THE STRATEGIC THINKING MINDSET

I have drawn the following guidelines specifically from the excellent research work of Dr Charles Albano, who runs a consulting firm known as Adaptive Leadership. [He found the firm in 1993 after retiring from a civilian career in the US Army. During his career in the army, he had developed many innovative programs in quality circles, productivity management, corporate values, participate management, leadership development, and creativity enhancement.]

Essentially, these are the tested aspects of thinking employed by leaders to gain and hold strategic advantage. They can serve as a useful checklist when your responsibilities include thinking strategically.

1. Has a clear sense of desired outcomes before acting. Develops a plan capable of delivering outcomes that will add significant value to a state of affairs.

2. Scopes outwards to capture the larger context, to see how the pieces fit together.

3. Is adaptive to realities and flexible in choice of tactics. Recognizes that once action begins the "game board" is fluid offering both new threats and new opportunities.

4. Where possible, tries to achieve multiple objectives through singular actions.

5. Plans a couple of steps ahead. It is said that Napoleon could conceive of seven steps ahead, each one with its potential counteractions by opponents.

6. Anticipates opponent's actions and mentally rehearses next responses should those contingencies arise.

7. Has the discipline to remain composed when the unexpected occurs.

8. Tries to capitalize on crises or change, turn them to advantage.

9. Stays future-focused.

10. Invents both sequential and parallel actions to accomplish goals.

11. Picks battles that can be won and avoids those that cannot be won. (At least not at an acceptable cost.)

12. Supplements actions with those of others (allies, partners, joint ventures.)

13. Patient, with a good sense of timing.

14. Acts decisively when the time to act has come.

15. Is able to scrap or alter plans when information indicates actions are not attaining their intended results.

16. Doesn't signal punches. (Unless in the form of a ploy.)

17. Knows what can be conceded or lost and what is essential to retain, preserve, gain.

18. Doesn't bluff when the stakes are critical.

19. Seeks and exploits opponent's weaknesses, oversights and mistakes.

20. Maintains forward momentum.

21. Uses surprise to advantage.

22. Uses speed to advantage.

23. Holds resources in reserve should their need arise.

24. Forms alliances with opponents of his opponents.

25. Learns opponent's strengths and weaknesses.

26. Is aggressive in pursuing goals and ready to move on to the next.

27. Does not rest on old glories.

28. Taps diverse points of view in planning.

29. Assures that everyone knows their roles and are equipped with the resources to contribute.

30. Maintains a state of readiness. Stays alert and ready.

31. Monitors activities in the operating environment.

32. Uses "what if" speculation to stretch thinking in the direction of opportunities and possibilities.

33. Has a good sense of what may be possible to achieve in the prevailing state of "politics." The art of what's possible.

34. Studies the logic of the opponent's tactics with an eye toward determining what their ultimate end purposes may be.

35. Makes use of trial balloons. Feints actions to test reactions.

36. Usually prefers taking the offensive.

[Dr Charles Albano has written many interesting and insightful essays. He has also published a book of business poetry, 'Skyline Drive: A Poetic Journey Through Business Life'. The book is available electronically or in print through http://www.booksurge.com/. E-mail Dr Charles Albano at CharlesAlbano@webtv.net.]

BOOK REVIEW: 'STRATEGIC INSIGHTS - DECISION MAKING FOR BUSINESS LEADERS', by Caryn Spain & Ron Wishnoff

This is a very fine resource book on strategic thinking and decision making in the field of small business development.

For small business owners, it makes fine distinctions between "business ownership" and "business leadership," "strategic decisions" and "operational decisions," and "driving forces" and "strategic choices."

In a nut shell, it is actually a business planning guide, but without all the usual jargon and mundane theories.

I like the book's crisp and easy writing style as it provides broad perspectives and useful solutions to turn your preferred vision into your anticipated reality. Best of all, it clarifies the role of strategic decision making in transforming your business by helping you to see, understand & evaluate your strategic choices.

The book is jam-packed with worksheets, containing thought-provoking questions to set your mind into strategic thinking mode. I have always enjoyed reading books, where questions are interspersed in the pages by the authors. Henceforth, reading automatically becomes a very interactive exercise.

Personally, I also feel that the entire essence of book is visually captured in the strategic decision-making flowchart across Page 23 of the book, which is printed in large format. This will make your reading rather light and easy to follow.

My only sore-point about this book is that it lacks an annotated bibliography at the end pages.

Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend readers to get hold of a copy of the authors' workbook, ‘Chart Your Own Course: Strategic Planning Tools for Business Leaders’, which is an excellent companion to this book - for real-life, hands-on guided utilisation of the strategies. It is available from the authors' website http://www.chartyourowncourse.com/ mentioned in the book.

[Incidentally, a twelve-page summary of ‘Strategic Insights’ in .pdf format is also available from the website.]

Winding up, this is a really worthwhile resource book to be included in your Strategic Planning Library.

BOOK REVIEW: 'ESSENTIAL MANAGERS - STRATEGIC THINKING', by Andy Bruce & Ken Langdon

I have bought this book actually out of curiosity. It is pocket-size; also visually very appealing as well as cute looking. After perusing it, I have this feeling that this book is more intended for very young executives and/or new supervisors.

