Saturday, March 22, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: 'ELEGANT SOLUTION: TOYOTA'S FORMULA FOR MASTERING INNOVATION', by Matthew May

Because of my early influences from Japanese management culture as I had outlined in an earlier post, I had bought the above book.

In fact, during the nineties, I had also owned & read '40 Years 20 Million Ideas: The Toyota Suggestion System' by Yugo Yasuda (a translated work by Productivity Press, Inc.).

From my personal standpoint, I would consider it as a precursor to 'Elegant Solution', as it was the first book to reveal the idea revolution in Toyota, which had its implementation origins since the eighties.

I had enjoyed reading both books. In a nutshell, both books were about the nuts & bolts of creating innovation at the workplace, mostly from the team point of view, even though they were practices at Toyota.

I found 'Elegant Solution' to be a much more fun book to read because of the myriad of fascinating stories & insightful anecdotes, which the author had artfully used to clarify many of the current tools & practices at Toyota.

Frankly, my personal favourite chapters were the first three touching on the 3 core principles of the Toyota Way, followed by 'Chapter 4: Let Learning Lead' (particularly the art & science of reflection); 'Chapter 4: Learn to See', 'Chapter 7: Think in Pictures', & the last two chapters, which more or less summed up the entire book.

For me, the crux of the Toyota Way was actually epitomised in the simple reframing exercise illustrated on page 152 of the book. I never knew that there could be such an elegant solution to the simple problem.

In my end analysis, I wish to say that 'Elegant Solution' is a tactical field guide for everyone looking out for elegant solutions to their life pursuits, as innovation is everybody's job.

BOOK REVIEW: 'THE EXTREME FUTURE', by James Canton

I love to read book about trends.

So, I bought the above book [The author was familiar, as I had read his fascinating book, entitled 'The Twenty-First Century Leader' during the nineties or so] at the Budget Terminal, a few days ago while waiting for my wife who was returning from Ho Chi Minh city.

With the aid of my new Zebra 4-colour-ball-point pen + mechanical pencil, I browsed through - & annotate - the book rather quickly, order to just to pass my long waiting time, as I was quite early at the airport.

In a nut shell, the book was all about the many trends & innovations that would reshape the world in the next 20 years or so. They were essentially based on the work of the author's consulting firm, Institute for Global Futures, Inc.

For me, they would readily serve as probable scenarios covering a myriad of disruptions, risks, threats & even new opportunities arising from the rapid changes in society, customer, competition, market & technology.

No doubt, the author had bragged a lot about his outstanding achievements & lucrative consulting work with MNCs & international governments across the world.

I reckon many of his optmistic forecasts would be useful in preparing to set me thinking differently about the future. My personal favourite chapters were those touching on innovation, globalisation, longevity & future of the individual as well as future of America & China.

For me, the most important lesson I got out of this book was to have available a lot of resource material to read/think about, & also to ponder/choose the actions I need to plan/execute now, in order to to thrive as a profesional individual in the 21st century.

EXTRACTING GOLD FROM YOUR READING: 'SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS'

[continue from the Last Post]

I like to read books where authors made painstaking efforts to provide respectively either end-of-chapter &/or global summary of key points of the book.

In fact, these are the first places to go for, as part of my pre-reading or quick survey routine, whenever I read a book.

Besides gaining some prior knowledge of the subject, they serve as valuable mental signposts when I dive into & navigate the book for more specific details.

There are also times when just reading these areas of the book alone would suffice in the pursuit.

Some authors even take the trouble to provide an end-of-chapter as well as global summary, all in visual form.

The book by Richard Fobes, entitled 'The Creative Problem Solver's Toolbox: A Complete Course in the Art of Creating Solutions to Problems of Any Kind', is an excellent case in point.

Other authors may take a different route, by offering checklists of information or questions to ponder about the subject. For example, Matthew May in his book, 'Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation', provides interesting & relevant questions to ponder at the end of each chapter.

So far, I know of one author who had specifically narrowed down some interesting key points of each chapter in the Table of Contents at the beginning of his book: Richard Saul Wurman's 'Information Anxiety'.

I find that all these textual or graphical aids from the authors always make reading a really breezy affair.

More importantly, they also help me, the reader, to formulate searching questions & initiate a more proactive engagement with the author & his book.

[to be continued in the Next Post]

Friday, March 21, 2008

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"Failure to consider alternatives fully is the most common cause of flawed or incomplete analysis. In other words, we must learn how to keep an open mind: one of the most difficult things we human beings can do."