In terms of basic steps, the book is just fine since it covers the essential tools of strategic management, from SWOT analysis and feasibility studies to budgeting forecasts and contingency plans.

In a nutshell, some two dozen of "strategic thinking" topics have been artfully rolled together to form a total of seventy-two brightly-designed pages, studded along the way with colourful boxed tips, 101 of them to be exact. The entire layout is designed for easy reading, with the contents interspersed by plenty of photos, charts, and diagrams.

There is even a simple but fun test at the end pages.

I would highly recommend this book for all beginners, who are just entering the management field, as well as for older kids, who wants to learn how to think strategically. I wish I had this book when I was a young corporate rat.

It's worth mentioning that this book is actually part of reference book publisher, Dorling Kindersley's Essential Managers series: covering mostly business and career topics, ranging from communication, leadership, and decision making to the management of time, budgets, change, meetings, people, projects, and teams – all relevant to today’s every work environment.

For a deeper treatment on the subject, and/or if you're looking for specific or in-depth guidance, I would suggest a quick browse of other books in my Strategic Thinking Bookshelf I.

BOOK REVIEW: 'STRATEGIC THINKING: A STEP BY STEP APPROACH TO STRATEGY', by Simon Wootton & Terry Horne

Of so many books on strategic thinking & planning, which I hold in high regard, this one is the simplest to read and follow, and yet still packed with useful tools and powerful tips. To some extent, I would consider it to be no-frills, straight-to-the-point, hands-on kind of thinking & planning book.

In a nut shell, it provides a step by step approach, with a total of 9 steps, and involves 3 critical stages: gathering information, formulating ideas, and planning actions.

In fact, it has many thought-provoking Prompt Questions and clearly-defined Checklists to help you execute your thinking and planning work – starting from scanning the environment (to find out what’s out there), measuring your organisational health, creating more options, right up to implementing an action plan with a monitoring system, using Gantt Charts.

These unique features are intended to stimulate and guide all your thinking processes, with each of the nine steps involving a different thinking process. In fact, I would even add that these features should put readers in a better position to give their organization a clear sense of direction and a focused strategy.

As a mater of fact, by the time you have gone through all the Prompt Questions and completed all the Checklists, you would have already thought through analytically, numerically, reflectively, predictively, imaginatively, visually, creatively, critically, empathetically, ethically, pragmatically and politically. Also, they have been structured in such a way that you would have developed strategic conversations skills with your people across all levels of the organisation, in the course of the planning exercise.

From a strategic thinking standpoint, this book really scores high marks from me, in spite of its simplicity. When reading this book, it reminds me of two other good business planning books with practical “hands-on” features:

Breakaway Planning,’ by Paul Levesque, whose book I have also reviewed earlier. In comparison, ‘Breakaway Planning’ gives a more detailed treatment.

The other is ‘Putting It All Together: A Guide to Strategic Thinking,’ a classic, by William Rothschild, who goes deep into the basics of business strategy.

This book also comes with a CD-Rom, which provides a business case example, using the 9-step approach.

My only ‘adverse’ comment about the book - it would have been more complete if the authors have crafted a global flow chart at the end pages, showing all the 9 steps in sequence within the 3 prescribed stages, in concert with all the applicable thinking processes and resulting action possibilities. This would have been a superb feature for more visually-oriented readers, like me.

In summing up, if you do not have much time to read, and want to own a proven tool to help kick-start your planning, this one is for you.

[The earlier edition of this book is entitled ‘Strategic Planning: The Nine Step Program – Putting Theory into Practice, A Step by Step Approach’, published in the late nineties.]

BOOK REVIEW: 'BREAKAWAY PLANNING', by Paul Levesque

In a nut shell, this book covers the entire planning process for organisational change, from creating a compelling vision to making that vision a reality.

For me, I reckon the ‘strategic heartbeat’ as well as the real monetary value of this book lies in the detailed and yet comprehensive QUESTIONING process, which the book outlines in strategic depth.

Not only it breaks down the questioning process into three consecutive phases - status-quo, brainstorming, & activity planning - with specific examples of real-world scenarios to deliberate in each planning phase, it sort of holds the reader's hand (and his or her attention) all the way to addressing all the EIGHT strategic questions (another good monetary value!) in designing and actualising a company's long-term future.

It's really a field-tested, practice-oriented book for strategic visionising. Best of all, it’s packed with lively language, clear instructions, and pragmatic exercises. Not many strategic visionising books can do that well.

I particularly like the author's writing style - very crisp, succinct and clear. A MUST READ for all managers who are in pursuit of smooth, successful transformational change!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: HUMAN INGENUITY & CREATIVITY

I have watched all the three ‘Crocodile Dundee’ movies in the theatre as well as their DVD versions at home:

- Crocodile Dundee I;
- Crocodile Dundee II;
- Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles:

starring Paul Hogan & Linda Kozlowski

I am very inspired as well as impressed by the hilarious antics of Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan). I also like his affable, down-to-earth character. He really brings the character to life!

What I have enjoyed most in watching the three movies is that, I have learned that one can use sheer human ingenuity & creativity to overcome obstacles, no matter how intimidating they are, including some life-threatening ones, too!

Just watch how Mick Dundee (sometimes with his side-kick) out-thinking & outmanoeuvring all the predators as well as bad guys in all three movies, from the treacherous, hot out-backs of Australia (the scenes are really enchanting), to the mean streets of New York, & finally, to the mercilessly cold concrete jungle of Los Angeles.

In the three movies, Linda Kozlowski, as newspaper reporter Sue Charlton, plays the love interest, who eventually became the actor’s wife, on screen as well as off-screen.

I recall vividly this particular scene & dialogue which more or less sum up the winning recipe of the three movies: adventure, action, romance & comedy

[Dundee is threatened by a teen mugger with a switchblade]

Sue: “Mick, give him your wallet.”
Dundee: “What for?”
Sue: “He's got a knife.”
Dundee: (chuckling] “That's not a knife!”, as draws out a large Bowie knife.
Dundee: “That's a knife.”

[Dundee slashes the teen mugger's jacket. Shocked, the latter & his good-for-nothing friends run for cover.]

Dundee: “Just kids having fun. Are you alright?”
Sue: “I'm always all right when I'm with you, Dundee.”

On the whole, I have enjoyed watching again all the three movies, each with its own engaging story & romantic notion of adventure.

As a strategy consultant/success coach on life (survival) skills, I have added these three movies to my resource repertoire.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE MACGYVER FACTOR

What is the ‘MacGyver Factor’?

Well, from what I understand, it’s “the ability to just put something together from whatever happens to be lying around.”

“To macGyver”, so to speak, means “to fix something in a resourceful & improvisational way”.


These ‘macgyverisms” are based on my favourite action-adventure series on television, ‘MacGyver’, starring Richard Dean Anderson as Augus MacGyver, during the late eighties.

As a matter of fact, two made-for-television movie versions were also made, namely, ‘MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis’ & ‘MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday’, which were shown on StarHub’s cable TV a couple of weeks ago.

MacGyver’ is a top secret agent, a very unusual one. He does not carry a gun on his missions. In fact, he hates guns. In some ways, he is James Bond without the help of high tech gizmos & the distraction of scantily-clad damsels! He drinks only milk at the bar. He is quiet, mild mannered, & deeply principled.

He works for the enigmatic Phoenix Foundation, a private agency devoted to “righting the wrongs of the world”.

Nevertheless, ‘MacGyver’ loves to get himself into all types of dangers, seemingly in all four corners of the world, but he always thwarts the enemies with his astounding mind & almost infinite scientific resourcefulness, sometimes with little more than a paper clip, a roll of duct tape & a Swiss Army knife in his pocket.

In fact, the two movies carry these taglines: His mind is the ultimate weapon. Part Boy Scout, Part Genius, & All Hero.

[In ‘Lost Treasure of Atlantis’, MacGyver investigated the mystery of an artefact believed to have originated from the lost city of Atlantis, with the help of his former college professor. In ‘Trail to Doomsday’, he investigated the murder of a close friend, which led to the discovery of a secret nuclear weapon plant in UK.]

Oftentimes, he is able to make use of any mundane materials around him to create unorthodox solutions to any problem he faces. The enemies of world peace & justice continually learn that under-estimating this man is a fatal mistake for their plans.

For me, ‘MacGyver’ is a wonderful action-adventure series, suitable for the whole family to watch together. All the episodes share the escapades of a man, rather knowledgeable & capable of confronting any situation, any danger, or any adversary without fear, because he seems to intuitively know what to do to escape or survive challenges.

What I also like best about ‘MacGyver’ is this astonishing factor: There is no sex & nudity; no violence or gore; no profanity; no alcohol, drugs & smoking; & lastly, no frightening & intense scenes!

In some ways, watching ‘MacGyver’, brought back some fond memories of my school experiences with Physics & Chemistry lab experiments.

Incidentally, do readers ever watch the episode where he used a bunch of kitchen appliances to function as a simple radar jamming device, so the bad guys couldn’t figure out where he could be located? Or the one in which he used a paper clip to unlock a missile? Or the one in which he rigged a bomb out of chewing gum wrappers & cell batteries or stuff like that.

[I understand that the ‘MacGyverisms’ shown in the series are all based on scientific fact, but not all of the steps needed to create the experiment were shown. In fact, in one episode, it was mentioned that MacGyver could even build a nuclear bomb from everyday materials, but this was never demonstrated. All these were done deliberately to prevent children from duplicating the experiments themselves & possibly getting injured.]

Richard Dean Anderson, with his boyish charm, plays ‘MacGyver’ very well in both the TV series & the two made-for-television movies. Readers may also recall him as Colonel (later Brigadier General) Jack O’Neill in the science-fiction adventure series, StarGate SG-1, on television.

In summing up, it has been great fun - & useful learning, too - watching MacGyver in action.

For me, he demonstrates one very important human trait: We own the MacGyver Factor i.e. we possess within our domain the expertise to come up with solutions to problems that could not have been anticipated. All of us have the essential ability to make do with what we have to deal with changes & challenges. History, & not just the movies, have already proven it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

SUCCESS PRINCIPLES & THE BUSHIDO CODE

21st Century Samurai: The Secret Path to Success and Fulfilments
by Seymour Rifkind

The title is certainly enticing, which in some way explains why I have bought - & then read - the book in the first place.