(Morgan Jones, a former CIA analyst & author of 'The Thinker's Toolkit: Fourteen Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving'.)

NASI LEMAK vs MEE SIAM

This morning, after the gym exercise, & on the way back home, I popped into the Noorlin (Muslim) coffee-shop in Block 490, located in my Jurong West neighbourhood.

As I was standing there, looking at the signboard advertising an assortment of Malay food delicacies, I was pondering what to order.

Earlier, I had read a feature article, entitled 'Get Set for a Good Day' in the Straits Times supplement, 'Mind Your Body'.

Among the Malay food delicacies, two items were selected for mention in the article:

Nasi lemak:
calories: 495 kcal per serving;
total fat: 14g per serving;
% of daily recommended intake: 25%

Mee siam:
calories: 270 kcal per serving;
total fat: 3.7g per serving;
% of daily recommended intake: 13.5%;

I did not realise that mee siam was a much healthier choice until I had read the article.

So, at Noorlin, I opted for mee siam, although nasi lemak was my preferred choice.

In fact, nasi lemak has always been my personal favourite.

Fortunately, Miss Amy Vong, dietician at the Singapore General Hospital made an encouraging remark: "Eating nasi lemak once a week is acceptable."

However, she added that instead of having rice cooked in cocnut, one should opt for plain rice. This would reduce the fat content drastically.

FASCINATING EQUATIONS ABOUT THE LAW OF CAUSE & EFFECT

I got the following fascinating equations about the law of cause & effect from Carmine Coyote, writing in the 'Slow Leadership' weblog:

Old Habits + Old Thinking + Short-Term Viewpoint = Predictable Consequences;

Old habits + Old Thinking + Longer-Term Viewpoint = Potential for Different Consequences;

New Habits + New Thinking + Longer-Term Viewpoint = New Consequences;

That’s how you can create your new life-changing experiences.

Open your mind to new thoughts, lengthen & broaden your outlook, & then experiment with new ways of behaving.

You can definitely expect different results to come about if you do that.

[Here is the link to the original blog post by Carmine Coyote.]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Failure is a reality of life for all of us. None of us achieve what we want all the time. Expert leaders do not have less failure than entry-level leaders. Expert leaders simply have a better-built 'Failure Factory'.”

(Rhett Laubach, professional speaker, leadership expert & success coach, writing in the 'Slow Leadership' weblog:

Accordingly, this Failure Factory is not the production line; failure is a given in life & is produced just by being alive.

This is a processing factory & everyone has one. Failure goes in, we choose how to respond or react to it (the processing part inside the Factory), & our leadership effectiveness is strongly impacted by what comes out the other end:

How we are fundamentally changed (for good or ill) by the failure.

Expert leaders positively influence people and situations to create value & growth.

This means they are able to remain positive even when failure is fed in. They are able to still influence others & opportunities, despite the failure. They have the uncanny ability to be valuable and grow even when failure is present. How?

Expert leaders have developed the ability to:

1) Recognize and be okay with the fact that they are flawed. They are very self-aware.
2) View failure as temporary. They have their sights set on the long-term.
3) Actively seek out learning lessons by asking why did this happen, not just how did this happen. They look for meaning.
4) Laugh at themselves. They take their job seriously, but not themselves.
5) Fail, learn, adjust, risk again, fail, learn, adjust, risk again, fail, & so on.

Take a good look at your Failure Factory.

You can drastically improve your ability to create value and growth by improving the inner workings of your Factory.)

[More information about the author can be found at his corporate website &/or his personal weblog.]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty & well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, & loudly proclaiming:"Wow, what a ride!"

(Peter Sage, executive coach, public speaker & serial entrepreneur)

QUICK NOTES: 12 TIPS TO BE MORE COMPETENT

Writing in the CATS Recruit Page of the Straits Times, Dr Kamal Kant, a career management professional & an adjunct lecturer, offers the following tips in sustaining your professionalism at work:

1) start your work day early & always be punctual for work;

2) be organised;

3) be willing to work shifts;

4) be willing to stay late to finish a project;

5) continue to grow professionally;

6) do more than your share of the work & be willing to go the extra mile;

7) read all you can about your industry;

8) grow your professional network;

9) be resourceful but wise;

10) manage your performance & be prepared to raise your own performance standards;

11) exhibit financial prudence;

12) exhibit emotional intelligence;

[More information about the author & his work can be found at his corporate website.]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"The only way to discover the limits of the possible, is to go beyond them, into the impossible."