Since the early eighties, especially after having read Miyamoto Mushashi's 'The Book of Five Rings', I have been fascinated by the philosophy & practices of the samurai.

I hereby paraphrase the author's own summary of the Bushido code:

- Honour the concept: know thyself;
- Demonstrate loyalty to their ancestors & patriotism to their country;
- Care for their family & relationships;
- Live in harmony with nature;
- Practise focus & meditation;
- Stretch beyond limitations;
- Learn through direct experience;
- Keep death in mind at all times in order to live fully each moment;

The author calls himself a 21st century samurai, measuring his success not by his outer-world accomplishments alone (e.g. successful business, multi-millionaire at thirty, world-class athlete, martial artist, mountain climber [two tallest peaks in the Western Hemisphere], etc.) but also by his inner-world achievements in terms of true balance, calm, harmony, peace, benevolence, & altruism, knowing self & making choices in life that support his personal values (e.g. happily married for more than two decades with two grown-up kids, battling addictions, coaching & mentoring others, etc.).

What makes the book compelling to read is the author's personal triumph over an impoverished child-hood as well as his transition from being a descendent of a holocaust victim. Although his success secrets are not spectacular or ground-breaking, they are nevertheless sensible & pragmatic.

I also find that his insights & advice are grounded in real-world scenarios. He has pinned down his ultimate success formula (USF) to twelve success secrets, which are well-illustrated & appropriately exemplified in the book. In particular, I like to single out the following secrets:

- Secret #1: Know thyself!
- Secret #4: Each of us has a choice & we have to choose for the better, for the good;
- Secret #5: Every choice has a cost as well as a benefit;
- Secret #8: Stay committed to the course of your choice (In fact, I would add, 'but remain flexible in your approach');

Another interesting - & yet potent - feature of the book is the series of planning charts, self-exploration exercises & reflective questions that accompany each chapter.

Also, wonderful quotes are interspersed throughout the book. Readers can also visit his corporate website to download the planning charts.

To some extent, I would consider this book to be an inspiring businessman's version of Napolean Hill's 'Think & Grow Rich/Law of Success'. However, there is one distinctive contrast: Unlike Napolean Hill, the author has drawn the USF essentially from his own peak performances. As a matter of fact, one of his peak performances really stands out:

He started martial art training at age 51 & within a year & a half became a Black Belt & Certified Instructor.

Although the author uses the samurai as a role model, he draws a fine distinction right at the beginning: "...Warriorship is not only about physical training & preparedness; it's an attitude & a stance one takes in life, in every arena of experience..."

Ichiban! Seymour-san.

To sum up my review, I reckon if readers are looking for different perspectives in creating the life & wealth of your dreams, & wanting to go beyond excellence in relationships, business as well as sports, this book is worth pursuing.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

SUCCESS PRINCIPLES, ACCORDING TO EDWARD DE BONO

'Tactics: The Art & Science of Success'
by Edward de bono

This book has been originally written more than twenty years ago. The principal theme of the book is the exploration of success principles.

The only unusual aspect of this book is that it has been written by Edward de Bono, the man who introduced 'Lateral Thinking' to the world.

Unlike most of his earlier books, about twenty of them prior to this particular one, which often put forward his thoughts, provocations, insights & suggestions for the betterment of human thinking, this one explores the valuable lessons that might be learned from some unusually successful people.

A ragtag group of successful people across diverse spheres of activity has been interviewed for his book. They include, to name a few:

Malcolm Forbes; Herman Kahn (the man who created the 'Thinking the Unthinkable' methodology); Paul MacCready (the man who created the man-powered flying machines, Gossamer Albatross & Gossamer Condor); Mark McCormack; Sir Clive Sinclair (the maverick multi-millionaire inventor); Jackie Stewart (former Grand Prix driver); Sting (singer/musician); Werner Erhard (what a surprise, as he has been a controversial figure from the human potential movement in the 70's); Rafer Johnson (Olympic decathlon medalist in the 60's);

At the end analysis, the author does not narrow down 'success' to a single definition. He more or less summarises 'success principles' as complex constellations of factors & characteristics. He leaves them to the reader to assemble in any way he/she wants.

Nevertheless, in spite of the huge differences in styles & approaches, there do seem to be some strong underlying agreements on success principles;

- a positive attitude;
- knowing what you want to do;
- make the most of your own talent;
- energy, persistence, determination & single-mindedness seem important in all cases;
- there is always action i.e. take a step & then the next step;
- a sense of integrity toward yourself & others;
- an expectation of success & the ability to think big;
- ability to set goals & targets, & also to have dreams;
- creativity & the ability to see things differently & to think new thoughts;
- both a seizing of opportunities & also a creation of opportunities;
- eagerness & enthusiasm & the willingness to make things happen;


Although he says that one should make the most of one's talent in the pursuit of success, he cautions one should not expect it to be enough by itself. He cautions further:

Do not be trapped into one field by some talent for that field.

This is very true in today's fast changing world.

There are a lot of other interesting observations & insightful nuggets as the author weaves through the following key chapters:

- Styles & Characteristics of Success;
- What stimulates success?;
- How far is success within our control?;
- Focus;
- Thinking & Doing;
- Strategy;
- Decision Making;
- Opportunity Building & Seeking (my favourite chapter!);
- Risk;
- Strategy for People as Resources;
- Tactical play;


Each chapter is logged with a crisp & concise 'Tactics' summary.

As usual, de Bono loves to share his beautiful word graphs & line drawings to illustrate complex or even simple issues. They are really gems to help you in your (visual) thinking!

This book is definitely worth reading on the exploration of success principles!

SYNTOPIC BOOK REVIEW: SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING II

[continue from PART I. This is the final part.]

1) PEAK LEARNING: HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN LIFE-LONG EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM FOR PERSONAL ENJOYMENT & PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS;
by Ronald Gross;

2) SELF-UNIVERSITY: THE PRICE OF TUITION IS YOUR DESIRE TO LEARN; YOUR DEGREE IS A BETTER LIFE;
by Charles Hayes

3) PROVING YOU'RE QUALIFIED: STRATEGIES FOR COMPETENT PEOPLE WITHOUT COLLEGE DEGREES;
by Charles Hayes;

Discounting some of the psychological babble about self-motivation, 'Self-University' is a heart-warming book. It encourages all of us to think of self-education as a “life-long, self-initiated venture, instead of a lifeless, institutionalized affair”.

Let me recap the author (Charles Hayes)'s definition:

Self-University is a state of mind based on objectivity & the desire to know. Free of learned limitations, the self-educated person is capable of meeting uncertainty with confidence. The search for meaning, or for what really matters in our lives, becomes a motivating, pleasurable experience,”

as well as the catchy metaphor from his book:

"The caterpillar is condemned to crawl, but the butterfly has the potential to soar above with an all-inclusive view of the world. As humans we complete our caterpillar stage when we reach mature physical growth. If we are to soar like the butterflies, we must do so through the development of our minds."

My favourite chapters from ‘Self-University’ are:

- Chapter 3: Self-Knowledge;
- Chapter 4: The Personal Sciences;
- Chapter 5: Motivation;
- Chapter 10: Practicum;
- Chapter 11: Practicum in the Workplace

'Proving You're Qualified' is a career book for competent people who have learned their jobs, on the job...& yet they are often passed over for promotion for lack of a degree, which has nothing, whatsoever, to do with their performance.

Essentially, the two books by Charles Hayes drive home the personal philosophy & fundamental premise of the author:

1) That lifelong learning is fundamental to living a full & interesting life;
2) That the learning necessary to gain competence in a job or career is far, far more important than how or where it is acquired;

My favourite chapters from 'Proving You're Qualified' are:

- Chapter 6: Leverage, Options & Choices;
- Chapter 7: Learning to Live with Change;
- Chapter 8: Me, Inc.;

These three chapters alone are worth the price of the entire book!

At the time I had read them, I have found the above three books to be very thought-provoking. Each chapter of the three books are so compelling that you may feel forced to write comments in the margins of the pages as you go along.

To sum up my review, these three wonderful books offer an excellent approach to ensuring your career security as well as personal mastery in the 21st century.

[More information about Charles Hayes & his brilliant work can be found at http://www.autodidactic.com/ .]

POINTS TO PONDER: CORE BELIEF ENGINEERING II

[continue from PART I. This is the final part.]

Before You Think Another Thought: An Illustrated Guide to Understanding How Your Thoughts and Beliefs Create Your Life
By Bruce Doyle

Before I go into the review proper, let me ask one question?

Have any readers watched the award-winning movie, 'What the Bleep Do We Know!? Down the Rabbit Hole', starring Marlee Matlin & directed by William Arntz?

It's actually part documentary, part story, & part visual effects & animations, but mind-blowing!

In many respects, it's also controversial! It plunges the viewer into a world where quantum uncertainty is demonstrated - where neurological processes, & perceptual shifts are engaged & lived by its protagonist (Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, a very fine actress) - where everything is alive, & reality is changed by every thought. Watch it, with an open mind, if you haven't done so.

From this movie, I come to know about the work of Dr Joe Dispenza, one of fourteen scientists, researchers & thinkers featured in the movie.

According to Dr Dispenza,

"Quantum science tells us an observer directly affects the nature of reality. Electrons behave like waves of probability until an observer looks for their position; then, they demonstrate characteristics of particles, i.e., solid matter. If observation - putting conscious attention on any one thing - can affect the material world, then by mastering that ability, can we have greater control over our future?

Neuroscience is showing us how thoughts shape reality. The brain's one hundred billion neurons connect in diverse combinations called neural networks. When we welcome new thoughts and experiences, our neurons respond by wiring together, a learning process termed neural plasticity. Through concentration and repetition of thoughts, neural circuits become ‘hard wired.’

Are we basing our thoughts on what we've already wired in our memory, restricting the level of mind with which we view reality? Is our familiar environment monopolizing our thoughts, producing only routine experiences? As observers within the quantum field of potentials, perhaps we are only limited by our knowledge and observation skills. If by developing these abilities we can rewire our brain, we should produce tangible changes in our life."

Dr Dispenza has also made this amazing observation:

"Most people are distracted by the external world, so they don't use the frontal lobe properly.