(Arthur C Clarke, 1917-2008; probably the world's best known & best-selling science fiction writer; described by the New York Times as being "awesomely informed about physics & blessed with one of the most astounding imaginations ever encountered in print; his creative works included '2001 A Space Odyssey' & '2010 Odyssey Two', which were made into sci-fi films;)

THE KEY COMPETENCIES OF A GLOBAL LEADER

According to the Development Dimension & Human Capital Institute, the following traits represent the key competencies of a global leader:

1) People Black Belt (brings out the best in people, exhibits authencity, builds trust, builds strategic working relationships);

2) Master Mobilizer (displays propensity to lead, drives execution, exhibits leadership influence, mobilizes resources);

3) Visionary (conceptual thinker, navigates ambiguity);

4) Contextual Chameleon (adaptable, exhibits cultural interpersonal effectiveness);

5) Intellectual Grunt (thinks conceptually, makes strategic decisions);

6) Humility (receptive to feedback, possesses a learning orientation, ability to have accurate self insight);

7) Global Explorer (exhibits learning agility);

8) Solid as a Rock (authentic, resilient, displays operational decision-making/judgement);

9) Poster child (balances the demand of culture with results, leads through vision and values, displays executive disposition);

10) Unbridled energy;

THE DRIVE TO DEFINE THE FUTURE

I have just spotted today the following catchy stuff, while browsing some old magazines during a brief break from my gym exercise at the Jurong East Sports Centre:

"The drive to define the future -

It's the key to success.

It's the motivation.

The energy.

The passion.

It's an intense desire to excel - one that's never quenched by success, only made more intense, because every achievement only brings into greater focus what can be achieved.

Put it in gear.

It's never been more important to keep moving forward."

[Source: AA Annual Report 2006]

EXTRACTING GOLD FROM YOUR READING: 'EXPLANATION & ELABORATION'

[continue from the Last Post]

Next, after perspectives &/or viewpoints, I appreciate authors who take pains to explain at the onset what they are writing about. This is particularly important especially when a new concept or idea is being introduced.

Besides the explanation, I also like an author to elaborate on his concept or idea. Any additional tools he uses, like diagrams, pictures, sketches & photos, to illustrate his concept or idea will be useful.

For me, a good explanation & elaboration will often engender a quick matching & clarity of thought follow-up between the author & the reader.

For example, when Joel Arthur Barker first talked about 'paradigms' as well as 'forests of paradigms', in his debut book, 'Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms' during the mid-eighties, his clear explanations & lucid elaboration were wonderful. Not only that, he gave more than twenty connotative expressions of the term 'paradigm' to help me to understand thoroughly - & more importantly, clear distinctions of - what he was writing about.

Likewise, Stuart Wells, when writing about the concept of thinking strategically in his book, 'Choosing the Future', he took great pains to explain, elaborate & illustrate the strategic thinking cycle, from the perceiving phase (environmental scanning) all the way down to execution phase.

Edward de bono is also an excellent author, especially from the standpoint of introducing his concepts or ideas. I particularly like his simple sketches, which he often uses to illustrate some of his concepts or ideas.

I find that once the introduced concept or idea is clear in the head, reading the rest of the book is a real breeze!

[to be continued in the Next Post]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

So what makes me special & unique?

So why me & not the competition?

How would I respond?

NOSTALGIA: KICKAPOO JOY JUICE

Is there anyone out there that remembers the Kickapoo Joy Juice?

It was a refreshing concoction of citrus flavoured carbonated drink.

I remember I often drank it in the nineties or so, especially during the hot afternoons after lunch. It came in a 325 ml aluminium can.

I believe that the drink was associated with a tonic of the same name in the comic strip known as 'Dogpatch & Lil Abner'.

Monday, March 17, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"A recognition that no individual achieves & performs in isolation must stand at the heart of our reflections on what makes a champion. To achieve those goals to which one is committed & chose to dedicate one's life, a belief in yourself is essential. That self-belief becomes vain & egotistical, & ultimately self-defeating, if it does not derive from a dedication to & faith in the common goal. The necessary self-belief of the true leader or champion is tempered by the respect for the broader concerns."

(Nelson Mandela at the 'What Makes a Champion' Conference of the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney, Australia, September 2000)

THE 5 THINGS WE CANNOT CHANGE

I reckon many readers should have come across this great quotation, attributed to the theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, & the wisdom to know the difference."
By the way, do you know what are the things you cannot change?