Everything in our environment is constantly feeding the brain information. Our senses are what allow us to interpret reality. As long as we believe the external world is more real than the internal, we'll always be using the same brain circuits to process information. The moment we accept that our internal world affects our external world, then, we must begin to use our frontal lobe."

Wow! Why am I writing all about these observations in this review & what's the connection?

Well, I have come to realise that this wonderful book by Bruce Doyle, which I have read in the mid-nineties, provides useful tools & strategies to help readers to understand why thought & beliefs (the author uses the term ‘thoughtforms’ to denote them in the book) are the basic elements of creation, how your thinking creates your life, & finally, how you can rewire your brains & bring tangible changes to your lives.

I like this book because it reinforces the fact, with real-life situations, that we have the power to choose our internal world, - & at the same time, the power to dis-create it, if it's disempowering.

Personal breakthroughs come from changing our internal world.

The book is also very well written. It's crisp, succinct & yet illuminating! Best of all, the author offers some positive suggestions & simple exercises.

I strongly recommend anyone who wants to take full charge of his/her own life to read it.

POINTS TO PONDER: CORE BELIEF ENGINEERING I

Living Deliberately: The Discovery and Development of Avatar
By Harry Palmer

I was actually introduced to 'Living Deliberately' which I had read way back in the early 90's, as part of my new journey to design & craft the second part of my life.

At that point in time, because of its new agey connotations, I found it to be somewhat esoteric.

In a nut shell, there are actually three important parts in the book:

- the first part deals with the author's personal awakening & transformation;

- the second part outlines the working philosophy behind the proprietary & expensive AVATAR training, which the author has created based on his personal awakening & transformation;

- the final part covers belief system, experiencing reality & creating thought-forms; to be more precise, about how our beliefs create our thoughts, in turn, how our thoughts create our experiences (& how we can dis-create them at will); these aspects form the philosophical foundation of the proprietary & expensive AVATAR training;

Frankly, I didn't quite enjoy reading the book in the very beginning, even though I found it to be quite fascinating, especially the author’s personal experience in a float tank under sensory-deprivation conditions.

In fact, for the benefit of readers, I would emphasise that interested readers should explore other published works for smoother & better understanding.

Nevertheless, the book introduced me to the 'working mechanism' of core belief engineering. I found the author's elaboration of the four types of belief systems rather illuminating.

From that perspective, I was hooked & went on to read & explore other works, especially Bruce Doyle's 'Before You Think Another Thought'. To me, the author of this book did a much better job in explaining the many salient aspects of core belief engineering. Many thanks to you, Bruce!

In the light what I have said, I would like make a candid suggestion: For readers who are still curious about the technology or methodology embodied in 'Living Deliberately', I would recommend a book to go along with Bruce’s wonderful book, i.e. 'Resurfacing: Techniques for Exploring Consciousness' (also by Harry Palmer), which has a series of 30 practical exercises. These specially tailored exercises will give readers the 'world experience' of being in control, rather than absorbing more 'word experience.' It is definitely worth exploring!

[Let me explain: 'Word experience' refers to the initial & reflective responses you have when you are just reading a book; 'world experience' refers to the assimilating responses you have when you are able to put all or some of the ideas you have learned from the book to work in your own life!]

Alternatively, readers can access the Star Edge’s (the organisation behind the AVATAR training) website, http://www.avatarepc.com/, to explore more e-material at no cost.

My final advice to readers: Approach all AVATAR related books & other resources with an open mind. Don't reject their ideas prejudicially. Play, explore & experiment with them!

[Personally, I had attended the nine-day AVATAR training in Singapore, under the auspices of an AVATAR Master from Australia. It’s definitely not suitable for people whose mind is logically dominant.]

[to be continued in PART II]

EXECUTIVE PRODUCTIVITY TOOL-KITS

I have a knack for really fishing out good stuff from the many books I have enjoyed reading - & exploring - over the years. Here is another selection of mine for readers to read & explore.

1) GETTING THINGS DONE: THE ART OF STRESS-FREE PRODUCTIVITY, by David Allen

Comments: “An excellent introduction to free your mind to focus of whatever you're doing. My favourite, in terms of tactical implementation!”

2) READY FOR ANYTHING: 52 PRODUCTIVITY PRINCIPLES FOR WORK & LIFE, by David Allen

Comments: “Offers a breakthrough system to enhance productivity - with 52 principles - at work & in daily life. Also, my favourite, in terms of tactical implementation!”

3) THE PERSONAL EFFICIENCY PROGRAM: HOW TO GET ORGANISED TO DO MORE WORK IN LESS TIME, by Kerry Gleeson

Comments: “Helps you identify the most critical pieces of knowledge necessary to produce effective results, in your work & your life.”

4) YOU 2: A HIGH-VELOCITY FORMULA FOR MULTIPLYING YOUR PERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS IN QUANTUM LEAPS, by Price Pritchett

Comments: “Really offers a high velocity formula for multiplying your personal effectiveness. Read also the author's other books. My favourite author on change management!”

5) FIRST THINGS FIRST: TO LIVE, TO LOVE, TO LEARN & TO LEAVE A LEGACY, by Stephen Covey

Comments: “From the Guru of 7 Habits...helps you create balance between personal & professional priorities...read also his other books.”

6) SURVIVING INFORMATION OVERLOAD: THE CLEAR, PRACTICAL GUIDE TO HELP YOU STAY ON TOP OF WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW, by Kevin Miller

Comments: “An excellent primer from the personal information management standpoint...very well written!”

7) THE AGILE MANAGER’S GUIDE TO GETTING ORGANISED, by Jeff Olson

Comments: “From the super Agile Manager series...offers insider, street-smart insights from the most productive people on the planet!”

8) THE ORGANISED EXECUTIVE: A PROGRAM FOR PRODUCTIVITY – NEW WAYS TO MANAGE TIME, PAPER, PEOPLE & THE ELECTRONIC OFFICE, by Stephanie Winston

Comments: “A perennial classic, but need some serious updating...still worth exploring, especially for first timers!”

9) UP YOUR PRODUCTIVITY, by Kurt Hanks

Comments: “Fun to read - just as with his other books, which are often graphically illustrated - but still offers really serious stuff on productivity improvement! My favourite author!”

10) THE EXECUTIVE IN ACTION: MANAGING FOR RESULTS, INNOVATION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP, THE EFFECTIVE EXECUTIVE, by Peter Drucker

Comments: “An excellent compendium of three books, covering the practices, decisions & priorities for achieving organisational as well as managerial effectiveness! A really superb Toolkit for Executive Action!”

11) THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE: THE SECRET TO SUCCESS FOR ACHIEVING MORE WITH LESS, by Richard Koch

Comments: “First of a trilogy of pioneering books on the application of the Pareto's Principle. The other two are The 80/20 Individual & Living the 80/20 Way. Worth exploring!!!”

12) 10 NATURAL LAWS OF SUCCESSFUL TIME & LIFE MANAGEMENT, by Hyrum Smith

Comments: “From the Franklin Quest people...worth exploring although some aspects are not well-focused &/or well-illustrated!”

13) TO DO, DOING & DONE, by G. Lynne Snead

Comments: “Worth exploring from the project planning & management perspective!”

14) INCREASING EXECUTIVE PRODUCTIVITY: A UNIQUE PROGRAM FOR DEVELOPING THE INNER SKILLS OF VISION, LEADERSHIP & PERFORMANCE, by Phil Nuernberger

Comments: “A little bit esoteric, but still worth exploring from the peak performance perspective. My favourite, too!”

15) MANAGING YOUR SELF: MANAGEMENT BY DETACHED INVOLVEMENT, by Jagdish Parikh

Comments: “A little bit esoteric in some ways, but still worth exploring from the managerial performance perspective.”

16) SURVIVE INFORMATION OVERLOAD: THE 7 BEST WAYS TO MANAGE YOUR WORK LOAD, by Kathryn Alesandrini

Comments: “Needs some updating of the tools, but still offers a step by step plan to survive & thrive - with a superb approach to handling information, planning, paperwork, knowledge, meetings, learning & reading/writing.”

17) INFORMATION OVERLOAD, by David Lewis

Comments: “Written by a psychologist & is worth exploring from the stress management perspective in a corporate setting.”

18) BREATHING SPACE: LIVING & WORKING AT A COMFORTABLE PACE IN A SPED-UP SOCIETY, by Jeff Davidson

Comments: "Many of the insights are still applicable today, even though the book was written before the Internet age. Worth exploring!"

SYNTOPIC BOOK REVIEW: SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING I

1) PEAK LEARNING: HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN LIFE-LONG EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM FOR PERSONAL ENJOYMENT & PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS;
by Ronald Gross;

2) SELF-UNIVERSITY: THE PRICE OF TUITION IS YOUR DESIRE TO LEARN; YOUR DEGREE IS A BETTER LIFE;
by Charles Hayes

3) PROVING YOU'RE QUALIFIED: STRATEGIES FOR COMPETENT PEOPLE WITHOUT COLLEGE DEGREES;
by Charles Hayes;
I recall that the first time I encountered the author, Ronald Gross, I was then reading with fascination his two masterpieces: 'The Lifelong Learner: A Guide for Self Improvement' in the late 70's & followed by 'The Independent Scholar's Handbook: How to Turn Your Interest in Any Subject into Expertise' in the mid-80's. In fact, I also recall that I even had a brief communication via fax with the author.

These two books, now believed to be out of print, eventually propelled me along the journey of self-directed learning throughout the 80's. They were my field guides.

Then came this wonderful book, 'Peak Learning', in the early 90's. My copy is the 1991 edition.

[My copy was actually a personal gift from Patricia Danielson, co-developer of the PhotoReading technology, when we first met in Singapore. Many thanks to you, once again, Patricia! It was from this book that I came to know about Charles Hayes’ books.]

Without hesitation, I would rank this book with Charles Hayes' two self-published masterpieces, 'Self-University' & 'Proving You're Qualified'. Together, they are the wisest & most useful books I have ever read on the subject of self-directed learning.

Unlike most books in this genre, which have a focus on theories or practices in adult learning, this book provides a set of productive tools & practical strategies for self-directed learning.