Well, while surfing the net, I came across this book, entitled 'The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them', by Dr David Richo.

He has distilled from his thirty years of work as a practising therapist, working at the Esalen Centre, New York Open Centre & Spirit Rock Meditation Centre.

According to him, there are certain facts of life that we cannot change - the unavoidable "givens" of human existence as follows:

1) everything changes & ends;

2) things do not always go according to plan;

3) life is not always fair;

4) pain is a part of life;

5) people are not loving & loyal all the time;

I have yet to read his book, but the author explains that, by dropping our deep-seated resistance to these "givens", we can find happiness & discover the true richness that life has to offer.

Interestingly, I also noted that one book reviewer on the amazon.com website, writing under the pseudonym of 'Honest Consumer' has shared his flip side perspective as follows:

1) Every ending is really just the start of a new beginning;

2)Sometimes things take an unexpected turn for the better!

3) Life is sometimes fair. . . sometimes confusing!

4) Pain is a part of life, but only one part of life;

5) Most people are loving & loyal most of the time;

Looks like I may want to lay my hands on this book to read.

A DAY OF LOAFING, MORE OR LESS

As far as physical exercises are concerned, Saturdays & Sundays are my off days.

I normally spend most of my weekends reading, surfing the net & blogging. Sometimes, I go window shopping at IMM Jurong East or Jurong Point with my wife.

Yesterday was Sunday. My gym buddy had called me down from my apartment block to have a drink with him at my neighbourhood coffee shop. It was just after 2pm.

He felt grouchy as he just had a morning spat with his wife over an inconsequential matter.

After a drink, & exploring several options to spend the afternoon, we agreed that we should take a slow walk to Jurong Point. First, he wanted to go home to have some frozen fruit desserts.

So, he drove me to his home at Westwood Park. He had his cold desserts, while I was given a preferred choice of freshly cut pineapples by his Indonesian maid.

There was a sudden downpour outside. I sat down to browse some of his books & magazines. A recent issue of Men's Health on the coffee table caught my eye. I found two interesting articles: one about a local racing driver.

I was intrigued by one of his remarks:

"The most important quality a professional driver needs is constructive arrogance."

Interestingly, he was referring to the reality of focusing on what matters most in a race & releasing your ego.

The other article was about the 'Five Laws on Staying Lean'.

One of the laws was talking about eating a high carbo breakfast in the morning. To me, this did not resonate with the 'Fit-for-Life' philosophy I had already embraced for many years, even though the author made some sense to me.

Meanwhile, my gym buddy also sat down on the sofa to share what he has recently engrossed himself with two great books, according to him, 'Thanks' & 'Gratitude'. He said that "ingratitude is the greatest of all sins".

Meanwhile, the downpour had stopped, even though there was still a drizzle outside. We then decided to commence our afternoon walk as originally planned.

We first walked along the connector monsoon drain near the junction of Jalan Bahar & Jurong West Avenue 5, in the direction of Jurong Point. My gym buddy mentioned that this connector would eventually link with all the others around/across the entire island of Singapore.

For me, the weather was relatively cool after the downpour. Just imagine if we had to walk under the afternoon sun!

We happened to pass the Jurong branch of the National Library. It was located in a 3-storey building.

Upon my gym buddy's spontaneous suggestion, we decided to pop in to take a look.

On the ground floor were magazines, audios & videos; on the first floor, kids' stuff; on the second floor, all the adult stuff.

I was quite impressed by the broad inventory of business books on the second floor. Many of the titles were quite current.

After about twenty minutes or so, we decided to make a move. We continued our journey to Jurong Point.

It was then about 4pm. My gym buddy suggested that we should watch a movie. I recalled a trailer of 'Vantage Point' on tv a couple of nights ago. I quickly checked out the movie listing at the theatre on the second floor, & found that 'Vantage Point' was scheduled at 4.35pm.

It was my turn, & I bought two tickets. Since we were still early for the show, we decided to adjourn to the nearby BentoBox cafe on the first floor. My gym buddy ordered a pizza & Japanese tea to go with it.

The pizza was hot, crispy, but, sad to say, soggy at the top. Too much cheese, to be exact. It was the worst pizza I had ever eaten. My gym buddy concurred.

Worst of all, for some strange reasons, we noticed that the faces of all the serving staff at the eating joint were expression-less & looking depressed. Sometimes, I just wonder why some people could go to work with such a physical disposition.

By the time we had finished our miserable pizza, it was time to go into the theatre.

Some thing funny happened along the way. We went into the wrong theatre, & realised our mistake only after we had stepped unwittingly on somebody's toes inside the rows of closely packed seats.

So, we made a scramble to the right theatre, which was located just next door.

To our delight, the movie, 'Vantage Point', was great. In a nut shell, it was about 8 perspectives from 8 different characters on the attempted assassination of the President of the United States. I will write the movie review in a separate post.

After the movie, we decided to get out of Jurong Point, as we realised that it was crowded with people everywhere. Mostly young people as it was a Sunday.

My gym buddy suggested that we picked up a bus to go to his home, as the bus interchange was located nearby. Unfortunately, he forgot which bus number to go for. Since he had a spat with his wife, he dared not call her to verify which bus to take, but thought that service 179 going to NTU would probably do.

We hopped into the bus & as soon as we realised that the bus wasn't going our intended way, we scrambled to drop off at the next stop, where we found ourselves quite lost, but absolutely sure that we were standing on NTU grounds.

My gym buddy had the gumption to say, to my chagrin, that he actually wanted to explore where service 179 would lead to eventually, even though our original mutually-agreed plan was to return to his home at Westwood Park.

Luckily, an empty taxi was passing by. We jumped into it. Of all the taxis in Singapore, we got one taxi driver who was a greenhorn. He wasn't familiar with Westwood Park. So, my gym buddy had to slowly guide him all the way.

By then, I had lost my patience. After dropping off my gym buddy, I told the taxi driver to send me home at Jurong West. Naturally, I had to guide him all the way, too.

By the time I reached home, it was already 7pm.

What a day of loafing!

LIFE LESSONS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, FROM A GREAT MIND

A friend of mine in the insurance business has sent me an email this morning, with an attachment that offers young people some valuable life lessons.

He has attributed them to Warren Buffet.

The following interesting key points are what I could gleaned from the attachment:

1) Stay away from credit cards & bank loans, & invest in yourself;

2) Money doesn't create man, but it is man who created money;

3) Live your life as simple as you are;

4) Don't do what others say, just listen to them, but do what you feel good;

5) Don't go on brand names; just wear those things in which you feel comfortable;

6) Don't waste your money on unnecessary things, just spend on those who really in need rather;

7) After all it's your life then, why give chance to others to rule our life;

The attachment ends with this great quotation:

"The happiest people do not necessarily have the best of all. They simply appreciate what they find on their way. Let us choose the way to live."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

THE TOP 100 PRODUCTIVITY & LIFEHACK BLOGS

Here is the link to 'The Top 100 Productivity & Lifehack Blogs'.

Many of them are also my personal favourites.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Do what you do out of the love of what you do. Nothing else. And of all the things that you choose to do, the only way you can be your best is if you work harder at it than anybody else."

(Paul Stenko, gym teacher at Berwick High School, as related by Chuck Bujno in the article entitled, 'Who is Your Hero?' under the Champion Mindset Series, Berwick Wrestling Coaches;)

THE sQuba PROJECT

I love to watch James Bond movies partly because of the adrenalin-pumping action sequences. It doesn't matter who plays the hero, as long as he has the killer's instinct, even though I like Sean Connery the most.

The other reason is to gawk at all those fancy gadgets & high-tech weaponry made by Q specifically for our hero.

Surprising, some three decades after 'The Spy Who Loved Me' hit the movie screen, “sQuba” is the first car that can actually ‘swim’ under water.

“Dive it again, James!” If the situation gets too hot for our hero he’ll go under water. So demonstrated impressively by Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me” in 1977 when he dove below the waves in a sleek amphibious vehicle (a Lotus Esprit, equipped with surface-to-air missile, oil-slick spray, harpoons & self-destruct system) that moments before seemed to be an ordinary car.

The only problem: The scene never really took place; it was fiction.

With the “sQuba,” the world’s first real submersible automobile, the fictional vehicle in the movie now becomes reality for visitors of the Geneva Motor Show (March 6th - 16th, 2008).

To me, this is really the human ingenuity & wonderful imagination at work.

The credit certainly goes to Frank M Rinderknecht, the creative brain behind the innovation. He is a James Bond enthusiast like me, but CEO of Rinspeed, the Swiss automobile manufacturer of sQuba.

However, & sad to say, he has no plans to put the US$2 million prototype, the only one of its kind today, into production.

[More information & pictures on sQuba can be found at this link.]