In fact, I like in particular the author’s singular premise for self-directed learning as “everyday learning experience, beyond the classroom desk, in which you learn at your own pace in the order & style that fits you”. In fact, he outlines for readers the seven essential ways to go about becoming a self-directed learner.

My favourite chapter in 'Peak Learning', among a few others, is ‘Chapter 12: The Invisible University: Learning Resources from A to Z’. The resources outlined in this particular chapter, together with the website resources at the end of the book (some of which may be outdated today), in fact helped me to expedite & sustain my own learning journey throughout the 90's & early twenties.

From the standpoint of a smorgasbord of learning tools & practical strategies for self-directed learning, this book is unequalled & unsurpassed, even up to today.

[More information about Ronald Gross & his brilliant work can be found at http://www.ronaldgross.com/ .]

[to be continued in PART II]

INFORMATION ANXIETY IN THE INTERNET AGE

1) Information Anxiety
2) Information Anxiety 2

By Richard Saul Wurman

Ever since the futurist thought leader Alvin Toffler coined the term `information overload' in his ground-breaking book, `Future Shock', in the early seventies, not only I know what it is, but also know how it feels like: overwhelming! I have since then become more fascinated by the subject & have read widely on it. A few good books come to mind. `Information Anxiety' is just one of them.

I have read `Information Anxiety' in the late eighties, just before the internet era. I went on to read the follow-up edition, `Information Anxiety 2', about a decade later.

The latter edition captured the impact & ramifications of the internet, desktop computing & advances in digital technology. From my personal standpoint, both books have not lost their relevancy even up to today.

Personally, I still think the first book is a comparatively much better book. Although I have also read the author's `Follow the Yellow Brick Road' as well as `Information Architects', I still like his `Information Anxiety' very much.

For me, I reckon `Information Anxiety', although intended as an exposition on information anxiety, covered a relatively broad spectrum particularly in terms of critical lessons: learning, understanding, creativity, problem solving, questioning, information processing, information design, and stress & anxiety management.

As a matter of fact, an adequate understanding of each of these aspects will readily help one to deal with the complexities of life in the information age. Putting them together, they generally reflect the principal message of the book.

The author defined `information anxiety' as a condition "produced by the ever widening gap between what we understand & what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data & knowledge, & it happens when information doesn't tell us what we want or need to know."

His definition did not emphasise `information overload' as a cause of `information anxiety' but portions of his book did so.

He cited several situations likely to induce `information anxiety', including "not understanding information; feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information to be understood; not knowing if certain information exists; & not knowing where to find information."

For me, there had been many vital lessons from the book. I would like to say that two vital lessons, at the time when I had read it, had cast a very strong imprint in my mind, which subsequently became my guiding philosophy in helping kids & teens to succeed in school.

One came from Chapter 8:

"You only learn things relative to something you understand."
(This is sometimes known as Richard Saul Wurman's Law)

The other:

"Learning can be seen as the acquisition of information, but before it can take place, there must be interest; interest permeates all endeavours & precedes learning. In order to
acquire & remember new knowledge, it must stimulate your curiosity in some way."


I had also enjoyed reading about the author's approach to problem solving:

"Before any solution to any undertaking can be developed, a movement must begin to discover its beginning. Understanding the vein of the problem is the course to solving it. The best way to accomplish any endeavour is to determine its essential purpose, its most basic mission: What is the endeavour supposed to accomplish? What is the reason for embarking on it? This is where the solution lies."

There are two parts to solving any problem:

- What you want to accomplish;

- How you want to do it;

Even the most creative people attach issues by leaping over what they want to do & going on to how they will do it. They are many HOW's but only one WHAT.

You must always ask the question `WHAT IS...?' before you ask the question `HOW TO...?"

The author's personal comments about asking questions were revealing:

"When you sell your expertise...you have limited repertoire. On the other hand, when you sell your ignorance, when you sell your desire to learn something, to create & explore & navigate paths to knowledge - when you sell your curiosity - you sell from a bucket that is infinitely deep, that represents an unlimited repertoire. My expertise has always been my ignorance - my admission & my acceptance of not knowing. My work comes from questions, not from answers!"

This reminded me of the spiritual insights of Zen Master, Suzuki - Beginner's Mind vs Expert's Mind:

"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind, there are few."

I fully concur with this learning attitude.

Lastly, the author outlined the following tell-tale signs of information anxiety:

- chronically talking about not keeping up with what's going around you;

- feeling guilty about that even higher stack of periodicals waiting to be read;

- nodding your head knowingly when someone mentions a book, an artist, a news story that

you have actually never heard of before;

- refusing to buy a new appliance or piece of equipment just because you are afraid you won't be able to operate it;

- giving time & attention to news that has no cultural, economic or scientific impact on your life

The author also warned that `information anxiety' would limit people to being only seekers of knowledge because no time was left for them to be reflectors of knowledge. This is very true.

At the time I had read this book, I had actually distilled & jotted down more than fifty useful & workable insights, some of which have already been revealed in this review. Many of the insights had already been assimilated into my life & my work.

In my end analysis, `Information Anxiety' had been a very stimulating book. The book is very easy to read as you can breeze straight through or peruse in random bites. Even the many marginal notes in the book are real gems on their own!